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Robin McKelle: Songbird On The Wing

By Published: November 17, 2008

AAJ: You're lucky about having a manager because that's what managers are supposed to do: "I'll take care of this. I'll just tell you where to show up. You just show up and do your thing."

RM: Yes. I have a great manager. I'm very fortunate. I connected with a manager who has been around forever and worked with greats—worked with Miles Davis. You don't work with people like that. You know, artists in general have their quirks, and when you're a good manager, you can see that. I have my own things. I get nervous—not performing, but figuring out, "Where do I have to be? What time? Am I supposed to do this?" These types of things—scheduling types of things. And a good manager says, "Don't worry. You go here. You do this. And you eat at this time." And it's great. Not only that. It's your business. Someone is representing you and it's important to me that that person is professional and timely.

AAJ: There are two few good managers, unfortunately, because managing is 24/7. Booking is 24/7. And for somebody to go into this, they have to make a huge commitment.

RM: A huge commitment. I'm really fortunate. I have a great team—agent and manager in Europe and I've some good people here as well. But I'm just fortunate now to even have a manager.

AAJ: You're fortunate to have gigs.

RM: Yes! I'm fortunate for all of these things. But, yes, the gigs.

AAJ: You're doing Dizzy's and it's just the one night.

RM: I leave the next day for France. I have three months in Europe.

AAJ: Are you going to be doing any more gigs in the States?

RM: Yes. We're booking right now in January and February. Right now we're going to be at the Blue Note January 30, 31 and February l. That's good. And we have some stuff in DC and Boston.

AAJ: Are they still doing things at the jazz room at the Kennedy Center?

RM: I think they do it in the spring. I think they're booked for two years. I think we might be doing it the next time. They're pretty far in advance. A lot of those places book their seasons so far in advance.

AAJ: The beauty of what's happened in New York City during the last four or five years is that there are a lot more jazz venues than there have been in a long time. Maybe it's because we're getting a lot of tourists from Europe and they like jazz and they want to hear it, but there are a lot of new rooms and a lot of restaurants utilizing jazz performers.

RM: There are a lot of venues here. I lived in Boston for ten years. There's two places. And there were many more when I first moved there. There were more and they've closed. It's tough to get people out because it's full of students. And they can't afford it, number one. They want to go out and hang out. They don't want to go out and hear jazz. Some of the music students do, but they can't afford it. It's not easy for them to afford fifteen or twenty dollars a ticket, and that's pretty reasonable, too. It's tough. I know it is in Dizzy's. It's a very high-end place. I know there's not a lot of musicians that go in there. But people are going there.

AAJ: There are two other spaces up there. The Allen Room would be a wonderful room for you to do a concert in. Either that or the Rose. The Rose is larger.

RM: I guess at this point, especially here, it's building my name. Because now at least I'm getting the gigs and I'm getting the dates. It's going well. But really, for what I want to do, I can't be here. I can't do a weekly gig or this or that.

AAJ: You can't do a weekly gig unless you're a Blossom Dearie or somebody that's around all the time.

RM: You can't do it. I'm on tour. That's the thing, and if I can play two times a year in New York—maybe, luckily, three—that would be great. I was actually considering moving here and I just thought, "Why? I'm going to pay a whole bunch of money to be on the road and then when I come back, what am I going to do? I'm not going to get a gig. When I'm playing in theaters and I'm asked to do the festivals and things, it would be great if I could get my band together for this gig and work out some music. But it would be virtually impossible, because when I'm not on tour, I'm either taking care business that I haven't been able to, or recording. So my life has really changed. And I'm totally lucky. I loved teaching. I loved singing in the wedding band. I'm very grateful for that gig because I paid my rent with it and I learned a lot. I grew a lot; I did. And my students—I loved their energy. They were so excited. They were 18 and thinking, "I'm gonna be a star. I'm gonna be a musician." You know, you've done it for ten years and maybe you're jaded and bitter—I wasn't, really—but you see the reality of what's coming. And it kind of becomes, here's the reality and you're got to make a living and it's not still have the dream. In terms of the glamour, I was on tour with a rock band, and I'll tell you what—frankly, it's great if that's your dream, but it's hard work. Not a lot of singing; a lot of traveling. Not a lot of gratification.

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