Recently, the New York Times ran an article https://nyti.ms/3lT3FOU on how local professional New York jazz musicians have adapted to the economic crush caused by the Coronavirus, going from booked gigs at one of NYC’s 2400 indoor venues, to playing at public parks and the streets of the city. The change in venue has provided many residents of the city free access to gifted jazz bands and musicians, especially because of the wonderful weather from spring through autumn. However, with winter quickly approaching, both musicians and passers-by are about to face a new reality. While it’s painful enough that the musicians have lost their ability to make a living, now they are about to face a sort of hibernation and not have a chance to even make people smile.
According to a survey by the Jazz Journalists Association this past October, 73% of professional American jazz musicians do not have any live performances scheduled for 2021. Many of these musicians are self-employed, so the reliance on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was crucial to their survival. Now that has dried up, and until Congress can get a packaged passed by the US Senate, the musicians are in for a truly rough ride financially. But playing on the streets for the local NYC community has proven to be a welcome distraction, allowing them to at least connect with people and bring some joy.
For many of these musicians, becoming a busker, that is, performing on the streets for tips, has been a necessity. At the same time, it provides a new avenue (no pun intended) of exposure to an audience of listeners who might otherwise never have heard them. At the same time, it also opens up a world of new music, that being jazz, leading to an appreciation for some who may not normally listen to that style.
At the end of the day, life challenges bring new opportunities. Music is an important part of the fabric of life, culturally, artistically, and psychologically. It literally can be therapeutic. With the socio-economic crisis brought on by Covid-19, professional musicians have brought their gift from venue stages to the streets. In doing so, while struggling financially, these artists have brought some good to the community by sharing their musical gifts. It is a means to an end. With the winter coming, it will be sad to see these jazz groups once again lose another venue stage, the public streets of NYC.
Do you have a favorite street musician memory? Tell us about it.