AAJ: Looking at your career since you left the blues circuitnone of your recordings or gigs have been particularly high profile (although you have had lavish critical acclaim). Thus I wondered how have you been able to survive in artistic and day-to-day terms?
MM: Well, that's an interesting question. Thank you. I like taking chances and love the challenge of being an artist in modern times. When you are an artist like myself that does not compromise in his music or art, you are always struggling to get some recognition and a little dignity, plus of course, making a living. You sacrifice a lot to be part of, in my mind, the highest art form on the planet. Remember that jazz is about originality and respecting the tradition while one moves forward. All a man can do is try and keep practicing (which I do every day). Having respect and camaraderie from your peers is also extremely important. The other day I ran into Rahn Burton, who made the two organ recordings with me almost ten years ago for Justin Time Records. He commented about how he thought that they were important recordings and that he was grateful to be part of them. I appreciated that.
Many people listen to music with their eyes. There are, of course, many critics and promoters that can decide one's movement in their career, especially if an artist is involved in playing politics, which I never have been. Having said all of that, the survival process of being a Jazz musician in modern times has not been easy. In fact, I almost live month-to-month. Some great months and some not so good, but it has definitely been worth it. Look who I got to perform and record with over the years, with many more to go. How many people or even musicians can say that? I'm very grateful. Fortunately, I have very cheap rent in NYC. There were many grey days where Frank Lowe and I had to walk to the Jazz Record Center to sell our CDs to get dinner money or for the phone bill. Blue Reality! I miss Lowe!
The booking agents that I am involved with that book my tours in Europe, where incidentally most of my work is, currently are having difficulties because of the tumultuous economic situation in Europe, so this puts a daily strain on us as well. I am not the only musician, as you know, who experiences these similar problems. I'm sure I could list several brilliant recording artists, who like myself, have had esteemed recording discographies and a lot of prestigious gigs, but never a magnified profile in the scene. But, one always finds a way to survivegigs, ASCAP, record dates, teaching, workshops, and then maybe some love.
I think, though, I have had some pretty high profile gigs and recordings. To name a few, (go to my new website to see the rest: www.michaelmarcusjazz.com) I have performed at the Blue Note club in NYC with my group six times. I have performed at The Modern Museum of Art in NYC twice, toured all the major festivals in Canada (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.) with Jaki Byard. Performed at the London Jazz Festival, which was aired live on BBC, performed on several festivals with The Cosmosamatics all over the world (Tampere Festival, Banlieues Bleues Festival) and many festivals with my trio. The Cosmosamatics are regularly played on national TV on BETjazz and, as you stated, all my recordings have been on recognized labels with reviews in all the major publications.
As a matter of fact, yesterday I looked at some radio station websites. In the Chicago area I noticed that my new recording The Magic Door is number one on their airplay list and number two on the airplay list on Montreal's main jazz radio station. Duology also has been riding high on some of the college stations as well. From more of this type of recognition from DJs around the country playing my music, ASCAP can continue to do its job by issuing their checks to me in a more regular way. The artists in jazz need this addition to their income since, as everyone knows, record sales royalties from their prospective record company have diminished for jazz musicians because of slow record sales.
Rememberonly artists that are on major labels, that get tour support, are selling large numbers of CDs, respectfully. The larger record companies are advertising their product internationally in multiple publications, which the small independent labels cannot do. My recordings have never sold in large numbers (who really has in my world of peers?) except Reachin' (Justin Time, 1996), which has chordal acquisitionist Bruce Edwards on guitar. But respectfully, I keep getting interest from producers to have my discography stay alive by being recorded on what I think are some of the more important independent labels out there. I have been fortunate because I have always got paid as a leader or sideman for my record dates and never had to produce a recording with my own monies. This is not a negative or positive, it's just economics for me.
Maybe some promoters or critics will investigate some of my new projects, and thus from that, we can get some more gigs...hey, that would be nice. So one does the best he can and hopes his music will spread a little joy and seep through the cracks where beauty rests.