The Jazz Gallery, one of our favorite jazz venues in the city to see music in a unpretentious environment where music and artistic expression come first, is launching The Woodshed at The Jazz Gallery. The Woodshed is a new initiative to offer musicians the use of the Jazz Gallery space at no charge for rehearsals. Starting in 2012, the Jazz Gallery will be available during “dark” hours to artists for about 15 hours per week, resulting in over 750 hours of free rehearsal time for NYC musicians in 2012.

To launch these efforts, the Jazz Gallery has gathered together a gang of the best musicians in town – Marcus Gilmore, Robert Glasper, Mike Moreno, Becca Stevens, Miguel Zenon, Jaleel Shaw, Marcus Strickland and many more – to launch a Kickstarter to set the program into motion. Head over to the Jazz Gallery’s Woodshed Kickstarter here. Deborah Steinglass, Executive Director of the Jazz Gallery, recently filled us in on the inspiration for the Woodshed and the incredible story of the Jazz Gallery.

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Can you tell me the story of the Jazz Gallery and its role up to now in the jazz community?

The Jazz Gallery was founded in 1995 by Dale Fitzgerald and Roy Hargrove. Roy originally leased this space for the first rehearsals of his big band. Dale, who has been Roy’s business manager for many years, and who also happens to have a PhD in Cultural Anthropology, decided that the space would be ideal to use for art exhibitions, poetry readings, dance and of course music – all focusing on jazz as an international culture. Over time, we evolved into a non-profit organization with a reputation and mission deeply tied to presenting the next generation of jazz musicians, many of whom have settled here in New York City from other parts of the world. Within the framework of being primarily a music presenting organization over the past 11 years, we have helped nurture the careers of 9 of the last 10 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winners, as well as MacArthur Fellowship winners Miguel Zenon (2008) and Jason Moran (2010). Part of our ability to cultivate these musicians is that we have long-standing relationships with them – we provide them with a stage, a home really, where they can take artistic risks and develop their work without commercial pressure. In addition to presenting more than 180 performances each year, we have a residency commissioning program, a composers workshop with Steve Coleman, and jam sessions with Roy Hargrove. Our presenting and commissioning activities earned us the 2010 ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming.

What inspired you to start this project?

First, a few years ago, we noticed that many of the musicians playing here were scrambling in the quest for rehearsal space. The biggest problem was that many of them really couldn’t afford to rent studios, which run upwards of $25 per hour. We tried to accommodate special requests, but that was on a case-by case basis, which didn’t always seem fair – and we weren’t really set up to do more than that. Simultaneous to those requests, we were hearing from musicians we had commissioned that they wished they had been able to rehearse their new work more. So, we started by adding a residency component to our annual commissions – and the results were that the commissioned artists really felt that having access to our space for rehearsals and to develop their work made a big difference in the outcome. It also really bothered us that for many hours each week a large part of our space was not in use – and that just seemed like a waste. We were already presenting at the level we wanted – we didn’t really want to add more performance nights. So, it seemed like a natural fit to open up the space to the very musicians who perform here, and let them use it to rehearse.

How do you think this will help grow/nurture the jazz community in New York?

As many of the musicians appearing on our Woodshed videos have expressed, rehearsal and preparation is essential to growing as a musician. But, jazz musicians really don’t make much money, and they can’t afford to pay for hours of rehearsal space. If musicians can have easy access to rehearsal space, they can consistently do the preparation that’s needed to grow and develop their art. It’s that simple.

How is this concept in line with the mission of the Jazz Gallery?

We are all about nurturing the next generation of jazz musicians. I think it is important that, as a non profit, we offer a model for a supportive relationship between presenters and artists. While we aren’t a service organization, that doesn’t preclude providing services to very musicians who create and perform the music that has gained us the stellar reputation we have.

How can people get involved who want to volunteer to help run this program?

Well, we are certainly going to need to supervise the space when it’s in use for rehearsals. Anyone who wants to help with that or administrative work connected to the project can contact me at deborah@jazzgallery.org.

What musicians are already involved in this project ?

Wow! We have been blown away by the support from the music community – although I don’t think it’s really a surprise. Jazz musicians as a group are incredibly warm people and supportive of each other – so even if this isn’t something they need in the immediate future, they understand how it can help their fellow musicians. So when you look at the Kickstarter site you’ll see videos with with statements of support from, to name just a few, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Gretchen Parlato, EJ Stickland, Marcus Strickland, Matana Roberts, Dafnis Prieto, Gerald Clayton, John Ellis, Mike Moreno, Miles Okazaki, Jaleel Shaw and Jen Shyu. That’s just on the vidoes – there’s much much more – dozens of musicians such as Larry Grenadier, Johnathan Blake, Miguel Zenon, Claudia Acuna, Taylor Eigsti, Lionel Loueke and many, many more have donated perks such as lessons or listening sessions or private performances. And still others are now backers – including Esperanza Spalding.

Are there other challenges musicians face in the city that you think need to be brought to light? Please share!

There are huge challenges right alongside huge opportunities – that’s New York! But I think it’s especially difficult for jazz artists because, unlike other performance art forms, they are onstage performing sometimes 7 nights a week. That’s good, and it’s how their work grows, but it can also be pretty grueling. Add to that the fact that most jazz venues don’t pay very well and living in New York is incredibly expensive. I’ll say this as well – these issues permeate the entire field. The venues, including our own, pay enormous rent for their space. Many, many venues have closed in recent years or even months because they can’t make enough to keep up with payments to their landlords. And there is more. All of us have insurance and administrative costs that are not apparent to the general public. And in our case, as a non profit, we have significant reporting and accountability that adds to our administrative load. That impacts on the musicians as well, because it impacts on the number of opportunities out there, the number of places they can play in but also where they can go to hear live music, and of course, it impacts on their pay scale.

Do you know any other good resources that can help musicians find affordable rehearsal spaces?

They can look at nycmusicspaces.org – and of course, there’s word of mouth!

Interview by Nora Ritchie

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