The Jazz Booker: Meet Merle Kreibich

This story is going to take a moment to set up.

My wife is also a blogger — she writes for USA Today. And she recently ran a post about a hotel-bar pianist in Los Angeles who was leaving his post after 12 years.

Her post drew interesting comments about jazz musicians and hotels. (Did you know that while on tour, Chick Corea will usually play the pianos in hotel restaurants and lounges, often to the delight of unsuspecting guests and staff?) On account of all this, someone told me about a jazz series in hotels around the Los Angeles airport.

While I didn't find a series per se, what I did find was Merle Kreibich.

In-House Music screenshot. i

The home page for Merle Kreibich's In-House Music. hide caption

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In-House Music screenshot.

The home page for Merle Kreibich's In-House Music.

Kreibich runs a company called In-House Music. The short version: she's a one-stop booking service for L.A. area restaurants and hotels that are looking to offer jazz. And if they're not looking to offer jazz, Merle will do her best to talk them into it.

Kreibich is a long-time jazz fan who says she had her "Aha!" moment 17 years ago. She was working for the Westin Hotel chain, and was married to a jazz musician.

"I heard from my husband, and saw for myself how badly musicians were treated and paid by clubs and restaurants," she said over the phone. "And I saw how there were rooms at the Westin that were just sitting empty. As I thought about how that room could generate revenue, I thought about the jazz musicians looking for places to play. I talked the hotel into letting me try and it worked."

Her initial goal in starting her business?

"I wanted to set up jazz clubs all over L.A. so jazz fans were never more than a 15-minute drive from live jazz!"

I have no doubt — after taking in her enthusiasm and love for jazz for just 20 minutes — that she could have pulled it off. But the market support hasn't been there.

So instead, Kreibich has gotten gigs for thousands of jazz musicians from L.A. and across the country for the last 17 years. She books L.A. musicians whom one might call "local" musicians, as well as nationally- and internationally-known musicians (James Moody, Houston Person, Roberta Gambarini). At one point, she was booking dozens of venues 6-7 nights a week.

While she is currently down to just three nights a week at a handful of rooms, she still operates under two guiding business principles: respect the musician, and honor the venues' interest in the bottom line.

"My experience with the food and beverage industry is that music is always the first to go in hard times," she said. "My jazz musician clients also know the venue has to sell drinks and dinners for them to keep hiring jazz musicians. As long as everyone understands what's at stake, it can be a win-win."

How her business works: the hotel pays her a fee to find a band, book the band and advertise the gig or series. She doesn't take a commission from the band: she shoots for the most money as she can, and the musicians gets the whole thing. As a part-time musician, my ears perked up when Kreibich mentioned the magic words: "parking is included"!

Kreibich says she has a database of over 6,000 jazz fans through the greater L.A. area — and she's also trying to develop the next generation of jazz fans. She's added college and high school ensembles to some of her venues, or they've performed when the marquee performers are on breaks. And she's supportive of festivals that hire pop acts to bring in younger listeners. She talked about how those fans may someday find their way back to straight-ahead jazz as their tastes develop.

This blog post was originally going to be about jazz musicians who are good enough to have moved to a place like New York, but choose to stay close to home (and work hotel gigs). Perhaps I'll hold that for another day. For now I want to introduce you to Merle Kreibich. Her last comment before we hung up is really what she is all about:

"My heart breaks every time I hear that a jazz club closes."

I bet you wish there were a Merle Kreibich in your city.



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