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How Do We Keep The Music Playing?


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Everyday of the following week brought with it an email informing me that a show or two was cancelled or postponed indefinitely until my entire calendar from March through June was decimated.
—Laurin Talese
While most of us across the country and overseas have been confined to our homes due to COVID-19, normal life as we once knew, has changed. Typically in April we are celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month outdoors with friends, and attending jazz concerts. Now more than ever, this is a time where we must appreciate and support jazz musicians across the globe.

To date, we have lost the following musicians to COVID-19. Saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Ellis Marsalis, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonist Marcelo Peralta, saxophonist, Manu Dibango, pianist Mike Longo, and trumpeter Wallace Roney (more here). We are also losing many that have battled long illnesses. What we are witnessing are life changing events that will have long-standing effects on our economy and our society for years to come.

COVID-19 has disrupted the daily lives and livelihood of many musicians young and old, stripping them of health insurance, housing and employment. How do we keep the music playing during this difficult time? And how are musicians dealing with this pandemic and life changes? A few musicians weigh in and give their perspectives on COVID-19 and moving forward.

Marc Cary

This time has been troubling for everyone, beyond the personal losses at this end of tours and other work. We suspended our weekly sessions, the Harlem Sessions, which we run at Smoke Jazz Club the first week of March. The impact has been felt on many levels. We can no longer give regular employment to the young musicians we rely on each week.

As a grassroots organization we employ nearly 600 musicians per year for the last five years just through this jam session. The session is also the home and social spot for many young musicians, some are students who have had to go home, or have been stuck in dorms here unable to get home.

We have been staying connected via regular online get-togethers to do classes and workshops, as well as broadcasting some of the incredible performances from our sessions archive, to let them know we think about them daily. We are also working currently on some recording projects to help raise income for many of our members, especially those who have had to return home but still have to pay rent on their New York City apartment.

You can make a tax deductible donation to The Harlem Sessions via our Fractured Access Fiscal sponsorship here.

Laurin Talese

Life literally changed overnight for me. On March 10th, while hanging out with my best friend in New York City, I got news of my first cancellation. It was a show that I was really looking forward to. I was crestfallen but hoped the virus would pass in the next few weeks and that gave me temporary solace as it pertained to the status of my other shows. Everyday of the following week brought with it an email informing me that a show or two was cancelled or postponed indefinitely until my entire calendar from March through June was decimated.

In the days that followed, I found myself anxious and lacking inspiration. As my peers became personally impacted by COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders around the world were extended further and further out—it has been harder than ever to focus. Then, after the initial shock wore off, I had a conversation with myself and decided that I would give myself one more day to sit with my feelings of disappointment and despair. After that I had to try harder to find something joyful and productive to commit myself to.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I have been taking French lessons via Pimsleur, mediating more consistently, riding my bike for fresh air and writing again. Not every day is bursting at the seams with inspiration, but I am finding that intention and discipline go a long way.

Matthew Whitaker

It certainly is a crazy time. When this whole thing hit us I was on tour in Germany opening for Gregory Porter. When the tour was cancelled, we were able to come home the next day which was a good thing because as we arrived at Kennedy Airport we heard the announcement that travel from Europe was being restricted. Since I have been home I moved my things out of my dorm room at The Julliard School and have been taking the classes online.

It is really different being home so much but I am glad to be here with my parents. I have also realized how much I have missed being home and spending time in the studio. I pretty much stay busy all day whether it is checking up on family and friends, attending classes online, studying or working on music. I literally go into the studio in the morning and hardly come out until it is time to eat, or go to bed. I am very concerned about the virus and the impact that it is having all over the world.

I wish there were more I could do. For now, I have put out a couple of videos to encourage people during this difficult time. I also planned and performed a livestream concert on my birthday which was April 3rd, to benefit musicians who are struggling because of lost work.

Looking forward, we all have some trying days ahead us. We must still try to remain as safe as possible while fighting this pandemic. This is how we will keep the music playing during this difficult time.


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