A plenary session at APAP|NYC that explored the question: What great acts have happened in our community? (Photo: Jacob Belcher/APAP)
"If you want to book us, we're a twelve piece, we like sushi and massages," Steven Bernstein cracked from the stage of New York City's Le Poisson Rouge on a recent Friday night in January as he led his MTO (Millennial Territory Orchestra) band through a blistering set of Sly Stone covers at the Winter Jazzfest.
Two nights later, a few blocks away at Webster Hall, a dozen international artists like the jaw-droppingly talented Chinese jaw-harpist Wang Li, the foot-stomping Ethiopian music group Debo Band, and the political-and-beat-minded M.A.K.U. Soundsystem from Columbia performed at Globalfest. Here each artist included their booking agent's name and email in the program guide.
What Globalfest and Winter Jazzfest, two musically divergent and well-curated music events, have in common is the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Conference. Both fests take full advantage of the annual confab running concurrently with APAP, which brings in some 3,500 arts presenters, artists, managers, agents, arts administrators and others from across the globe to New York City.
The APAP attendees network, attend workshops and panels and meander through the lively and sometimes utterly surreal convention area with some 350 booths at the midtown Hilton Hotel. Here, serious ballet, orchestra and theatre companies--as well as established booking agencies and international arts organizations--are mixed in with touring acts like Lez Zeppelin, Hotel California an Eagles tribute band, magicians and ice dancers.
Lez Zeppelin and Pie Records had one of 350 booths (number 66, Rhinelander Gallery) at this year's Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference's exhibition area at the Hilton Hotel.
The most important aspect of APAP for musicians, however, are the some 1,300 performance showcases taking place over the course of five days. It is here where arts presenters from across the country and beyond find bookings for their performing arts centers or PACs, an acronym heard often here.
While one could argue "practice, practice, practice" is the best way to get to Carnegie Hall, another perhaps more expedient route might be an APAP showcase. "At our very fist edition of Globalfest at Joe's Pub in 2004 we had Mariza, a Fado singer perform" says Bill Bragin, a co-producer of Globalfest with Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake. "One of the people in the house that night was a programmer at Carnegie Hall where Mariza went on to perform." Bragin, who, in his non-existant spare time, is also the Director of Public Program at Lincoln Center says some agents at APAP book up as much as 50 - 75% of their year's touring dates at APAP.
For Todd Walker, an agent at The International Music Network, a booking agency representing such artists as Baaba Maal, Caetano Veloso and Esperanza Spalding, 2012's Globalfest during APAP was the ideal platform to showcase a new act: the Gloaming, an Irish music supergroup of sorts with indie musician Thomas Bartlett AKA Doveman. "They had a lot of buzz going into Globalfest," Walker says. "When we get back to the office we'll lbe able to put together a tour from people seeing them here. We also had interest from labels and publicists so we should be able to make a team from that one show."
Irish All-Stars: The Gloaming were a much buzzed-about band at this year's GlobalFest who will be able to put together a tour following the APAP convention.
With many PACs booking seasonal subscriptions 18-36 months out, one well-received performance during APAP can impact an artist for years afterwards. The Mexican-American band Pistolera played Globalfest four years ago and the benefits of that show are still being reaped. "We had no idea our little showcase in the basement of Webster Hall in 2008 would result in work over the next four years both in the USA and abroad," Sandra Velasquez, the band's singer, songwriter and guitarist says. "Globalfest launched our international touring career and is the most important show we've ever played."
Much like Globalfest, Brice Rosenbloom, started the Winter Jazzfest six years ago so APAP attendees could get a real world taste of live jazz music. "We knew it would be helpful for presenters to see groups perform in real clubs with real audiences reacting to the music instead of in hotel conference rooms," he says referring to the shows often played in at the Hilton with nominal production. "We've heard countless stories of artists who have booked entire tours after showcasing at Winter Jazzfest. This year is much the same: Will Calhoun already has a handful of dates booked after showcasing at last week's Winter Jazzfest."
After his quartet's powerful WJF set at Kenny's Castaways on Friday night, virtuoso saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa attributed a previous WJF gig to a slot at the North Sea Jazz Festival. And Steven Bernstein said a past WJF performance helped him land an arts grant and shows at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and Wexner in Columbus, Ohio.
But it's not just gigs that come out of APAP. For the Debo Band, performing at last year's APAP was a game-changer. "Their record is coming out in the spring on Next Ambiance, an imprint of Sub Pop," explains Dan Hirsch, the group's manager. "Last year, Jon Kertzer [of Next Ambiance] came and saw the band showcase at the 92nd Street TriBeaCa and that started the conversation and over the course of this past year we negotiated a deal." The band is currently in the studio putting the final touches on its album with Gogol Bordello's Tommy "T" Gobena producing.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the APAP conference is the rise of a younger generation into the curatorial ranks at some of the nation's more established PACs. According to Amy Davidman, an agent with the Windish Agency, who this year featured showcases by Smod (a contemporary Malian group led by Amadou & Mariam's son), the Calder Quartet (who played with Andrew W.K.) and Bebel Gilberto, she regularly witnesses this phenomenon.
"More and more people come and ask about Crystal Castles, the xx, Animal Collective and Beirut," she said from the Windish booth at the convention. "People come and say, 'Hey we want to reach younger audiences what are we supposed to do?' Or a new young programmer says 'I was just hired because they need to know what's going on in your world.' As we highlight artists every year, I try to take that into consideration and bring a variety of acts here." At her booth is information on such acclaimed indie artists as Zola Jesus, Kid Koala and Amon Tobin. "Everyone," she says, "is trying to do something new and interesting and innovative to grab new audiences."