By Kenny Kerner

Most of you probably think that all TAXI members are in their early 20s and have part-time jobs at Starbucks. Nick is 56, works at NASA, and plays Jazz. Unlike most members, he is happy just keeping music in his life, playing out occasionally, releasing a CD every now and then, and not worrying about what industry pros have to say about his material. Despite the fact that he has managed to avoid the industry big wigs, Nick still turned to TAXI for exposure. His story is a really cool one. Check it out:

You started playing guitar in 1963 but didn't learn to read music until 1980. What made you get a little more serious?

NK: Most of the musician friends I had left that were still around by 1980 had either quit playing altogether (the ones who weren't really serious) or had advanced what seemed like light years beyond where I was. I found myself in a rut still playing by ear and not reading or understanding any theory. It was frustrating. I was lonely for some musical friends!

I was also hungry to learn hipper tunes and understand them as well. I was into the Real Book by then and was fascinated by songs like "Night in Tunisia," "Giant Steps," "Moment's Notice," and so on. I realized that in order for me to learn these types of tunes and communicate with the serious musician friends I did have left, I would have to bite the bullet and learn their language, the language of music itself, standard notation. They were also prodding me to learn more as well, which helped.

Having such a varied musical interest, what made you finally focus on Jazz?

NK: Jazz just seemed like it was a lot more interesting type of music. If Rock and Blues were beans and franks, then Jazz seemed like it was filet mignon and lobster tails, and I was hungry. Most of the Jazz tunes I heard that I liked were not simple 1-4-5 tunes like most Rock or Blues songs were at the time. I was intrigued by playing changes and didn't even know what playing changes meant, other than that I could not do it and wanted to be able to. Jazz was the next logical step in my musical progression at the time based on what I liked, who my friends were, and what gigs were available. I did listen to my fair share of Rock and Blues though. I listened to Clapton in Cream and Santana and Hendrix just like every other guitar player did back then too. I also dug John Mayall and the Bluebreakers a lot and many other blues players. I dug the Yardbirds and Stones and Beatles and all the pop of that era as well. I came of age in the 1960s. It was a crazy time. LSD, Timothy Leary, the hippie movement, free love, flower power. Turn on, Tune in, Drop out. It was also the Vietnam era of protest. But I was also starting to listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock and Oscar Peterson and Monk and Eric Dolphy. Those guys were very different from The Troggs singing "Wild Thing." The Jazz musicians were actually allowing the music to speak for itself, music as art. What a concept! No lyrics necessary!

Tell us about your day gig at NASA. We don't have too many TAXI members working there.

NK: I started at NASA in 1978 in their Engineering Technician Apprenticeship Program (which is now defunct). I got to work on lots of neat projects, some secret, some not, and tried lots of different approaches in developing the next generation of aircraft. I liked that we got to work shoulder to shoulder with engineers and scientists too. Fortunately there was not a lot of class separation between researchers and technicians and they respected good technicians' abilities as much as we respected their knowledge.

I've been here for almost 30 years now and have advanced during that time through the management ranks and now, although I don't manage people anymore, the knowledge and experience I gained working in wind tunnels and structures and materials labs allows me to help manage contracts. When I first came to NASA, I was the young pup and now I'm looked at as one of the old dogs. It's not a value judgment, just the way of life and getting older. I'm happy I can still provide value. I spend my days now in front of a computer and talking with folks about the right way to do things. And make no mistake, there's still plenty to discuss in those areas. I even find myself playing the mentor role every now and then to younger employees the way my mentors helped teach me the ropes.

Why did you join TAXI?

NK: I joined TAXI specifically to increase my odds of being able to write songs for TV and film, which is still my goal. I really didn't want to get "discovered" and get the proverbial record deal and go on tour and live out of suitcases and live the life of that kind of musician. I figured that once I started composing original tunes that my songwriting abilities would either stand on their own or I would fall flat on my face. But I had to try so I would know one way or the other. I had heard horror stories about people wasting lots of time and money producing their own CDs and sending them out to hundreds of labels and radio stations with no response. I figured that an organization like TAXI, by their own definition, could cut through a lot of that industrial red tape and get my songs heard by the people that were looking for the kind of stuff I was writing to begin with. Seemed like a smart concept and worth a try. It did cost money to join, but if I was serious about my music then I looked at the TAXI membership and submission fees in the same light as buying a new amp or a new guitar. It was a musical expense that could ultimately do as much good for my musical career as putting new strings on my guitar could do for improving my tone. Besides, if I was serious, then this sort of seemed like the price of admission.

How has TAXI helped you and your career?

NK: I have gotten two deals so far through my association with TAXI. A couple of my tunes are used as background on a travel video about Costa Rica and another one of my tunes is scheduled to play a fairly significant role in an upcoming movie called Mini's First Time. The deals I struck were with the producers of those two activities. Once the connection was made through TAXI, I became my own agent representing myself to execute the deals one on one. That gives one a great sense of freedom and independence. Like I am a commodity or a corporation and I am also the CEO. I am after all an Indie artist and perfectly capable of representing myself, and deciding if a deal being offered on the table in front of me is a good one or not. I have also turned down a music library deal offer that I got through TAXI because I didn't like the terms they were offering. Maybe I should have taken that one. I'll never know. But I can live with my decision because I was the one that made it, not some agent or lawyer or publisher representing me and who knows what else.

In summary, I guess my association with TAXI has also just made me more savvy about the music business in general. I remember calling up TAXI one time to get an answer to a question I had about something or the other, and Michael Laskow himself answered the phone. I thought that was pretty cool, the CEO of the company answering the phone in person. We chatted for a while and I discovered that we actually have quite a bit in common. Heck, he's a regular guy just like you or me. And that made me feel good, another sign I had made the right decision about joining TAXI. Everyone wants to be remembered after they're gone. That's a common human desire. Most of us produce our offspring and satisfy that urge that way. But music you compose can also live beyond your own time here on earth and be enjoyed by people who aren't even born yet. Belonging to TAXI gives me better odds of that happening too.

Well, there you have it. A true independent artist who knows what kinds of deals he's likely to take and turns to TAXI, like so many others, to get his music exposed. Let TAXI work for YOU! See you all next month.

See How TAXI Works

"I'm really glad you guys are there for us!"
— Brad Snyder,
TAXI Member

"As writer/artists from another country, we see TAXI as the single best opportunity we have for direct exposure to the US music industry."
— Peter Martin,
TAXI Member

"My only regret is that I didn't join TAXI years ago — but it's never too late to make up for lost time."
— Richard Scotti,
TAXI Member

"You are making an incredible difference in the lives of musicians and artists trying to break into the business!"
— Rob Khurana,
TAXI Member

"TAXI not only helps me craft better songs, but it hones my people and business skills, as well. And that's worth a lot more than the price of admission."
— Zupe,
TAXI Member

"I recently got my first deal as a result of a submission to TAXI! I'm very excited to see that this actually works!"
— George Leverett,
TAXI Member