Most musicians have to do something more than perform to make a living. Many turn to teaching. Few have achieved more on both fronts than Atlanta-based Jazz Trumpeter Dr. Gordon Vernick.
Consider a shortlist of Vernick’s playing credits: performed in all musical mediums, from symphony orchestra to his jazz quintet, and throughout the world, from Costa Rica to Moscow, Brazil to Beijing, as a featured act and with such jazz all-stars as Kenny Werner, Marc Copland and Clare Fischer, John Hart and Randy Brecker.
His academic credentials include a doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado and multiple residencies, including the Conservatories of San Juan and Bordeaux, the Taipei and Singapore American Schools, the Bangkok and Jakarta International Schools, the Universities of Cape Town South Africa and Manchester Royal Music Academy in England. He boasts a series of 225 “Jazz Insights” podcasts that have received over 12 million downloads. Oh, and two heady CDs: The Strangest Thing and Destination.
Vernick’s main initiative these days is helping young jazz musicians. As a professor of music and “Coordinator of Jazz” at Georgia State University, he develops that young talent through a program he started in 2010, the Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra (RYJO) and a middle-school outreach program, Rialto Jazz for Kids.
Vernick has been exposed to the business of jazz since childhood, and has put all those years to good use in forming his perspective on playing music as a career:
“My father was a professional bassist in New York. He was a work-a-day musician – that is, he played pop as well as jazz. And he made a good living at it, enough to buy a house in a very nice part of New York and send my sister and me to college. When I was a senior in high school in the ‘70s, I told him I was interested in going into music. He told me I wouldn’t be able to do what he did – not that I didn’t play well enough, but he could see the writing on the wall, the change from swing jazz to rock. I wouldn’t be able to play the traditional music he was playing.
“The difference today is the internet. You have to have a lot more skills than just playing an instrument. You have to know marketing, Twitter and Instagram, make your own recordings, know how to monetize your YouTube pages. What it comes down to is you need an arsenal of skills, including musicianship because the level of performance today is very high and getting higher all the time.
“As educators we have to be careful not to create the world’s best buggy whip – something exquisite that nobody uses. We’re working in a 19th century conservatory system and trying to stuff jazz into it. Classical musicians went through that in the 1930s and ‘40s. They didn’t recognize that orchestras were dwindling. So you were creating string players for a career for which there was no future. Now it’s big bands. How many people are making a living in big bands? We can’t train musicians for a field that has no future – that’s doing them a disservice.”