Cecil Bridgewater: Where to Create Music

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The ability to perform in big bands as well as small groups and write for all sizes of groups is an important ingredient in being able to sustain yourself as a musician in the 21st Century.
By Cecil Bridgewater

Creating music requires a place and an environment within which to create. I see a number of young, talented people coming into the various schools where I teach having had no practical experience in this music outside of a classroom. They have developed tremendous facility on their instruments and knowledge of the history of the music, but have very few places to perform. They are about the art of performing and yet have never had the opportunity to perform for a live audience such as dancers, bar patrons, concert patrons, etc. They are unfortunately not un-like every other generation that has come along in this music in that they are going to be required to create their own venues. Musicians find out where they can ply their wares and create a way to get their music heard. Going back to the beginnings of this music, no matter whether it was in New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, etc. musicians had to create a place to work. In New York there were places in all of the boroughs where musicians could perform - ballrooms, clubs such as Minton's, Monroe's, not to mention 52nd Street where established groups performed. Dance halls all around the country in every city needed music and thus musicians.

When I arrived in New York in 1970, the "Loft Jazz" scene was in full force. Musicians found places to create the music that they wanted to create. When George Wein brought the Newport Jazz Festival to New York and didn't include the "lesser" known musicians who were living and working in New York, a group of musicians got together and gave concerts in various venues around the city not unlike what Max Roach and Charles Mingus did at Newport, RI years before with the REBELS FESTIVAL. They built a stage and invited musicians young and old to participate at the same time that the Newport Jazz Festival was going on. Max and Charles recorded the performances of Papa Jo Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Dorham, and others and released it on their record label, Debut. New York musicians provided venues such as Joe Lee Wilson's Ladies Fort, Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea and George Braith put on concerts at the Spring Street Caf', amongst others. At the same time a group called the Collective Black Artists (CBA) gave concerts at various venues including Town Hall by renting halls and putting out the publicity and getting the help of some of the established artists, like Slide Hampton, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and others who agreed to perform at less than their regular fee.

This generation of musicians is again faced with the same kind of dilemma and is in need of solving the problem for themselves. They do not yet have the drawing power to work major venues like Lincoln Center, The Blue Note, Village Vanguard and the like, where they can fill the seats, so it is incumbent upon them to start creating places to perform and nurture this art form. The reason I teach is so that I can pass on the experiences I have gained from some of the giants I have come in contact with like Horace Silver, Max Roach, Thad Jones, McCoy Tyner, etc. The ability to perform in big bands as well as small groups and write for all sizes of groups is an important ingredient in being able to sustain yourself as a musician in the 21st Century. Writing, teaching and performing are necessary to be a complete musician and to be able to have a career in music. Putting all your eggs in one basket (i.e. performer or writer or teacher), is no longer the option that it once was. Max Roach has often said to me that, "The musician is not only the product, but is also the producer of what he/she creates." Young musicians need to have an extensive knowledge of the music business including the recording industry - recording companies, producing, distributing, manufacturing, etc.; booking, traveling, managing, etc.; law and publicity/marketing. Most of all they need to be curious about every aspect of what they do so that they make the same mistakes that their elders made and don't overlook something out of ignorance. James Brown (aka "The God Father of Soul") often said that there are two parts to music business and if you don't take care of the business part you won't be able to perform the music. Part of taking care of business is to create places where the creative process can take place.


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