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Resilient, Unified and Resourceful

Note from the Publisher

First of all, I hope you and your family are safe and stay healthy. Unfortunately, many have lost loved ones and our thoughts are with them in this difficult time.

On March 17, I sent to all of our readers the following email: 

We are currently dealing with a totally unknown situation, operating without a roadmap and have to be resilient, flexible and supportive of each other. 
As you probably know by now, the clubs and venues of the tri-state area were closed Monday evening per government order and all gigs have been canceled until further notice. This could last two months, maybe more, as nobody really knows what the future holds. 
Therefore, it's with a heavy heart that I have to share with you that Hot House jazz magazine will not be printed for the first time. I had been committed to going ahead with the April issue, in spite of the loss in advertising revenue, to support and promote our beloved musicians. However, since the clubs and other locations that are our distribution outlets are closed, there is no way for the magazine to actually be delivered to our readers.   
I am at a loss for words to express my sadness. We are monitoring the evolving situation closely and I will announce any sign of light at the end of the tunnel. 
Many artists will be doing live streaming events with a virtual tip jar. We will do our best to update you as we learn about them. In these difficult times, we can still help them by buying their CDs and music. 
It is more than likely that the situation will get worse before it gets better, but we are all in this together and we will all come out of this stronger and more united than ever before. Again, I hope you all remain safe and healthy. 

So many of you replied with heartwarming messages that have kept us upbeat these past eight weeks. Today, we still don’t have any clear idea when the ban will be lifted, and how the social distancing will impact the lives of the musicians on the road, the setting in jazz clubs and their audience. But there is one thing that the past weeks have made brightly obvious: Our jazz community is resilient, unified and resourceful, as demonstrated by all the musicians who switched platforms and are presenting concerts online via Facebook, Zoom and other outlets, which are viewed and followed by the hundreds.

Times have changed, and so do we:

- This May issue of Hot House Jazz magazine is digital-only.

- Although we usually write articles about artists who have upcoming events, this month and until the ban on live performance is lifted, we will bring to you interviews with jazz professionals who inspire us, make the best of this unusual situation and keep the music going.

- Our biweekly “Internet Jazz Rendez-vous Calendar” email blasts update you on all the opportunities to hear beautiful music in the comfort of your home.

- Our daily “Internet Birthday Celebration” email blasts share previously published articles on living artists who are celebrating their birthdays; they also inform, unfortunately, on the passing of jazz artists. Now more than ever, we need to keep our beloved musicians in mind, celebrate and support them.   

In these unchartered times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hot House jazz magazine is hoping to provide some support and joy to the jazz community. As we have been doing since 1982, we are committed to sharing with you the latest in jazz entertainment.

Stay upbeat, be safe.

Gwen Kelley, Publisher

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Christian McBride and Melissa Walker

Alone together, By Elzy Kolb

Bassist Christian McBride and vocalist Melissa Walker live in the present and imagine the future.

Creativity, imagination and the ability to improvise are key ingredients for thriving in the jazz world. In this time of social distancing, shuttered venues and bans on public gatherings, these qualities are proving more important than ever, even before a single note has been played. Instead of imagining ways of using instrumentation, time signatures or keys to give a unique twist to a standard, musicians now must adapt their skills to navigate an increasingly complex world, protect their health, and find new ways to earn a living in the era of COVID-19.

"We're going to have to think of a model different from the current one, and it's going to be a challenge," says vocalist Melissa Walker, the president and founder of the arts education and performance organization Jazz House Kids.

Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect in mid-March, she and her husband, bassist Christian McBride, have been looking for ways to safely share their music. They found one right outside their door. "We wondered what it would be like to go out on the front porch and play for our neighbors," Melissa explains. "They came out of their houses, and people pulled up in cars to stop and listen." In a video shared on Facebook, the twosome perform "Just in Time," to applause, shouts of thanks and car horns honking their approval.

They are reaching a far broader audience—tens of thousands of listeners in more than 30 countries—with Hang @ Home Listening Parties held every Friday night at 8. The concert series, accessible via Zoom or Facebook, benefits Jazz House Kids through a Venmo virtual tip jar. Also available online are a lunchtime concert series every Tuesday at noon, featuring live performances, often by Jazz House Kids' teachers, and master classes every Wednesday at 6 p.m. Jazz House Kids currently offers more than a dozen online classes weekly.

Christian sees an online presence as a necessity for musicians, now and into the future. "Which platform you pick makes a big difference. It's important to study the demographics, as TikToc, Instagram, Facebook and all the others cater to different age groups. Where you choose to display your work matters."

The singer and bassist both note how important live music is to people both on and off the stage. "Beyond the front line, beyond the essential workers, artists are among the most important when it comes to saving people," says Melissa, musing on the healing power of music.

"Part of the beauty of playing is feeling that energy coming back from the people," Christian points out. "I'm ready to start playing for people again in person." But he acknowledges that may not happen in the near future. Chris speculates that with the current social distancing guidelines, the tight quarters of some of New York's venerable jazz clubs could likely accommodate a duo on the bandstand, performing for an audience of 20. "Getting together will never go away, but we won't go back to the way it was for a very long time. We all want to live to be Roy Haynes' age," he says, referring to the 95-year-old drummer.

The bassist is right in thinking that crowded clubs and large-scale festivals are likely to be off the table for a while. On May 4, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York described a four-phase process to gradually reopen businesses in the state, with arts, education and recreation slotted into the final phase. Such activities draw crowds, and contribute to the spread of the virus.

Neither Christian nor Melissa think things will ever go back exactly the way they were at the start of 2020. "It will be interesting, we don't know what will stay and what will go," says the bassist, a self-described optimist. "Ultimately, good things come from a bad situation. You need resistance to get something new to happen."

Melissa notes, "It's interesting to look around the world and see how things are being handled. There was a drive-up festival in Europe, where people stayed in their cars for the show, like the old drive-in movies. We could do that here!" She acknowledges that a commitment to making music available online will coexist with the return of live shows. "Our Hang @ Home last week reached 31 countries, including Croatia, Taiwan, Peru. Why would we ever want to put that back in the box? Future developments will continue to be of a global nature-things we can experiment with and globally experience together."

On June 5, Jazz House Kids sponsors an online emergency relief concert to benefit the jazz community. On the program are live performances by the organization's students and teachers, and footage from past Montclair Jazz Festivals.

"Artists are going to be artists. We'll make sacrifices, that's what we need to do right now. But we'll keep creating, find crevices we can sneak through. We'll evolve," Melissa declares. "Things are changing at a rapid pace. If we can support one another and find ways for artists to live and support their families, we can get through this time with dignity."

Join Christian McBride and Melissa Walker’s Hang @ Home every Friday at 8pm on Zoom or Facebook. Check https://www.facebook.com/jazzhousekids for details.

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Gail Boyd

Things to Come: Gail Boyd on Alternative Jazz Venues, By Eugene Holley, Jr.

Nightclubs, festivals and concert halls, have been the traditional venues where jazz musicians make their money. With virtually no major-label record industry, declining CD sales—thanks to rise of downloadable digital technology—and the disappearance of jazz coverage in American newspapers, the need to find alternative venues for the music is at a fever pitch. Cruise ships, churches and community centers are just some of the performance spaces jazz artists have been utilizing well since the start of the 21st century. One online outlet highlighting the new performance possibilities is Alternative Venues for Jazz (AVFJ), a Facebook public group page with more than 2,500 members. It’s a place for “the community to talk about creating new performance opportunities for the jazz musician,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

Created in 2017, AVFJ is the brainchild of the manager Gail Boyd, of Gail Boyd Management, a New York-based entertainment law firm. Its current client list includes saxophonists Don Braden and Lakecia Benjamin, vocalist Brianna Thomas, the Clayton Brothers Quintet, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and bassist Michael Olatuja. A native of Chicago, Gail earned her law degree from DePaul University School of Law. After moving to New York, in 1976 she became a founding partner in Boyd, Staton and Cave, the city’s first African-American female law firm.

“I wrote to JazzTimes magazine in 2017 and offered to moderate a panel called Alternative Sites for Jazz, after I had read an article saying the median income for jazz musicians was in the range of $14,000 … which is unacceptable,” Gail says. “I wanted to have a panel where we had people talk about alternative ways for jazz musicians to make money, other than jazz clubs and festivals. On my way to the panel, I had my son create a Facebook page so people at the panel could write and leave comments. It morphed into a community of jazz musicians talking about things other than where they were working: That’s the one thing that I insisted they not do.”

That all changed after the emergence of COVID-19, the deadly pandemic that brought the world to a standstill, infected millions, killed thousands, and made large gatherings unsafe, leaving jazz musicians without performance venues. “After the start of the pandemic, nobody was working anywhere, and I reversed that policy of not talking about gigs on AVFJ, and I invited people to post their home concerts, and to talk about how you can buy their music,” Gail notes. “Since the pandemic, my own client, Lakecia Benjamin has been putting things on Facebook, where she’s playing by herself and in a quartet setting. She hasn’t tried to monetize it, but I think that's the beginning of something that could be monetized.”

In recent weeks, there have been dozen of web-based performances, many from home. Others are streamed from empty clubs, among them the International Jazz Day Concert, a couple of online performances by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Jason Marsalis’ tribute to his late father, Ellis, from Snug Harbor in New Orleans. The proliferation of that technology will continue, but the challenge will be how to fully monetize those new endeavors. “I have all of the questions, and none of the answers,” Gail admits. “So the whole purpose is how do we monetize? Not just the artists, but also agents and managers, who aren’t making any money. If your artists are not working, or if they’re getting a $1,000 grant to hold them over, no manager or agent is going to ask for a percentage of that.”

As the solutions evolve, AVFJ provides moral support in trying times. Every weekday at 5 p.m., a member will post a half-hour talk about their music and their gigs, with an emphasis on offering some words of support for their fellow musicians, negotiating a treacherous landscape. “Everybody is feeling the same way now,” Gail points out. “This pandemic is dangerous. It’s serious. And nobody has any idea of when this horror of us not being able to work will end.  And when [the virus] comes back, how will it come back? So that’s an extra layer of despair that I think a lot of people are going through. So if somebody has a word to encourage other musicians during this time, to just stay encouraged, I think that is helpful.”

Catch AVFJ’s talks weekdays at 5 p.m. at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/altvenuesforjazz/

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RIO SAKAIRI

Rapid response team, By Addie Vogt 

Rio Sakairi is a fixture in the New York City jazz community. For the past 20 years, she's been the artistic director of The Jazz Gallery, a venue that prides itself on its creative programming and the uplifting of young, up-and-coming musicians. Rio now tackles this new situation we all find ourselves in: With all venues closed for the foreseeable future, The Jazz Gallery has been one of the first to adapt. Through her blog, Rio shares her thoughts on what's going on in the world, the age of the internet, and what that means for how we experience music while in quarantine. "Initially, I was so bummed that we had to close The Jazz Gallery. And with no end in sight, at that. But necessity is a mother of invention and creativity," she says, and with that, she intends to find a way to take advantage of the quarantine to create something new while staying true to the original concept of The Jazz Gallery.
It seems that each day we are faced with new challenges, and we are slowly and collectively learning what works and what doesn't in this new age of isolation. The live music industry is the same. There's simply no way to reproduce the all-encompassing experience of being in the room with someone sharing a piece of themselves through their performance, feeling the energy of the room and the applause from the audience. Live streaming, while the most common alternative, is not ideal in most ways, whether because of a poor internet connection causing latency issues, low sound and video quality, or the fact that it can be hard to stare at a screen for so much time. 
Rio recognized this quickly, and soon after came "The Lockdown Sessions," aiming to create an entirely new experience, as opposed to an attempt to recreate the live performances we miss. "In each session, I have asked four artists to prepare a 10- or 15-minute video to be presented live on Zoom. There was no parameter to what they can do with the videos, so long as it's a video. Artists will be available throughout the duration of each session to interact with the audience. In my mind, it's live-ish without compromising the quality of music," she declares. With this new format, Rio lets artists produce an experience and gives them a platform to share it and connect with people in these times. 
With the internet and related media our only means of connecting with the larger world, we have been forced to think in ways we didn't have to before, especially when it comes to the traditions of live music, which have stayed relatively similar throughout the past few decades. When it comes to taking new risks in these new times, Rio muses, "Upside to the current horror show is that nobody is complaining that I'm trying things out and sometimes things don't pan out well. People are generous with allowance for me to figure things out. This would have never been OK when things were running normally and people had certain expectations from paid entertainment. But right now, people get that we are dealing with something unprecedented in our lifetime and imperfections are kindly ignored." 
The Jazz Gallery has produced more than 25 events so far, with more on the way, and has gained 30-plus new members since the quarantine began. Everyone's world has changed, and we are all adapting to the best of our ability. Though this year has brought new hardships, it also has presented an opportunity to try something new and different. Rio has tackled this with enthusiastic resilience, continuing to bring the jazz community together. 

Check the multiple and diverse events proposed by The Jazz Gallery at: https://www.jazzgallery.org/calendar

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