“It’s Really Tough, Right?”

The title of this post is a recent quote from a concerned mother of one of my students. She was nervous about the prospect of her daughter attending a performing arts high school, and then being thrust against her will into the throes of life as a professional musician.

Coincidentally, I’ve been asked to speak and perform at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, PA this week to help eager scholars wrap their minds around what being a working musician entails. During my “masterclass” on Friday, April 27th, I’ll perform with a local rhythm section, and later that night I’ll be a featured soloist with the college’s jazz ensemble.

As I’ve been preparing for my talk, I’ve come to realize what a bizarre industry I’m involved with. I planned to talk about the artistic goals and challenges of being a musician in New York, yet I notice that the section of my talk pertaining to that subject is proportional to the time in my daily life that I actually have to devote to artistic concerns. That is to say, it’s a very small part of my speech.

Also, as I describe the jazz “scene,” I realize that being a jazz musician is more like belonging to a religion than it is to being part of an industry. “Jazz” may not signify anything specific, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean “teaching beginning woodwinds in under-funded public schools,” or “playing Lady Gaga at weddings.” And yet, my entire social (and arguably spiritual) life revolves around a community of devoted, sacrificing, and hard-working jazz musicians.

As I responded to the mother of my student, yeah i guess it is tough. One question that I’m beginning to ask myself, but which I’m certainly not prepared to answer, is “why work so hard to be a member of the jazz world?”