I have always assumed that musicians were special people because they had their own language. I don’t think that I have earned the right to call someone a cat. I hear jazz artists use jazz slang less and less, but they have a way of putting words together that comes out making sense and a little jazzy. Jazz musicians have used a lot of shortcuts in conversation probably because they can’t afford to waste their time. Many of their jazz terms have found their way into our everyday spoken language.
Beat, Bread, Chops, Clinker. Cool. Crazy. Crib,Cut,Dad, Daddy-o, Dig,Drag, Gate, Get Down, Gig, Gone, Hip,Hipster, Horn, Hot, In the Pocket, Jake, Jam,LameLicks, hot licks, Licorice Stick, Lid, Noodlin’, Out of this world, Out to Lunch, Pad, Rock, Rusty Gate, Scat, Swing, Tag, Take five, Wail, Walking bass, Wig, Wild, Woodshed
You have to understand that even though you start using jazzy slang you still won’t be a jazz musician. You will likely still have a hard time understanding what is in a jazz artist’s head. You must live the life of an artist to learn their secrets of communication.
“GIG” and “GIGGING”
“Gig” is slang for a live musical performance, recording session, or other engagement of a musician or ensemble. Originally coined in the 1920s by jazz musicians,
“Gigging” is short for the word “engagement”, and now refers to any aspect of performing a gig.
Musicians like all artists are free spirits. They thrive when restraints are removed, especially in the workplace where spontaneity is valued. A regularly scheduled job is probably not for them, not when they are creating their art.
In the 1920’s a jazz artist in New Orleans could expect to earn between $1.25 and $2.50 per engagement. Even if a musician was working seven nights and days per week, that didn’t not add up to much. Perhaps this was as pressing a reason as less segregation to move to the northern states during the 1920s. This is not to say that all musicians were lucky enough to earn those top wages, and like today many had to support themselves with trades as well, A New Orleans jazz musician noted that in Chicago or New York a sideman could earn between $40.00 and $50.00 per week at the top cabarets- considerably more than the average wage. This disparity in pay played a big role in the migration of jazz up the Mississippi to the Northern cities.
One problem didn’t go away. There were more musicians than gigs. Few players could get by without a regular job. Some got lucky. They landed a job with a band that toured and recorded. This wasn’t the answer for every artist.
Here is an example from an earlier blog.
GEORGE “SAX” BENSON 1929-2019
George could really play the sax. He was so good that he was asked to play with:
Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin, Debbie Reynolds, Glen Campbell, Milton Berle, Ella Fitzgerald, Edie Adams, Dinah Washington, Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Diana Carroll, Four Tops, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Kenny Burrell, Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Brook Benton, Jackson 5, Diana Ross, Bill Cosby, Lou Rawls, Tony Bennett, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Sheila Jordan, Rosemary Clooney, Mildred Bailey, Vic Damone, Martha Reeves, Rich Little, Regis Philbin, Michael Feinstein, Tommy Tune, Steve Allen, Della Reese, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Golson, Earl Bostic, Pepper Adams, J.C. Heard, Ernie Wilkins, Peter Duchin, Hank Jones, Yusef Leteef, Doug Watkins, Willie Anderson, Paul Chambers
This long list of America’s most celebrated entertainers all thought that George was someone special. It gave George choices to live the life he chose to live. Wouldn’t be nice If we all could be so lucky?
A LIFE WELL LIVED
George Benson chose a life in music but never allowed music to choose his life. He quit touring and settled down in his hometown, Detroit. He told me once that he was a very lucky man. He came into music at a time when there were a lot of gigs. Early in his life Detroit was a good town to be a musician. TV shows needed live bands, people liked to dance to live music, and there were plenty of jazz clubs.
George realized that he could finish a mail route by 4PM and still get a couple of evening music gigs. He had a plan. He could get out and share his music and his family would have a secure life. He didn’t have to go on the road. He was a remarkably gifted man.
Jazz musicians have always found a way to survive and play the music they love. It hasn’t been easy. There will always be a push-pull between playing jazz and earning a livable wage. Duke Ellington knew this when he said “jazz is music; swing is business” .
Today, less than 50% of a jazz musician’s total income comes from performing. Less than 10% comes from fees from recordings, broadcasting, composing and royalties. Teaching accounts for over 20% of their income.
With the age of the internet, album sales aren’t really a very reliable way to make money, and the debt for a jazz education can be oppressive. Today’s young jazz musician is a bit of a nerd, is friendlier, more approachable and just more ordinary. . Except for a few exceptions like Esperanza Spalding who can pack in an audience for a week-long engagement at a New York club, the average pay is not sustainable. Young musicians have to improvise their finances while getting a gig here and a gig there.
Every day musicians are having to learn how to manage a gig economy. It isn’t easy, but we can learn something from their trials and successes..
THE GIG ECONOMY
The definition of work began to change with shifting economic conditions and our new digital and technological advances, This change in the economy has created a new labor force characterized by independent and contractual labor which we call the “gig” economy. 36% of U.S. workers have joined the gig economy through either their primary or secondary jobs.
We are all getting a chance to live the live of a jazz musician.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR GIG ECONOMY
Respect pours over musicians from the moment they enter the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.
From the very first day the Dirty Dog opened its doors it has scheduled artists for four days in a row when possible. That is a serious gig. This was a decision that came from the Dirty dog’s primary commitment to support the jazz musicians at every turn.
A deep respect for the artists playing at the Dirty Dog comes naturally for Gretchen who always chose her principles over profit.
The Dirty Dog remains an oasis of respect for musicians and a good place to land a gig.
GIGGING AT THE DIRTY DOG THIS MONTH
February 5 – 8
THE DETROIT TENORS
Steve Wood and Carl Cafagna, a couple of Detroit’s finest artists, will bring their tenor saxes to the Dirty Dog. for four nights. They will help us celebrate Detroit’s great jazz by listening and learning from each other. They are really good at that.
February 12 -15
DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL ALL STARS
It is a pretty easy job to assemble an all star band in Detroit. Most of the artists on any Detroit jazz list are deserving and usually answer their phones. Chris’s primary job is to bring together talented individuals who will best create the style of music that he envisions.
The all stars will honor a form of jazz that has been part of the music played since the heyday of Detroit jazz. The All Stars will celebrate Detroit’s influence on jazz to the Dirty Dog. The all stars will bring together some of our town’s greatest jazz musicians to play for what is always a knowledgeable house. They will not disappoint us.
Twenty-four-year-old trumpeter Allen Dennard has one foot firmly planted in the classic jazz canon. The 2016 graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance leads his own rotating jazz ensemble while also regularly playing with the likes of Detroit legends Marion Hayden, Wendell Harrison, and David McMurray. This April saw his first release Stepping In, which evokes the sounds of Miles Davis’ classic quintet.
These undergraduates are perennial overachievers, especially in making us feel good. Corners of mouths start to turn up when they get in a groove. Even those who are smile challenged find themselves grinning. It’s the perfect group for lovers with memories.
67 years ago The Freshman were formed and began replacing barbershop quartets with their new sound. I was a fan of Stan Kenton, and he heavily influenced the young group. It was Stan Kenton who eventually gave the Freshmen a lift up.
Their sound is secure in the hands of the current group who might be the best set of musicians to date. More than just another vocal group, these are jazz musicians who sing. Throughout their history most members of the Four Freshmen have played more than one instrument.
Pack up your gloom and bring your memories to the Dog this week. Help us celebrate with some good food, great jazz and a lot of smiles.
THE DIRTY DOGS
Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz music’s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen was treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band have named themselves: ” The Dirty Dogs”.
February 26 – 29
Don’t miss this chance to witness some high energy jazz that comes only from Detroit and our young artists.