Bob Popyk FOCUS column in International Musician AFM Union Magazine writes about Jon Hammond of HammondCast Show
BOB POPYK of AFM's INTERNATIONAL MUSICIAN Magazine profiles JON
HAMMOND in his monthly motivational column: FOCUS !
*LISTEN TO HammondCast 19 HERE:
Whatever Happened to Those Jazz Clubs on Every Corner?
I live in a city of about 250,000 people. Vinnie Falcone, a member of
Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) who played and conducted for Frank Sinatra,
and now works with Steve & Eydie and Robert Goulet, used to live and
That was about 35 years ago.
When he wasn't selling pianos for a local Hammond/Steinway dealer, he
probably played in almost every club within a 20-mile radius of here
at one time or another. There were tons of them.
Falcone and I talked about this just the other day. We came up with
the names of the clubs that used live music five to seven nights a
week. They could be found on almost on every street corner. Now they
are all gone. Jazz groups, blues bands, singles, duos, and trios were
always working; and if you came up with a new group you could, in all
likelihood, find a club owner who would give you a shot.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. It's tough to make a living
as a jazz musician today. But É you can make a living if you work at
it. Like most things, I think it's just a matter of wanting it badly
One thing I've found out from the readers of this column is that
musicians seem to be divided into two segments: 1) musicians who won't
play anything they don't like or any venue that doesn't suit them; and
2) musicians who need to work because they need to pay their bills and
find all kinds of ways to fill their calendar.
I still get occasional letters from readers who say that it's not
their fault that they are not getting enough work. I guess then the
logical question would be: whose fault is it?
I really appreciate the insight of those musicians who have creative
and interesting ways of finding work, and I sympathize with the
musicians who need to get out there and find gigs just to pay the
rent. I don't have all the answers, but a lot of our fellow AFM
members have some very good answers.
One in particular is Jon Hammond, a member of Local 802 (New York
City) and Local 6 (San Francisco, CA). Hammond has found a way to get
his own TV show broadcast on Time Warner Cable and RCN cable access,
he has produced a CD that gets airplay on jazz radio stations around
the world, and he plays at Music Performance Fund (MPF) gigs on a
regular basis on both coasts. He has booked himself on several
European tours, played jazz clubs in Germany and many other locations
in Europe, year after year, and has found a way to obtain instruments
from national manufacturers for endorsements, advertising, or trial.
Hammond is also a perfect example of "success being in the mind of the
beholder." When he put together his first self-booked German tour 20
years ago, he saved up enough money to fly to Europe on Pakistan
Airlines. He only had $50 in his pocket when he landed there. Hammond
came home 10 months later with $150 in his pocket. He was able to pay
for rent, food, and everything he needed during his time on the road
in Europe. He wasn't rich, but he was happy--and he firmly believes it
was also a terrific learning experience.
Over the ensuing years Hammond has performed with some of the world's
top jazz musicians, and he now lives in midtown Manhattan and plays
any and every job he can, on either coast. Money is not his prime
motivation. He just loves to play. He makes it work, through sheer
hard work, and he prides himself on being a union musician.
If you are a jazz musician, perhaps you might like to ask him some
questions of your own, and share some ideas. Hammond is very
approachable. Ask him about how he
put together his TV show, how he successfully gets radio airplay, how
he lands MPF gigs, and how, through it all, he always keeps money
coming in to pay the rent. He's found a way to do state-funded
programs in prisons, nursing home gigs, and casual dates in clubs.
(He's scrambled so much over the years that his new CD is called Late
Rent.) Hammond does not play for free. He finds ways to get paid. He
agrees that the only thing you get out of playing a free gig is the
opportunity to do another free gig.
I know jazz musicians can have a tough struggle, and it's true that
there simply are not as many places to play as there once were. But
that is not to say that jazz players can't find work.
Venues have changed, clubs have closed, but people still want to
listen to cool sounds. Jazz festivals in major cities are still
popular. Radio stations still offer jazz programs. PBS stations
showcase jazz artists in their programming. It's just not as easy to
make money at it as it once was, but you can still make a living.
I don't have all the answers. I think Hammond has some. I bet if you
brainstorm with your fellow AFM members who specialize in jazz, you
can go one better and come up with a lot of other ideas yourself. A
positive attitude is obviously going to play a big part, but if you
want to play jazz and make a few bucks, there are certainly ways to do
it. It really is a matter of wanting to be a jazz musician badly enough.
--Bob Popyk is a member of Local 78 (Syracuse, NY) and Local 47 (Los
That was a big honor for me to be profiled by main man Bob Popyk! I
always look forward to reading his articles
*HammondCast Radio Show airs daily on KYOURADIO on the CBS Radio Network, Music, Travel and 'Soft News' with Jon Hammond
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