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The Jazz Musician of the Future

Alex Marianyi
Contributing Writer
alex.marianyi[at]gmail.com / @alexmarianyi

The successful 21st-century jazz musician often employs many different revenue streams in order to pay bills, buy food, and ultimately fund a music habit. Sure, there are the lucky few who merely perform and record or those who have a lucrative teaching position at a college or university, but for the rest, they must scrape together a living doing a wide array of different music-related and other activities.

Take a look at Terence Blanchard. Like other musicians of his stature, he tours, records, and teaches master classes when possible. Unlike other musicians at his level, he is also a well-known film scorer, most noted for his work on every Spike Lee film since Jungle Fever in 1991. Other musicians, such as drummer Karriem Riggins, have branched heavily into other genres. Riggins has produced for well-known hip-hop artists such as Common and Erykah Badu. There might be no better example of this than Harry Connick, Jr. Connick has had his music career and acting career grow together and because of each other since he did the soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally.

As awesome as this trend is, it is not unprecedented in jazz history. Of course, the first example that comes to mind is Quincy Jones. Jones played in and wrote for Count Basie’s band, led his own groups, scored films, produced albums (Michael Jackson’s Thriller), and even went on to be a television producer (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). It’s a bit more difficult to come up with examples after him, but here’s a few that I found.

Duke Pearson enjoyed a career as a performer first on trumpet and then later on piano, and he wrote music for both Donald Byrd and Stanley Turrentine, penning the often-played tune “Jeannine.” But while all of this was going on, he was leading a double-life as an A&R man for Blue Note Records. Benny Golson, mostly known for his compositions and playing for The Jazz Messengers and the Jazztet, left the jazz world for twelve years to pursue studio and orchestral jobs. During this time, he wrote music for television shows M*A*S*H and Mission: Impossible. Speaking of, pianist and composer for Dizzy Gillespie in the 50s and 60s Lalo Schifrin wrote the most famous song ever written in five, the Mission: Impossible theme song.

Then, we come to one of the most curiously prolific people in jazz history. I say “curiously” because she rarely receives mention in history books and because she stretched her talents across a wide array of activities. Most know Melba Liston for her work with Randy Weston and Dizzy Gillespie; however, Liston’s resume goes far beyond that. In addition to being an excellent trombone player and composer/arranger, she also did some film scoring. In the 1950s, she temporarily gave up performing to become an administrator at the Board of Education in Los Angeles and even did some film acting in Hollywood.

In today’s music industry, it can be confusing to know how to sculpt a career as a jazz musician. Many look back at jazz greats throughout history as a map for how to play, practice, or even approach the music aesthetically. Apparently, jazz musicians of today can also look back upon the likes of Quincy Jones, Duke Pearson, Benny Golson, and Melba Liston for a guide on how to integrate non-traditional career paths into life as a jazz musician.

Alex Marianyi is a film scoring Irish jazz folk musician based in Chicago, IL. You can find out more about his exploits at alexmarianyi.com.