How jazz musicians are coping with COVID-19

Despite her concerts being cancelled, Cécile McLorin Salvant decided to play anyway — to an empty room.

With people across the globe urged to stay home as much as possible and avoid mass gatherings, the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist announced a series of concerts to be live-streamed on Facebook and Instagram in order to give fans the opportunity to enjoy the concert experience from the safety of their homes. Salvant scheduled the first one with piano accompanist Sullivan Fortner for Wednesday, March 18 at 8 p.m. EST on a pay-what-you-can basis, with donations accepted through Venmo to be used for people in need. Prior to that, Salvant had made the best of her cancelled performance at SFJazz by regrouping at the Oakland home of activist Angela Davis for an exclusive, intimate concert — only 11 people were in the audience.

The COVID-19 pandemic will be a devastating financial blow to people and businesses all over the world. Among the most vulnerable to its effects are musicians, whose income and exposure relies heavily on the ability to go on tour and perform live for their fans. Without that, it will be a struggle.

Many artists have been encouraging fans — those who have the means, at least — to show their support more than ever by buying music directly through platforms like Bandcamp, or buying merchandise from their websites, or even just donating directly through cash apps like Venmo and Patreon.

Some of them are doing the same thing as Salvant: bringing the experience of a live performance right to people’s smartphones, laptops and televisions.

Canadian vocalist Measha Brueggergosman set up a GoFundMe campaign to coincide with a live-streamed popup concert at the studio of Guillermo Subauste. The concert took place on Monday, March 16, during which she premiered songs from her latest project of jazz standards, accompanied by pianist Aaron Davis, guitarist Rob Piltch and bassist George Koller. The campaign has raised more than $7,000, and Brueggergosman says there could be more to come.

“It seemed the most efficient way to give people a chance to contribute to the chasm opening up between what we need to survive and the revenue we’ve lost,” she wrote on Facebook. “This virus has already taken so much from all of us already but it can’t take our spirit unless we let it.”

Toronto vocalist Heather Luckhart and pianist Attila Fias announced a “virtual concert” to take place Thursday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. EST. All fans have to do is subscribe to either artist on Patreon and follow Luckhart on Periscope to gain access to the live stream.

“Community is such an essential part of what musicians rely on,” Luckhart said. “With all of the caution surrounding COVID-19, we want to reward those who support the music scene with a remote hangout.”

The National Arts Centre and Facebook Canada have partnered to launch a $100,000 fund to support artists who are hosting live-streamed performances like these. The #CanadaPerforms concert series kicked off with Jim Cuddy, with other performances including Serena Ryder, William Prince, Irish Mythen, Erin Costelo and Whitehorse.

New York’s WBGO has set up a section of their events calendar dedicated specifically to live-streamed shows. JAZZ.FM91 also invites artists to submit their at-home events to our community events calendar by filling out our submission form.

JAZZ.FM91 has also partnered with the Unison Benevolent Fund, a non-profit, registered charity that provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community. From March 23-29, 10 per cent of all new, one-time donations to JAZZ.FM91 will be given to Unison, which exists to help professional music-makers in times of hardship, illness or economic difficulties.

Some musicians are turning to other forms of alternative revenue sources such as crowdfunding a future album or tour, or even by offering online music lessons. Meanwhile, many are just asking fans for their continued support in the hope that they’ll be there to see them next time they come to town — whenever that is — to help artists and all the behind-the-scenes concert workers recover from the health crisis.

“As musicians, there is a call to do what’s right and to step away from public performance. This is universal,” says longtime blues musician and weekly JAZZ.FM91 host Danny Marks. “Here in Toronto … we feel more for the venue operators than for ourselves. In these times even without the current crisis, clubs are under siege. We musicians will survive. We can do music at home, write, record, even web cast.”

There are a number of resources out there for musicians and music-industry workers looking for ways to get by, including this one from the Unison Benevolent Fund. Some of those include assistance with content generation, mental-health counselling, support groups, marketing and business strategy. Unison accepts donation from anyone wanting to help.

At least for now, COVID-19 has made concerts an impossibility. But take it from us — one way or another, we still have the music.