The ‘working musician’

I was reflecting and even posted a TBT photo of the Louis Armstrong Award which I received as a senior in high school.  I will always be indebted and have great gratitude to my parents who paid for beginner instruments and  private lessons.  You see, back in the day – it was imperative that one learn to read, even sight-read music.  In order to play in one of the many touring regional dance bands, orchestras or in a pit orchestra – sight-reading was a prerequisite. And of course if you were in a junior high or high school band program you had to read music, whether it be a wind ensemble, orchestra or jazz band.  Of course things change – in music, they always do – I remember my friend and one of the greatest selling Record Producers of all time – Phil Ramone, make a remark that, ‘you cannot follow a trend, by the time you do, they will be on to a new one.’  Anyway you get my drift – the point being that, take for example the 3rd largest market in the US – Chicago, there is limited work for ‘working musicians.’  Today, I can think of few limited scenarios where it is required that you sight-read on the gig or ‘bandstand.’   We have pit orchestras to support Broadway in Chicago, several society bands and orchestras and a fine collection of big bands including: Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Great Postmodern Nightmare Big Band, and the DePaul University, Columbia College, etc. jazz ensembles.  Unfortunately, these ensembles typically perform once per month as the expense are not commensurate with the demand.

Now please allow me to clarify – there are numerous restaurants and clubs presenting live music which is fantastic, a comprehensive understanding of theory, scales and chord progressions are essential – rather that be in a blues, rock, R&B or a jazz setting.   What I’m addressing is the fact that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for ‘working musicians’ who have the ability to sight- read on a consistent basis.

I Produced a session for Carrie McDowell that involved the top jazz musicians in Chicago, a brilliant arranger and the top sound engineer in the city three years ago – and for some of us involved – it was the last time 22+ musicians played live in the same room together.  If only there remained a demand in dance halls and in the recording studios in so many cities as there was in the 40’s through the mid-70’s for live, creative, arranging and sight-reading musicians.