Thursday, August 6, 2015

"I'm A Jazz Musician, Not An Entertainer" Part Deux

A short while back, I was scrolling down my Facebook homepage, seeing what my friends had posted. Most of the time it's endless political posts, always showcasing the bias and partisanship of the poster, whether they are based on facts or common sense or not, but also posts from my musician friends, whether posting a music video, or writing about their gigs, sometimes accompanied by pictures, and sometimes just opining about music in general. One of my friends, a bassist, commented on how he was having dinner in a restaurant and they were playing "fusion" style jazz, and that he was actually enjoying it.  It didn't take long for the "real" jazz musicians to make their comments.  One of them wrote "The Creed Taylor Syndrome".  For those who may not know, Creed Taylor produced recordings in the 60's and 70's featuring some leading players like Wes Montgomery and Paul Desmond, but in a more commercial setting, having them play contemporary standards of the time, with orchestral arrangements and whatever improvising the player did was done within the context of the melody, never straying far from it or the arrangement.  I commented that while I am not a big fusion fan, it's still nice to hear melody once in a while instead of the incessant assault of scales and chords and the constant reharmonization of a tune until the tune itself is buried under the weight of all that.  His response was to show a photo of Kenny G, and captioning it "Mr. Melody".  I guess he thought he was being clever and funny, and I guess he thinks that if you listen to and like Kenny G, then you are just not hip and aware, and that somehow there is actually something wrong with listening to Kenny G.  A little snobby, no?  Well, he's not my cup of tea either, and I don't buy or listen to his recordings, but that doesn't mean I think there's something wrong with those people who do.  So I asked him, "How many recordings have you sold lately?  How many people showed up at your last gig, and when exactly was your last gig?"  No response!  I thought so.

I'm not here to tell anyone what kind of music to listen to, but I find it funny and annoying that so many musicians will put down any other musicians if they decide to play more commercially accessible music, or to entertain their audience and play to that audience. Since the dawn of humanity, music was not just an expression of life, but a celebration of it. Music was and is played so that we can have fun, get away from the everyday drudgery or concerns of the day and reconnect to ourselves, and with others.  When I go to my favorite bars and clubs, where many of my friends play, and I see the crowd dancing, cheering, responding to the music, then it's easy to see why they are always getting the gig.  The crowd loves them, and it is a crowd, not an empty room they're playing to.  They get the crowd to have fun, so they stay, they buy more food and drinks, and that makes the house happy, and they book the band for more gigs.  The band is happy because they will get more gigs, which means they keep working.

To my friends who want to stay "real", by all means, stay "real", but don't behave as if somehow you are morally or spiritually superior as a musician because you choose to be a "real" jazz musician, or bitch about why you're not making as much money as someone you think is not up to your standards.  Also, don't think that those players who entertain and play more commercial styles of music didn't practice as long and hard as you, or that they didn't see their fair share of heartache and rejection at not getting a gig or a place in a band, or didn't have to work all those jobs they hated while honing their craft and trying to get work doing what they loved the most.  The difference between them and the "real" jazz musician is that they understood what it took to get those gigs and play in those bands, and went about doing it without all the bitching and moaning I hear from the "real" musicians.

As I said, I'm not here to tell you what to play or what and who to listen to, but whenever you play to an empty or near empty room, whenever you don't get called back for another gig or to be in a band, only you can know why that is, and it isn't from some kind of "injustice", it is because you are not playing what people want to hear and giving them a show they want to see.  Now, I know plenty of "real" jazz musicians who understand the game, and they will take whatever gig, and play whatever style of music is necessary to keep working.  When they can make a living playing music, they will then have the time to kick back with other like players, and play the stuff they really are into.  There are those die hards though, and they are laughable to me, because they are uncompromising about their musical "principles".  They work jobs not related to music that they hate doing, and bitch about it constantly.  They are always criticizing musicians that play more commercial styles and entertain with remarks like "nah, he's just not adventurous, not exploring, not saying anything, doesn't stretch himself", blah, blah, blah!  Okay, but he's making a living playing music, not on a loading dock.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with working on a loading dock or any other kind of honest work, but when you bitch about it because you are not making a living as a musician as you'd like, think about it.  Many of the "real" musicians, when they do get a live gig, play with an attitude of superiority and indifference to the audience.  They play and look like they're having a bad day or life.  Believe me, most people do not enjoy something like that.

It's very hard to make a living as a musician, especially these days.  The most successful musicians I know do whatever they have to in order to earn enough money to pay the bills and support a family.  They take all kinds of gigs, make themselves accessible for lessons as well as use Skype to expand their student base, take all kinds of gigs in all styles of music, dress for the gig, be reliable and on time, and are not afraid to entertain their audience.  They know that those people cheering and dancing and shouting for more are helping them to do what they love to do.  Maybe it's time for the "real" jazz musicians to get real, or please just shut up!

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