The Management Behind a Leading Leader in Jazz

In this blog I will be talking about managers for some of my favorite musicians, many of whom are jazz artists. If you check in every week of so, hopefully I can give you some insight as to why some artists are more or less successful than you might expect. Additionally, you will be exposed some great music that you may not have checked out yet.

This week I will be starting with David Sholemson at Ted Kurland Associates. I had the privilege of working with these guys at an internship recently, so I have something of an insider’s perspective.

TKA is a booking agency in Boston, MA. They represent a dynamic array of extremely talented musicians including Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Cecile Mclorin Salvant, Red Baraat (check these guys out if you haven’t already), Meshell Ndegeocello (her too!), and Sonny Rollins (though he has unofficially retired).

Ted Kurland, the founder of the company got started at an agency while still in college. Before even graduating, he told me, he was already booking more shows than anyone else at the firm. It was at this point he realized it was time to leave. He then made a name for himself at a startup agency called All American Talent booking blues legends such as Muddy Waters. When the company split, he shifted his focus to jazz and started Ted Kurland Associates. This firm really took off when he signed Gary Burton, whom he had contacted years before to seek guidance regarding a career in booking.

Gary Burton’s ties to Pat Metheny soon led to him being signed with TKA as well. This was long before he was the superstar he is today. Pat wanted to focus entirely on making music so he needed a manager, and asked Ted if he could do management in addition to booking. He was far too busy himself, but asked one of his agents, David Sholemson if he thought he was up for the job.

David has since been Pat’s manager. Having never managed an artist before, he learned his job by being thrown into the fire. Some things the hard way. For example, early on he was Metheny’s touring manager as well as his manager and booking agent. He made the mistake of booking too many consecutive shows without a night off. While on the road, the time consuming duties of the job left little to no time for sleep. At one point David was so tired he began to hallucinate.

David has managed other artists in the past including Brian Blade, but Pat Metheny has become so prolific, that his management alone is all that David can handle. When I asked him about the day to day aspects of his job he had a hard time answering. Managing someone like Pat Metheny, there is far too much variation in day to day work. He does this work intuitively and relies on his experience rather than any sort of comprehensive organizational system.

He is an approachable guy with a sense of humor and some interesting stories about Pat. For starters: Pat doesn’t eat during the day. He wont eat more than a candy bar until after a show, and then he eats a huge dinner. I’m not sure how this is humanly possible, which feeds into my theory that he is a superhuman. As you might imagine, Pat takes his work very seriously and has never had any problem with drugs. He did at one time have a problem with Pepsi, but has recovered.

David has done great things as Pat Metheny’s manager, helping him turn into one of the most famous guitarists in the world even outside of the jazz community. (After all he already was one of the best.) Unfortunately we may not get to see David make this kind of progress with other artists from now on. In his own words, “Working with [Metheny] alone has become my full time job and I’ve decided to stop worrying about managing other artists. My plan is to ride off into the sunset with Pat career wise. I will have to retire at some point and I would be surprised if Pat isn’t still doing all this in his 80’s.”

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