Hmmm…Lots of people say, “If I had known then what I know now…” and that’s particularly true for musicians. Building a successful career as a musician takes dedication and can be confusing – navigating the many complexities of the music scene can be difficult. Here is a little of my story.
As a kid, I attended Interlochen Arts Camp, where I had a wonderful experience learning life lessons about how to practice my craft. While in high school, I performed frequently in addition to teaching. I was groomed to attend Julliard School of Music, but I chose to apply to Berklee College of Music so that I could study my true love – Jazz. After two years, I left school to focus on performing. I spent time performing with jazz groups in Boston and the New York area. Soon after, I moved back to St. Thomas where I hooked up with various calypso bands and toured the Caribbean and the US.
When I first moved to the Washington DC area, I was focused on building a name for myself as a musician and attending Howard University. I started visiting all the area clubs. I frequented all the Jam Sessions, networking with musicians from various disciplines. My goal was to be known for the style of music I was performing; jazz, salsa, reggae, european classical music, or calypso. Jazz music was my main focus. After working in a variety of musical situations, I booked my first gig at “One Step Down” on March 12, 1998. I quickly learned that they wouldn’t provide any promotion – it was all on me. As time went on, I searched online and in books on how to make a living in my local music market. I loved touring, but I also enjoyed being at home. I also taught myself web design because I couldn’t find anyone who could design the kind of website I envisioned. I asked my mentors questions on the industry. In short, I did everything I could to improve all aspects of my professional life.
After exploring the jazz scene in DC and surrounding areas, I moved to New York in October 2001. Once again, I began going to jam sessions. The New York sessions were a little different from my previous experiences. I met professionals at various levels in the music industry on many late night bandstands.
I would start playing sessions at 9pm and finish at 8am the next morning. Rashawn Ross along with Lawrence Clarke made my transition to New York’s musician life smooth, taking me everywhere.
Shortly after arriving in New York, someone heard me at a jam session and passed my name on to Illinois Jacquet. I played at one rehearsal and got the gig. In that band, I met some Berklee classmates and a very beautiful spirit by the name of Sean Jones. Sean furthered my love for Woody Shaw as we played together at a little spot in New Jersey called the Northstar Café. I spent the rest of my time in New York meeting musicians and studying with great trombone players, including the virtuoso Steve Turre. I had many interesting experiences which included performing at the Jazz Gallery with Ron Blake’s “Music Tree”. Everyone I met took me under their wing and shared insight on various aspects of being a musician, including everything from playing chord changes to booking and maintaining gigs.
When I moved back to Washington, DC, it was with a new attitude, new focus and new drive as a musician and bandleader. I began studying with many of the area’s greatest bandleaders, trying to understand what kept them working night after night. The science of booking gigs, even when the venue did not routinely have live music, intrigued me. I enjoyed working as a sideman, but being able to learn how to lead was exciting.