The Gig Scene: A Jazz Major’s Perspective

November 8, 2017

The following guest post was written by current jazz trombone major Abe Nouri, class of 2018.  Thanks Abe!

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My name is Abe Nouri and I am a senior jazz trombone major studying with Mark Kellogg. As a Student Ambassador in the Eastman Admissions Office, I am often asked what the gig scene and performance opportunities are like in Rochester outside the confines of Eastman. There are many talented local musicians here and they all know of Eastman and the quality of students here, and this ends up getting us students a lot of work. Over my time at Eastman so far, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a great variety of paid local gigs. So for this blog, I thought I would reflect on my top five experiences from the past three years. These opportunities have been a true pleasure to be involved with and helped to pay my rent.  

  1. Thunder Body is a 7-year-old Rochester-based reggae/roots/dub band. I got involved playing trombone in their 3-piece horn section when I was a sophomore and have been playing gigs with them in and out of Rochester ever since. This is the first touring band I have been a part of and while I have immense amounts of fun playing really good music for really good people, I have also learned a lot about the process of maintaining a 10-piece (when we are our largest) band, which is something you only learn from first-hand experience. Some of the places we have played include but are not limited to: Rochester, Ithaca, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, Boston, Portsmouth, Washington D.C., Brooklyn, and Harlem. We have also performed at the Grassroots, Wildwoods, Purple Pig, and Seedstock Music Festivals.
  2. I have been fortunate recently to get calls for some of the latin bands in town. There is a vibrant Latino community in Rochester, especially Puerto Rican. Because of this, there are many authentic Latin bands who play salsa, merengue, and bachata. These gigs are fun because the music grooves hard and everyone on stage or dancing in the audience does as well. Learning to play different styles is great for broadening one’s musical horizons.  
  3. The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival is a week-long festival that happens in downtown Rochester every June. This event is good for many reasons, but I will focus on the performance opportunities that come along with it. This past year, I played twice as part of the festival. The first was with Eastman jazz saxophone professor Charles Pillow and his large ensemble. This was a tribute to the electric era of Miles Davis and included an all-day recording session plus two jazz festival sets. The best part about this was that the band included a large number of older professional musicians who I had previously only heard about from New York City. This gig gave me the opportunity to not only meet and hang out with these pros, but also to learn from them by sitting right next to one in the trombone section. Along with that, I also played in the horn section of Rochester’s  Funk/Soul/Hip-Hop powerhouse, Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People on the huge outdoor mainstage Saturday night before The Hooligans (Bruno Mars’ backing band). I heard there were around 5,000 people there.
  4. Bistro Han is a small Chinese restaurant located in Fairport, NY, right outside of Rochester. An Eastman alum has a duo gig there every Saturday and can’t always play it. When he can’t, he asks me and I am always thrilled to do it for two reasons: 1. The food there is BOMB and when you play there, the generous restaurant owners and staff let you order anything from their menu along with a complimentary beverage. 2. I can pick anyone I feel like playing jazz standards in a duo setting with and get paid to hang out with them for a few hours. That’s an activity that I would do anyway, just for fun.
  5. Last but certainly not least, I have a band of my own that I started with my best friend at school, Matt Bent. He is the drummer and I am the singer, keyboard player, and one of the songwriters. Along with our independent label executive, Matt and I do all of the administrative/management work for the band. We are called The Saplings and the other band members are eight of our best friends. We play original weird-pop music and have recorded a professional quality EP, recently finished an 11-day tour, and have plans to record a full length album this year. There is nothing better than being in a band with your close friends (especially a 10-piece) and performing music you wrote for people who know and like it.    

Of course, every student’s experience will vary, depending on how much work you are willing to do to connect with people and seek out opportunities, but I hope that my “top five” experiences offer you a glimpse into the gigging scene for jazz students in Rochester.