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-by Hal Galper
The famous pianist Hal Galper is really angry. Read this diatribe that was first published on Bird Lives!
My writings on the state of the jazz music industry have been, I hope, balanced and objective to date. However, today I got the bad news that ENJA Records, one of my most stalwart supporters over the decades, has been pressured by the major distributors to drop any albums from their catalog that sell less than 20 per year. That includes three of mine. Consequently, I'm pissed! So, the following is not balanced nor is it objective. The usual constraints of gentlemanly decorum seem to fulfill no effective purpose at this point in time in my career.
There's the word that bothers me. Career! I have previously and genteelly referred to my generation of musicians as "Mid-Career." But I look around me and I wonder, what career? I think it more to the point to call it The Lost Generation. Why? Because this particular generation of musicians, who are in their mid 50's to 60's, have dedicated more than half their lives to be the best at what they do and have received none of the rewards that should go along with talent and hard work. Almost everyone I know from this generation is snapping. Is losing it! And now I've lost it too! Who should I blame? Myself? Hardly. I, like my lost brothers, did what we thought was right. Practiced, kept up with the times, learned the business, composed and recorded, tried to learn the politics of the business, etc. The end result was that we produced a body of world class work we are proud of that, in the end, got us nowhere. Still living zero balance and scuffling to make a living and get recognized.
I've seen in these pages the major record company execs accusing us of sour grapes. Like we did this to ourselves. All the while bragging to those who prostrate themselves at the feet of the great God corpo-bob that they're the ones that are preserving the jazz tradition. Hold on a sec. This doesn't compute.
The major record companies and their media sycophants have done more to
destroy the jazz tradition than any of the musicians themselves could have done
either singly or as a group. How could that be possible? We hold no power. They
do. What have they done? The most disastrous effect these companies have had on
jazz music is to have destroyed the apprenticeship system.
Until the new wave of youth oriented bottom liners came along, the way the music was handed down from generation to generation was through the time-honored oral tradition of young cats getting a chance to learn by apprenticing with their betters. School was on the bandstand, playing with the great leaders night after night. That's gone now. And it's destructive effect shows up , with exceptions, in the music of today's younger players, who are getting major label contracts and support before they can walk.
A break has been created in the continuity of the jazz tradition. Up until the bottom liners got there hands in the business, we all learned from the generation that preceded us. I did, and so did everyone else from my generation. Now most of our hero-teachers are dead. The way it was supposed to go was that my generation would be supported so that we could start our own bands and hand down to following generations the lessons we learned from our masters. But, in their passion for youth, the powers that be skipped over us.
Even these young bands, who need our knowledge don't hire us. They hire other
young musicians of their own generation, who need our knowledge as well. We can
hear what's wrong with their playing and can help. Perhaps they don't want us
looking over their shoulders and busting their bubbles by saying "Uhn-Uhn,
that's not the way it's supposed to go." But that's how we learned. In
consequence, a whole generation's storehouse of knowledge has gone down the
historical drain. It's lost forever. Sure, the schools have been trying to take
up some of the slack but only with sporadic success. If you think about it, our
generation does have to take some little responsibility for the current
situation when it comes to the schools. We really shot ourselves in the foot
there. We couldn't get any gigs to support our families so we taught. But what
were we supposed to do?
The end result was that we eventually flooded the market with tens of thousands of young cats, all vying for gigs the same venues we're trying to work in. The trap is that after forty plus years of being a professional, we can't accept work for the same low fees that those without families can. Wait a minute now. You're probably thinking, but Hal, you're one of the cats we all admire and have listened to over the years. You've created a little history. Played and recorded with all the best cats. Over 75 albums, over a third of which are under your own name. Things must be okay for you. Well kids, I'm here to tell you, they're not.
All my life I'd been hearing that cliche: "If you have something to
offer the world, work hard at it and stick to it, you'll be a success."
Bullshit! I don't think any one could have worked harder or played it smarter
than I did. In 1990, I started my own trio. Through my own efforts as an
independent artist, we toured an average of four to six months a year for ten
Ended up grossing over a half a million dollars too. Made a lot o records that I'm really happy with, with a lot of great musicians. Pulled off some great coups too that I'm quite proud of. I figure, what with all I
accomplished in the last ten years, I pulled off a minor miracle. In the end it was all for naught. Nobody noticed! I'm still in the same place I was ten years ago. My visibility in the public eye is no higher. Still living zero balance. Can't sell enough records to keep them in the catalog until their paid off.
So, as of this past summer, I have disbanded my trio and quintet. I've had it! If I had a towel, I'd throw it in. The only thing of value that I can contribute to the world now is the act of helping myself through helping others by teaching, with my new book, "The Touring Musician" and my new touring information management software program, Road-Rat. That's okay. It has its emotional and financial rewards. But as far as a career in jazz, like the others in my generation, I really don't have one. You'll still see me out on the scene from time to time, I still love to play. Call me and I'll
play the gig. But, to coin a phrase, the spearmint has finally lost it's flavor on the bedpost over the last 45 years.
One of my long-time associates in the business once said that the inscription on his tombstone would read "It wasn't worth it." As positive a kind of guy as I naturally am, I'm beginning to sympathize with him.