How Jazz Artists In Buffalo Are Coping During The COVID-19 Pandemic

For many jazz musicians in the Greater Buffalo region, the sudden halt to independently performing has meant loss on many levels. Loss of “gig” income has been the hardest to experience. But also the loss of performing in an ensemble setting, camaraderie with band members, and the improvisational experience integral to jazz. Many jazz events and JazzBuffalo concerts are canceled.

In the first of several check-in articles, JazzBuffalo connected with 12 jazz artists to see how they are coping and adapting to life without performance gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that stands out is the resourcefulness of those we connected with as they answered two questions: 1. How are you coping currently? 2. How are you adapting?

Here is what they had to say.

Image may contain: Bernard Kunz, playing a musical instrument and indoor

Bernard Kunz, jazz guitarist and composer with French ConéXion and Gruvology

How are you coping?

I’m getting a bit itchy to play, but there is still a lot of work. With French ConéXion, we have a few new tunes to learn and older ones to practice and for Grüvology we have to listen to, critique and edit what we recorded at Select Sound earlier in February. In a way, it’s not a bad thing to have some downtime.

How are you adapting?

I’m still figuring out how to use the internet to do distance guitar lessons. It doesn’t look too hard. Fortunately, I don’t depend on playing out to make ends meet, so no pressure on that end. I am focusing on writing some new tunes as well as listen to lots of good stuff on YouTube. So, really not much time to sit around and mope. Just don’t listen to the news.

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Drew Azzinaro, jazz guitarist with Far Trio

How are you coping?

I would say I’ve been keenly aware that we never know what is going to happen next but at the moment it is collectively more salient. I’m coping by going to unpopular spots in the mountains with my fiancé and being socially distant yet present in nature and in the moment.

How are you adapting?

I’m adapting by realizing I’m taking a huge financial hit but lucky I still have students that continue to want to study on Skype lessons and to be able to spread music with technology. I’m definitely missing making music with other musicians and look forward to doing that very much!

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Donny Frauenhofer, pianist, keyboardist, and composer with multiple groups including Intrepid Travelers, The DUO+, Donny Frauenhofer Trio, and others.

How are you coping?

I’m coping by taking it one day at a time, keeping myself focused on simple musical projects that give me something to look forward to. It’s actually a great time for practicing technique because I can spend hours on a micro-adjustments in my playing that I normally would spend minutes on.

How are you adapting?

I’m adapting by planning some projects with jazz (and non-jazz) musicians I already collaborate with, just now from our own homes. It’s challenging because jazz is an art form that relies on being in the same room as the other musicians, feeding off each other, and creating these organic moments of improvisation. I’ve set up a Patreon, which is a great way to support artists at the ground level and has actually been around and viable in larger music cities for almost 10 years. We’re going to have to rely on types of financial support like this with the disappearance of gigs, since supporting yourself on record sales doesn’t exactly exist in the current economy and really hasn’t for 20 years. Musicians and artists are incredible at evolving and adapting though, so this may be a moment in our history of great invention.

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Kevin O’Brien, upright bassist, and leader of the Hot Club of Buffalo

How are you coping?

The Hot Club of Buffalo is on pause (just like the NHL) during this pandemic. I’m personally coping quite well, all things considered. I have much more free time than usual and I’m using that time to write new songs and stories (I’m a fiction writer as well as a musician.) I’m also listening to more music on a deeper level. I’m putting on headphones and re-exploring a lot of the music that influenced me in my youth.

How are you adapting?

It’s been a positive experience that, at least somewhat, has offset the alarming realities we hear about on the news every day. In addition to that, I’m keeping in touch with friends and family over the phone. I guess that explains how I’m both coping and adapting. I also live with a wonderful woman, and that makes everything better, even in difficult times.

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Ed Croft, bassist in multiple endeavors including Tim Clarke Soul-Tet

How are you coping?

The new normal is a surreal thing to adjust to. The financial loss is substantial, but luckily I have my day job in healthcare, which is considered an essential business. Moreso than a loss of income, it feels like a loss of identity. Playing music for folks is what motivates me to wake up every morning, and ultimately makes me who I am. I am trying to keep it all in perspective though because I know there are a lot of folks less fortunate than I who don’t have that second source of income to sustain them. These are trying times for us all, and I look forward to seeing both the fans and musicians back in the venues safe and healthy when this subsides.

How are you adapting?

In the meantime, I’ve been pursuing my other love of road biking, getting out on the Erie Canal trail almost daily. I’ve also been putting some miles in around our neighborhood with Oscar, our Jack Russell terrier. Additionally, I’ve been using my evenings to reacquaint myself with records I haven’t played in a while, finding some new material to play in the process, and cooking some tasty dinners while I listen!

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Jacob Jay, trumpeter and composer with Jay/Sharp-Tet

How are you coping?

I am coping by looking to ahead to future projects, composing/arranging new music and having more dedicated practice time.

How are you adapting?

To adapt I am incorporating the use of more technology through live steaming, recording myself and teleconferencing like Facetime.

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Dalton Sharp, saxophonist with Jay/Sharp-Tet and with My Cousin Toné

How are you coping?

I’m coping by changing my spending habits.

How are you adapting?

I’m adapting by practicing more.

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Kevin Hall, independent jazz and smooth jazz saxophonist

How are you coping?

I’m coping by spending time with my family and appreciating the gift of life more than ever. If this crisis has shown us anything it’s to NEVER take the precious time we have for granted.

How are you adapting?

I’m adapting by lots and lots of practice in the Hope’s of being a better person and Musician since this all started.

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Tim Clarke, jazz trumpeter and leader of Tim Clarke Soul-Tet

How are you coping?

Fortunately, I’m fine. Because I have a day job I’m able to work from home full time.

How are you adapting?

I have no gigs right now, so I’m just keeping my chops up with practice at home.

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Will Holton, independent jazz and smooth jazz saxophonist

How are you coping?

Well, this is a time of reflection and planning for 2021. Family is so important to me so I spend time with my nephews, sister, mom, and dad. We will come out of this and when we do it’s going to be a huge flux of work to be done, new music to showcase, and family memories that will last. Home and family have now taken it rightful place #1 ( I think for most).

How are you adapting?

Fortunately enough for me, I have a media business as well and a couple of projects to complete. So this break has offered me time that I needed. Practicing has become an enjoyable thing as well. Learning my alto saxophone has been so rewarding. And, I am working digitally with people who I never worked with before. Buffalo Music Hall of Fame Inductee Michael Hund, Jessie Galante, Katlin Coch, and others on a cover of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Pretty Cool.

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Paul Todaro, upright bassist and leader of the Skiffle Minstrels

How are you coping?

I am taking advantage of the time to practice many more hours than my usual routine.

How are you adapting?

I am checking out Zoom and other platforms to learn about monetizing video performances.

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Kevin Doyle, jazz pianist with Sol Y Sombra and Why Not?

How are you coping?

I am moving to remote teaching. I’m trying to maintain the routine by staying close to the day to day schedule even though it seems that time has little meaning these days. I haven’t played live since the first week in March and I’m not sure when businesses offering entertainment will be able to reopen. Not soon, I think. I’m hoping I can cover my housing and health insurance obligations due soon. I’m distressed that my retirement plan tanked, but understanding that a lot of musicians have no safety net. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement of friends.

How are you adapting?

The downtime has given the opportunity to check in on some older or less fortunate friends. The loss of connection is a reminder of the importance of our connections. Hopefully, we can carry these reaffirmations into the future, as uncertain as it is.

We certainly look forward to getting out to see the above jazz artists live someday soon. In the interim, we’ll be checking in with a few, including some of our female jazz artists, throughout our stay-at-home period to see how they are coping.

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