Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Living in a Post Scarcity Mentality Jazz Era

Author Steven R. Covey in his 1989 self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People discusses the differences in the Scarcity Mentality and Abundance Mentality.

In Mr. Covey’s own words, he wrote:

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time-sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

The Harper Brothers
As someone who started his professional career in the early nineties, I came onto the jazz scene during what I consider the height of the Scarcity Mentality era.  During this period there were only a few ways that musicians saw themselves as being able to make a living playing jazz: One was serving an apprenticeship in the band of some well-established musician, the other was getting signed by a record label.

As far as apprenticeships, in the straight-ahead jazz world, the crème de la crème gig was with drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Or as a lot of my peers would say, “the Buhaina gig. ” Sometimes his name was shortened to just “Bu.” And just to throw in a little jazz trivia: Art Blakey was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which was founded in 1889 in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. And after converting to Islam, Blakey’s muslim name became Abdullah Ibn Buhaina.

In addition to being a great drummer and bandleader, Blakey was known for launching the careers of many of the jazz greats: Hank Mobley, Bobby Timmons, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, and many others. And the former messenger who helped to restore Blakey’s popularity in the 1980s was trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. He was later followed by people like Terence Blanchard, Mulgrew Miller, and Donald Harrison--all of whom went on to having successful careers in their own right after having served their apprenticeships with the late the drum master..

Having only a handful of jobs around where players could get discovered and break onto the scene, created a very competitive environment, especially amongst the younger musicians. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t uncommon to get heavily “vibed” by some of the members of Blakey’s band if you happen to be a young musician in the audience with his or her horn. After all, they had to protect their scarce opportunity to build a career for themselves.

There were also a few other gig desirables that became known for nurturing young talent back then: Betty Carter, Horace Silver, Roy Haynes, Nat Adderly, and Tony Williams. And eventually some of the stars of the now defunct Columbia/Sony jazz label went on to bear the torch of giving young upstarts their first opportunity on the national and international stages: Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., and Terence Blanchard. And given the amount of musicians in New York at the time, these were not nearly enough opportunities, especially when you consider that it was in the pre-internet, pre-do-it-yourself era. And this fueled the Scarcity Mentality described by Covey where people felt that “there was only one pie out there.”

Getting signed to a record label was another means by which players got noticed by others. Back in those days, musicians had several major and independent label options. Some of the major labels around were RCA Victor, Blue Note, Verve, Warner Brothers, GRP, and Columbia/Sony, just to name a few. And indie labels were also in abundance--especially when you considered some of the active ones out of Japan, Germany, and France. Again, at first glance it seems like a lot of opportunities to get your music recorded. However, when you factor in all of the musicians, not just in New York, but Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, Boston, etc., it's still not enough to harbor all of the budding talent--and this is not even including musicians abroad. So when you put it in its proper perspective it proves to be a breeding ground for Scarcity Mentality. Because once again Scarcity Mentality is all about getting your piece of the pie, then protecting it from others.

Jeff Levenson
During this era, A & R executives and label heads were very powerful people.  After all, they held the pie that all of the musicians wanted a piece of--or at least they held the knife that divvied it up. They received numerous demo tape submissions and an equal amount of invitations to live performances. These were the go-to guys.

Now fast forward several years later to the year 2012, only a handful of those aforementioned opportunities for getting discovered and claiming ones stake in the jazz world even exist. The person who’s in a position to employ others is not necessarily the jazz legend who has paid his or her dues serving apprenticeships with the mentors of their time, but business savvy youngsters that have mastered the art of generating angles that draw attention to them.

And this is actually a good thing. Because now we’re in a more democratic era where a few, select gatekeepers do not regulate opportunity for the masses. With the advent of the internet, digital downloads, CD Baby, and the numerous social media networks, opportunity belongs to whoever has the vision and courage to cease it. We are now in an Abundance Mentality era, in which there “is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody.”

Abundance mentality fosters a much less competitive environment. Let’s take recording CDs for example. Now that all of the opportunities to record are not regulated by a few record company executives, most of whom have their own agendas, we are free to create our own recording opportunities as well as help others find their way. The more do-it-yourself musicians who breakthrough, creatively using today’s mediums to bring wider attention to their music, the more new paradigms are created for others to follow or at least learn from. Whereas during the Scarcity Mentality era, the people who were picked by record companies were looked at as the privileged—the haves in the world of haves and have-nots. Nowadays you can just pick yourself—provided you deem yourself as being worthy. You can even pick others.

Drawing from my personal experience: I could very well only talk about my own music on my blog, and that certainly would be justified. But sharing the music and ideas of fellow soprano players, makes my blog about something much bigger than myself.   Now, if I can get all Zen-like on you: “Its much better to see yourself as part of an ocean than just a mere drop of water.”

In conclusion, having experienced the jazz scene in both eras, I can say with certainty that I like being a jazz musician in the Abundance Mentality era much better. Not only are the feelings of competitiveness and envy not as prevalent, but also new opportunities have presented themselves for building strong communities and alliances, creativity, and most of all, happiness.

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