In a Time of Cancellations, Streaming Performances Raise Money, as Well as Spirits


Cécile McLorin Salvant seemed at home while recently livestreaming a performance from her living room.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

In desperate times, creative musicians find creative solutions. As the coronavirus pandemic has spread and health officials have called for social distancing and municipal officials ban gatherings, musicians of all stripes have found themselves suddenly idled. But jazz musicians, who typically make the bulk of their living from live shows, have been particularly hard-hit by the dearth of gigs.

That’s why some jazz musicians have seen the current crisis as a reason to pivot to livestreaming video. Singer Cécile McLorin Salvant had, over the years, livestreamed a number of concerts with pianist Sullivan Fortner, including a 2016 performance for Jazz at Lincoln Center, so it was hardly surprising to see how at home the two seemed offering living-room concerts live on Facebook.

Nor are they the only ones using the shelter-in-place guidelines as a reason to offer concerts from home. On March 22, pianist Fred Hersch began a series of live “mini concerts” from his home through Facebook; performances are set daily at 1:00 p.m. EST. Similarly, Boston club stalwart Yoko Miwa, who said she “can’t even remember the last time I wasn’t performing somewhere on a Friday night,” will be on Facebook giving solo piano performances from her home Friday and Saturday evenings for the duration of the coronavirus club ban.

In addition to Miwa, DownBeat has checked in with other musicians around the globe to see how they are faring during the crisis.

“I’m supposed to be out with Joshua Redman now,” said drummer Gregory Hutchinson, over the phone from his home in Rome. “But everything’s been canceled. And I live in Italy, so I’m not going anywhere.”

Hutchinson spoke with DownBeat in mid-February, as fear of the coronavirus was only beginning to bite into the music business. Tour cancellations were cascading across Europe, while in the States, the Big Ears and SXSW festivals had both pulled the plug, and mandated club and concert hall closings had been put in place in New York and Los Angeles. Italy, however, had been on nationwide lockdown for a week, and as far as Hutchinson could see, he was living in the future.

“Everybody’s going to end up doing the same thing we did,” he predicted. “I mean, for us the only things open are markets and the pharmacies now. Rome is deserted. When I say deserted, there are some cars on the street, but there are no people on the street at all, compared to two months ago, when it was packed.”

So, what has he been doing? “What can you do? Practice,” Hutchinson said with a laugh. “That’s it, man. Nothing else to do.”

“This is going to hurt a lot of people,” said drummer Ben Perowsky, who is based in Brooklyn. “Most of the musicians that I know are living tour to tour, like literally hand to mouth. You can’t wait until the next tour comes. And until it does, you’re waiting for the phone to ring. You book your local little gigs around town that don’t really pay anything, but you got to do it just to keep things happening, and keep projects going.”

Perowsky feels luckier than most, because he’s spent most of the last year playing drums for the Tony Award-winning musical Hadestown.

“I feel really fortunate and lucky that I’ve been super busy,” he said. “But had this happened to me a year ago, I would be completely freaked out.”

As it is, the gigs Perowsky had planned to coincide with the release of Upstream, his new release with keyboardist John Medeski and saxophonist Chris Speed, have been canceled, leaving him unsure of how widely the album will be heard.

“I know this is temporary, but who knows what it’s going to go back to?” he said. “The whole live music thing was really all we were hanging on to.”

So far, the live jazz that has ended up on the internet because of COVID-19 has been a do-it-yourself affair—but not all of it is do-it-for-yourself. After flutist Elsa Nilsson had to scrub the concert launch for her third album, Hindsight, she said it seemed weirdly dissonant to “cancel something that makes the world better, for the sake of making the world better.”

There had to be some space she could find where, she felt, she and other musicians could “do what we’re here to do, and still make art that helps people.”

What she came up with was the Lattice Concert series, which will be livestreamed on YouTube. Although she will be performing in the series, so will others, including drummer Billy Martin.

“My intent is to pay the artists,” she added. “As a bandleader, I was paying people to play anyway. So, I’m looking at this as a way of providing work for people, particularly for the people that I work with.”

Perhaps the most ambitious online concert series is “Live from Our Living Rooms,” a weeklong festival and fundraiser running from April 1 through April 7. Organized by singers Sirintip and Thana Alexa, along with saxophonist Owen Broder, and presented in conjunction with the nonprofit MusicTalks, the series will offer concerts, afternoon master classes, and special music performances for children every day for a week.

With a lineup that includes Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Linda May Han Oh, Christian McBride and Julian Lage, the festival hopes to raise money—as well as spirits.

As Alexa explained, the performers are donating their time in the hope that viewers will donate money, which in turn “will provide relief to musicians who apply for aid to help them stay afloat in these difficult times.” DB

This story has been updated to reflect changes in scheduling for “Live from Our Living Rooms.”

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