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John’s personal opinions

Is A Jazz Guitar Degree Worthwhile?

I was just wondering if you could offer any advice to me as an aspiring musician.
Many people have told me that jazz as a popular art form is dead. Some of my biggest influences are jazz guitarists, and I genuinely enjoy playing and listening to jazz. Do you think the skills and technique I learn as jazz guitar player will lend themselves readily to most jobs in the music business? In other words, is a degree in jazz guitar economically valuable outside of the jazz scene?

Generally speaking, a jazz guitar degree isn’t really worth much. How well you actually play , how original you are and how well you can write and arrange are worth a lot. Unless you want to teach in a college, degrees aren’t really important. Most of the opportunities you’ll get professionally, you’ll get from other musicians referring you and you referring them. In other words – NETWORKING. Look for every opportunity you can to jam or gig with other musicians. You learn most by doing it. Learn your theory, harmony, composition and arrangement while you’re in school and have access to the info. After that, as a guƒ¯tarist you need to try to be as versatile as possible so you can take advantage of more opportunities in pop music, rock, funk, R&B, etc and learn something about recording engineering. As a guitarist you’re an entrepreneur and you’ll need to create your own projects, write your own music, find great musicians to play with.

There’s wisdom in not getting too focussed just on jazz. In colleges and universities they tend to focus on jazz and classical almost exclusively and I’ve always felt it was a kind of dead-end trap and an academic exercise. Those restricted genres tend to foster anti-pop bias and snobbery that keeps musicians from freely exploring all styles of music including world music. It’s a global business and you grow most by copping styles, grooves and licks from Ska, African High-Life, Middle Eastern artists, Hip-Hop, country, etc.. We’re blessed with the Net where there’s access to every kind of music. USC just instituted the first pop music department in a state university in the country and they’re swamped with applications. The problem in most colleges is that most faculty comes from jazz and classical and they’re making THEIR living teaching. They rarely really know how to teach you how to make a living as a professional musician and the many opportunities that are available if you’re versatile.


Taxi Road Rally Virgin?

The Annual Taxi Road Rally is a major event that no songwriter should miss. It’s free for Taxi members + one guest, so if you’re not a member, attach yourself to one and get here to L.A. , usually on the first weekend in November. Details at

These are my answers to some questions from a client who lives in New York and was attending his first Taxi Road Rally.


Q -There might be 2000 people at this event. How do you effectively network with the “players” if you’re tripping over 100 other people to try to get to them?
A – Make sure to get there early to sign up for one-on-ones, short 10 minute session with someone of your choice. Those are generally the screeners (obviously all industry pros) so check out the bios of the screeners/A&R staff at the TAXI site and make a list of who you’d like to talk to in the order you want to. There are also many industry pros in addition to the Taxi A&R who participate as mentors. Not guaranteed they’ll all be there or that the hottest sessions won’t fill up before you get there but give it your best shot.

Q – At the lunches, who sits at your table and how is that decided?
A – Generally, the same screeners/A&R staff and other industry pros. We spend about 15 minutes each at several tables. We’re directed to tables by taxi staff or just directed to find another open table that the previous guest has just left. So there’s no way to plan it. Each table will get about 4-5 guests during the dinner and nobody knows who they’ll be. Teachers of the classes who aren’t Taxi Screeners also do the one-on-ones and tables. Rarely do the industry panelists who are major label people and writers participate in those sessions.

Q – How many CDs should I bring/prepare (if any)? How many songs on the CD?
A – Consider that you may want to give them to potential collaborators as well as industry people. Know that the odds of an industry person listening to a CD later are slim. They may walk away with 50 or more of those and they already have a stack back at their offices. So the number is up to you. Maybe 25. There’s always a huge pile of CDs left on tables afterwards and they just get tossed. You may want to pick up CDs from potential collaborators, singers, and others you vibe with during the weekend so you don’t want to be stuck taking back too many of your own.

Q – Can I mix genres or do I have to have separate CDs for each genre/person I’m pitching to?
A – The separation of genres isn’t a bad idea though you can just separate them on your CD and clearly mark them by genre, which will save you cutting new CDs for each genre.

Q – Do you bring typed lyric sheets?
A – Yes

Q – Do I bring business cards as well?
A – DEFINITELY – make sure it has your website/MySpace/Facebook etc. on it where they can hear your songs. E-mail address and phone too. Photo may help people remember you. Be sure that whenever someone gives YOU a card (like that bodacious babe) that you make a quick note on the back of her card. Otherwise, you’ll be amazed how quickly you forget before you transfer the info to your database.

Q – Is smiling a prerequisite or can I just look glum the entire time and no one will say anything?
A – Definitely no-one will say anything. You’ll be totally friendless – except for me.

Do not look depressed, dejected, arrogant or constipated. The mission is to look happy, successful, confident and RELAXED (Remember you’re in LA, not the Big Apple.) There will be a certain amount of tension and confusion on the first day as you get everything sorted out but by the 2nd day, though you’ll still be excited (Let yourself be amazed and thrilled!!) you’ll be more chilled. Smile constantly and be ready to meet everybody. Assume they’re all there to meet YOU! Make sure you have a good 10 second “elevator speech” to introduce yourself. You might want to bring your laptop and a good digital voice recorder that you can take notes on, (You’ll be bombarded with insights you’ll want to remember.) and upload it to your laptop daily. This is “information overload” time so be ready to retrieve it while you can.

Good luck, bro. This can be a life-changing experience if you let it.
Come visit us at our booth. I’ll also be teaching 2 classes, doing mentor sessions, a mentor lunch and booking private one-on one consulting appointments on an hourly basis, so book me early by e-mailing me at (Write “Road Rally Consult” in subject line).

Note: for more info about the Taxi Road Rally, go to the TAXI forum where you’ll find two great threads (First Rally?) that will provide lots of details about what to expect from and prepare for your first Road Rally.


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