Blog Repost: The New Record Deal

I recently read this very well-thought out and articulated blog post by fellow trumpeter and friend Kelly Rossum. Definitely worth checking out and thinking about…here’s the entire post with the link to Kelly’s blog as well.

The New Record Deal (by Kelly Rossum)

“Have University positions become the new major label record deal for today’s jazz musician? When I moved to New York in the late ’80s/early ’90s, [we] were either looking to play in the band of someone famous or to get signed by a major record label. Today, since neither is an option, university positions seem to be the “new hustle,” as one of my colleagues likes to put it.” – Sam Newsome, quoted from Downbeat, June 2010. He is on faculty at Long Island University Brooklyn Campus.

The Past

The legendary “Record Deal” is an endangered species. It was the golden gateway to success throughout the history of jazz. An artist would get signed by a label, go into a recording studio, capture lightning in a bottle, and walk out with a paycheck. More importantly, this was the only way to get your music distributed to record stores across the country, and eventually into the hands of eager listeners. The label would hopefully make money because of the artist’s work and in turn provide a certain amount of support for live performances, in order to sell more records. This circle of life evolved slowly, from 78’s through the Compact Disc, it was the law of the land. This was the Jazz Dream.

The Record Deal provided musicians a needed supplementary income to assist with their performance career. All great jazz musicians spent time in the studio, in order to walk out with a check. Touring was the heart of every career, but the income and exposure from the label’s marketing department, provided the skeletal support and the public image needed for their livelihood.

As jazz aged and became more socially acceptable, it was introduced into academia. At this time, a musician either primarily taught jazz as a career or they would primarily perform jazz as a career. Not to diminish in any way the greatness of their mission, these early jazz educators were heroes in their own right. They had to create entire curricula, essentially constructing the entire industry of jazz education. They had to bravely defend the artform from the highbrow attacks of traditional classical methodologists deeply fortified within the Ivory Tower. They have succeeded, the point has been proven. We need jazz education.

There is still a false assumption that this concept of teach vs. play is relevant, even when dancing along the lines of a “teacher who plays” or a “player who teaches”. When a young musician thinks, “I’m going to make it as a player,” what does that really mean these days? Or, “I’m going to be a teacher,” and teach WHAT exactly?

Times are changing. Remember, this year’s Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” went to a Jazz Professor at Berklee College of Music.

The Present

The old industry chain of: Record Deal – Label – Distributor – Record Store – Consumer, is dead and gone. Big labels are toast. Distributors, well… (who?? ‘nuff said). I gotta say though, that I do miss the record stores. I loved flipping through the vinyl and the cassettes looking for new music. The record store was one of the two types of stores I could ever enjoy browsing as a consumer, the other being a good book store.

In addition to the death of the Record Deal and the disappearance of all that it brought to the table for jazz musicians, touring has come to a standstill. The heart of our artform has some serious cholesterol issues. Gas is above $3 a gallon, as compared to less than a dollar during most of jazz’s history. Jazz clubs can’t afford to stay open, let along pay the band. And sadly, because of the natural passing of time, the jazz greats, who could lead a band that would always draw a crowd, have all but vanished from the scene. Marquee acts are hard to find these days. The Big Label marketing machine has disappeared and the next generation of jazz greats is struggling (along with the rest of the music industry) to get their music noticed in the sea of information called the Internet. What was once a trickle of free music has become a flood.

The current industry path for music is: Home (or cheap) Recording, upload directly to the web, to be downloaded immediately by the consumer. Remember feeling guilty when copying a buddy’s record onto cassette tape? Well that’s NOTHING compared to free downloading. Check this site out, YouTube Mp3. C’mon, most kids don’t even own a stereo.

So with touring at a crawl and record income eradicated by free downloads, how does a performing jazz musician stay afloat? Education. Look closely at the touring musicians’ calendars, an unusually high percentage of appearances are within some sort of academic environment. Clinics, festivals and guest appearances at high schools and universities are some of the most lucrative performance venues these days. And if they are lucky, they may even get an adjunct teaching gig in their hometown. This is not an accident. It is however, a secret. Performers still want to be considered Jazz Musicians, not Jazz Educators. Because of our twisted vision of marketing (which is still based on the old Record Label hierarchy), everyone feels threatened. Since there is still money in jazz education, there is a feeling of envy and resentment towards teachers from players who are struggling. There is also an odd feeling of insecurity from teachers who choose not to perform (for whatever reason) and they feel threatened by the image of the touring professional. When the going gets tough, everyone gets jealous.

It’s time for these negative dis-associations to stop. If you teach you CAN play. If you perform, you ARE qualified to teach. It is NOT one or the other, it’s BOTH.

Perhaps the coveted university gig has indeed become the New Record Deal. Here’s a short (and incomplete) list of performing jazz trumpeters and their respective “labels”:



Donald Byrd, one of my early heroes on the horn, has taught music at Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University and Delaware State University. (source: Wikipedia)

For every jazz trumpeter with a teaching gig, there are at least 10 who are looking, in hopes of finding a good fit. I know some heavy cats in NYC (and elsewhere) who are actively applying for University jobs. It’s a difficult market. They not only are competing with the multitude of recent jazz school graduates, but they themselves may need to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree, just to satisfy the university’s strict employment policies. This is our current reality.

Of course teaching at a university is much more than getting signed to a record label. Don’t let my analogy here belie my deep commitment to Jazz Education.

Now to finally bring my blog up to date…

Last August (2010) I accepted a Visiting Assistant Professor / Director of Jazz Studies position, at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. This appointment has kept me traveling back and forth between Alabama and New York (and Minnesota). The school’s former Jazz Director and Trumpet Professor, Chip Crotts, built a fantastic Jazz Ensemble program during his tenure here and it’s been an honor to re-establish the program as one of the state’s premier jazz destinations. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with these talented student musicians here at JSU.

The Future

I have just (March 2011) accepted a tenure track position as Director of Jazz Studies back east at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, to begin August 15, 2011. I’m truly very excited to join their esteemed faculty and to develop a program specifically addressing the needs of a modern jazz musician.

A bit of advice to those musicians who are just graduating college and are planning to pursue a career in jazz: if you are hoping to get a college teaching gig to supplement your performance career, you are now competing with top-level professional jazz musicians. Not too long ago, those same musicians weren’t looking for University jobs, they didn’t need to…

The upside of this future reality is the global exportation of jazz musicians. The young jazz musicians of the world are already coming to the United States to study jazz, and our Jazz Artists (performers/teachers) are increasingly relocating to other countries to pursue their modern jazz careers. This trend will not only increase, it will become the United States’ primary artistic export to the world.


What I Learned About Playing the Trumpet in 2010

Yes, I know this blog is coming in March of 2011 and 2010 seems like FOREVER ago. My bad. Turns out I’ve got so many things going on that I haven’t had a second to think about blogging this year. That being said, here’s a post I’ve been wanting to share for a while – What I Learned About Playing the Trumpet: 2010 edition.

-You can’t be creative & critical at the same time. I continue to learn that better trumpet playing comes directly as a result of letting go of judgement and critique of myself while I’m in the process of playing. My dad has told me this phrase a ton of times and I’m slowly getting it more and more. When I let my sound and my overall level of playing be what it’s going to be in a given moment – imperfections and all – I can then finally operate out of a creative mindset which ultimately leads to better playing. (Inner Game 101…)

It’s all about the air. Whenever I run into trouble with consistency, upper register, clarity, etc. I’m almost positive now that it’s because I’m not letting my air do the work. I often try to manipulate the sound while I’m playing (my next point…) and therefore my air can’t work like it’s supposed to. Not necessarily more air either – just using my air stream efficiently and like I would take a natural breath.

I should approach playing with the goal of being totally in control at all times, while letting my sound be utterly “wild” and “free.” This is a beautiful dichotomy to me: while I must be in control of what’s happening all the time (having a “closed hand” approach with regards to concentration), my sound must always have the maximum amount of uninhibited energy and forward motion (having an “open hand” approach here). For a long time I believed that to get this kind of freedom in my sound I have to totally let go of my mind’s control over the sound and over what I’m playing. This was my idea of “concentration.” However, I’m discovering more and more that true concentration means that my mind is in total control at all times. The best playing comes from a concentrated/focused mind that has its imagination deeply fixed on a free, energetic great sound (whether loud/soft, high/low, etc.)

-Doing the Adam Routine in the morning is not a warm up. For a long time I think I believed that my daily Adam routine serves me as a warm up to get my air, chops & mind going for the day. After re-reading some excellent posts on by Pat Harbison (Trumpet Professor, Indiana University & Bill Adam Forum moderator), I was reminded clearly that the Adam routine isn’t a warm up at all. In fact, I think this goes totally against the mindset that Mr. Adam seeks to foster. Rather than seeing the routine as a warm up, Harbison suggests that it is more of a time to “get in phase with the trumpet.” This means that the trumpet obviously isn’t going to change, we do. So every day we need to orient ourselves to the trumpet with regards to air, control, and concentration. I love these great quotes from Mr. Harbison,

“I don’t NEED to warm up and I don’t even NEED to practice. Practicing shows a lack of self confidence. I like to practice though.”

“Any good player (and definitely any pro) needs to be able to play well (to be “warmed up”) 5 minutes after they get out of the car and hit the stage or the studio. However, the deeper I get into my playing day (and the more of my daily routine I work through) the better I will play.”

-Long tones are my best friend. For real…long tones unlock the depths and nuances of the sound and the more I do them the deeper I get into what this thing is supposed to sound like.

-Upper register playing really doesn’t take more air. Those who were around me while I was at UW-Eau Claire know that upper register was something that only started to click my last year there. As I continue to build my range and try and get things more consistent I continue to learn that it’s not about putting more air into the horn. Rather, it’s about putting relaxed air into the horn that is moving forward.

-I need to be more diligent about playing a soft set each day. I’ve definitely become better at practicing softer but I need to continue to strive for more lyrical etudes and flow exercises. Just like how long tones unlock nuances of the trumpet sound, soft playing does the same and really teaches me to use my air correctly and efficiently.

-Conscious Rhythm (as well as evenness to the sound & a songlike, lyrical-ness to playing) comes from surrendering to the “time.” Todd Coolman – world-class bassist/educator & my professor at SUNY Purchase –  says it well when he says, “time is a never-ending continuum that is always happening – you just have to join in.” I think another way to illustrate this concept is the idea of a relay race. When a runner is coming around the turn and you have to take the baton from him, you obviously don’t stand still and wait for him to give it to you. If you did that you’d ruin the momentum that he’s already gathered and you’ll fall way behind the other racers. Same thing applies to “time.” It is always occurring and therefore I don’t need to create time myself (if I try I wreck the flow that is already naturally happening). I just need to join in, step for step, with wherever the time is at. When we do this, we surrender ourselves to the time and it almost “pulls” us as we let it dictate our playing. I’ve found that, for me, this results in an incredible difference in my execution, ease of playing, lyrical-ness of my playing, and the evenness of everything I play.


**to note, I’m surely not an expert in trumpet playing now. I definitely don’t have things figured out and I’m far from being the player I want to be. Rather, these are certain things that have been incredibly enlightening to me in the past year and have drastically changed how I approach playing the trumpet. Please feel free to question or comment in any way, especially if I wasn’t clear with my words.

Putting Equipment in its Rightful Place

I’ve had some thoughts this week on how much we as musicians should value the equipment we play on. Let me specify – I’ve been thinking about how trumpet/brass players in particular should think about equipment. Here are some thoughts:

Never Let Your Equipment Take the Place of Practicing Your Butt Off (i.e. don’t make it your crutch)

Where I think brass players go wrong sometimes is that we often think “to get this sound/to play this way, I need this horn/mouthpiece,” where we should be thinking “to get this sound/to play this way, I need to practice these certain things and teach myself to sound this way.” The primary difference is that in the latter example we place the responsibility on ourselves for sounding the way we want to, rather than making the instrument the main actor (relying on the instrument) in creating our sound. Ultimately, equipment can’t replace hard work. We can’t think that a certain horn or a specific mouthpiece will drastically change how I play and how I sound (I say drastically for a reason…I’ll elaborate in a second). If we do, we are using the instrument as a crutch to attain the results we want, rather than shedding our butts off to and then having control over how we sound. That’s the goal primarily – to have control over how I play and not let the instrument control how I sound.

When You Master Your Instrument/Have Control Over How You Play, THEN Think About Equipment

In my opinion, the point we should be at when we can start thinking about changing equipment is the point where we have a certain degree of mastery over our instrument – or, when we have control over how we sound. When we get to this point, we can almost take any horn and any mouthpiece and make it sound great AND make it sound like what we want to sound like. To give an exaggerated example, I’ll never forget seeing and hearing Robert Baca, my trumpet teacher at UW-Eau Claire, in studio class one wednesday night. He seriously played the Telemann Piccolo Trumpet Concerto on Bb TRUMPET. And it sounded exactly like a pic! I’ve seen Mr. Baca do this in tons of other contexts too…this is a prime example of having mastery over your instrument and having a sound so clear in your head that you can control the way you sound on virtually any other instrument.

Mr. Baca also tells a great story of a friend of his playing lead on the Buddy Rich Band and dominating the band on a 1C mouthpiece (for non-trumpet players, that’s what most orchestral players use to get a darker orchestral sound, not what lead players usually use to get a bright big band sound). Again, MASTERY OVER THE INSTRUMENT.

When we do get to this point in the control we have over our instruments, then a horn or mouthpiece can make differences in how we sound…minor differences. It’s no lie that a pea shooter lead mouthpiece will make my sound a lot thinner than a deeper “normal” mouthpiece. And obviously our horns need to be in good working condition – I’m not speaking to “valves not being oiled and still having mastery”…but in general, I think equipment will only make minor differences in how we sound in the long run. Sometimes we replace the different “feel” that the instrument has with how it sounds – most times I would say this is incorrect. We often fool ourselves into thinking that something sounds way different when actually it only feels different to us. Again, make no mistake – I’m saying here that equipment DOES matter! But, I’m saying that it matters only after you have mastery over your instrument and, thus, that it’s only going to make minor differences in how you sound.

Our instruments are meant to be an extension of who we are. They are meant to project the sound we have in our heads, not project the sound they have in themselves. A trumpet is just a piece of brass – really…the sound does not come from the instrument itself but it comes from US! If that’s the case, then let’s not be lazy. Let’s take the responsibility on ourselves to sound the way we want to sound. Once we do, we can think about how equipment can add nuance to our sound and take our playing from an already high level to a world-class level.

the magical artistry of Tom Harrell

Whew…long time between blog posts. YIKES. I told myself that I had to write about the 2 times I’ve seen trumpeter Tom Harrell in the past month – both have been absolutely incredible.

I first saw Tom play @ the Village Vanguard with his band, very shortly after he released his latest CD, “Roman Nights” (check it out here…) The new music he’s writing is really incredible, first off. I got a chance to chat with the drummer Johnathan Blake after the first set and he was telling me that Tom is always writing for the band and, because they’ve been together for some time now, he’s really starting to settle in a groove of how to write best for the group. But above all, Tom’s playing was out of this world. It helped that he was having an on FIRE night – it seemed like every single note he played was like it’s own masterpiece. It’s unbelievable to me how, despite Tom’s trumpet playing not being nearly what it was years ago, there still lies a purity and a subtle power in his playing that I’ve never heard anyone else come even remotely close to displaying. His phrasing continues to be more impeccable over the years, and his ideas and motives are strung together in way that defies beauty. Those two sets were life changing for me, musically…what an incredible thing to hear such beauty and cohesiveness in a trumpeter.

Second, I caught him playing with the SUNY Purchase Latin Jazz Orchestra and, while it was a completely different situation, Tom still brought his artistry up to another level. It’s truly amazing to me to see someone create like he does – always spontaneous and always so cohesive. Talk about someone making BEAUTIFUL melodies – which is what the heart of this music is.

Do yourself a favor and seriously check out Tom Harrell (esp. Roman Nights) if you haven’t much – it’s worth every second. Also, here’s a short list of youtube videos that are stellar too…

Hamburg video

Quintet – 2007

Quintet 2008 – Rhythm A Ning

w/Joe Lovano – Sail Away

w/Phil Woods

Desperation Mode

In going through the ups and downs of life, I’ve been noticing something really interesting lately. I call it Desperation Mode.

I’ve noticed that when I have a humbling day or few days on the trumpet, or a humbling day or two in my walk with Christ, my eyes are opened and I see so many weaknesses and imperfections in myself. Consequently, in the process of becoming incredibly humbled (in any of these ways), I see the need for me to become more devoted and more intense in my pursuit of what I’m going for. In these times I’ve often wondered, “Shouldn’t my devotion be like this all the time?”

Isn’t it interesting that, only when I see how much of a need there is for intense devotion in any sphere of life, do I step up my level of commitment, vigor and determination towards it…Being in New York City has definitely made me feel this ALL THE TIME! I’m constantly surrounded by incredible musicians who inspire me to no end…and what does this make me realize quickly? I need to practice! But only when I am exposed to something that reveals weakness in me do I step up that determination and drive to practice more than I ever have…

Or how interesting has it been for me to notice that when I am faced with a serious need or grace from God (i.e. provision of finances, an apartment, jobs, etc), or I see more of the deceitfulness of my heart as a sinner (and therefore see how much I can’t accomplish what God asks of me on my own strength), these are the times when my relationship with God is the deepest and most alive. As hard or as humbling as my circumstances might be, the fellowship I experience with God when I see my lowliness and my need for Him is incredible!

John Piper calls it the “wartime mentality” – I’ll never forget that phrase…it’s so vivid! Think about times during the first World War or the Depression of the late 20’s-early 30’s, and think about how families would store up food, clothing, firewood, etc. because they knew that they needed to be prepared for the worst at any given moment. Yet, when there isn’t a war going on, what need would we see to store up these things? We wouldn’t! Why? Because we didn’t need it at the time…but if that time came and we weren’t expecting it, we would be found to have deceived ourselves into thinking that we didn’t need what we should’ve had in the first place…

I’ve realized that I need to view my daily practice, my daily time with God in the Word, my relationships with people, etc. with so much more urgency. Maybe that’s the word I’m looking for...Urgency always calls for swift and prompt action, because there’s an immediate need for it. So the first step is that I need to see my needs accurately. Only when I see my needs for what they are can I act promptly and accurately. When I get out of the mindset that I don’t need to bust my butt practicing everyday, or that I don’t need to meet with God in the Word daily, or even to see myself accurately for what I am (i.e. seeing my weaknesses for what they are), I deceive myself into thinking that I don’t really need these things when I really do. And when I fail to see things for what they truly are, I also miss out on the thriving and intense fellowship that I really long for (whether in music, with God or in some other sphere of life). I want to be after that

And so, one of my resolves is becoming this: ALWAYS HAVE A “WARTIME MENTALITY”

Clifford Brown w/Strings

I’ve been hooked on the Clifford Brown w/Strings album lately, and I think I’ve decided it might be one of my top 10 albums, period. This album is so incredibly beautiful – I’ve never heard ballads played like this! Not only does Neal Hefti put out lush string arrangements to back up Clifford, but Clifford’s playing is some of the deepest and most musical that I know. That seems like a bold claim, so let me explain:

Clifford plays only melodies for almost 90% of the album. And the best part is that these melodies don’t sound a bit stale or lacking of meaning and passion – they are breathtaking! Here we have Clifford Brown, the man that hard bop trumpet was essentially founded on, playing an album of ALL ballads, with STRINGS, and he’s only playing MELODIES. That should say enough about the simplicity and purity in Clifford’s playing right there.

We always say that the best musicians are the ones who can express something deeply personal to them. Monk said once that the true genius is one that is “most like himself.” With this in mind and considering this album, it’s interesting to note that this album was dedicated by Clifford to his wife LaRue. So essentially, he devotes a whole album to his lover and thus carries it out with the utmost in passion, tenderness and sheer affection. It’s astounding how clearly this comes across throughout the entire album.

I’m also meditating a lot on the fact that Clifford Brown basically set a new standard for jazz musicians as far as morality goes. The more I read about Brownie the more I’ve noticed that not one bad thing is said about him. And it’s not that the musicians who knew him are simply indifferent to him. Rather, they are very direct in mentioning his genuine heart for people and how his “clean” lifestyle affected every single person that met him. That’s just amazing to me.

Musically speaking. the depth of Brownie’s playing on this album is unbelievable. The way he bends and plays with the time makes the music feel like it just flows effortlessly. The way he varies his articulation provides a beautiful contrast with the long sustained notes of the melody. One of the most stunning things to listen to is how he works dynamics into his lines. There are constant ebbs and flows/in’s and out’s in the dynamics, just like any great singer would express it. And that’s one of the most beautiful parts about it – he SINGS! It is unbelievable how much Clifford is singing through the horn and how the full range of his sound is demonstrated in that. At times it’s breathy, and at times it’s rich and brassy – but ALL the time it’s GORGEOUS.

Definitely check out this album and get it if you don’t have it – I think it’ll become on of your favorites pretty quickly…

Digging Deep (musically speaking)

I’ve started lessons with Jon Faddis at SUNY Purchase now, and I’m beginning to see deeper into my playing than I ever have before. Namely, I’m seeing that there is something about how I approach playing the trumpet or playing music where I’m missing the essence of it in some way. There’s no doubt I can play the trumpet because I’ve been playing for years and honing it for years as well. However, it seems as though there’s this “mystery” substance or essence that I have not unlocked and I’m finally seeing it.

I’m realizing again and again that I often play out of fear not wanting to “make mistakes,” when in reality, I can’t ever attain perfection (little do I believe…). I’m also realizing that when I’ve thought that all I was thinking about was sound, really what I’ve been thinking has been thoughts about how to produce the sound, not the sound itself.

Said in a different way, it is as though a painter were about to paint a work and as he painted he was not really creating but rather filled with so many thoughts about how to paint the “right” way that his art never turned out how it could’ve.

that’s the money phrase I think: CREATE vs. CRITIQUE. My Dad told me once, “You can’t be creative and critical at the same time.” I think he’s right on. And the problem is, all I feel like I know how to do is be critical…

Hence, I’m digging deep right now, musically speaking. I’m working my butt off transcribing Clifford Brown (which has been great!), learning tunes, trying to expand my harmonic vocabulary, etc. But most off all, I’m really digging deep in my soul as I seek to really create music and steward the gift I’ve been given here. Pray for me – I need it mightily!