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Musician know thyself

It’s just about time to officially open the submission process for the 2021 TD Toronto Jazz Festival. And although at this point we don’t know exactly what next year’s Festival will look like, we are excited to get back to planning, and working towards presenting ten days of outstanding music. Plus – next year is our 35th anniversary!

I thought it might be a good time to revisit the submission process itself, and in particular the cover letter – it’s the one aspect of the process that seems to generate the most questions. What, exactly, are we expecting to see in the cover letter? How is it different from the bio? Won’t the music speak for itself?

For me, the cover letter is your chance to tell me exactly what you’d like to present at the Festival, and what might set you apart from other submissions. While the bio tells me about your background and what you do generally, the cover letter tells me what specifically you want to do at this particular Festival – it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you know a bit about the Festival, and indicate how you feel your music will fit what we do. The audio or video samples will certainly help me establish whether what you do is generally a fit for what we do, but the cover letter is an opportunity to provide context for the samples – are they live or in studio? From a previously released album, or the album you’ll be promoting at Festival time? Are the musicians in the samples the musicians you’d have with you at the Festival?

In many ways, I think the cover letter is an opportunity to show that you know exactly who you are as an artist, and be clear about what you do.

We had an excellent email exchange a while back with a local vocalist who took issue with a photo we used for publicizing one of her shows. On the surface, one could ask, “It’s a great photo – what’s the big deal?” But her email demonstrated exactly why it’s important to carefully think through who you are as a musician, what you’re aiming to present, and how you’re aiming to present your craft. With her permission, I’m sharing her response (edited for length, but not content):

“That photo is so beautiful. I am glad my grandma has a copy to display on her bookshelf.

But it is also completely photoshopped and was taken for a specific series of photos. But it’s on the internet…. And no matter what picture I send, it’s the one people go hunting for and use. And there is nothing I can do about it.

And I feel really uncomfortable with its use because it represents a version of ‘jazz singer’ that I have never been able to live up to….

And one that, to be honest, as a singer, has made me feel like there isn’t a place for me in the music, unless I was willing to project that image…

I am always happy to help promote the show – but it’d be nice if I felt like I was promoting a version of myself that I’m happy with and feels honest, and more productive to the conversations I think this music deserves. To me that picture will always remind me of the years on that gig of being openly told that I needed to be the one to pass the tip jar because ‘let’s be honest. We’ll make more money.'”

This honesty and clarity resonates with me. It may be that what you do is not the right fit for the Festival. But better to present a clear message about who you are and what you do, than leave me trying to guess at how your show would look and sound. And besides – I feel strongly that honesty and commitment to what you are trying to achieve musically will make it easier to connect with a community that will support you long-term.

This is always an exciting time of year – the palette is blank, and it feels as though anything is possible when it comes to programming the Festival. I always enjoy checking out the submissions as they come in, and encourage you to reach out with any questions about the process, the Festival and more.

Looking forward…

Josh

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