And I sent out the following final missive to my first semester's students at NEC, a personal anecdote.
In the 1990s, I went out to see music whenever I could. I was broke but I found money to hang anyway. A lot of the time I was at Smalls seeing Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Ben Street, and Jeff Ballard play their near-weekly Wednesday gig. This band really taught me something about group sound: they all played so great, but together they all seemed even greater.
Things went well for the quartet, they signed record deals and eventually they played the Village Vanguard, which was a big step up from Smalls.
I went to the opening night at the Vanguard for both sets and a couple more times during the week. I never asked to be on the guest list. Smalls was only $10, but the Vanguard was another level of financial commitment (I think it was $25 plus a minimum). However, I knew that my cats needed support. At Smalls the club was always packed for this band. At the Vanguard it was relatively light.
I expected to see more familiar faces but a lot of peeps stayed home.
About a year later Mark asked me to sit in at the Vanguard for a couple of tunes, which was my first time on the Vanguard bandstand. Shortly after, Kurt asked me to sub for Mark for his week there. There were even some sets at Smalls with a quintet, the original quartet plus me. Along the way, the owner of the Vanguard, Lorraine Gordon, decided she would give me a gig and this led eventually to the Bad Plus playing at the Vanguard.
Over a decade later Mark told me that back then he and Kurt had discussed getting a piano player in the mix, to sub for each other and thicken the mix. There were a lot of great pianists in New York, but they chose me in part because I showed up as cheerleader and paying fan when they got their shot at bigger room.
So: You can’t predict if, when or where you’ll catch a break. It’s a hard, hard business. But in my experience, showing enthusiasm and commitment to who you really dig might open doors.