Sunday, November 9, 2014

Live The Life

I recently returned from a great tour with my band. It was equal parts challenging, revealing and triumphant on many levels. In a very short time, my new band quickly transformed from sounding like four unfamiliar islands into one tight and unified musical continent. Each show was a progressive step towards the realization of what I now consider a dream ensemble - one that answers to the call of risk and responds with inventive fury. I was both inspired and impressed every night. However, on what was supposed to be a relaxing and much needed day off, a longtime friend of mine read over the phone to me a review of one of our concerts. The writer commented that the band sounded somewhat uninspired and misdirected, or something to that effect. Without making any excuses by defending the band nor reacting in opposition to the writer’s impression of the show (he was partially correct, by the way) I always ask myself, “How are statements like this useful and to whom do they serve – especially AFTER the fact?” We drove almost 8 hours to arrive directly to the venue that evening without so much as a decent meal, shower, change of clothes or any worthwhile rest. Traveling in an SUV van through the curvaceous and treacherous northern California roads was no less than absolutely brutal, and we did it all on very little sleep from each previous night. (Correction: I did it (the driving) all on practically no sleep and I was the only driver for the entire tour.) There was rarely ever any room for recovery, as this was practically our daily pace for a couple of weeks. As most road musicians will quickly admit, it is quite common for traveling musicians to perform in a semi-delirious state resulting from lack of decent rest and nourishment. Deprivation of sleep and lack of quality food or any of the niceties and comforts that "normal" persons require and often take for granted is a fact of the lifestyle. Again, no apologies or excuses – these are simply the facts and unavoidable realities of the touring life for those of us who have chosen to dedicate ourselves to taking the music directly to the people.

With this in mind, I’ve always figured that wouldn’t it be great if, in order to be a "certified" music journalist or reviewer, a writer would have to earn his or her bones by actually traveling with a band on tour for several weeks or longer- just to experience firsthand what life on the road really entails? How else would anyone know what “the life” really demands of us? Most laypersons have absolutely no conception of the many and difficult steps taken to actually get the music to the bandstand. It’s not all fun and games by a long shot and for those of us who don’t have adequate representation, financing or a solid business and support mechanism, it’s a lot of work, is certainly no pleasure cruise, and there’s little to almost no time for leisure (or rest) during our daily hectic schedules. Every day off has to be paid for by the leader, so in order to reduce expenses, it is common for groups to travel and work every single day, which takes it’s toll both physically as well as musically.

Imagine, if you will, the tremendous demand on one’s personal energy reserves that it takes to command your body and mental focus in order to function properly during a tour without adequate sleep and nutrition for days or even weeks at a time. Traveling to exotic countries and experiencing foreign cultures may sound glamorous and exciting… well, it is normally, but most of the time when on the road we’re required to visit a different country or city every day or two in order to meet the tour overhead. Travel to most destinations usually requires a lengthy train or bus (van/auto) ride or a flight with another connecting flight. These flights must be taken very early in the morning, in the event that if there's a cancellation or other aviation issue, there will be the possibility or rerouting or finding an alternative means of travel. So after the concerts there is usually a (very) late dinner, a hang of some sort and then an attempt to grab a couple hours of sleep  - only to be required to depart the hotel for the airport, usually before daybreak. This is an everyday occurrence due to the demands of scheduling and routing of tours (especially in Europe.) Each day off drains the budget, so a touring band must keep moving. I’d love to have a journalist on board just so they could accurately chronicle the day-to-day schlep that we must endure in order to make it to each destination. It’s not always fun, but it’s very definitely a fact of the business.

Experiencing this kind of torturous pace, as we do regularly, would be the best indicator of what our daily trials demand, and how we must rise above them in order to deliver our best performances regardless of our physical or mental state. Musicians are always told that in order for their art to be considered authentic, they must deal with certain realities that the art form imposes on them (AKA, paying dues). If this is indeed the case, then the same set of standards and criteria should be engaged for anyone who considers themselves enough of an authority to comment intellectually on our craft. We’re not always perfect and are expected to occasionally deliver under extreme and extraordinary circumstances. It would be ideal if some of these factors would be considered before a reckless dismissal of our work occurs because unfortunately, once it’s been documented, it can’t be undone.

None of this is, by any means, a personal tirade against music writers. As I stated above, I somewhat agreed with some of the writer's less than supportive observations. The show was one of the first in the tour and the band was still finding their way and learning how to negotiate with one another, all the while experiencing the normal and expected ensemble growing pains. I can accept that. But for the life of me, I fail to understand how it is acceptable for people to write AUTHORITATIVELY about practices, disciplines and lifestyles that they have never participated in and only have a layperson's knowledge of. 

I can't recall ever having read very often that "the band sounded tired or exhausted" Remember, that on any given night, this may be a distinct possibility for any touring band.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Adding Comments to OzBlog

To anyone who reads the Ozblog postings and may have a word or two of commentary to offer, it's very simple:

1. All you have to do is to click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the current post

2. And save YOUR comment via your gmail, wordpress, etc account.

3. All comments are welcome. Even those that may oppose my viewpoints. I don't always have to be right, and I definitely don't purport to being an authority on much of anything. I generally write stuff that everyone "thinks" but is afraid to say publicly. I've always thought that there was nothing to lose by being honest, and I'm just putting issues on the table in an effort to (hopefully) encourage some spirited, but respectful, discussion - even with those who disagree. Nothing will change otherwise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sounding “Young”

Here’s a response that I gave to a young saxophonist who asked me to evaluate his playing after a competition where I was a guest on the judicial panel.

(He didn’t win, by the way.)

“Concerning your playing, I have very few recommendations. You pretty much got every judge’s attention and approval during the semi-finals and most of us had singled you out, hands down as the overall winner. Basically, you lost points during the finals because some of my co-judges felt that you weren’t assertive (demonstrative) enough during the straight-ahead/swinging part of your presentation. Perhaps they were looking for more fireworks and visually-projected dedication (showmanship). To be honest, I probably would have played it exactly as you did. I don’t believe in resorting to excessive body movements and facial expressions, squealing, circular breathing, growling, extended altissimo playing, multiphonics, slap-tongue techniques, unnecessarily long-held high notes or any other types of showboating. These are affectations and tricks that less skilled players (performers) resort to in order to get “house” (to overwhelmingly win the audience's approval).

Uninitiated listeners usually eat this stuff up, but it is trickery at it’s best and is shameful behavior for true artists, such as yourself, to resign themselves to. Research any video of the icons of this music and you will observe that many of the greatest played with Zen-like focus and actually stood quite still. All that moving around creates subtle changes in the position of your mouthpiece and will alter your intonation as well as your grip and hand position – thus affecting your accuracy and articulation.

Personally, I listen for how a player develops his story and how coherently they get their ideas across with detailed phrases and concise statements. I’m a fan of the super clean school of flawless execution (or as close to it as one can get!). Some players get by solely on slurring everything, entering into phrases with bad attacks and topping things off by playing at at really loud volume or with a series of crowd pleasing licks. I don’t support this approach. Fortunately, you are not plagued by these types of issues. Basically, I think one of the main things to be concerned with is for young players not to give away their age when they play.  This is a common subject of discussion with older players. It has been determined that during solos, younger players tend to crowd each bar with an enormous amount of content when simpler and more concise statements would be far more effective.

Young musicians also usually tend to play far too many choruses during their solos (saxophonists can be long winded and are often notorious offenders). Not only is doing so considered immature and disrespectful to both the audience as well as the band (especially the bassist), it is also a clear giveaway that they are either in a rush to “say it all” or possibly that they simply don't play enough live performances. If they did, there would be no need to "cram" or to extend a solo beyond the limits of tolerance and enjoyability. Either way, it makes them sound “young” and unrefined. I know about this firsthand because I used to be one of those players. It takes a while to develop the ability to know when to lay back and also how to edit one's content. 

So, take your time, stand still and don’t overplay (AKA sound “young”). Sorry that you didn't win."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ladies First

Where are the Ladies?

I’ve been on a personal campaign for several months focusing on one subject in particular but not limited to that one subject exclusively. It’s a common topic of discussion that I have with my students and friends which concerns an issue that plagues the music, not necessarily from the perspective of the performers (but then, again, perhaps it does…) and sometimes influences the choices that the musicians make in performance and programming. However, unlike many issues that are of importance to the music community at large, this one has a simple and clear solution.

On a few occasions, I’ve openly vented from the bandstand at a few of my shows about how difficult it sometimes can be for me and my mostly male band to play for rooms that are exclusively populated by males. One of the most startling images that I’ve ever had while performing was one time when I was playing a ballad, attempting my best to be transparent, honest and expressive – only to finish my solo and open my eyes to witness a room full of beards, hairy legs, unclipped toenails and several pairs of old-ass Birkenstocks and sandals worn by a room full of dudes. With the exception of the wait staff, there wasn’t a single woman to be seen anywhere in the place. The images AND the moment were equal parts startling, horrifying and overwhelmingly discouraging. And, as this had happened so frequently in the past, I felt obligated to take action and address it right then.

I was so thrown off by the hairy visuals that I ended the tune early and picked up the microphone and half-jokingly asked, to no one in particular, “We sincerely appreciate your patronage and support, but does anyone in the house have any females in their lives who would also enjoy an evening of live, improvised music? Are there any women that you know whom you could POSSIBLY have asked to accompany yourselves here in an effort to bring some balance to this gender-disproportionate audience?  Perhaps a landlady, Mother, sister, female cousin, bag lady, roomate, friend – with or without benefits, maybe even an ex, ANYONE would suffice! We’re trying our best up here, but this boy’s club mentality has to end now! It’s a tall order for anyone to expect us to perform non-testosterone- infused music for a room full of scruffy guys all night”.


In short, I’ve spoken to a number of friends, most of whom are all in accord that the one-sided gender imbalance (where patronage is concerned) is one condition that has helped to prevent the music from moving forward. Many male musicians are hopelessly preoccupied with “flexing and profiling for their boys” instead of engaging in artful storytelling or attempting to reveal the less testosterone-driven aspects of their character. During performances, some musicians proceed as if it is not considered masculine to be fragile, sensitive or to employ a broader palette of dynamics in their work. This type of thinking and performing, along with the lack of a strong female presence at concerts (or in most bands), has done a great deal of harm to the general perception of the music at large and is detrimental to it’s image and it’s ability to be more universally accepted.

Of course I'll graciously perform for anyone who is kind enough to support my work. This is not an orientation issue either, but instead one of perhaps better patron/audience stability which would yield a more honest artistic output. For what it's worth, I can say with complete certainty and conviction that I perform my best to an audience of couples and when the genders are mixed. 

So guys, please bring a date, friend or paid escort to accompany you during your live music outings. Go Dutch, if necessary. Just bring SOMEONE sometimes other than your “bud”. Of course we have no problem playing for whomever will support us, but our ability to express ourselves would be fully realized if we had the balanced support of both sexes.

Then again, I certainly wouldn't gripe about playing for an all-female audience at all either. So, on second thought, guys please just send your female associates instead to recommended live shows. You can all stand outside and greet them as they leave.  That'll work just fine.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2 Responses to Top 10

    1.     "David Marion" says:

Yup… I hear you Greg… It is one of the many reasons why I chose early on not to pursue a career in jazz where there is no more room or money for that matter, and even though I don’t play jazz, I still do play the jazz festivals circuit today… funny, isn’t it ?
 On a serious note, it is true that I have been hearing the same names over and over from one festival to an other, years after years… And I have to say, it is very discouraging for the young generation of devoted jazz musicians…
Initially, jazz used to be a dance music, a “crowd pleasers” music (isn’t it one of the main reasons why we play music in the first place, to please the crowd ?)… I believe that it is important, in order to keep jazz music alive, that we (the musicians) stop playing for ourselves and give jazz back to the people, the crowd, the listeners, the dancers… Just my opinion…

    2.     Lou Flute says: 

Greg I agree. I studied flute with Bill Green and Buddy Colette in Los Angeles back in 1982 and played with Marvin Gaye and Stevie in 1979. I said all of that to say that I hear exactly what you are saying about the bookings and I too loved to go and see Gerald Wilson’s big band and Nelson Riddle. Frank Wess, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy were my favorites growing up. Nothing in the way of new exploratory jazz is burgeoning. True jazz compositions are that of the past except for a few innovators who are still around. Quincy, Pat Metheny etc.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Top 10

I first began attending jazz festivals as a fan and then eventually as a participant. Nothing could beat the opportunity to see in person some of the great artists that previously, I only had a connection to on recordings. However, after attending several of the bigger festivals I began to notice a trend. I was in my early twenties when I made the observation that, each year, the same personalities and groups were appearing on all of the festivals. The period that I'm referring to is the late 70s and early 80s. The lineups at that time consisted of heavyweights and icons, of the caliber of maybe Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson, and some others. Despite their rank and obvious historical importance,  I, being a young and somewhat impatient up-and-comer who was eager to hear things that I felt were a bit more modern, inspiring and less nostalgic, had absolutely no interest in seeing and hearing the same few artists year after year. It was a formula that only got worse for those of us who wanted to see the "real" cats do their thing live. There was very little variety in the presentations and we didn’t feel as if our interests or tastes were being considered where the programming was concerned. The repeated appearances (and repertoire) of the same acts were frequent to the exclusion of other great artists and it was impossible to overlook. Everything felt hopelessly formulaic and pandered to the ideals of another generation, it seemed.

Throughout the 80s, the lineups steadily became somewhat lighter in content, were more audience-friendly and decidedly pop-oriented. Artists like Al Jarreau, George Benson, Spyro Gyra, Manhattan Transfer, Diane Schurr etc. were heavily featured. Many “serious” artists were displaced or ignored completely in an effort to make room for these “guaranteed seat fillers”. I was overwhelmed and annoyed that I couldn’t see the likes of a Joe Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, etc, or any of what I considered truly innovative and inspiring artists at any of the big festivals. All the schedules seemed to offer were crowd pleasers, Grammy winners and artists who topped in the annual music magazine  polls. As time as passed, things have evolved to the point that these days, pop artists almost completely dominate the bookings, along with the jazz “top 10” artists who appear on ALL of the festivals. There is a marked imbalance in the bookings and presentations which is also much too obvious to ignore. I won’t post any names or acts because it is in poor taste to do so, not to mention that most of them are friends of mine. In fact, I can’t blame the artists themselves for this deterioration of variety in programming. Everyone wants and needs the work. The charge lies in that the booking agents, arts presenters and festival promoters consistently fail to provide the public with a broader presentation of the richness that the jazz scene offers (or SHOULD offer) because of their inability to give artists that they do not know on a "name" basis a shot.

So, there is a very real problem which should be addressed, which is that the representation of the entire creative music world has been reduced to the output represented by a mere handful of artists who have, and never will change or modify their music for fear of alienating the fickle tastes of the people who booked them in the first place. Unfortunately, the promoters don’t have any real idea of what is truly progressive or provocative “on the street” because their information is solely gotten from the content of magazines and critic's polls. I never see any of the festival promoters in the clubs scouting for the “next” new artist. I do, however, see musicians pop up all of a sudden on every festival every summer – and I wonder where in the world they came from, and how did they emerge from total obscurity to getting major bookings without having “paid dues” or having cut their teeth with an established veteran? Some get through because of leverage and positioning enforced by their management or associated booking agencies. Others reflect obvious star power and money making appeal, which promoters who could care less about "art" absolutely salivate over. I've seen established veterans get bumped from program rosters so that these new "stars" are allowed the prime festival slots. The other issue is that since there are fewer and fewer situations for artists of any genre to reach masses of listeners at once, the "jazz" festivals are now dominated by artists and groups that feature absolutely no improvisation. This phenomenon continues to weaken the ranks and cheapen the integrity of the scene as a whole and unfortunately, I see no easy end to it. Well, maybe a first step would be to stop falsely classifying the afforementioned events as jazz festivals. Why not simply just call them music festivals? Simply co-opting a popular term in an effort to give credibility and cachet to what is actually a soul or pop music fest is just plain wrong and has aided in the the destruction of the idiom as well as any regard for it.

Let's face it, promoters are absolutely catering to the corporate sponsors that support their events financially. These businesses want a positive return on their investment. They aren't in it due to their love of music. They could care less. Their concern is that as many people as possible see their ads and banners, which are prominently displayed at venues, in the pamphlets and programs.

And to be fair, some festivals do seem to get it right. But generally speaking, when some wonder what all the hoopla is about concerning why serious improvising musicians opt to disassociate themselves from the word "jazz" and what it represents,  one quick look at some "jazz" festival lineups will give them all the answers that they need.

Friday, May 2, 2014

26 Responses to Jazz Bums

26 Responses to Jazz Bums

1.     Jake Hansen says: 
October 19, 2009 at 1:47 am

It has to do with the belief, that they pay more attention to the music than their personal hygiene. but i do agree with the fact that musicians should look more presentable at shows.

2.     Darrell Grant says: 
October 20, 2009 at 1:20 am 

Greg, Got your post from our jazz dept discussion blog. It will be fodder for a great deal of discussion, especially here in t-shirt & flip flop wearing Portland. Here is my two cents.
The function of both appearance and stage presence is to support the performance. A committed performer thinks about every aspect of his or her presentation in terms of its effectiveness in increasing the level of communication with the audience. It’s all about the message, and how best to reach people. I don’t believe, & I don’t think you would say either, that there is a single dress code to play any kind of music. I played plenty of gigs with you where you were not wearing “vines.” The message that you have always presented loud and clear is that an artist should CARE about the message his attire & presentation communicate because it matters. And to ignore it is to waste a means to make a more powerful statement. What that statement ultimately is, is up to the artist to decide.

 3.     Gerard Cox says: 
October 21, 2009 at 1:21 am 

Well, the only thing is that on one level, it’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Jazz musicians dressing down can definitely be a problem. I see a lot of Tevos, pale legs and shorts in the summertime, which I think is just lazy and wack. Black men wearing huarachis isn’t much better.
“Dressing up” in the jazz world however, typically amounts to wearing a suit. This may be appealing to older listeners and couples on a date night who want to feel like they’re in an elegant atmosphere, with all the attendant romantic lore of jazz’s yesteryear….but to a lot of younger folks, suits and ties is just another thing that helps reinforce the stereotype of jazz being an old music for old folks, or of course, the E word- “elitist”. I agree that musicians shouldn’t appear slovenly or like they just don’t care, but I’m not sure I would advocate dressing up. Wynton and his crew kind of cornered the market on jazz “style” anyway, right?
Really, I’d be in favor of just seeing more individuality in dress on the bandstand, whether that’s purely casual or more toward the formal side.

 4.     Elk Haven says: 
October 23, 2009 at 11:06 pm 

With everything that needs to be fixed in the jazz world today, a world that is crumbling from ignorance, neglect, and narcissism, the issue of etiquette seems like the most trifling by far. Conceded, you dress well. Now what have you got to write about?

 5.     Perry J. says: 
October 23, 2009 at 11:43 pm 

The Beatles actually dressed like street punks until Brian Epstein told them to clean up and wear suits.

 6.     Jake Hansen says: 
October 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm 

So just out of curiosity, do you have anything interesting planned for us, Mr. Osby?

 7.     Penny Penn says: 
October 27, 2009 at 1:25 am 

As musicians we put years and years of study into our craft. One would assume after doing this that we give a damn about our music. Or maybe part of the problem is that people have started phoning it in!
As a musician in my late 20′s I grew up listening to hip hop, pop AND jazz. By day, I’m hip hop meets punk as far as dress is concerned. Hoodies, t-shirts, holes in my jeans, crazy sneakers..facial piercings. When I’m on the bandstand I try to be the best version of myself. That for me means to look sharp and dress for the venue. You don’t have to abandon edge and personality to look like YOU are the performer not the audience member. People stood in LINE to hear you! They paid! If you’re not getting the gigs where people pay, maybe its your barbecue stained flannel that wreaks of b.o. or your hair that’s so greasy that the drummer on the gig uses it to lube his throne. How are people going to care about your music if you don’t care how its presented? GRANTED I’m definitely not suggesting that I listen to music based on how people look but you’re not making a very good case for how your music sounds if you look like a f***ing slob! Also, I doubt the clubs are going to want you back and they will hire all those people you talk shit about that are willing to dress appropriately. If you’re at a festival, it can be more loose. Its just knowing the situation and dressing to support the music.
This is definitely a time where people are preoccupied with the internet and phones and today’s generation is more rude and detached. Musicians have become more like athletes in my opinion. They care so much about impressing other douchebag musicians to the point where they develop no individual musical brain then the hate envelops their soul and they look for someone successful to hate blog about.
Bottom line: Many people miss the point. You don’t look cool just for being the slob on stage that looks like you were in a practice room all day..there are no points for that, actually you get -500 for that. IF you show up to said gig and play all those patterns you practiced wearing flannel shirt THEN you turn around and hate when people who DO give a damn about their appearance do well for themselves thats JUST PLAIN CORNY! Jazz didn’t start out this corny. Presentation is key!

 8.     Penny Penn says: 
October 27, 2009 at 1:27 am 

Help is on the way to those who don’t know how to dress..holla!

 9.     Elk Haven says: 
October 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm 

As a record producer, I don’t care how you dress and it doesn’t affect your ability to get a record deal one bit. Not. One. Bit. I may even dig on your artful disdain for social edicts.

 10.     Rick Louie says: 
October 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm 

I can see both sides of the argument. I was once at a jazz program where Terrell Stafford was in residence for a week. It came to the day where he was going to preform with his quartet and, I think it was Pat LaBarbara who said to me something to the effect of, “Terrell is a class act, he’ll be looking real sharp in a suit tonight.” Sure enough, the concert came along and he looked great. When asked about it later by us students, he gave an answer about being respectful of your audience, which I totally understand and agree with. Duke Ellington always made sure his band was dressed up and looking sharp, though you have to remember, he was an African-American in a white mans world back then. Thankfully, racial tensions have been greatly reduced since then when the crazy white folk wouldn’t even let the band come in through the front door.
On the other hand, today’s world, especially the jazz world, has changed significantly. With the emergence of artists like Mehldau, Rosenwinkel, Redman, and Mark Turner, for example, there was almost a “youth” jazz counter culture in the 90′s, which has continued to set the tone for today. The younger generation (my generation I suppose) doesn’t put as much stock in the need to dress up. I just saw Dave Binney’s band at the 55 Bar the other week, and they were all in t-shirts and jeans, which I’m sure didn’t diminish the quality of the music at all. Then again, the 55 bar isn’t Carnegie Hall.

 11.     Rick Louie says: 
October 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm 

Although, a shower is a good thing- a very good thing.

 12.     John Lee says: 
October 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I have been a fan of jazz for the last 20 years, I enjoyed reading this blog because I do care for where jazz is heading. When I go back and Watch Duke Ellingon and Louis Armstrong, it seems totally clear why they would wear a suit; at the time, that was the only option. Today, people are more open and loose about their attire, also celebrities and public figures from the art and entertainment don’t always wear a suit. But, when I go to a concert and it seems like the performer didn’t think even one second about what he’s going to wear, that feels disrespectful to the audience. I don’t enjoy looking at this person, and since music concert is a visual experience, I would prefer to have my eyes rest on a beautiful, well-taken-care-of figure. That’s my personal preference. More words than these will be too much. I’m looking forward for the next topic mr Osby has to offer us. It’s great that a well known and respected artist like himself shares his most inner thoughts and concepts. and he knows what he’s yapping about, he has been out there on the other side of the stage so many times, I went to a few of his concerts. Thank you! I’ll be listening!

 13.     Elk Haven says: 
November 2, 2009 at 12:40 am 

The minute someone mentions “beautiful well-taken-care-of figure,” as an important part of their experience, the awful shallowness of this whole charade is exposed. Is someone going to say that it is wrong or “disrespectful” for a musician to be fat, middle-aged, and non-pretty? This is a slippery-slope argument that will prove hard to escape.

 14.     Meilana Gillard says: 
November 2, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Elk, I don’t think that's the argument at all. The issue it hand is for those who do live shows and dressing for the venue and the people who are paying. It has nothing to do with getting a record deal. Also I don’t think many people are looking for record deals anymore because the record companies aren’t really doing much for the artists anyway. You don’t have to look pretty to make a record but If someone paid 50 bucks to hear you for a set I think you should not look like ass. Just my opinion. A lot of the other stuff you mentioned doesn’t really pertain to this topic. I think we need a new blog to discuss some of the things you mentioned. There are plenty of master musicians who respect what they’re doing enough to leave the stained t’s at home. You can’t really call them shallow.. i mean you could but you’d be easily proven wrong.

 15.     Elk Haven says: 
November 4, 2009 at 6:32 am 

Meilana, The quoted “beautiful well-taken-care-of figure” refers to more than clothing. While there is a commonsense aspect to what you are saying, there is also a continuum of cases, and a genuine slippery slope argument suitable for a grad seminar in metaphysics and epistemology. I’m a bit hurt that you think I don’t do anything much for the artists anyway. Working inches from you, I’ve raised money and financed projects for many of your personal friends.

 16.     Meilana Gillard says: 
November 4, 2009 at 1:26 pm 

Well if I knew who the heck you are, I might feel differently but record labels in general are not looking at artists as artists, they are looking for a product that generates numbers that are the same as some other successful “product” on their roster. I speak of majors not indies for the most part. Why the anonymity? Why is there nothing on your page, no photos, bio etc? Who out of my personal friends have you financed? I didn’t say YOU personally didn’t do anything for the artists because I have no idea who YOU are. You have come on here and basically took a blog that was about dressing appropriately for gigs into your own vehicle to make stabs. “Conceded you dress well. Now what do you have to write about?”. Do you have a personal problem with Greg Osby? I would very much like to discuss some of the things you mentioned but in a new blog topic. Working inches from me??? I’m confused.

 17.     Meilana Gillard says: 
November 4, 2009 at 6:08 pm 

Still waiting for the big reveal…..(hums jeopardy theme song)

 18.     chris conners says: 
November 5, 2009 at 12:35 am

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on a reply from someone who slams etiquette. It’s really the same as saying ‘respect is really not that important…’

 19.     Elk Haven says: 
November 5, 2009 at 3:59 am 

I’m someone who gave the best years of my life and everything I owned to the musicians, without hope of reasonable returns. I don’t disrespect etiquette, but question who defines it and for what ends. Etiquette has some uncontroversial elements, and some very controversial elements. Uncontroversial is take a shower. Controversial is “beautiful well-taken-care-of figure” and excessive conformity. Osby’s post does not fall entirely in the take-a-shower realm, and is open to some critical analysis. I don’t disrespect him, but am questioning the ideas he wrote about.
One of the beautiful things about art is that from time to time someone can break all the conventions (and I don’t mean the take-a-shower kind) and make history. I don’t want to stuff that urge back into the box.
Thank you for qualifying your remarks as being about major labels. I agree.

 20.     Meilana Gillard says: 
November 5, 2009 at 11:49 am 

Back up…You said you were a record producer who has worked inches from me and funded projects of my personal friends. I’d like to know who you are.

 21.     Mantis Evar says: 
November 6, 2009 at 10:08 am 

I have worked inches from Meilana (and Osby) hundreds of times and shout out loud – it is always an honor and my pleasure to work with such fine talented individuals.
I look forward to my future workings as I feel nothing is better than supporting and being in the company of beautiful people that are upstanding and respectable.
Meilana for President!

 22.     Meilana Gillard says: 
November 6, 2009 at 11:04 am 

Mantis, I love you!
If somebody wanted lessons on how to be at the utmost level of cool, kindness and classiness I’d point them to Mantis because he’s always consistent with being a great person!

 23.     Rick Louie says: 
November 6, 2009 at 11:24 am

I agree with Melinda….Elk, your argument about a “beautiful, well-taken-care-of figure” is a non-argument. I can’t believe for one second that Mr. Osby is putting down artists like Oscar and Tatum (for example), who were over weight, yet, they were always well dressed on stage. I really cannot believe that he would put someone down for being, as you put it, “fat, middle aged, and non-pretty”. We jazz musicians are a motley crew.

 24.     Greg Osby says: 
December 5, 2009 at 3:48 pm 

Darrell, as you may recall, when you were in my band in the early 90′s we did very few acoustic gigs that would dictate the wearing of suits of any kind. This was during our electric period and the dress code was very flexible. I have pics and videos from those days and a lot of what we wore is quite comical to me now, but that’s what was happening then. And then again, you also played with Betty Carter, so of course you know the deal. No musician would dare show up for any of her gigs improperly attired without enduring the full onslaught of her wrath. (She always complimented me, and I’m very proud of that fact.) I’m also happy that she never had cause to holler at me for or about anything.

 25.     martin carde says: 
July 22, 2010 at 11:58 pm 

nice that it can be a timeless music, soothing and be ready to get relaxed. jazz performances quite where to follow venues

 26.     Eric Hochberg says: 
May 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm 

It seems to me that whatever ethos a bandleader wants to project will determine to a certain extent the particular audience that is attracted to a performance. I came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s and saw Miles’ transformation into a rock star, complete with style befitting that role. With the rise of the “young lions’ in the mid 80s, I was kind of befuddled with their retro look and sound as both elements had already been executed to perfection 25-35 years earlier. The rise of the corporate in the arts, maybe. I was a member of the band of a now prominent musician early on in his career, and he insisted on suit and tie. Being 15 years his elder, I felt very strange performing adventurous and creative music in such button-down attire, as until then, my look, along with my contemporaries had been much more casual. This feeling was amplified as much of our audience of college age people showed up in jeans and t’s. I’ll never find “dirty” and “threadbare” attractive in stage clothing, but I do think a band can look sharp and respectful to their audience without wearing Armani.

5 Responses to Big Brother, Big Thief?

5 Responses to Big Brother, Big Thief?  (Originally posted 9/09)

1.  Mark Brabson says: 
September 29, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Hi Greg,
 I have witnessed the “paranoia” you speak of before in our local Jazz scene back in the 80′s, and was pleased as punch when a local great “adopted” a friend of mine as his protege. He wanted to pass on what he knew, but he clearly did not want to waste his efforts or his encyclopedic knowledge and experience on anyone who would not at least “tip their hat” to their Jazz lineage in the years to come. “Always remember where you came from, boy!”  
I would tend to think that the case you are making involves the networking side of the biz, as opposed to the technical side. By this I mean it’s a matter of someone else working your contacts and leveraging them to advance themselves, without returning the favor. For example, I would like to work my way into being a studio musician someday. A-list, B-list, whatever level involves a light but steady stream of invites to sit in and make some magic happen. There’s a hell of a lot of work between here and there, but there’s also a lot of schmoozing required to even figure out how to get started.
I’m thinking that a general question about the process involved might be acceptable to ask of an accomplished musician, whereas it should be considered “off limits” to ask for the names of the specific people he/she knows in specific positions who can make certain things happen – the kind of info that comes from paying your dues, i.e. schmoozing with band mates and their associates and widening your own network organically, step-by-step, not leapfrogging over years or even decades of the natural process. Kinda like taking steroids in the world of pro athletes.
 Does this mesh with your viewpoint, Greg?

2. Greg Osby says: 
October 1, 2009 at 1:46 pm

It’s perfectly legitimate to ask an established fixture on the music scene for contact names and references. This is how it’s always been done, and I consider it a personal obligation as an artist to pave the road for qualified younger artists who come to me in need. It’s the right thing to do. My position is primarily focused on those who take ideas, concepts and discoveries that have been toiled upon and honed by others, and use those ideas for personal their own attributes, recognition or to catapult their own careers. Especially those that do so without crediting the source. I’ve witnessed this both as an observer and as a victim. I’ve also heard scores of stories, firsthand, from dozens of overlooked titans. Late nights at now-defunct Bradley’s, all night hangs at Jazz festivals, long train and bus rides on tours, lengthy telephone conversations, etc…
So, I’m concerned more about the hijacking of information than those who honestly are in pursuit of information and access.

3.     Jake Hansen says: 
October 1, 2009 at 5:39 pm 

Most of Indaba is made up of true musicians, mostly due to the fact that the site is only truly useful to real musicians, but i do not deny the fact, that there are some on here who may use information given, in way that it was not meant to be used.
but i think many of us are truly excited to have you here, Mr. Osby. and i can’t wait to see what you’re planning for us  

4.     William Brown says: 
October 18, 2009 at 12:34 am 

Music is in the air.
We can’t protect or hold on to our vest.
 But the knowledge, intelligence and expression is what makes the difference.

5.     Chris Conners says: 
October 26, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Hi Greg, thanks for your contributions here, and specifically to the points you’ve been making- it seems the common element in your writing is Respect; respect for musicians has always been a tough sell in the U.S., and much harder if you weren’t white. Respect for Jazz has always been dicey, almost an oxymoron, despite the overwhelming influence on our culture as a whole, despite the fact it added spark, inspiration and fun to the 20th Century, gave us a self-image and an image around the world that was admired and yearned for, that kick started the redheaded stepchild that is rock and roll- so of course it’s great to hear you calling on musicians to respect Jazz, respect the audience by not being sloppy, and of course to respect the incredible men and women who have developed this high art- it’s not just happening with music though, as sadly our culture seems more and more geared toward being adolescent forever.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Freedom of Choice

To my surprise, the original Jazz Bums blog entry set off a mini-firestorm online as it obviously touched the nerves of a few who are offended by the very idea of looking decent while performing, as well as others who are offended by the sound of my playing and/or music. At this point in my career, I am entirely aware of the fact that some or most of my work will not be considered favorable by many, and as that is a reality of the life of an artist, I accept it as a part of the journey. I will continue to create and offer what I think is quality work-borne of sincerity and integrity. I know that I simply can not please everyone. I also know that my views or solutions to the many problems that face the music are not the most popularly accepted ones either. Again, I will attempt to encourage discussion and welcome any that are interested into traveling the road towards resolve in the best way that I can. There will be many detractors and opponents who will also take advantage of (or even abuse) various internet capabilities to espouse their opinions and ideas. This is also an unavoidable part of the reality.

In another blog that I used to contribute to, trumpeter Sean Jones and I once had a dialog running concurrently about the ongoing dress and style issue. It was but one of many problems that face the music and by no means, the most important one. There were many welcomed responses to our position – most of them favorable, some not. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be opponents to just about every opinion and ideology that exists. However, there were a number of posts from some cat who used his 15 minutes as an opportunity to bring up a truly dead issue -  an old and heavily edited blindfold test that I did over 20 years ago (!) where some unfavorable and erroneous comments about Eric Dolphy that I allegedly said were printed. For some reason he took those comments, (which I did not, and never would say) as some sort of misguided affront to HIS playing or life or something I can’t be entirely sure of since he, like myself, has surely never even met Eric Dolphy. It amazes me when people get offended and take personal issue with statements that don’t wholeheartedly support their favorite musicians. Some get downright hostile and unnecessarily offensive. Frankly speaking, I could care less what someone thinks about another artist, or about me, for that matter. Everyone has preferences and opinions so whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes.

Since I have this opportunity to publicly address and hopefully, correct those misstatements, let me state for the record that the Dolphy comments were recklessly printed without any of the support statements or information that I generously offered nor did it include any nods toward my actual set of influences on my instrument (Earl Bostic, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Konitz) It was actually printed as an effort to incite readers, and it succeeded, because to this day, people still unnecessarily make mention of it. As a progressive musician, I have never felt that I should be obligated or even expected to respond favorably or to blindly accept everything that my predecessors have done, merely because many others do or because it is the usual course taken. Simply stated, there are a great many artists that frankly do not have the same impact on me as others and I don’t feel compelled to worship them as many  have chosen to do  – just because they played with or were favorably endorsed by “so and so”. They were human beings, and I don’t worship anyone – especially to the point where if someone doesn’t “like” them as much as I do, I should find their inability to acknowledge that artist’s greatness to be personally disturbing. Nothing could be more ridiculous. People should be able to make their own decisions.

Could it be possible that I just don't “hear” Dolphy? That very well could be the case. I recall how, some 30 years ago, saxophonist Steve Coleman would repeatedly encourage me to check out Von Freeman, Henry Threadgill,  Sam Rivers and several others. He would suggest that I listen more deeply, give them a chance and to not be so immediately dismissive. With limited patience, I didn’t have a positive reaction to them initially and actually was very resistant to their approaches to playing and composing music until I finally “heard” what they were doing in my own time, without being goaded or “forced” into liking them. After living with their music for a while and investigating their works on my own, I was then able to comprehend the genius that lay within. I just didn’t need someone telling me I “had” to dig them because it was my duty as a jazz saxophonist to do so. That’s a sure-fire formula which will almost guarantee that the target will hate what they’re being force-fed entirely. Ask any child who was forced into music lessons. However, once I "got" it, I was hooked. I had the same reaction when I first heard the wonderful pianist and composers, Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams. I was resistant at first, but I absolutely came around in my own time. So much so, that I'm proud to say that their influence on me as an artist is irrefutable and I treasure my extensive time and work with them both.

Some of my friends absolutely love the music of Eric Dolphy and have also been offended, dumbfounded, even mortified, by my failure to wholeheartedly embrace/worship his playing.  Countless numbers of players have questioned me repeatedly about why I couldn’t get into it. I have always tried to be respectful, yet detailed about my position. I have carefully transcribed and analyzed many of his improvisations from various points in his career. (I actually happen to have a running fascination with his compositions, however. I do appreciate them very much. It’s the nature of his saxophone playing that doesn’t make it for me. Again, I have the deepest respect for anyone who chooses to expand upon their idea of what they believe to be right. My opinions are most certainly not criticisms by any measure). My conclusions have always been the same and I have also unsuccessfully attempted to convert many, MANY musicians into appreciating some artists that have served as sources of great enjoyment for myself.  I know how frustrating it can be when others don’t “get it”.  However, I would also contend that the option of being able to choose one’s artistic influences and the ability of being able to coral those favorable elements into a systematic style which reflects their influence, is exactly what makes music great, because I strongly feel that no artist should develop from the exact same pool of influences as anyone else. As an educator, I see this to be a tremendous problem. (Most young saxophonists today copy every nuance of Kenny Garrett or Chris Potter; guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel – pianists, Brad Meldau, etc….) The same applies to the legions of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Michael Brecker copyists who limited their potential (or worse) by vesting so much into one or a few resources.

I have performed with a great many musicians who have, in one fashion or another,  revealed their disdain for another artist’s sound, compositions or purpose entirely. There have been those who have proclaimed outright that perhaps they didn’t care for someone who I personally thought may have been an outright genius ( I try not to use that term very often). Unlike the scathing comments left online by a few angry souls who are in no position to criticize me OR my choices, I prefer to allow those who disagree with me the courtesy of having a different opinion. I wouldn’t even expect anyone to be in full accord with my tastes in art and literature, which can be broad and entirely eclectic. I thought this was, or should be, considered normal.

So, if anyone knows the location of the official mandate which declares that a musician must like and without resistance, accept everything that preceded him, I’d like to be made aware of it.  I was very specific why I didn't care for what was played for me. It wasn't an outright dismissal, nor was it done out of disrespect for the man’s artistry. But I am well within my right to accept or reject whatever I choose, especially when I have done the work in transcribing and analyzing the components of that work for myself – in an effort to figure out exactly why it doesn’t work for me or why so many others like it. I have the same feeling for several other great players who simply don’t ring my bell – and I’m referring to certain masters of the craft.  I was taught long ago that it was acceptable (and expected) to have a firm opinion and to make strong decisions. I know far too well that many don’t dig my work either and I totally understand and can deal with their choice not to. It’s just the way things are. But with this in mind, how does someone who can’t even play at all nor has any personal relationship with Eric Dolphy benefit by writing garbage about me on their blog, just because I asked an interviewer to move on to the next example?  All I can honestly say is that I hope that the guy found satisfaction from what he wrote. No good will come from it and since I know there’s a lot of work to be done, I’ll focus my energies in those directions. There’s a lot of great music that hasn’t been written or played yet. THAT’s where the attention and focus should lie - not getting bent out of shape because our opinions don’t match. Freedom to choose varied sets of influences all but guarantees that music and performances will be rich in variety and perspective.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quiet Fire

Originally Posted on February 13, 2010

I played a week at Birdland with Jim Hall recently and on some nights, as a result of Jim’s direction, a large part of our sets was played very softly – almost to a whisper. It was an effective choice for many reasons. Not only did the audience find it to be captivating and were naturally drawn in by the dramatically reduced volume in order to hear every minute and subtle nuance, but as a musician, I found myself confronted with an entirely new set of challenges, given the volume impositions. Some of my most treasured and reliable ideas and approaches were simply not effective when played at hush tones and I had to adjust and compensate on the spot, in the moment. In short, it wasn’t as simple as I would have thought, even at this point in my career and development.

Interestingly enough, I used to have tremendous issues with saxophonists in particular and all musicians in general that played with what some of us called a “no-balls” approach, which was our description of anyone without a huge (loud) sound. Many a player’s effectiveness was (erroneously) determined by the sheer brawniness or bravura in their sound, and we were misled into believing that volume and power were the ultimate definitions of “a big sound”.  I’ve since realized just how much content during a jazz set is fatalistically obscured by the sheer lack of dynamics. And as a player, it has become tiresome for me to continue to try to put my best musical foot forward within a perpetual wall of relentless sound. I have lost interest in musicians who are obsessed with the utilization of loudness as an indicator of strength or as a measure of superiority – I’ll leave that to musicians whose egos require constant reinforcement, gained when drowning out other members of their ensembles or when creating such a dynamic imbalance that all but guarantees that all ears are on them at all times – by default.

I feel that it is imperative that we should consider a broader range of dynamics in our music (now more than ever before) as a measure that will more accurately represent our truest intentions as artists. Our music is far more rich and complex than the very erroneous placement of triple fortissimo/lack of dynamics approach on every single performance or the stigma that has been attached to us by those who think that playing recklessly and loud is all that we’re capable of. Playing softly appropriately and effectively is just as difficult as playing fast tempos or negotiating alternative meters (notice that i didn’t write “odd”, which perhaps suggests that there’s something wrong with it). It is entirely possible to maintain intensity and passion in a performance without a sustained, wild, raging and oftentimes, immature failure to communicate, musically speaking, happening throughout.

This subject reminds me of many fond memories that I have from listening to Billy Higgins play in New York in the early 1980’s at Bradley’s and other Greenwich Village clubs. Never inordinately loud or inappropriate, his touch was impeccable and he played with refined grace, finesses and power, yet he never fought the natural dynamics of the groups and there was never any question that he knew that his role was to elevate the music as a whole and to make everyone sound and play better. I was in my early 20’s then and I would watch and listen in awe at how he could drive the band so effectively without drowning anyone out. My friend, author and journalist, Stanley Crouch and I used to call  it “Quiet Fire” and we would often have lengthy, and sometimes heated, discussions concerning who was or wasn’t adhering to volume and accompaniment principles. I miss those wonderful musical moments and also, the arguments. Good times.

And so it all has come around full circle, this subject, which again raises the question of what defines great playing and ensemble interaction. is it all simply a matter of taste, interpretation, good decision making and musical judgement? Maybe one remedy is to simply play just a little softer, please.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jazz Bums 2

I’d like to attempt to clear a few things up before I find myself caught at a performance, sans suit or proper attire, by a reader of this blog who might be looking for justified reasons to call me a hypocrite. First of all, of course the clothes that a musician wears don’t affect the quality of the work. We know this. That wasn’t my point. My point was to address the problems concerning the visual aspects of performance preparation and presentation. If you wish to close your eyes at live performances, it may suit you better to stay home and listen to CDs. I never thought I’d actually live to experience people defending musicians-as-slobs in such a supportive fashion, as if it should be the objective of  any performer to deliberately look that way. It’s far beyond reason to me to know that some folks believe that the ideal of musicians dictating what’s hip is representative of “old folks music”, a statement so recklessly offered by a previous post. Tell that to any orchestra member. Their music is WAY older and yet, they show up for work CRISP, and ready to deal. Why anyone would go so far to suggest that improvising musicians should look like hillbillies on stage is beyond ludicrous. There’s nothing hip about deliberately looking unkempt.

And just to make myself clear, It’s not just about the suits, per se. It’s about the attitude and attention to detail by the musicians, who are unnerved when audiences don’t provide them with full attention or the level of respect that they feel their sacrifices to present good music should yield. I personally don’t feel respect is warranted when the stage is inhabited by a group of sloppily dressed bums who should do better than to present themselves in such a disrespectful manner. Let’s face it, when you go to a quality restaurant you wouldn't expect your food to be served on a plate with remnants of a previous dish or smeared with fingerprints, would you? For a master chef, presentation is essential to the dining experience. The palette is primed by means of inviting visual stimulation.With this in mind, how can a live performance be considered complete when the musicians themselves havent primed themselves for VIEWING presentation? Of course opponents of this perspective will offer that one can’t see how musicians dress on a recording, but that is not the focus of my argument. I’m not challenging anyone’s right to dress as they please. I’m speaking from the perspective of a bandleader as well as from that of an ardent fan of live jazz concerts, and I feel that artists should present themselves appropriately for a paying public. Performing for an appreciative audience is a privilege, and I certainly shall, to the best of my ability, treat anyone who pays for my art with the utmost consideration and respect by means of a TOTAL presentation – and not just good music played while wearing jeans and dirty sneakers.

Let’s parallel an evening of music to that of having a great a dining experience.  Some people prefer, when eating out, to settle for sloppy Mom & Pop diners, fast food chains, and greasy spoon type establishments. They have no problem if their food is served on unwashed tableware, that the chef openly picks and scratches various body parts and NEVER washes his hands or any of the serving utensils, that the wait staff openly talks over the food or coughs without covering themselves, or bothers to dress in server’s apparel. It’s also no problem for them at all that the fried chicken tastes like fish because each was cooked in the same oil. It’s certainly no problem at all that none of the chairs or seat cushions match and have holes in them where visible springs and tacks prick you where the sun doesn’t shine. The fact that the place hasn’t been painted or remodeled in decades doesn’t factor into how the food tastes to them at all …. all they care about is the VIBE of the place and they would contend that, to them, the food tastes better in these types of joints than when dining in a well tended establishment, which is also known as having a dining EXPERIENCE – and not simply grabbing a sloppy meal somewhere. Yes, the food may indeed taste decent, but the preparation and presentation is highly suspect. People who eat at these places regularly are perhaps the same folks who also don’t seem to mind to have their music served to them by jazz bums. To this I say, “Bon Apetit”. For me, music, like food is a complete experience and I feel no obligation to close my eyes during a performance and to pretend that I’m listening to a recording. Performance ethics and concern towards appearance are not disposable factors where my idea of a total live musical experience is concerned. But that’s just me. I don’t expect everyone to agree nor comply with my taste in this matter, because I’ve realized how futile it is to debate with individuals who won’t budge on a subject. We could volley back and forth forever and there will be those that will maintain their position that the manner in which musicians dress has no importance at all – and that’s fine with me. I respect differences of perspective and opinion. I will maintain my position that I won’t hire slovenly-dressed musicians that dress down my bandstand.

Bill Cosby told me once that in his circle of friends in the 50’s, jazz musicians were considered the very definition of style. He and his friends would, as best as they could afford, try to emulate the look of the musicians on the covers of the lps. He said that his favorites were Miles (of course) and Lee Morgan. Unfortunately, many of the current musicians have somehow bought into the lame argument that the music is more important than garb. I would tend to agree, if all they ever did was to play inside their homes. Once an artist demands payment for his craft, then that product needs to be packaged properly. One doesn’t buy food that is haphazardly packaged either. Proper presentation makes food taste better, just as it can enhance a musical performance as well. Of course, it’s a matter of taste and preference. Some folks don’t mind drinking fine wine from a mayonnaise jar….

BTW, there’s this online blog of a truly bitter and misguided individual, that no one has ever heard of, who, along with his tired bunch of loser friends,  has taken it upon himself to attack me PERSONALLY with his “writings”. His problem with me has nothing to do with the current topic but instead stems from a series of sensationalized misquotes that I allegedly said during an interview in a music publication from over 20 years ago (!). (Anyone who doesn’t know that magazine articles are chopped up, edited and embellished beyond recognition immediately after the actual interviews have taken place truly doesn’t know how the game is played.)  I don’t know who this guy is and he has every right to disagree with my views, but he’s taken web wars (bold jabs at strangers under the veil of anonymity) to an entirely different level. He claims to be a saxophone player and "critic" and yet no one that I  know has ever heard of him, read his writings or have even heard him play.  Many so-called critics and self- proclaimed authorities on music and art are little more than frustrated hack musicians who spread poison in online forums. Their (his) writing offers little resolve or insight to solving proposed problems and issues at all. Just rants of pure hate and jealousy. That said, I hope that we never meet in person. I’ll leave it at that.

I’ll conclude by suggesting that performance stage attire should be venue and genre specific. When I toured with Phil Lesh and the Dead, I wore jeans, sandals and appropriate garb for the gig. Actually, when i did wear jeans for those shows I considered myself to be dressing appropriately for the gig because it was something that I would never wear at one of my own shows. In fact, it was a stretch for me to even wear jeans on a gig at all. But that was what was expected and I went with the flow.

So do your thing and do it well. It wouldn’t hurt to try to look great for a paying public while doing it either. Add to that, a kind word to bring the audience up to date about what is going on would also be more than helpful. Music writer Willard Jenkins prefers to call it exercising proper STAGECRAFT.  I fully intend to exercise that term freely from now on.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jazz Bums

Somewhere along the way, I haven’t determined exactly when, it became acceptable for some musicians to think showing up for live (Jazz) performances wearing the same clothes that they wear anywhere else is the thing to do. These days it isn’t that uncommon that a patron of the music, with hard-earned cash in hand, will venture out for an evening with hopes of enjoying some high art but instead will be offered a gig where some of the cats who perform will actually show up and get on stage with prominent holes and stains in/on their jeans, wrinkled and tattered t-shirts, dirty sneakers, saggy trousers and visible underwear, greasy, unwashed hair (or bodies), dirty fingernails, or worse…. What the hell happened? When did it become acceptable for performers to look like they don’t give a s—t? A quick look at any vintage photograph featuring the champions of the music reveals how much detail went into how they looked as well as how they sounded. Neither was any accident. (For that matter, look at the early photos of the Beatles….SUITS.) So why must the prestigious and noble face of the music be tarnished now with this mass nose thumbing at one of the more important aspects of performance etiquette? Improvising musicians once were the very model for contemporary style and cool behavior. Performers graced their own stages in appropriate attire and projected dignity and respect.

MILES. Needs no explanation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, in my private life, I’m just as casual and relaxed in my dress as anyone else. Sometimes I would even classify my look at home as “homeless chic.” But once I step outside my house and venture into the world where simple minded people sometimes size you up immediately before you even have a chance to speak… well, let me just offer this to any of you who happen NOT to be a Black man who is always followed and eyed suspiciously whenever he decides to peruse the items in any retail establishment..if this was an element of your reality that went back as far as you could remember, then you would understand why it would be absolutely imperative to appear in public at all times as if you mean business. I certainly don’t want to be mistaken for a thug, degenerate or anyone else who doesn’t want to be taken seriously or respected. (Side note: Each and every single time that I travel with casual or sportswear , I am detained and searched thoroughly at airport security and customs. EVERY time. They call it a random secondary search but I know better. This is obvious character profiling, of course, but the odds would be lessened if my garb and external profile didn’t resemble that of a hellraiser.)

The Duke. Always sharp.

But where musical performances are concerned, jeans, baseball caps, sneakers and t-shirts and other extreme casual wear just doesn’t cut it for me in terms of stage apparel. Not in my band, it doesn’t. The exception, of course, would be some of the summer outdoor music festivals where we’re often found performing in sweltering heat, or situations where we’ve had to rush to the bandstand directly from the airport after a day of hectic travel and near-missed flights. Sometimes there is absolutely no time that will allow for the band to “get it together” and one must perform “as is”. But dressing as if you just woke up from falling asleep with your clothes on should not be an acceptable norm. I’m constantly surprised to find the number of Jazz musicians who feel that it’s no big deal and argue that they’re merely “dressing for comfort”. I doubt very seriously that any member of any philharmonic orchestra would agree, or think for one minute that their job would be secure if they didn’t appear for work dressed appropriately.

Lee Morgan. tailored flair.

Once in or around 1983 or ‘84, during a break on a gig with Jon Faddis' quartet at a location that I can’t immediately remember, Dizzy Gillespie who was our guest, complimented me on the sharpness of my suit and relayed to me some stories about how meticulous some of the musicians had been about their “vines” (Jazzspeak for suits – hanging on your body like vines). He told me that a hip suit (and hat) were essential to “the look” and that they would have never even considered performing in anything less. He concluded his story with the same phrase that I’ve heard said countless times when referring to the audience: “They SEE you before they HEAR you”. I agree wholeheartedly with this and have to confess that I base my total enjoyment of any given performance on a multitude of factors – appearance and stage presence being two of them.

Mr. Hank Jones. Style and grace.

I would further contend that this slacker mode of dress has contributed to the devaluation of the music in terms of visual presentation and a steadily increasing lack of respect for an art form whose very participants sometimes don’t appear to have much respect for anything other than subjecting their audiences to 10 chorus length solos and songs that last 30 minutes each – AND looking like derelicts while doing it!

In my own experience, I would have to admit that not only do I feel better about my presentation when I’m secure that everything is in place both with the music as well as with the business, but I also notice all too well how different I am treated and respected when I am dressed like a “grown-ass-man”. In music, as well as in every other aspect of life, respect for oneself and the rich lineage that we’ve inherited deserves ample consideration and attention to every facet of the art form – not just being a “bad ass” on your instrument. So to those to whom this would apply: Clean up your act!

Perhaps it’s time for musicians to, along with the refinement of their craft, begin to reinvestigate the value and immediate benefits (WINK!) of being “clean” and “sharp as a tack” once again. I know, quite personally, a number of people who would support the music with a bit more enthusiasm if the musicians themselves didn’t appear so aloof and disheveled. It’s not so much to ask.