Jazz Musicians Who Balance and Thrive on Dual, Unrelated Careers

Jazz Musicians Who Balance and Thrive on Dual, Unrelated Careers

by Ken Franckling

copyright © 2003 Ken Franckling

United Press International, August 13, 2003

Many jazz musicians boast that they been fortunate to never hold a "day job" during their careers. Being musical artists, they even deride the concept.

Then there are many who find economic balance in their lives by teaching music either privately or through public or private school systems or in jazz programs at the university level. Still others take rather mundane jobs that can be blown off when a paying jazz gig comes along.

Still others find some sort of lifestyle balance and actually thrive on unrelated dual careers. Here's a look at four who say their day jobs and jazz careers complement each other -- and they'd find it very hard to give up either option.

"A lot of people think if you have a day job, you're not a serious musician; it just means you have to divide your time better," said bassist Jennifer York. She leads her own all-woman jazz quartet nights and weekends, but is best known in Los Angeles as an Emmy-winning airborne morning traffic reporter for KTLA-TV.

"My sane life is my music," said York, who has been playing bass in L.A. for the past 11 years. "I don't smoke, I don't drink and I don't do drugs. That discipline keeps me doing what I do daily. On TV, when the red light comes on, you're 'on'. That discipline and concentration helps on the bandstand. Time awareness has brought a lot into my life.

"If music has affected my TV career, it is the things I've learned as a bandleader. You have to learn to respect people and work together. In a helicopter, you can't open the door and step away. You have to get along with your cameraman and your pilot."

Her band's "Gotta Be Real/Best of My Love Medley," with guest saxophonist Eric Marienthal is the lead single from the Native Language label's compilation CD "A Smooth Jazz Summer." The single is a cover that combines Cheryl Lynn's hit "Got to Be Real" with The Emotions' "Best of My Love."

With jazz gigs two or three nights a week fighting her day schedule (her first scheduled traffic telecast is at 5:15 a.m.), York explains: "I have to sleep in chunks. You get used to it."

Denny Zeitlin is both a practicing jazz musician and a psychiatrist with a busy caseload and teaching responsibilities. The San Francisco Bay-area pianist wouldn't have it any other way.

He has recorded or performed with a broad stylistic range of musicians including Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson and the Kronos Quartet and leads his own trio.Zeitlin says the split nature of his career works to his advantage creatively, though he is not able to tour extensively and limits his engagements primarily to weekends.

"I wouldn't play nearly as well if I were doing it full time," he said. "Somehow, being able to get away and be immersed in activity that in many ways is very different, is wonderful.

"I feel so grateful to be able to keep them both going. I wouldn't be happy doing one of them full time, even if money were no issue at all," he said.

Singer-trombonist Eric Felten, 38, leads three bands -- ranging from quartet to a repertory Swing Era big band -- in the Washington, D.C. area. He has a day job at Voice of America, hosting a roundtable-style show on international affairs.

He sees similarities between his roles and the contexts in which he works. "Having performed as a musician all my life, I don't get nervous in front of a camera -- and you have to be able to think on your feet," Felton said. He has found that both the bandstand and the roundtable forum both involve a similar format: a cooperative conversation, getting all to make their make their points and move on.

"As an improviser, you have to do more than run scales that make the changes. Every improvisation has to say something, try to be melodic. If an improvisation isn't coherent, it is missing something," Felton said.

Attorney Justin Holden is a partner in a small Rhode Island law firm, and a past president of the state bar association. He also plays alto sax and flute five or six nights a week, either with his own trio or quartet, as lead alto player in a local big band, or as flute player in a classical ensemble.

"They are so completely different but there is a common thread in focus and intensity that keeps me grounded," Holden said. "I can get lost in the world of playing these tunes. I can forget about the client who's in jail for the weekend.

"Few of my peers juggling dual jobs are getting better at either, but I'm a helluva lot better player than I was 10 years ago. That said, it is very difficult to find enough hours to do both. I'm really frustrated by that," Holden said. " I may cut back on my law hours."


Ken Franckling is himself a double-threat jazz journalist, who won the JJA Award for Photographer of the Year in 2003.


C o m m e n t s

Players with Day Jobs. 1 of 3
Tom Smith, Bucharest, Romania January 17, 04

Musicians who diss other musicians with day jobs are pretty ridiculous. Actually, those of that particular disposition are mostly jealous of their more versatile colleagues. This is especially true of the full timers who make light of their music educator associates, when at the same time they mail their own unsuccessful teaching applications on the sly, then castigate the profession when they don't make the grade. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a person who demonstrates the courage to try performing without an alternate financial parachute. But those who put down the versatile steady artist just don't get it, and probably never will. Charles Ives sold insurance and he turned out just fine.

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