Almost Famous, Almost Broke: How Does a Jazz Musician Make It in New York Now? (via Village Voice)

Linda Oh plays the bass. Acoustic and electric, in trios, quartets, quintets, and sextets led by some of the best musicians in contemporary jazz. She’s 31, was born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, is of Chinese descent, and has lived in New York City, still the epicenter of jazz, for the past twelve years. In that time, through hard work, pluck (sorry), and great skill, her reputation has steadily grown, and she’s quietly become a star in jazz circles. She has sat in on countless recording sessions, gigs all around town at venues small — where they pass around a tin can — and large, and increasingly tours the country and the world. Linda Oh is a sideman, or rather, a sidewoman. She is, you might say, almost famous.

Like many sidemen, Oh is also an aspiring bandleader. But if jazz is a notoriously tough sell, bass players are even tougher. Essential as the instrument is to time and rhythm, and as voluptuous its presence on the bandstand, it often fades into the background. Rarely do bassists’ profiles scale to that of the larger-than-life Charles Mingus, perhaps the greatest composer in the jazz idiom besides Duke Ellington, or William Parker, out of the avant-garde school, or Ron Carter — or, these days, Esperanza Spalding, who can pack in an audience for a week-long engagement at a New York club. If mere mortal bass players want to lead, they get a night here, a night there.

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