composer, conductor, trombone soloist

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New York, Los Angeles, Stubenberg, Vienna, USA, Austria
Ed Neumeister’s profile is the result of long and deep experience. As a performer he has been at the forefront of Jazz for more than 40 years developing a unique voice. Having also worked with high level classical orchestras and ensembles nurtured his focus on conducting and composing. He knows what the musicians need because he was there.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All Dressed up and nowhere to go, challenges of a creative life

It’s March 2010 and so far this year I’ve not played one gig. What the f***?
Life and especially the creative life is sure interesting, filled with challenges but also ripe with positive experiences and influences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even security.

The challenge has been to combine commerce and creativity. It seems like we mostly have to finance our creativity with outside income. I always believed that if I was one of the most accomplished, then work would come and for the most part this has proven correct. I have enjoyed a varied and sustained career as a trombonist, composer and conductor. I followed the old saying: “Build a House and they will come”. Well, I’ve been building a house, not a literal house, of course, although that would be nice too.

I’ve been doggedly working on my “art” and craft as a composer, improviser and trombonist for more than 35 years. My focus has been to create an individual and unique, sound/style. I believe that I’ve been successful with that. I’m commonly referred to as a virtuoso trombonist with a unique sound and harmonic and intervallic sophistication. My plunger playing is unequaled, they say.

I’ve reached many artistic goals, especially as a trombonist. I can play what I hear and then some. Highly respected by my peers. Out, standing in the field. A legend in my own mind. And…. I can’t hardly get a gig. Build a house and they will come?

In addition to ongoing and never ending studies as a musician, composer, improviser etc,. I have spent a great deal of time studying marketing and promotion in order to make the most of my career and any income possibilities.

Boy, have I made some mistakes though. But that’s how we learn, isn’t it?
For example, for my new website project and the release of my latest CDs. In order to “do it right”, I hired two publicists, one for Radio and the other for print etc, plus a lawyer to make sure all the ducks were in a row and to help with the contracts and other business. The result was that I spent thousands of dollars of borrowed money to release and publicize my work with zero return. Nice!!

The Radio publicist did a good job getting radio airplay. With many spins in the US and Canada and the CD on the “Charts”. This translated into exactly zero sales, really….. zero, not one, zip, nada, nichts….. Ah, the music-business. Is that an Oxymoron?

There are many comments on my video performances on YouTube. The Solo Improvisation for Trombone, Voice & Plunger has received the most attention, over 180,000 viewings. It’s admittedly quite modern, kind of a sound sculpture really. It is also quite controversial with some rather negative feedback sprinkled in between the mostly positive comments. Certainly, not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t mind being controversial, though. Quite enjoy it actually. I keep the negative comments up on YouTube except for some of the more obscene ones. Will the 300,000 viewings translate into some commerce? Will this encourage people to pick up my videos? Time will tell.

As it relates to be a trombone soloist, history has shown that creative jazz trombonists have had to earn their primary living either in the freelance commercial world (Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino) or teaching or jobs outside music (Jay Jay Johnson in his earlier career worked at a blue print factory). Jay Jay later moved to Los Angeles to pursue composing for TV and film along with other New York Jazz musicians like Oliver Nelson, Benny Golson, Bob Brookmeyer, Quincy Jones etc,. Most of them did quite well in Hollywood, especially Quincy who has reached an almost God like status in the music industry. But, Jay Jay complained in his book that he/they (African American Composers) were not taken seriously, and worked primarily on “Black” projects and he, at least, never felt he was accepted into the mainstream (white) TV and film music production. Jay Jay, Benny Golson and Brookmeyer came back to jazz performing and composing later after varying degrees of success in Hollywood. Oliver Nelson didn’t survive, as I understand it, that he worked himself to death. Even today, one can see that people of color are few and far between in the commercial film and TV industries. There are exceptions of course but this pattern seems to be continuing.

Of course, as a white jazz musician, I’ve had to deal with some other perceptions. Jazz was created, early on, mostly (or entirely depending on who you talk to) by African American musicians, so therefore you need to be African American to “really” play. Of course this is not true, but that is often the perception, unfortunately. The opposite of “Black Musicians can’t play classical music”, which is also ludicrous. Of course, there are social economic explanations for these perceptions. If the majority of “our” poor people are people with color, then it stands to reason that “they” won’t be able to afford music lessons as youngsters. These perceptions are changing albeit ever so slowly.

A true story: When asked about hiring me to come play at his jazz club in Paris, the booker waxed prolifically about how he loved my music and my playing. Only to end his flowering compliments with: “But, a 1. white 2. trombone player 3. with a German name….. I can’t use him”.

At least the Italians don’t have this prejudice so I’ve had some wonderful tours there. I don’t work much in Germany either compared to Italy, Scandinavia, Holland, Spain and Portugal, so go figure….

Last year I played two gigs in Los Angeles with a Jazz quartet. Nobody came. You would think, with the reputation I have in the music world, that some of the cats would come out to hear me. If for nothing else to hope I make a mistake or play something “wrong”. Of course, wrong is my specialty. But, not one trombone player come out to hear me play. I found this strange. At least when I played in New York, musicians and some (well known) trombonists came out to hear me. Of course the clubs where I played are not begging me to come back. Another club in LA where a lot of the studio guys play mostly mainstream jazz said to me when asked if they would like to bring my band in that: “Your music is not right for this club”. What does that mean?

Upon my arrival in Los Angeles, ENJO (Ed Neumeister Jazz Orchestra) was formed. One of the things I love about the musicians of LA and NY is that they love to play music, so therefore there is a culture of “Rehearsal Bands”. You don’t find that in Europe. Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Big Band was originally a rehearsal band, before their one night engagement at the Village Vanguard back in 1967. The band is still playing there. I was fortunate to be in the band from 1981 -1999 when I moved to Europe.

ENJO rehearsed and played two concerts at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. The downside of not being able to pay guys for rehearsing is that there are always subs at rehearsals. I think the only time we actually played with the whole band together was at the gigs.

The first concert in December 2008 had an almost respectable size audience. On the second concert in April 2009 there were about 13 people in the audience. Luckily there were some jazz luminaries, such as Bill Holman, so that helped make up for the fact there were more people on stage than in the audience. At least I could individually thank each of the audience members for coming.

The good news was that I recorded both gigs, audio and video. They were completely different programs and the recordings came out great! You can listen to some of it on the radio on my web site. Now shopping for a label to release it.

Living in Europe has not helped my presence in the states, which I’m trying to remedy now with my move to Los Angeles. I moved to LA primarily to find work as a composer and arranger. This takes time and I feel confident that the work will come. I’ve scored a small film and done some orchestration work and have several projects hovering. Hopefully some of them will land and then take off at some point.

As a player, I’ve been pretty much ignored in Los Angeles. The only guys that have hired me as a player are people I knew from New York. I heard a rumor that when a famous trombone player moved from New York to LA where most of the studio work moved, the trombone players in LA got together, chipped in and bought him a ticket back to NY. Don’t know if this rumor is true. The reality is that the studio business is not what it used to be and there is less and less work available. Therefore the people who are still able get that work are protective of “their turf”. This is completely understandable. I saw the same thing happen in New York in the 90s as studio work dried up. There were many players in New York whose income went from a solid 6 figures to just scraping by in a matter of a couple years.

I think that’s what is happening in LA now, so the players are scrambling to get what they can get and keep what they got. I hear a lot of grumbling and complaining, especially from the players who are not able to get much work any more. It’s becoming more and more elite.

A friend described the scene in New York when the studio scene was diminishing as: “It’s like a bunch of rats fighting over a bone with no meat on it”. That’s what’s happening in LA now. The players who are able to adjust and reinvent themselves will always do ok. It forced many great studio players who by the nature of the business need to be musical Chameleons so that they can play any style as needed to bring back and hone their own unique voices as soloists and go out and continue to expand their careers as soloists and clinicians etc. Others have gone into music production and, of course, teaching. There are more and more music teachers these days that actually can do what they teach about. What a concept……

The other issue I’ve run into is the fact that my music is very challenging and therefore not easily categorize-able. When I was shopping my CDs to labels the response I got, if I got a response at all, from the avant-garde labels was “we love your music but it is too straight-ahead (mainstream) for us”. The straight-ahead labels would say: “We love your music but it is too avant-garde for us”.

Someone said, “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room.” I can dig it. I’ve lived on the edge so long, after realizing that my fingernails would actually hold, that anything else seems…..bland. And when the fingernails didn’t quite hold, I found the fall wasn’t really that far and I could get up, brush myself off and continue on with a thicker, but bruised, skin a little wiser and a lot better.

What has kept me going all along is the encouragement and recognition from my peers. The feedback I get from artists, that I highly respect, has always been very positive, encouraging. This has been my fuel, through the apparent lack of any sort of recognition from the public or the press. All the reviews I’ve received have been very positive. Thanks to those who have noticed and written about it.

I’ve spent a great deal of time stretching the envelope, taking chances, “going for it”. Of course when one doesn’t play it safe we stand the chance to fail. But, what does fail mean? Nothing ventured, nothing gained etc. In order to succeed we need to fail a few times in order to get it right, so in actuality there is no failure, just work to be done. Experiments to be made. Places to explore.

In time, I found that I was able to achieve what I heard in my head or what intellectual experiment I conceived with more and more success. All those experiments paid off, at least creatively and technically. I feel one with my instrument and it is a good feeling. I love to play the trombone as much as I love to compose. I love to compose in the moment (improvise) as much as I love to take my time and compose on paper, ponder, revise, refine etc.

The trick is to find an audience. Maybe you can help with that?

Thanks for listening, reading, supporting.



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