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Roberta Piket: Focusing on the Music


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Native New Yorker Roberta Piket is a pianist who loves to explore the more inventive territory of jazz and improvised music. A gifted composer, she was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk BMI Composers' Competition. Her latest album, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland, reached JazzWeek and CMJ Jazz Top 50.

Piket graciously shares a bit of her own career philosophy with us, along with helpful tips on how to flourish in the music business of today.

All About Jazz: In this ever-changing music business world, how do you manage to remain positive and productive?

Roberta Piket: I try not to spend too much time thinking about the music business. I do what needs to be done, but I don't dwell on it or obsess about it constantly. I try to focus on the music. I've also been trying to meditate a little every day. The music business can be a source of stress but so are a lot of things in modern life. It's important to enjoy life and not live for some future time when things will be exactly the way you want them!

AAJ: Great advice. I would also add, be persistent in your goals, and never quit.

In your opinion, is gigging an important factor for a successful music career?

RP: I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this question. It depends on your definition of "career success." Do you want to have a huge following on YouTube? Do you want to be a busy sideperson? Do you want to have a live following so you can get paid to tour with your band? I don't think realistically you are going to accomplish those goals through gigging. What gigging does do is help you to grow as a musician. Performing is one of the ways we hone our craft. For most instrumentalists, including myself, it's also rewarding on its own, without there being a career goal. So I think musicians should gig because they want to gig. Not for any other reason.

AAJ: Please tell us how/why you decided to record your latest album, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland.

RP: I arranged several of Marian's compositions for sextet. Marian had mentioned to me a couple of times that she regretted that her tunes had not been recorded more by other artists. I always loved Marian's tunes which is why I had recorded them on several of my CDs.

In 2014, after her passing in late 2013, I was thinking about a project to honor Marian and her legacy. Then pianist Peggy Stern invited me to appear at the Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York. Peggy wanted something bigger than a trio. I hit upon the idea of arranging some of Marian's music for a larger group. What better way to pay tribute to Marian than at a concert featuring women bandleaders?

AAJ: How are you promoting your album? Do you use radio promoters and publicists to make a splash in the market?

RP: In the past I did it all myself or I would hire an intern. For this CD I hired both a professional radio promoter and a professional publicist and did well. But a career is a work in progress. I plan to release another record within the next year and hopefully hire them again. If you don't intend to release a record at least every two years to build on the work that those professionals have done, then it's a waste of money to hire them. It has to be sustainable.

AAJ: That is advice worth pondering. I tend to agree that we artists should keep creating and releasing product at least every two years, if not yearly, but some would argue it is cost prohibitive.

What do you feel are the main challenges jazz musicians face right now?

RP: In the United States, it's lack of cultural and economic support for artists in general and jazz in particular. Also lack of health insurance which artists in every other developed country are guaranteed.

AAJ: Yes, and the fact that there are only about five media conglomerates who control what Americans hear on the airwaves doesn't help.

How are you utilizing social media to help your music career?

RP: I think the real question is how much can social media help you relative to the amount of time you invest in it? Social media can be very time consuming. I use syndicators like Hootsuite so I only have to post once to access many social media outlets. This makes it much more productive. I don't think of it as a way to sell more albums. Just like hiring a publicist, it's about repetition—keeping people aware that you exist.

AAJ: What keeps you, as a jazz musician, creating new music? What provides the driving force and inspiration behind your work?

RP: Professionals don't wait to be inspired. I sit down at the instrument every day and work. I've learned that it's the consistency that allows me to play my best and keep the creative juices flowing. Having said that, certainly planning an upcoming project such as a gig or a recording helps motivate me to compose and practice more.

AAJ: Any other music business tips that come to mind?

RP: Don't isolate yourself behind the internet in your self-contained MIDI world. Interact with real musicians and other artists. Build relationships, work with other musicians. That's how you grow. Seek out people who are better than you, but also find your peers—the people you will hire and who will hire you.

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