Saturday, December 14, 2013

Women In Jazz excerpt #3: New Business Models

Number three in a series of excerpts I'm crafting for the introduction to Women In Jazz. The copy is, of course, still a work-in-progress, but constructive comments and suggestions are more than welcome. The other two excerpts I've posted are Concerns About The Book's Title and A (Very) Brief History Of Women In Jazz.

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Anat Cohen (Photo by Jimmy Katz)
New Business Models

“I was a very rare artist in the 90s, to have that ability to produce my own albums. I decided my own music and my fate, my image, my everything. I controlled that. Not a record company.” — Dee Dee Bridgewater to the author, 2013

When asked, each musician I interviewed for this book confirmed they are seeing more women than ever working in the music industry, and not only as musicians, but as recording engineers, managers, label owners, and publicists. This growing emergence of women in an industry that is almost unrecognizable when compared to what it was at the end of the 20th century, is significant, given what women bring to the proverbial table in times of upheaval and traumatic change.[i]

The business paradigms that since the earliest days of the music industry have destroyed the livelihood of artists are now being challenged and renegotiated by pop stars, such as Madonna and Beyoncé, as well as women musicians across the spectrum of jazz. Artist-run labels, crowdfunding, and new types of contracts with recording labels are just a few of the ways the artists interviewed in this book are taking control of the business of making music.   

Artist-Run Labels

"Anzic Records didn't start just because I wanted artistic freedom. It started because I wanted to have control over what happens to my albums…The days where musicians just played music and didn't need to think about business are over." — Anat Cohen to the author, 2013.

All of the musicians I interviewed for this book are actively involved in recording, promoting, and selling their music. Several of the interviewees own or co-own independent record labels and/or production companies, including Anat Cohen (Anzic Records), Jane Ira Bloom (Outline Music), Dee Dee Bridgewater (DDB Productions, Inc.), and Carmen Lundy (Afrasia Productions), or manage distribution and sales of their music through their own websites and/or online platforms for selling CDs and downloads, such as CD Baby and Bandcamp.

In 1969, long before the advent of the Internet and MP3s, jazz vocalist Betty Carter took control of her music by creating a label she named Bet Car Records which, in turn, inspired Bridgewater to start her own label and production company.

"I would go over to (Betty's) house and she would have her LPs lined up in the hallway (as) she was preparing to ship them out,” says Bridgewater. “My biggest influence has been Betty Carter. Not because I tried to sound like her or imitate her…but because I wanted that kind of freedom.”[ii]

As a member of a thriving, forward-thinking music community based in New Haven, Connecticut in the mid-1970s, a community that included trombonist George Lewis, drummer Gerry Hemmingway, and bassist Mark Dresser, composer and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom was given the impetus to start her own record label and publishing company, Outline Music. Bloom points out in her interview for this book that the recording industry at the time "was in a real lull," meaning, if you were a creative but relatively unknown artist that "had music that was worth documenting," you had to learn how to record, package, and distribute your own album.

The independent music label New Artists Records began in 1982 after pianist Connie Crothers and the drummer Max Roach recorded a series of spontaneously improvised duets. When no record company expressed interest in releasing the recordings, Crothers and Roach formed the label, which was later reconfigured to operate as a cooperative. Each musician on New Artists Records contributes to the operating expenses of the label and receives 100% of his or her album sales.

Since digital technology now allows audio and video recordings to be easily bootlegged and uploaded to the Internet, an overwhelming number of aural and visual examples of jazz performance, going as far back to the turn of the century and on into the present day, are readily available and instantly accessible to both casual consumers and serious students of music. In her 2009 interview with the website Solidarity, Crothers describes the impact the Internet has had on smaller as well as "big record companies."

"This is a change in the technology of distribution,” says Crothers, “and like other similar changes in technological history it will not be stopped. One conclusion is, inevitably, that recording is no longer a feasible way to make money."

However, in the same interview, Crothers acknowledges that there is a flip side to the less than artist-friendly aspects of the Internet.

"In a time when people bemoan the failure of jazz,” says Crothers, “you can get the music of just about every jazz artist who ever lived and recorded. Having gone through a time in the 1960s when it was impossible to get records of even some giants like Charlie Parker, this seems like a renaissance to me."[iii]


Crowdfunding has become an extremely popular method for musicians to raise funds for specific projects, such as the recording of a new album. With crowdfunding, a musician sets the funding goal for his or her project and then uses an online platform such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to promote a fundraising campaign and facilitate monetary donations from fans to the project. Most campaigns offer a variety of “rewards” to donors, each based on the dollar amount of a donation. Crowdfunding platforms are typically for-profit businesses, and donations to a campaign are not tax deductible. However, the New York-based art infrastructure organization Fractured Atlas, which offers fiscal sponsorship to artists without not-for-profit status, is partnered with IndieGoGo so that online crowdfunded donations to Fractured Atlas artist-members are tax deductible.  

Composer and big band leader Maria Schneider is one of the best-known jazz artists to successfully, and repeatedly use crowdfunding, specifically the online platform ArtistShare, to finance the recording of several of her critically acclaimed albums. Among the interviewees in this book, trumpeter and composer Samantha Boshnack, used Kickstarter to raise over $6,000 toward the recording of Go To Orange by her fifteen-member ensemble B’Shnorkestra. Violinist Mazz Swift, bassist Jennifer Leitham and cellist Nioka Workman have also each utilized crowdfunding platforms to fund their recording projects.  

New Types Of Contracts

In her interview for this book, drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington explains how a recording project with a strong concept or "angle," such as her Grammy award-winning album The Mosaic Project, which features an all-female line up of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and Latin-music artists, can help the process of securing what is called a license deal with a record company.

In a license deal, the artist is expected to cover the costs of recording an album and deliver a finished product to the label. The artist then licenses out the rights to the recording for a finite period to a label, splitting any income that comes in from sales and licensing deals to television shows, commercials, and/or movies, before all rights revert back to the artist.[iv]

Unlike the standard album deal, a license deal allows an artist to avoid being in debt to a label and retain the rights to their master recordings, rights that allow them to earn additional income so long as their music remains available and in print.[v] Many of the artists interviewed in this book have benefited from license deals or what I call "hybrid" deals, which combine aspects of standard royalty, license, and manufacturing and distribution deals.

Musicians typically spend their formative years practicing and playing and honing their technique; this timeline of disciplined focus is crucial for any musician with aspirations of playing at the professional level. However, when it comes to building a career, a musician will be at a serious disadvantage if they do not also develop a basic understanding of the music business.

“For me it took, like, 20 years in before I was really seeing how involved I could be on (the business) side of things,” says Carrington, who believes music business classes should be a mandatory part of a music conservatory’s curriculum.

“Everybody has to know certain things,” says Carrington. “It all should be talked about as early as possible.”

[i] "With Another Country, Cassandra Wilson continues to expand the boundaries of jazz," by Chris Becker, Culturemap Houston, October 18, 2012.
[ii] Marian McPartland also started her label Halcyon Records that same year.
[iii] “Jazz in the New Depression,” Connie Crothers interviewed by Against the Current for Solidarity, September/October 2009.
[iv] How Music Works, by David Byrne, McSweeny’s, 2012.
[v] Ibid.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Women In Jazz: Concerns About the Book's Title (revised)

An excerpt from my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. This has been one of the most popular excerpts/blog posts since this project began, and I appreciate everyone sharing their thoughts.

(Jack Teagarden, Dixie Bailey, Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Orent in Williams’s apartment, New York, August 1947. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.)

Concerns About The Book's Title

One day, we won’t need a book called Women in Jazz. —Mindi Abair to the author, 2012 

Every single musician I interviewed for this book has thanked me for doing a project that focuses specifically on the contributions of women to the art of jazz music. Several interviewees told me they were pleased to discover that such a book was being written. This is very humbling for me since my respect for musicians, regardless of what kind of music they play, is such that I do not take for granted the time a player grants to me to discuss their work and personal history. That may sound like a line, but it’s not. Speaking now as a composer who is married to a classical singer and enjoys the friendship of several men and women who play, compose, and teach music, the day-to-day commitment of time, energy, and love required to produce art is not an abstract concept to me.

The project gained momentum very quickly. After my initial interview with Mindi Abair, who incidentally, does not identify herself as a “jazz” musician, although she has studied and played the music extensively throughout her musical life, I was able to quickly schedule conversations with Eliane Elias, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Jane Ira Bloom. Having the participation of musicians of this high of a caliber no doubt opened some doors for me as I contact¬ed the publicists and managers of other female artists. However, there were a handful of musicians who turned down my request for an interview for this book, the main reason being the book’s working title.

The working title of the book, Women in Jazz, struck a small number of musicians I approached as being out of date and even denigrating, considering the advances women in all industries have made in the 21st century. If women simply want to be considered as equals to their male counterparts in any industry, why single them out for a gender-specific book? If jazz is, as a [male] musician friend of mine put it, “the great equalizer,” then isn’t gender a non-issue? Either you can play or you can’t, simple as that. One well-known composer and bandleader I approached with my pitch said she was simply “burnt out” on participating in projects where the focus is on women. Another musician explained to me she does not define her creative work in terms of gender, genre, or skin color, and that participating in the project would only contribute to the regulation of her art. I should point out that the musicians who declined to be interviewed made it clear to me that their decision was a personal one and although they would not be participating, they looked forward to seeing such a book in print.

Speaking of gender, is there a place among “women in jazz” for a transgender man or woman? Does pianist and saxophonist Billy Tipton, born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1914, and who passed as a male both professionally and in private life, belong in a book called Women in Jazz? Tellingly, bassist Jennifer Leitham, born John Leitham, who is one of the finest jazz bass players in the world, thanked me at the end of her interview for focusing the majority of my questions on music instead of gender and including her in a book collection of conversations with so many inspiring women. The award-winning film I Stand Corrected (2012) documents Jennifer’s transition from John to Jennifer, a transition she bravely made at a peak in her career and with the support of such high-profile musical colleagues as trumpeter Doc Severinsen and singer Mel Tormé.

I believe I understand and empathize, to the best of my ability as a male, with these concerns about the working title of this book. I believe debating the currency of the words “women” or for that matter “jazz” is healthy and stimulating. But the fact is, very few books in print about jazz make an attempt to comprehensively acknowledge the contributions women have made and continue to make to the music. Judy Chaikin’s film The Girls in the Band is the only film I am aware of that, at the time of this writing, provides a comprehensive overview of women playing jazz in the U.S. from the late 1920s to the present day. There are a relatively small number of notable books that chronicle women musicians as trailblazers in the world of jazz, including Sherrie Tucker’s Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s; Kristin A. McGee’s Some Liked It Hot, which looks at all-girl bands from the 1920s through the 1950s; Linda Dahl’s Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen; Janis Stockhouse’s Women Jazz Musicians: Conversations with 21 Musicians; and Jan Leder’s Women in Jazz: A Discography of Instrumentalists, 1913-1968. (Leder, who is also a flutist, composer, and lyricist, is one of the women interviewed in this book.) Leslie Gourse’s 1996 book Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists collects interviews with several young, contemporary female jazz musicians as well as women in the music business. There is also a growing catalog of academic writings on the subject of women in jazz.

However, male writers writing about the musical accomplishments of male musicians dominate the majority of jazz writing. A typical example is Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now, compiled in 1996 by Robert Gottlieb, in which only 15 out of the 107 individual autobiographical excerpts, reportage, and critical essays are written by women or are about women in jazz.

So while some men and more than a few women believe a book about women in jazz is unnecessary, from my (male) perspective, I do not believe the book is going to do any musician a disservice, not from where I sit, and not at this point in history.