Speaking the Unspeakable

See also What musicians can expect in France

April 2009

The following letter, and response, was passed on to me by John Westwood, with added comments by musicians en route -  "This is an article sent to Just Jazz by a well known London jazz musician. It was not published but is certainly a telling comment on the current jazz scene", ---- "I didn’t write it - but it’s certainly food for thought. My 2009 theory is that we should quote that the musicians play for NOTHING but we do ask that the booker pays for the hire of the instruments and PA equipment – that should amount to about £100 per man on average……..", ------ "If magazines decline to publish it, other means of circulation must be found, so please forward to anyone you know to be concerned. Also, the magazine in question's management may get the odd twinge of conscience when they review the way they deal with their contributors (or not!)... after all, a goodly number of them are musicians, too!".  

I may be wrong, but I thought an article on these lines from Pete Lay had previously been published in Just Jazz. Although I had doubts about publishing this article, not wishing to sour the good relationships that exist between musician and jazz club promoters in the North West, John Westwood thought it unlikely, and well worth airing - Fred Burnett

 

From an anonymous musician


At the end of a recent engagement (2005), I received £45. I would have received £43.33, had the bandleader not augmented it from the band fund! This started me thinking about the opinions that numerous people, from all over the jazz fraternity, had aired to me over nearly forty years, the results of which appear here. You must understand that this is a personal viewpoint; it most certainly is not the expressed opinion of any band, or bandleader, with whom I am associated.


What's The Problem? You're Getting Paid! 

Consider the economics for the musicians, that night, based upon the £43.33 fee that was paid to each musician by the club. "Expenditure" includes petrol, toll (if used), and £5 for two drinks.

Some musicians drove 140 miles, necessitating an IMMEDIATE expenditure of £28. I drove 160 miles costing me £25. Others drove 210 miles. They spent £30.

Put another way, those who travelled 210 miles, had almost 5 hours driving time. Their playing time was 2 1/4 hours. There was setting up, packing up, and interval time to be added so they were away from home nearly 9 hours, for which their apparent net remuneration was £13.33! Unfortunately, latent vehicle costs (maintenance, replacement) have yet to be taken into account.
 

You Own The Car Already So You Only Have to Buy Petrol! 

My annual non-jazz mileage (work and private) is about 10,000 miles. My annual jazz mileage is about 15,000 miles. I am not a "petrol head," so, without jazz, I would expect to replace the car after 120,000 miles, perhaps (12-years). Instead, I must replace it after 5-years. Playing jazz has more than doubled my rate of car purchase.

The following is true for 2005: I play 150 gigs each year, so, over 12 years I must buy (using today's prices):
1.4 EXTRA cars - £14000
10 EXTRA services - £3000
7 EXTRA sets of tyres - £2240 Total = £19,240 / 12 years = £1,603 per year = £16.03/gig So an average for each gig... with immediate costs = £25, and vehicle cost = £16.03, the total night's costs = £41.03
(If I had used 43-pence/mile, as recommended by the Inland Revenue, then this figure would have been £68, just for travelling!)

So, my net pay for the night for 6 ½ hours effort = £2.30, or 35 pence per hour! Now compare that with the national minimum wage!

The same calculations for another band member revealed that he is out of pocket for 90% of his gigs. A cleaner for your house hired through word-of-mouth, not through "Molly Maid," or the like, will cost you approximately £8 per hour. Some while ago, one club with difficulties had members suggesting that the band fee be reduced! Can you believe it?

(Update - June 2008 - The government now allows some government departments to claim 55 pence per mile. On that basis, were I to travel 100 miles to and from a venue, I would expect to claim £55 as cover for vehicle expenses and depreciation, and then add my performance fee. This week I travelled 110 miles to a club near London and was paid £50 and I travelled 320 miles on the round trip to Upton and received £80! I am NOT greedy; I am seriously out of pocket. I will push home the point a bit further by pointing out that at Upton I was engaged for a 3 hour session, and was driving for 6 hours - a total of 9 hours - for £80!)
 

What Am I Worth?

 What do club members, everywhere, think a "musician's actual earnings" should be, for an evening's effort? If you think my skill level, my entertainer's commitment to you, and my overall entertainment value, is worth £50 (and some people do think this - and just remember, it costs £80 AN HOUR to get your car SERVICED, not a skilled repair, and I'm far more skilled than a garage mechanic), then you will need to pay me £109, because my costs were £41, and I'm sure I'm justified in charging £18 (£6 /Hr national minimum wage) for the 3 hours travelling time. Use the Inland Revenue's recommendations for travel and it'll be £128. As it is, by engaging me to perform on the night in question, all club members have implicitly accepted that was morally acceptable for my net earnings, to be £2.13 for 6 ½ hour's effort, and that it is acceptable for some musicians to actually make a loss. So, who is being greedy? Is it the musicians for wanting a fair rate for the job, or is it clubs for wanting something on the cheap?

You may think that choosing one particular venue for this article gives an unfair bias to my reasoning. I do play venues that are closer, but I play at many venues that are further away, too - Salisbury (total mileage 190mi), Southampton (total mileage - 
200mi), Wantage (200mi), Bournemouth (260mi), Bradford-on-Avon (260mi), Lowestoft (280mi), Norwich (300mi), Birmingham 
(300mi), Upton (320mi), Teignmouth (460mi), Gateshead (700mi), et al. I average 150 miles/gig, so, £41 as my average cost/gig is perfectly accurate (as of 2003 but not of 2008).
 

It's Your Hobby. The Fee Isn't Important. 

This attitude does for jazz what King Herod did for child welfare. It's this mind-set that's enabled others to force jazz from the airwaves and shops. Similarly, Essex Council's Jazz Co-ordinator, imagines without first-hand experience, that we're disorganised, unprofessional, that we just play in pubs for nothing, so she'll only promote modern jazz. This whole attitude just beggars belief and is born from gross ignorance. If playing becomes a hateful experience for us, will you pay us more? There is no excuse to under remunerate musicians just because they enjoy their work.

This isn't a hobby; it's a way of life, and for many musicians it's their job. But I hear you say "A lot of players are retired; they don't need an income." The first part is true, but their pensions are often grossly inadequate. Playing brings some of them desperately needed additional income, but they're worried about speaking out because they're afraid of being "blacked." You will have instantly concluded that I do not feel constrained by that problem! Some musicians might, indeed, consider playing to be their "hobby," but the same cannot be said of their attitude to sitting in traffic for hours on end.

I overheard this hobby comment from a club chairman, along the Central South Coast. To get to his venue I had driven straight from work, and eaten a sandwich whilst driving 130 miles to the venue. The club chairman knew we had all driven a long distance but did not have the courtesy to offer us a cup of coffee. I reached my bed at 2 30am. I had 4 hour's sleep and started work at 08.15 am. That venue is off my list, now. Driving 260 miles, to entertain that source of exploitation was more than my body and soul could bear.
 

Increasing The Entry Fee Will Put People Off Coming. They Can't Afford It. 

I do not believe it.

Most club members have cars that are less than five years old! Is that a sign of financial hardship? I do not accept that people who listen to modern jazz, and who pay around £10, are more affluent than those keen on traditional jazz who pay around £5. If the product is good, people will buy it. Perhaps you're suggesting that you're paying low band fees because the band quality is poor, so, why do you turn up?

I know of one club, only, where finances are parlous. At another club, the members did their sums and insisted the entrance fee be increased. I possess two leaflets from Surrey-based jazz clubs where members pay entry fees of between £9 and £15, and its £15 for a traditional jazz night. What did everyone do when the cost of a tank of petrol increased by £5? Were they so hard pressed that they had to cut back on their mileage? No, of course not. They filled up the tank, and paid the extra, just like I did.

On the night in question, the entry fee was £4. Can you get fish & chips for £4? No! Can you go to the cinema for £4? No! Can you go to the pub for an evening for £4? No! Get your house cleaned for an hour, for £4? No! et al.

What is an extra £4 on the entry price? It's a bunch of flowers, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, a book, a bet on a horse, a glass of Pimms at the Chelsea Flower show, and dare I say it -four strawberries at Wimbledon!

Paradoxically, there is a large degree of proportionality between the entry price and the audience enthusiasm. Members paying higher entry fees are always more pro-active. They want value commensurate with the higher price, so there is always more of a "buzz." The higher entry/band fee bestows another benefit upon the club, namely, the moral authority to say to bands "We pay good money but you're not good enough so we don't want you," thus, they get good bands that pull out all the stops, and every night is great.

One club charging higher prices was very successful for many years. Did the high door fee kill the club? No, it most certainly did not; it was always packed out when I played there. The whole atmosphere was soured because of the local council making extortionate increases in the hire fee AND the abysmal bar facilities AND the truculent and inefficient bar staff AND the rancid, overpriced beer, driving members into bringing their own.

This year I played at a West-of-London venue, in an 8-piece band. The evening was a sell-out, the hall was packed (150+), the members were a delight to play for, but they all had to pay much more than £4. Thank you for a wonderful night, folks.

In America, jazz has always been in clubs. People have always expected to pay. Over here, traditional jazz started in pubs, for which there was never any entry fee, but, over the years, legislation and economics has forced it from the pub into the club, but people still can't get used to having to pay a realistic amount for the product. Traditional jazz audiences nearly everywhere are expecting (and getting) entertainment on the cheap. Audience impoverishment is a spurious argument.
 

The Rates Are Set By Club Members, Not The Committee. 

Really? I think you're pulling my leg!


Committee Members Do Not To Pay The Entry Fee. 

Why? If a club organised a trip to a West End theatre, surely committee members wouldn't expect the theatre to let them in for free, so why practice it here?


We Cannot Afford To Pay You More
 

Some can't. Most can. Some clubs have many thousands of pounds in the bank. Why? What a gem of a target this must be for some sort of financial irregularity. Club members have paid the money to listen to a band, so, why was it not paid out to that band? Why do clubs retain a proportion of the door money when the club account is already awash with funds? On the club night in question, I calculated the attendance to be 70 members. If every club member paid to come in then the money taken on the door would have been £280. There was a raffle, so assume a profit of £40. One source says the hire charge for the hall was £25. Another source advised me it was free. Either way, you can do the sums. We were paid £260!

I mention the raffle. Let me tell you about raffles. Raffles are controlled by the lottery laws. By law all tickets sold must be equally priced. "£1 per strip or £2 for three," is illegal! By law, the value of the prizes must be worth half of the money raised on the lottery. Taking £100, and offering prizes totalling £20, is illegal. If you contravene these laws, you are committing a criminal offence. I can think of one club, only, in Surrey, that runs a completely legal raffle. Well done, folks.
 

If You Don't Like The Terms Then Don't Take The Job. 

This is a true, but trite, comment, and it's unhelpful to all sides. Musicians are part of a band and, by-and-large, it's all or nothing; musicians cannot "Cherry-pick." Few bandleaders have the luxury of being able to wait for the phone to ring with clubs offering work. There are a lot of bands, and there is a scarcity of quality work, so bandleaders have to beg. The musicians all understand the problems and we accept the engagements, because we are part of the team. Often, engagements are a serious financial catastrophe, but by and large, loyalty overrides all other considerations; we follow the leader.
 

It's In The Contract And You Signed It. 

Actually, I have never signed anything; the bandleaders do the signing. Contract law is a turgid topic. We musicians make verbal agreements with bandleaders, agreeing to play at venues and, under British Law, each verbal agreement is a legally enforceable contract, and that is the contract I honour. Frankly, it's amazing that things run as smoothly as they do.

Clubs may think their contracts are "watertight," but, in the unlikely case of push coming to shove, the courts may not uphold the validity of a club contract. In recent years many companies have had their contracts deemed invalid because of the unfair terms and conditions set down within. I am an engineer, not a lawyer, so I do not know the answer. I am merely commenting.
 

We're Not Going To Pay Over The Odds 

Of course you're not. Most clubs pay unrealistically low fees so why should "yourclub" be any different, especially as bands continue to accept it? You may not have realised it but there is a big problem that has been quietly creeping up throughout the 38-year period that I have been playing jazz. Look at us musicians. We're all old men! New blood is scarce. I was one of the youngest on the circuit when I started playing jazz, and thirty-eight years later, I'm still one of the youngest! I'm fifty-six! The attrition rate may soon become unsustainable. How many musicians visiting your clubs are less than fifty years old? Musicians of sufficient calibre are now so scarce that some bands already have serious problems finding replacements. It may not be a long-term problem, however, because with the ages of the musicians and audience being similar, then, to quote Tom Lehrer, "We will all go together when we go." Traditional Jazz will simply die out.

The "Jazz Scene," whether you like it or not, is a commercial market. All the clubs and bands are the companies playing the market and they have all been under-investing in the product since long before I started playing jazz. The sixty year old product is desperately in need of an upgrade, and under-investment is killing it. The remunerations on offer make jazz hopelessly unattractive to new musicians, and the overall standard of playing is waning. I have been told of one bandleader declining engagements, because he is no longer prepared to travel. Others may not be far behind. There is no longer any slack in the system that enables bandleaders to fill vacancies with high calibre musicians. Bandleaders are struggling. The 1066 Club at Hastings, is the only club, to my knowledge, that has gone out onto the road, "en masse," spent some money, and said to the world, "We are here. Come and join us." Brilliant effort, Hastings.

I recently spent £2500 to make me, as a product, more saleable. Would it surprise you if it turned out that my £2500 investment exceeded the total sum of annual promotional expenditure by all clubs south of Milton Keynes, because it certainly wouldn't surprise me? Just show me a traditional jazz club that has twenty members under the age of fifty, or one member under the age of twenty-five. What are you doing to turn your clubs into products that will attract new members, and, specifically, younger members, and if they do come through the door, what are you doing to keep them? We all know that the answer is "Absolutely nothing!" I'm sure Peter Stringfellow doesn't sit at home saying "Right, that's the band booked and the leaflets printed. I think I'll just watch the telly, now."
 

The Playing Times Have Been Changed. We Start Half-Hour Earlier 

Philosophically, I don't have a problem with this, providing the end time is brought forward, too, or there is a pro rata adjustment of the fee, however, there is a practical impact. A forward shift in the start time invariably adversely effects a musician's journey time. Consider a notional musician, living in Hampstead, travelling to a notional club in East Grinstead, via Dartford and Tunbridge Wells, on a weekday evening. For an 8.30pm start, he aims to be there for 8pm. He would be wise to allow 45 minutes to reach the M25 and another 1 hour 45 minutes around the dreaded M25 to reach Tunbridge Wells, so he starts his journey at 6pm. Bring the start time forward half an hour and things are a lot different. He hits the full force of the rush hour. He must make the venue by 7.30pm for an 8pm start. The M25/A21 to Tunbridge Wells via Dartford will take 2 hours, if he is lucky. The first leg - Hampstead to M25 - will take at least an hour. He must start out at 4.30pm. Starting half an hour earlier will probably INCREASE his journey time by one hour, and he must start his journey 1½ hours earlier than he otherwise might have done had it been an 
8.30pm start.

Now here's a real example. One musician I know took four hours to travel from Shepherd's Bush to a venue on the London/Kent border. The straight-line distance was16 miles. This was a weekday gig, with an 8.30pm start time. Wasn't he lucky it was not an 8pm start!

What is quite immoral is the demand for an earlier start time, but the finishing time and the fee, remain unchanged. Venues reverse this trick with a midnight bar extension which they spring upon you when your setting up. Enough said?
 

Some Bands Do A Lot Of Commercial Work - It Pays Well 

I have received many fees that might be considered "adequate," but I have NEVER been paid "Well!" I've stood in shopping precincts, in stores, at trade shows, sports events, theatres, weddings, hotels, car showrooms, train stations, and even, I am ashamed to say, outside McDonalds. Nobody cares what you play, say or do. Nobody is in the slightest bit interested. If you want to experience a non-musical analogy, try manning a village polling station at council election time. You'll find the pay just as unexciting, too.
 

You're Getting Money For Old Rope 

Banjo strings on fingertips can act like cheese cutters. Every time I play a note on my bass, my finger-tips crash against the finger board. Some suffer from collapsed carpel tunnels. Carrying and playing drums can cause arthritis, backache, deafness and tinitus. Carrying and playing the double bass or sousaphone causes backache, and often, permanent injury. One musician I know has an incorrectly set broken wrist and another has had three replacement hips. Carrying pianos, speakers and amplifiers can cripple you in a variety of ways. I have a tenth of a second away from being killed; believe me, I do not exagerate.

If you're really interested, try the sousaphone experience. Drive for an hour then stand for 2 hours with a 30lb sack of compost on your left shoulder, and remember, you've not blown a note, yet! Now, grunt once a second for two hours, then drive for another hour. Many musicians suffer considerable pain whilst playing, because the human body was not designed to play a musical instrument! Musicians do not ask for, and do not want sympathy, but neither do they want to feel demeaned and exploited. Believe me, playing an instrument can be so arduous that it's often the cause of long-term, non-reversible, physical injury.

Each year the 150 jobs I play require of me 600 hrs (25 days) driving, 350 hours (15days) playing, and 950 hours (40 days) away from home. Is all that money for old rope? No, of course it isn't.
 

Your Wife Must Pay To Come In 

If a partner is present, it's usually for a good reason; he's lost his licence, he'll be too tired to drive home, he's had some joint replaced, his night vision's not good, he's ill and shouldn't be out. What about the partner who says "Where I live, it not safe to be at home on my own." Would you make her pay or would you have her sit in the car park, instead?

Partners, when present, are nearly always unpaid member of the team. Some give as much of themselves as the musician and in a few instances it's more. Some bands would not function without the partners' input, yet their contribution is ignored by clubs to a degree that is, frankly, appalling. Yes, they do enjoy the music but they've heard all the tunes, the jokes, the routines, the patter, and everything else, many more times than you ever will.
 

Can't You Get The Musicians Union To Help You? 

Most jazz musicians do not belong to the MU because their efforts have for a long time been principally supportive of the full time professional. In forty years, I have NEVER seen an MU representative at a gig For many years most semi-pro. s (in and out of the MU) have felt marginalised by the MU. I have known people to leave the MU because of it, and I have yet to meet an MU member that says his membership gives him any tangible benefit. Perhaps we can hope for a better future.

 

Bandleaders Mostly Undercharge And Musicians Meekly Accept It. 

I played a venue with an 8-piece band and each musician was paid £100. I played the same venue, 4 years later, with a 6-piece band and we were each paid £60. An old business truism says "It's the easiest thing in the world to buy work!"

The bandleader's dilemma: Years ago, at a private function, I saw a bandleader being advised that he was undercharging. The organiser then paid the band an extra £10 per musician because he considered the original fee was too low! Another variation is "I blame the bands. If they don't ask, they won't get." It's true that bandleaders continually agree fees that are a fraction of recommended MU rates, however, consider a bandleader on the telephone, saying, "Please can we play at your club?" His bargaining position is not strong. It takes a very special person to successfully conclude a deal by going on to say "It's £100 per man." Yet another play is for promoters to ask for a reduced fee because it's a charity event. Does the hall fee get reduced? Do the caterers drop the price, and likewise the printers? What about the beer and wine; is there a price reductioin for that? I bet the answer is "No" on all points, so why ask the band?.

The musician's dilemma: The bands in which I play, have, on average, a bandleader plus five members. Just consider five musicians on each of my hundred gigs a year saying, "What's the money?" "Yes, that's OK." "No, the money's too low. Find someone else," or alternatively, musicians telephoning the clubs to negotiate their own individual fee! Can you imagine the chaos? 

 

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! EVERYONE A LOSER! 

You, dear jazz club member, have won the following fabulous experience of a lifetime. You will drive 80 miles to my house and paint my front door for 2 Hours 15 Minutes? You will, of course, buy your own petrol, pay the Dartford toll perhaps, bring your own paint and equipment (I spent much more on mine), buy your own overalls, and provide your own refreshment. For all this, I will pay you £43.33. Don't forget to declare it to the Inland Revenue because your Income Tax is not my responsibility. Please understand that I really do value your efforts, just in case you thought I was trying to exploit you, and I would like you to come back again and do some more.

The other band members would like you to paint their doors, too. In some cases, the increased distance to where they live will add 50 miles (that's 1 hour's driving and at least 1 gallon of fuel) to your journey for each of them but the fee will still be £43.33.

If you do decline this prize because you think I am trying to exploit you, will you be continuing to apply the same terms and conditions to me, and my colleagues, and if so, why?


In Memoriam
 

Will this letter change anything? I wonder!

Younger people will still not join us, either as club members or as musicians. The existing pool of musicians will continue to age and the numbers diminish. The number of bands of sufficient quality will continue to drop. Club membership, too, will dwindle. For a brief period, good quality bands will name their price, but soon after, traditional jazz in Britain will effectively disappear. Don't blame the musicians; for 60 years they have given everything and taken almost nothing.


I bled sympathy when I read the anonymous jazz musician's lament (attached). It should inspire some great blues composing.

Let me give you the promoter's view ...

My partner (in romance and business) Jackie Jones and I set up a company with her son, Mike, called SootsJazz. We operated in the Wessex region for two years (2005-2007), and have just thrown in the towel after losing around £10k in our short, bruising (and often amusing, sometimes bemusing but always losing) encounter with jazz promotions.

I am (allegedly) skilled in the PR business, and got loads of local publicity for each of our concerts, but despite all our efforts rarely attracted anybody under the age of 50 to the sessions. We set up a website, tried two-for-the-price of one, under-20s free, raffled programmes (that were given away free) and all sorts of drag-em-in gimmicks to try to get bums on seats.

Our musicians were of the highest quality (Alan Barnes, Simon Spillett, Craig Milverton, Bobby Worth, Mike Denham, Brian Dee to name but a few). We had no complaints FROM any of them, and we certainly had no complaints ABOUT any of them; all were thoroughly professional and performed superbly.

By the time we paid the band plus theatre costs, provided refreshments, printed the free programmes, gave away a couple of bottles of wine as raffle prizes, paid OUR travel expenses and for a piano tuner, we were out of pocket on every single show ... drawing attendances that varied between 80 and 120.

Jackie and I are mainly into mainstream/modern, but we decided to try the Trad road ... and were hammered with complaints from punters moaning that ten pounds was too much to charge per ticket. The modern/mainstream audiences coughed up £12 to £15 without grumbling.

How we all wish we could learn how to do it from Cole Mathieson, who has run his Concorde Club for more than 50 years. He treats musicians with respect and feeds them royally. But as his biographer, I can tell you that if he relied just on jazz for his bread and butter he would have starved years ago.

Let me tell you something the anonymous writer left out of his diary of despair. Jazz musicians, the good ones, get something that we fans never get to experience ... the sheer satisfaction of producing music that can lift the soul and the spirit. That is what keeps you all going, and I wish you lots of happy playing in the future. But if you want to be rich, you will need to find another route.

I am going down another crazy path to bankruptcy as a self publisher, much more of a minefield than jazz promoting. Any Tottenham fans among you please go to http://www.thelaneofdreams.co.uk 

From Mike and Jackie Jones, Mike Giller and me, thanks for all the pleasure you give our ears.

Enjoy your jazz.

Norman Giller


John Muskett replies (15/09/09)

1 Entrance Fees

The bassist has made an interesting comparison between traditional and mainstream/modern audiences' attitudes towards paying. There is also a marked contrast with many other admission prices: people pay £50 - £80 occasionally at pop concerts, £30+ regularly at Premier football matches (attendances on the increase), £20 - £50 at plays and shows. OK, we are not top performers, but surely a regular £5 entry (£8 - £10 for a guest "name") is not asking too much? But if admission prices shot up, would listeners vote with their feet? And why do they turn out at present? Is it to listen to particular bands, to listen to a particular style, for a social meeting with acceptable music, to be entertained, some, all or none of these?

2 Travelling Expenses

Vehicle cost in travelling to gigs is a musician's principal, but not sole, expense. For the last several years my annual musical income in pounds has almost exactly equalled the number of miles driven. 40p per mile is the Inland Revenue's allowance (some say that this is unrealistically low) for vehicle use for work. Typically at this rate for every 100 miles travelled I get paid £100 and spend £40 on car costs. Instrument purchase, repairs, replacement, insurance (£150 pounds annually for two double basses) and maintenance (a set of bass strings costs £100), sheet music, union fees/public liability cover, lessons, purchase and laundering of uniform, telephone use and stationery costs are other deductibles; then tax at 20% is payable. Not exactly a King's Ransom left. So far this year (through the good times of summer) I am travelling 120 miles to earn £100. A commonly accepted distribution of band fee for car costs among musicians is £1 for 10 miles; a moderate increase would often swallow up the whole fee, but drivers, particularly if alone, are poorly recompensed.

For those who regard playing jazz as a hobby (like performers in local brass bands, choirs and orchestras) and have other sources of income, the money may not be an issue, but the situation is more serious for those dependent on earnings, a number of whom augment gig income by teaching (in college and privately), taking part in session work and recordings, and playing other genres of music.

It seems to me that there is almost a mystique about those musicians who have journeyed far, and I have known bands employ distant deps when, to my mind, there were equally qualified local musicians available. I have never subscribed to the theory that remoter equals better (though bringing Wynton Marsalis from New Orleans might just crank up the quality). And not infrequently travelling bands may include several deps or even be a telephone numbers band built round one "personality". To my ears a lot of traditional bands sound much the same.

Now I wouldn't want to cramp the style of musicians and bands who like to travel. I know there are quite a number and, yes, it is fun to go somewhere different and meet a new audience, but if bands were given more local work they could maybe cut down on distant gigs. I appreciate that this is not so simple for musicians who live in the more isolated parts of the country: those at Spurn Head and Ardnamurchan Point would struggle to find many local clubs, but presumably they would have strong (non-musical) reasons for living in those places. So why don't promoters make use of more local groups, possibly with a wider range of styles and delivery (20's Hot Dance Bands, Reinhardt/Grappelly Groups, Swing Quartets) rather than bringing in musicians all playing in a similar idiom from far-flung (exotic?) locations? THINK OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS.

What do people think?


Eight years on - 21/10/17

Can I inform you about my present musical earnings and expenses? My annual income is now 43% of that 8 years ago, and for every 100 miles driven I now gross £73 instead of £100. Inland Revenue mileage allowance has risen from 40p to 45p per mile, but there have been not inconsiderable increases in expenses other than motoring costs.

For me, corporate and promotional work is very scarce, while weddings have disappeared completely (it seems to be only the grandparents, who have no say in nuptial organisation, who are interested in jazz!). I realise that my experience may not be typical, but a number of musicians report shortages of gigs. The frequency of nocturnal road workings, with closures and diversions (not always adequately signed) is another irritant for the gigging musician at present. I am lucky enough to be sustained financially by pensions from the State and former employment (in a non-musical capacity). There must be many full-time younger musicians who are struggling: perhaps they are picking up work that I and others are losing (and good luck to them), but it won't put much food on the table. I feel sure that we are being taken advantage of by promoters, employers and the listening public, but suppose that we just have to keep on blowing, thumping, plucking and being thankful that we can still do it, regarding it as a break-even hobby and giving audiences cut-price pleasure.

Harmoniously,

John Muskett


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