COVID-19 financially crippled many hundreds of Bay Area arts-and-entertainment performers over the past year.
The ‘starving musicians’ category swelled exponentially, for example, because many lacked digital skills needed to overcome gig loss triggered by in-person venues closing. Noteworthy exceptions exist, however.
Pianist-singer Mike Greensill draws roughly 1,000 viewers each Monday, Wednesday and Friday to his livestreams on Facebook.
"They take a lot of time," he says. "I have to plan and plan."
His viewers ante up via PayPal and Venmo for shows that extract tunes from the '20s to the early '60s. Greensill says he's been doing well, but it's up and down. Some weeks, he makes a lot, while during others, he makes practically nothing. Even so, he enjoys streaming.
"It's like live radio used to be," he says. "Besides, I don't have to put my pants on."
Another exception is David Sturdevant.
The guitarist-harmonicist produces, leads and sings and plays with six formations of the Medicine Ball Band in Monday night livestream concerts from the Plymouth Church of Jazz and Justice in Oakland. His groups musically hop around the last 80 years, while his streaming flits beyond Facebook to Zoom and YouTube. His eclectic taste is evidenced in a March 24 Medicine Ball Duo performance on Zoom with John Stafford, a clarinetist (who also sings and blows sax and flute) with whom he's played over the world for more than 40 years.
Coming up April 3 is an outdoor, 65th-anniversary concert for North Beach's Caffe Trieste, to be live streamed from the Medicine Ball Band Facebook page.
"When I was doing live gigs, I averaged 25 to 30 a month,” said Sturdevant. “But you can't do (digital) too frequently, or people won't pay attention. Maybe two or three a week. Streaming revenue supplements the unemployment insurance (some) have been able to get through stimulus packages.”
Sturdevant's emphasis isn't on the money, though. It is on striving to play with musicians where we can all have fun.
SFJazz, meanwhile, has tried filling financial gaps through several digital series. Members pay $5 per streaming show, and non-members double that, with ticket holders also gaining access to rebroadcasts and on-demand choices. Fees benefit SFJazz's 50/50 Fund, which raised $566,000 over the pandemic year, with proceeds going 50% to artists and 50% to staff. SFJazz spokesman Marshall Lamm reports 15,000 new digital members have joined since COVID-19 began, pushing the total to 29,000.
Although SFJazz often showcases international artists, it also highlights locals such as Tuck & Patti, a Menlo Park married couple (who singer-conductor Bobby McFerrin called the best duo on the planet), and Edward Simon, a Venezuela-born pianist who lived in Manhattan and Florida before relocating to Emeryville.
Tuck & Patti will be part of the Alone Together streaming concert series from the Miner Auditorium stage at the SFJazz center April 15. The pair have also done their own Facebook streaming, accepting donations because their income had "dropped to zero."
Simon, San Francisco Conservatory teacher who's been part of the SFJazz Collective ensemble, recently streamed a show with works by Billy Strayhorn. Thelonious Monk, and Edward Simon.
In contrast to the others, Pacifica’s pianist Billy Philadelphia substituted a 20-year, four-night-a-week gig at San Francisco's One Market Restaurant for solely older-adult choir work online twice a week. It isn't perfect, and he bemoans that, with funding coming from local, state and federal governments, (musicians) have different hoops to go through and different forms to fill out, which is superimposed on his primary job, which he views as to make music.
Pre-pandemic, he had 100 in-person participants for two Community Music Center choirs based in the Bernal Heights and Castro neighborhoods of San Francisco, but now it's dwindled to 50. His singer-comic actor wife, Meg Mackay, sits next to him and sings harmony, but to him, it's musically frustrating, because choir members can hear only themselves, not the others.
“It's a cacophony if everyone isn't muted,” he said.
Still, he likes Zooming from home and getting more love than he’s gotten from in-person.
He also enjoys the musical gamut being eclectic.
"I bring them new music each week, from A to Z,” he said. “We started with tunes mostly from the '30s and '40s, but this semester includes songs by Stephen Sondheim, Billy Joel, Mose Allison, and Janis Ian, as well as 'Memories,' 'Swinging on a Star' and 'Hair.'"
Philadelphia, who will be 69 in April, is financially set. He gets two salaries, one for being the choirs' musical director and accompanist, as well as Social Security and pensions.
“I have a lifeline some of my brothers don't,” he said. “It never felt so good being old."
In fact, he is old enough to be in his choirs.
"I don't think we have anyone younger than 60," he said. "Though we've had a couple in their 90s.
To livestream Mike Greensill's concerts at 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, visit facebook.com/mike.greensill. Donations are appreciated. To livestream David Sturdevant and Medicine Ball shows, visit facebook.com/MedicineBallMusic/.
To catch Tuck & Patti live as they stream from SFJazz Miner Auditorium, from 7 to 8 p.m. on April 15, visit https://bit.ly/3wLrqhU. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers, and on-demand viewings will be available from April 18 to May 31. Edward Simon's March 18 SFJazz solo piano concert is available to stream on-demand through April 30 for $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers at https://bit.ly/3mzGBFV.
For more information about the Community Music Center in San Francisco's tuition-free Older Adult Choir Program, visit https://bit.ly/39W3wpO.