Emerging Musicians Eye Album-Release Schedules Amid Pandemic

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Inside Bronx Music House, standing lamps bloom like roses. Percussion instruments hang like ivy on the walls. A stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium, the apartment and practice space provides emerging artists a place to shed and session together—and now, a place to quarantine.

Weeks before the May 1 release of his debut record, New Beginning, pianist and composer Gabriel Chakarji and vocalist and composer Ana Carmela Ramirez, his girlfriend, left their Brooklyn home and moved into Bronx Music House with two of their fellow artists to self-isolate as a family, instead of hunkering down alone.

The decision proved artistically beneficial as well.

Amid uncertainty, Chakarji has found a way to keep up the momentum of his tour-less debut. He and the Bronx Music House quartet—which also includes vibraphonist Juan Diego Villalobos and percussionist Carlos Diaz—have been working out alternative arrangements of New Beginning’s tracklist to share on social media.

“The roots of this music are the percussion and the vocals,” said Chakarji, whose album featuring an octet was recorded in June 2019.

Like Chakarji, many artists issuing debut albums during the pandemic have turned to social media and digital PR tools to find alternate modes of connecting with potential listeners. Bassist and composer Joshua Crumbly dropped the first single, “New Rock Thingy,” from his forthcoming record Rise (Open Book Records) on March 19; guitarist and composer Jocelyn Gould released her Elegant Traveler (Posi-Tone) the following day.

Gould chatted with DownBeat after finishing a two-hour livestream chat with saxophonist Christopher McBride on Instagram, where the two artists listened track-by-track to Elegant Traveler, discussing musical choices and intent. Despite losing her release show in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and much of her summer tour schedule—including festival dates in Toronto and Montreal—the guitarist was heartened by an initial response from peers and fans via social media. She credits the pandemic for bringing the community closer.

“Musicians have offered their support in whatever ways they can give it,” Gould said. “I think that [the response] has been inspired by the fact that musicians are about to endure really hard times.”

For the habitual collaborator, transitioning to bandleader was challenging enough. While Crumbly hasn’t firmed up plans for an online release show—his June 6 date at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles has yet to be postponed—the bassist remains open to adjustments. “I’m a pretty optimistic person,” he said. “So, I’m hoping the pandemic will be resolved before June 6. But in the coming weeks, I’ll be thinking about alternative release shows.”

Two major concerns complicate debuts coming amid the pandemic; most pressing is cashflow. With their tours on hold, emerging artists likely will miss out on the most desirable rescheduling opportunities when venues are inclined to rebook established names first. Chakarji only recently started scheduling a national tour for New Beginning, and remained hesitant.

“It’s tricky, because most of the tours scheduled for March are trying to reschedule for November or even next year,” he said. Even showcases—the last bastion of the emerging artist—are moving to spring 2021. “Everything is getting moved,” Chakarji said.

Gould recently came to terms with her own tour’s shaky future. “You know a week ago, I was like, ‘The next month is going to be pretty rough for everybody,’ and now it’s looking like the next year or 18 months might be pretty rough for everybody,” she said. Conversely, she’s been overwhelmed by an unusual wave of global commerce surrounding Elegant Traveler.

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