Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Catching My Breath

Joe Manis and Nicole Glover at the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival
Hey everyone. Last week was incredible; we had our third successful "The Shed" PSU Summer Jazz Camp( partnering with the Portland Jazz Composer's Ensemble) featuring special guests Alex Norris and David Ephross, as well as Portlanders Darrell Grant, David Valdez, Javier Nero, Jason Palmer, Dan Balmer, and Ryan Meagher. It was a intense, full week of masterclasses, rehearsals, and jam sessions; 9 in the morning until almost 8 pm every night. I enjoyed hearing the students as well as the faculty, and we got some great positive feedback. Admittedly, there's no pleasing everyone, and a few folks had complaints, but this is to be expected; this is only our third year, and we are still learning. Nevertheless, it was by and large a positive experience and I look forward to next year's "The Shed."

It would have made sense to plan a weekend vacation in the Bahamas, but alas, I had 5 gigs scheduled for the weekend; three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Saturday started with playing keyboard on a 4 hour wedding gig with bassist Cary Miga's group; then I hightailed it over to St. Johns to play drums with Kerry Politzer, Jon Lakey, and Nicole Glover. I was supposed to play organ after that with Joe Manis, but there was an issue with the pay, so we decided to cancel. The gigs were part of the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival; it was supposed to be a sort of after hours series. I believe that the issue was that the cover charge would pay the band, but when the venue tried to collect a cover charge at the door, no one would enter the bar!  More on that in a minute.

Sunday, I got to play twice in a row on the big stage at Cathedral Park. It was really crowded and the weather was beautiful. First, I played piano with the Jeff Baker group featuring David Valdez, Thomas Barber, Jason Palmer, and Andrea Niemiec. After that, I sat behind the drums for a great set with my band Theoretical Planets featuring Nicole Glover, Joe Manis, and Jon Lakey. It's always great to play for a big crowd in a great outdoor venue. I was pretty much running on fumes after such a long week, but I left the festival satisfied and looking forward to a quiet week of relaxation.

Again, it's always great to play music, and the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival is a great institution which I hope will continue to exist. But there were two issues which I think are worth discussing constructively. One is the idea that musicians are supposed to be paid.  In the case of the Saturday night  gig, where no one would pay 10 dollars to hear music,  I don't blame the venue( which is merely a neighborhood bar) and I certainly have nothing but kudos for the organizers of the festival ( Mary Sue Tobin, Farnell Newton and Arthur Marx, respectively) who did a lot of work to keep the Cathedral Park Festival alive. I have been told that Portland has always been a town which has trouble getting folks to pay any sort of cover charge for music. I am constantly reminding people that in New York City, you basically cannot do anything without paying at least 20 dollars. Portland, you need to accept the fact that musicians need to get paid! When you watch how much money Portlanders spend on artisanal chili dogs and then people say a 10 dollar cover charge is too much, I get a little depressed, to say the least.

Another issue was the sound during the main stage concerts. I've had years of experience playing on stages with sound people of all types. It seemed to me, on Sunday, as though the atmosphere with getting the sound, as well as people on and off the stage and so forth, was a little tense. I tried to get what I needed in the monitors, and then I just put my earplugs in and tried to get through it. I did see that David Valdez was trying to get the mixing guy's attention during the set, and I could see from where I was sitting that the mixing guy was either not hearing David, or purposely ignoring him, which is really unprofessional, no matter how you slice it.

Sound people and musicians have to work to together respectfully; we know this! Musicians cannot be rude to sound people, and sound people need to respect us as well. It's a two way street, for sure. I know for myself, in the 20 years I've been traveling internationally, I always try to be as polite as possible to the sound guys, but sometimes things like quick stage changeovers can make the atmosphere tense.(Sometimes the language barrier can make it even more challenging!) I don't know what David Valdez did to make the sound guy think that he was being disrespected. Asking for certain specific sound things in the monitor or in the house, while possibly time consuming and annoying, is not disrespectful in and of itself. However, tit for tat on the part of the engineer in this case is just juvenile. I hope there will be a different, more cooperative and less egotistical sound company next time.

I'm reminded of the first tour I did with Cassandra Wilson in 1999. Our first performance was at the Ocean Blue Jazz Festival in Japan. I remember that there were probably 20 or 30 stagehands during the sound check. They were all sprinting back and forth across the stage, making sure every musician had what they needed to hear in the monitor, making sure musicians had water, towels, or whatever they needed for optimal performance. The next week, we were in Torino, Italy. I remember  for that sound check, there were 20 or 30 stagehands, all standing around smoking cigarettes..........

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