If you’ve recently hung out at Chris’s Jazz Cafe on a Friday night for the late night hang, you’ve probably run into guitarist, composer and educator Eric McGarry. Since moving to Philadelphia in 2014 to get a degree in Jazz Studies, McGarry has become a part of the scene and is grateful for what he’s been able to learn in the City of Brotherly Love.
“During my time at UArts, I earned my BA in Guitar Performance, and my MM in Jazz Studies,” says McGarry. “The Philadelphia scene has been a greatly educational and rewarding community to be a part of.” During his time in school one of his favorite collaborations was being part of the 2019 Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency, a two-week program for 15 collegiate jazz musicians that focused on composition, performance, and master classes, organized by Jonathan Whitney.
“It was such a wonderful experience to play original compositions by young musicians from all across the country,” says McGarry. “Our ensemble focused on performing and workshopping each others’ original works in an environment that fostered open communication and collaboration. It was inspiring spending every day with other musicians as we played together and created new music every day. This residency motivated me and inspired me to work harder and strive to be my best. I still talk, spend time, and make music with the friends I made while I was in the residency.”
Jazz Philadelphia is hoping for the same lasting connections for CORE Cooperative graduates. As more cohorts graduate, a mutually-supportive network will form among alumni, supported by Jazz Philadelphia as an organization.
McGarry’s main creative project, the Eric McGarry Quintet, focuses on performing his original modern compositions, and in spring 2022, he said he was headed for a first. “I am going into the studio to record my debut record as a leader.” Among the songs he records will be some of his own compositions. “A goal of mine is to have my work reach a wider audience and begin booking performances with my band outside of the Philadelphia region. In the future I plan on applying for grants in order to fund future compositions and recordings. The connections and skills I can develop and workshop in this program will be essential in helping me achieve my goals and further my career.”
In a city such as Philadelphia, which is still rebuilding its brand as a jazz juggernaut, choosing to stay here for a career means looking around and trying to understand what would make the whole scene stronger, and then trying to make it happen. “I would love to see more venues in Philadelphia featuring local jazz musicians on a regular schedule. There is plenty of work as a gigging musician in the city but finding spaces to perform original material here is much harder,” says McGarry.” As much as the city needs hard working musicians, it also needs music entrepreneurs to step up and create more series and stages to showcase the city’s rich talent.
“Aside from booking at Chris’, players often resort to house shows or pay-to-play scenarios in order to perform their work. Some venues hire a regular recurring roster of musicians, or focus on booking performers from out of town rather than offering an opportunity to local players. At times it can be difficult as a young musician to break into these circles as a band leader.”
“At times it can be difficult as a young musician to break into these circles as a band leader.”
But McGarry is hopeful, in part because of the strong community here. “The Philly scene is overflowing with amazing players and a strong sense of community. Philly is like no other scene, the players truly support each other and have strong support from older more established musicians. A dream of mine is for Philadelphia to have more established spaces for this community of incredible performers to thrive.”
McGarry observes that those talented performers need support on the entrepreneurial side of being a musician. “Musicians are often less informed on the business side of the industry. If you enter the scene through academia, you learn how to play and study jazz and its tradition from world class musicians,” says McGarry.
“Unfortunately, these programs often lack funding to provide courses on industry knowledge within the required curriculum, There are few resources on how to book a gig, make an EPK, write a press release, find or apply for grants. Recent grads are left to figure it out on their own through trial and error. I don’t believe it is the venues’ fault, or that jazz isn’t marketable, which causes the music to be found in less rooms around the area. I think there is a lack of communication between the players and the industry. Musicians need better resources on how to present themselves and their work in a way that is professional and appealing to industry workers.”
In order to get past the hurdle, McGarry says musicians need to get into an empowered mindset. “ I think an important thing to learn is how to create opportunities,” he says. “I would love to learn and develop better strategies for finding work, rather than cold calling and showing up at venues trying to promote myself.”
But even when he does have to do that necessary work, he knows he’s not alone. “The community nearest and dearest to me is the network of friends I have made within the Philadelphia jazz scene,” McGarry says.
“The community is built upon support and friendships, we all push each other to be better without anything feeling overtly competitive. It is a very strong, a lively community, and to me it is based on friendships with a common goal—to play jazz and to play better.”
“Before the pandemic hit I was at every show I could attend to listen, learn, and support my friends. After work or school I’d often be at Chris’ Jazz Cafe or Time catching these great musicians play. The community is built upon support and friendships, we all push each other to be better without anything feeling overtly competitive. It is a very strong, a lively community, and to me it is based on friendships with a common goal—to play jazz and to play better.”
Find him online at ericmcgarry.com and on Instagram at @emcgarrymusic.
Jazz Philadelphia is proud to have Eric McGarry in the inaugural cohort of the CORE Cooperative, an entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness program for jazz artists and advocates. For more information, visit Jazz Philadelphia.
At times it can be difficult as a young musician to break into these circles as a band leader.”