“Straw Boss” (To CMB & KE)

We have so many shorthand terminologies in the Jazz world. 

“Kat,” which is how we refer to a fellow musician. 

“Bread,” which is the terminology for money.

“Gig,” which indicates a performance in which you are supposed to get paid.

“Jive,” which refers to behaving in a way that is less than desirable that could cause a musician to get fired. 

But, the utmost term, is “Straw Boss,” which refers to the person who pays everyone and who is the bandleader.

So funny for many years, I used to envy all of the bandleaders that I worked for. Whenever I would see their name in lights, I would think to myself, “One day, that will be me.” The funny things is that when you are a sideman, you think you know exactly how a leader/straw boss should behave, treat the band, and pay the band.

I had one bandleader who used to tell me, “One day U, you’ll be in a position, and you’ll understand everything that i’m going through and more.”

Boy was he right.

When you are a bandleader locally, the pressure is on, but it’s not as bad because you are dealing with travel, money and band issues that can be resolved in real time. When you begin to lead a band and handle matters internationally the first thing you have to start handling is, BUYING PLANE TICKETS. If you want to hear musicians singing the blues, ask them to talk about their credit card bills from buying plane tickets. (Not the sidemen.)

Typically what happens, is your booking agent, or yourself books a gig and within that agreement, the venue decides on what they will offer you; and it’s your job to get your band there. Many times, to make sure that everything stays within budget, you have to buy tickets way in advance before you even get paid for the gig. It means you have to really be finically and fiscally responsible. 

The other day, I had to resolve a major travel issue with my band which involved my having to be on the phone with airlines, booking tickets, all while in the midst of a major session I was producing. 

I was talking to an arranger about music, and in the other ear, I was on hold with an airline trying to resolve a travel matter. 

I handled everything, and produced the session successfully; thank God. And my inner-voice said to me, “See, you said you wanted to be a bandleader; here it is.”


My friend Alicia, is often the person who brings such an enlightened perspective to me. She said to me, “U, we may never have an opportunity to attend business school, and you have always desired to be a person within the industry that juggles a lot successfully. How else will you learn? You being put in certain circumstances that force you tor resolve these travel and production matters affords you a terminal degree in experience in the music business.”

She was so right. “To who much is given much is required.”

My heart goes out to the fellow “Straw Bosses” out there working hard, managing life, finances and everything else in between, all so that we can share amazing music with the world. 

No one sees the “Straw Boss” counting and distributing straws, but know that behind every wonderful show you’ve experienced, they make it possible.