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Careers in Jazz

Bill Anschell By

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Moving abroad for hotel gigs in exotic countries, only to play the worst in American pop music for drunk American businessmen


Named after "air plants," which live without need for soil, these are the true heroes of the jazz world. They eat only out of necessity, seemingly nourished by the music they play, including their hours of daily practicing. Most varieties of Epiphytes thrive in subterranean environments, such as dank basement apartments, with little apparent need for sunlight. They move frequently from hovel to hovel after seemingly exhausting the available air that sustains them. Their skin is wan, and they blink uncomfortably in daylight, preferring to wear sunglasses around the clock.

Epiphytes are the trendsetters in the jazz community, admired and emulated by their peers. Their speech is heavily peppered with cutting-edge jazz lingo, and they are often innovators in jazz vocabulary. Although they are the elite class of the working musicians (short of Chosen Ones, who live in a separate musical universe), they are the least likely to reproduce, finding economic advantage in a more streamlined lifestyle. In this sense, an adverse Darwinian effect works against the forward movement of jazz, as natural selection favors gene propagation from the less talented, more whorish players.

Caucasian Epiphytes often live their lives as modern-day extensions of the Beat Generation. African-American Epiphytes are frequently motivated by a mandate to explore and perpetuate the roots of contemporary black culture and identity. Regardless of race, Epiphytes can be highly temperamental, and many are gifted with a special ability to make the other musicians on the bandstand hate one another.

The relationship between Epiphytes and Gig Whores is particularly intriguing: Epiphytes live on the fringes of mainstream society in order to stake their place in jazz music; Gig Whores work on the fringes of the jazz world in order to stake their place in mainstream society. Yet between them is a quiet understanding, a shared realization that there is no perfect solution to the Jazz Problem. Both are driven by a Buddhist sensibility: Epiphytes believe that material objects are impermanent and of no value; Gig Whores embrace the notion that life is suffering.

Identifying Signs

Low body mass
Self-cut hair
Unmatched shoes

Survival Techniques

Migratory movement among communities and countries that are briefly tolerant of jazz
Supplementary income earned from plasma banks and focus groups
Narcotics addiction

Silver Spoons

The clearest path to survival in jazz is simply to have no need for money. And while many jazz artists create their music with little regard for listeners, those who are independently wealthy have the luxury of disregarding their audience entirely. As a general rule, the wealthier the artist, the less accessible his music and the loftier his rhetoric about musical freedom and innovation.

Many of these artists purchase their own concert spaces, where they book themselves, joined by their fellow moneyed, avant peers or by Epiphytes with avant leanings. Although anger is often a central element of their musical aesthetic (inspired, as they are still, by the spirit of 1960s rebellion), in the largest sense, no harm is done.

Their audience consists of the same four to eight people for each concert. Because so few people will pay to hear the music, it is often supported by grants from arts agencies.

Silver Spoons spend their abundant free time thinking about, and writing descriptions of, the deep philosophical underpinnings of their work. These descriptions are then adapted to serve as the narratives of their grant proposals. The grants panelists, who know nothing about jazz, equate the artists' impressive discourse with depth of musicality, and reward them accordingly.

It should be noted that not all independently wealthy artists are drawn to the avant-garde. Some take part in the mainstream jazz arena, where they play out a conflicted relationship with their money. The most callous ones offer to perform in jazz venues for free, undercutting their working peers and driving down the already meager local pay scale. Others carefully pick their spots, accepting only the most flattering gigs, thereby earning an artificially exalted reputation among audiences and the media. And some, uncomfortable with the seeming oxymoron of being a "moneyed jazz artist," live Spartan lifestyles that enable them to "pass" among their less privileged colleagues.

  • Artists living on disability following psychotic episodes
Identifying Signs
  • Torn second-hand clothes and neglected hygiene
  • "Street" jazz nickname (replacing embarrassingly aristocratic given name)
Survival Techniques
  • None needed
Career Professionals


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