The Corona Blues

The coronavirus has disrupted the lives of musicians all over the world, bringing performances, rehearsals, and recording to a complete halt. Michigan has been hit hard, and the worst outbreak is in Detroit and surrounding areas, endangering the lives of many of our jazz musicians. With deep concern for the people we love and admire we reached out to three major jazz players of different generations, to learn how they were coping with the pandemic. Jim Gallert spoke with James Carter, Piotr Michalowski with Paul Keller, and Linda Yohn with Andrew Brown.

James Carter

James, what has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 upon your plans?

Well, it certainly puts a “boot on the limo” — $25k in gigs just vanished!

What are your options? Teaching online?

Well, when we travel [James Carter Organ Trio] I usually do master classes for a local university, so that’s one possibility. It’s possible to do a broad-stroke class, like a virtual college. It would pay somewhere around $250 for a lesson. Full-time teaching is a whole different approach; it’s a full-time job.

Do you think performing in a vacant room — no audience — is a viable option?

I was on a panel at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem just after the virus hit, and we went ahead with a live broadcast. It was just the panelists and a couple of the tech crew present. We had over 2,000 folks join in! It’s unpredictable.

Is playing without an audience rewarding?

Hmm…maybe. In 2002, I was on the Detroit Jazz Festival, and I saw a friend from grade school in the audience, and we interacted; things like that can propel the whole proceedings like a catalyst. There’s nothing like that immediate audience thing. Jazz is a communal rite, an emotional connection with the audience is important.

Would you guys play together, or each musician is separate?

Gerard [Gibbs] uses his living room as a studio or whatever, but I need my home space. I started talking to Bert [Dearing] about his opening up the venue without an audience, kind of like cyber-busking, if you will, or maybe a medical pre-screen, like drive-up test sites…club owner has discretion to admit or refuse entry. That really complicates it. Greater expense.

You know what you’re gonna make from a gig, but this? They’re not really charging anything on these things…. There’s somebody smart enough to have a live feed with a cash app. What if five listeners are in a single room? You have to rely on honesty.

What are you doing with the extra time?

Well, I am digging into my axe collection and making repairs or tuning-up those that need attention. And, James Jr. still has homework. I’m keeping in touch as best I can and keeping my family safe.

photograph by Jeff Dunn