Bill McKemy once said to me that dealing with club and restaurant managers is “not for the faint of heart.” Well put. I’ve never been on their side of the fence, so I don’t know what it’s like to have musicians calling me everyday when I’m
trying to get ready for the dinner rush, asking me to listen to their demo. I can imagine though, that it must get pretty annoying after awhile. I personally work at home, so I know how difficult it can be to try and get anything done when you’re constantly answering the phone. With that in mind I, try to be very patient with people when booking my jazz band.
Like many bandleaders, I got involved in this aspect of the music business out of necessity. When I first came to Kansas City, I quickly realized that their were many good jazz drummers already working here. I also knew that they had been here a lot longer than I had, and had built strong business relationships with many of the band leaders and agents here. I figured I would have to wait in a very long line behind all the other drummers before I’d start getting called for gigs. About this time, I met Art Frank, a former drummer for Chet Baker, along with Tommy Ruskin. Both of them told me I should start my own group, and do my own bookings.
In the beginning it was extremely difficult. I knew nothing about the music business, or the business of jazz. I read some good books on the subjects, and that helped, but of course there is no substitute for actual experience.
In the beginning I called all the jazz clubs-Jardines, The Phoenix, etc. These were the places all the top jazz musicians in town were working, so that seemed to make sense. What I didn’t realize at that time though, was that I had very little chance of getting hired to play those clubs because nobody knew my name, or who I was. I had absolutely zero marque value.
I had better luck calling less known venues. I remember one time playing at a Mexican restaurant with Tom DeMasters. We weren’t even inside. We were playing in the parking lot, because they didn’t have any room for a trio inside! A musician friend of Tom’s happened to walk by and see us playing and said, “Wow you guys will play anywhere.” I thought that was really funny.
Back then, I spent lots of money and time mailing demos with promo packs. I’d then write a cover letter to accompany each packet I sent. I printed everything at home. When I started doing this, I didn’t own a computer, and certainly didn’t know how to operate a computer. Therefore, I had to learn all those skills as I went. I learned to do my own graphic design, and eventually designed and manufactured my own CD’s at home. Needless to say, this was a lot of work. I feel like back then I was sometimes more focused on the business of music than the music itself.
Today it’s infinitely easier to book my jazz band than it was when I started. I rarely mail out a demo these days. I have a website, so I just send a link to potential buyers. That saves tons of time. In addition I’ve had the opportunity to build a track record, and some marque value. When a potential client asks where I’ve played, the answer is kind of like, “Well where haven’t I played?”
It still takes a lot of phone calls, persistence, and patience to book my jazz band, even today. However, I really feel that the tools I have available to me, through the computer, internet, etc., along with the experience I’ve gained along the way, have finally allowed me to concentrate a lot more on the music itself and less on the music business. I’m doing a lot more practicing and writing than I’ve done in years, and I’m more excited about the possibilities in jazz than I have been in a long time.