88 Keys and Counting – Richard Clements Muses on Jazz Generation

Richard Clements is one of the many musicians who are involved with the organization Jazz Generation. The pianist gives his time and talent through the Keyed Up! program which is designed to keep musicians employed by arranging gigs in the NYC/New Jersey Metropolitan area. [Part 2 of the Jazz Generation interview] 

How did you first hear about Jazz Generation?

I first heard of Keyed Up! through Grant Steward, the great tenor player. Bassist Murray Wall and I had established Monday night at the 11th Street Bar. Its success attracted great players from everywhere. With Taro Okamoto as our drummer, Murray and I rotated the front line usually keeping the band a quintet. Grant was hired one Monday night, and he was such a good fit he became part of the band and he suggested Keyed Up. It’s been great.

What is your role there and which programs are you involved in?

My role is pianist and co-band leader of the Monday night house band at the 11th Street Bar. Monday night there has evolved into one of the hottest nights of the New York jazz scene. With trumpeter Joe Magnarelli joining the house band and great musicians who have passed through and sat in, Monday night jazz is known all over the world.

Why did you become involved with this organization?

It was a great fit. Monday night started off as a labor of love. With help from Keyed Up, Monday night started feeling like a legitimate jazz gig. When we needed to substitute a member we could keep the level high and our monetary offer was good for an off-night East Village no-cover-charge jazz gig.  Many great players wanted to contribute.

What has been the most surprising to you regarding the musicians’ current needs?

For me it’s really no surprise, most musicians need more gigs and more money, especially during these troubling times. Personally I’ve had some good stretches. Musicians always need more jazz clubs or venues with a jazz night to open up. Current needs? More media exposure, TV, radio, grants, government help – not welfare but government-sponsored programs for creativity.

How have things changed since COVID for these individuals and how do you help them stay hopeful?

Since COVID, gigs have more than drastically slowed down. Every place a jazz musician performs is a bar, restaurant or concert. These are places where people gather. That’s what jazz musicians do, play for gatherings. And now there’s laws against gatherings, it’s crazy. Musicians have to accept this; this is what’s going to help us get back to where things were. It’s been nice seeing the online teaching, Zoom classes and online concerts. Musicians are finding ways. The outdoor music gigs were good this summer. Now it’s getting cold, so hopefully we can move inside safely.

Your favorite story about helping people in this program?

I think my overall best story about being in this program is being able to maintain top quality musicians and pay them decently. For me being the pianist, I get a chance to play with these jazz giants. We have attracted world-class artists. Barry Harris came by to sit in, Charles Davis was a member, John Hendricks and Lou Donaldson came to listen and both sung, this is just to name a few. It’s amazing. Every Monday night had a personality of its own. The 11th Street Bar owner Dan Sweeney, who took professional photos of us to put on the Bar’s website, says as soon as possible, we will be back. 

Highlights of your personal journey in jazz?

I must say at the present the Monday night at the 11th Street Bar is my biggest highlight, also my association and studies with Barry Harris. I’ll include living in Paris for almost four years, working in Archie Shepp’s band and traveling with Barry Harris as a travel companion/student which has allowed me to see the world. 

How do you stay optimistic?

Since the shutdown I’ve been diving deep into practicing. Studying Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, the masters. Working on the jazz language, my chording. I’m trying to improve my overall musicianship. I always enjoy practicing, improving my ears and technique. I do a little Facetime/Zoom teaching from time to time.

For more information visit http://www.keyedup.org/.

Photos courtesy of Jazz Generation.

© 2020 Debbie Burke

New release already #40 in Jazz on Amazon!

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