… or, how Rudresh Mahanthappa pays the bills.
Some choice quotes:
"The dream is that in the future I spend more time playing music. Right now, I spend most of my time hustling: emailing, on the phone, applying for grants. I don't have a manager or an agent. I have 12 students who I teach for about ten hours each week."
"The summer after my first year at Berklee, I got a cruise ship gig that was a big eye-opener. Almost every musician on the ship had forgotten the reason they started playing," Mahanthappa tells me. "No one cared about music any more. They were just drinking, living the life on the ship. And I thought, if that's what making a living as a musician is about, then I want no part of it."
The musicians, as it turns out, make little or nothing from their records. Jazz recordings, for the most part, are calling cards; demo recordings to get you into a club and advertisements so the small but dedicated batch of jazz nuts knows what you're about. The money — for Mahanthappa or Rollins or even Keith Jarrett — is mainly in the fee the musician can charge for his hardest work: playing gigs. Still, even if your disc is only going to sell a thousand copies, tops, you need a record label to get your name into the stacks at Barnes & Noble, Tower, Virgin, even the Downtown Music Gallery.
"Younger people are the market for this music," he says. "I don't really identify with labels — and my music isn't 'free jazz'. It's very structured. But I'm not interested in selling out at all." At the same time, Mahanthappa would love to have the chance to record for a major label jazz imprint, like Blue Note. "I know a deal like that wouldn't last, but the promotion would boost my future career away from a major label." In jazz, even dreams of success are leavened with hard reality.