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Ted Sirota: Drummer with the Soul of a Rebel

By Published: April 12, 2004
As far as Rebel Souls, things are moving slow, despite the critical success of their CDs. A lot of it has to do with the music scene in general. Some of it has to do with the fact that each member is also busy in other bands and getting other work.

“At times we’ve had steady gigs here in Chicago, like a weekly gig here and there. We just did a little bit more high-profile gigs here in town, sort of centered around the record. But we don’t play that often, unfortunately, right now. But I’m hanging onto the group and trying to just keep it going to get myself in that place strategically where we will be able to,” he says.

“A trio of us, Geof Bradfield and Clark Sommers, we went to Germany last spring for about a month. Germany and Austria. Hopefully we’ll be going back there in October or November. So there’s more interest developing in the band around the world and I think those three weeks is going to help a little bit with that. It’s hard financially to make it all work.”

Sirota does freelance in Chicago and has a studio for recording and giving lessons. studio. “I do play with other great musicians around here as well. So I’m always busy. But I have a family. I have two kids so I always have to make sure I’m putting food on the table. So I can’t take too much risk. That’s sort of why the band hasn’t gone out in the US too much outside of the Midwest, because it’s too hard for me to negotiate being able to leave and not make money for a week or two weeks or a month. I could never really afford that. But I’m getting to the position where I have to start doing that, going out for jaunts and at least trying to break even. But it’s rough out there.”

Many musicians are discouraged with the music scene as it exists today, with gigs and recording dates harder to come by. But Sirota holds his head up. “I have faith in the people. I get discouraged. I get dark and depressed when I think of the situation as well. It kind of fits into what I’m talking about on the record, that oppression breeds resistance. I’m not going to get into what I think the solution is. That’s a whole other subject. But we live in a society where everything is judged and valued by its quote-unquote profitability. Whether it’s going to make a buck. Whether it’s religion or pre-school or education or art, everything single thing is stamped with that brand — whether it’s going to make a profit. This music is just not going to make that much of a profit in this environment. So it’s destined to be shunned and shoved off the table.

“Even the stars of the music. They might have nice homes and they’re living pretty comfortably, but compared to stars of other kinds of music, it’s small potatoes. So I’m not optimistic that the system is just going to change on its own. But I’m optimistic when I see how many people are dissatisfied and disenfranchised by the system, even within the music world.”

Resistance just might be breeding, waiting for the offspring of change.

“Everyone thinks they’re the only one. That’s the problem now. Everyone thinks it’s them against the system and nobody else thinks like they do. But I do think that now, in this environment, people are starting to realize that they’re not the only one. And the more that people can realize it and then start organizing, I think there is a potential for sure to start turning things around. Put the power back into our own hands. That can translate to the music industry as well,” he says. “So I do have some hope, but it’s very hard to make a living here as a working musician. It’s definitely a challenge and the decks are stacked against you.

“There was an article in the Chicago Tribune this week by Howard Reich, talking to Herbie Hancock. Herbie was like, ‘It’s bleak.” And he was saying how much things have changed so much since he was a youngster coming up. And say, if people like that are getting knocked down a notch in a certain way, what does that mean for someone like myself?

“But we do it because we love it. We feel like it’s right and it’s the right thing to do, so we have to keep doing it.”

Hopefully, Sirota and other creative musicians can stand up one day and declare, “This is a takeover!”

Meet Ted Sirota on the All About Jazz Bulletin Board .

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