On May 6th, I sat down with Josh Grossman, artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. It was part of a series of live interviews Josh is hosting called The Artistic Director’s Guide to Jazz. We had a great discussion about four artists performing solo shows at the festival:
One of Josh’s questions was about the importance of mentorship.
JOSH: Benny Green has played with many of the biggest names in jazz but what stuck out for me is that, for many years, he played and interacted with musicians at least a generation or two his senior. For example: Oscar Peterson selected him for the City of Toronto’s first Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music, and he played in Ray Brown’s trio. What do you think having these sorts of musical and mentorship opportunities did for Benny’s playing?
I can think of two reasons why mentorship is important.
We’re all familiar with the first one: If you want to be good at something, learn from people who are better than you (preferably the best). This is the backbone of all learning and skill development, not just for music and jazz.
If you want to be a good musician, athlete, engineer or politician, then study, imitate and learn from the leaders in that field. Immerse yourself in their teachings, actions, philosophy, routines, recordings and creative output. If you have personal contact with them, that’s a bonus!
Which leads me to the second reason why mentorship is important:
Mentorship as a Selling Point
Consider a few opening lines of a cold call. I’m trying to get a gig at a jazz club, jazz festival or university.
- “Hi, my name is Chris Donnelly, I’m a jazz pianist, Juno nominee, NJA nominee and instructor at the University of Toronto…”
- “Hi, my name is Chris Donnelly, I’m a jazz pianist, I just finished a string of performances with Ray Brown…”
- “Hi, my name is Chris Donnelly, I’m a jazz pianist, you might know me from my work on Kind of Blue…”
The potential for making the sale is exponentially higher if I played with Ray Brown, and even more so if I played on Kind of Blue.
I say “potential” because there are no guarantees in sales. There are no guarantees because every person in every transaction has a different trigger. If you had never heard of Kind of Blue, or if it’s your most despised jazz album, you’re less likely to buy right?
A Juno nomination, two NJA nominations and being on faculty at the University of Toronto can be excellent selling points, and I’m proud to have them on my resume. But even so, sometimes it doesn’t match a prospect’s triggers and they don’t return my calls. Then again, sometimes I can get their attention simply by mentioning the fact that I play the piano! It depends on the prospect.
What Are Your Triggers?
Everyone has triggers. Skilled salesmen are good at matching selling points with those triggers.
It’s fun to think about what your triggers may be. Personally, for jazz pianists, if you sound good (REALLY good), I’ll be more likely to become interested in your music. That’s not my only trigger though. If a person I admire vouches for you and your music, you’ll get my attention. Those are my two main triggers for jazz pianists and music in general. I usually don’t pay attention to CD reviews, publicity, awards, nominations, flashy resumes or even what most of my colleagues are saying.
That’s just with music though. I have a completely different set of triggers when it comes to food, clothing and relationships.
I wrote about triggers in a previous post where I explored a spectrum of positive association. Have a read and try to identify your triggers and selling points. Chances are, there are points on that list that, if used in combination, will grab your attention, or will grab your prospect’s attention.
Benny Green’s selling points include his associations and mentorship with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown (as well as being an amazing pianist). Fortunately for him, these things are powerful triggers in the jazz community. He’s had much success as a result.
That’s why mentorship is important.