Bandleader Nick Hempton crossed his fingers when he moved to New York from his native Sydney in 2004, hoping the city’s wealth of jazz clubs would immediately offer plenty of chances to play.
Instead, he struggled for months to get steady work.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Hempton, a 36-year-old saxophonist, said by phone. “It’s a real hustle and struggle because there are lots of musicians in New York, but I knew it was the place I wanted to stay.”
Things got better when Hempton learned about Music for Tomorrow, a New York-based nonprofit that helps jazz musicians find work. In December, the charity booked Hempton’s band to perform at Google Inc.’s year-end party for staffers and guests in New York.
“A lot of gigs are coming my way now,” Hempton said. “Some of these contacts look like they’re going to be regular customers.”
Launched in 2006 in New Orleans, Music for Tomorrow’s online booking service initially helped local musicians find work after Hurricane Katrina brought cultural life to a standstill. As it gradually expanded its service to New York last year, Anthony DeFeo, a trader at the Manhattan-based Exis Capital Management Inc., became the organization’s executive director on a part-time basis.
“We’ve created a way for people to book events, and we’re spreading awareness of jazz music by creating opportunities for musicians,” said DeFeo, 28, a Utica, New York native who played alto saxophone in high school.
The site works this way: A musician or band can register with the nonprofit for free. Those searching for live jazz bands can look at the performers’ photos, YouTube.com videos or music clips on the site. Music for Tomorrow asks users of its service to voluntarily make a donation of 10 percent of the band’s booking fee, which begins at $100 per hour.
“I can check my e-mail to see if it’s something I’m interested in doing, and they can see if they want my band,” Hempton said.
The service now has a roster of more than 75 jazz bands for hire, and it booked 40 performances last year, producing about $30,000 in income for the musicians, DeFeo said.
To boost exposure for its musicians in New York, the nonprofit will host a showcase tomorrow night for some of its players at Tutuma Social Club in midtown Manhattan. The world music and Afro-Peruvian-themed basement-level club has become a haven for emerging musicians since it opened in 2009.
The evening will include a performance by the Gregorio Uribe Big Band. Chef Christopher Nirschel, who has appeared on “The Next Food Network Star,” will serve white truffle risotto with lobster, Peruvian ceviche, jambalaya and orange fennel ice cream.
“We’re doing a music-paired tasting to enhance the experience,” said DeFeo. “These showcases lead to bookings and make people aware of our website.”
Music for Tomorrow’s co-founders include two Dartmouth College graduates, Brent Reidy, a New York-based arts consultant, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. investment banker Kabir Sehgal. Its first event in New Orleans raised $100,000 to aid musicians and the construction of a National Jazz Center. The nonprofit’s early supporters included actors Jude Law and James Gandolfini (HBO’s “The Sopranos”).
Today, its board and advisers include Sehgal; Richard Casavechia, a managing director for mergers and acquisitions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who serves as the board’s executive chairman; Carlos Hernandez, global head of equities at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; actor Blythe Danner; and singer-songwriter Dave Matthews.
To expand opportunities for the musicians, DeFeo is now targeting New York’s wedding market. The group will also start booking bands this year in Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles.
“The more gigs we generate on our website, more income is generated for musicians, more income comes to our site and the more money we can put back into New Orleans,” DeFeo said.
(Music for Tomorrow’s showcase is Wednesday, May 9 at Tutuma Social Club, 164 E. 56th Street in Manhattan at 7 p.m.)
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