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.



  1. Thank you, Greg! Very well said!

  2. Nice write up Greg!

    I agree with you that visual presentation is important, and I always try to dress well on a gig. However as an audience member at many of the shows I attend, I like to close my eyes for a good portion of the show. I personally feel more intimately connected to the music with my eyes closed kinda like visualizing it in my head. I improvise with my eyes closed as well.

    That being said how do you feel about artists that take visual presentations to the the extreme? For example artists that move around so much during their solos it's hard to believe that the moves are just "feeling the music," and are more of a "part of the act." A good example of an artist that does this would be the pianist Hiromi. I personally don't have a problem with musicians that do this. I just have a harder time taking there music seriously and definitely appreciate the music better with my eyes closed.

  3. I am so glad that you are addressing this subject. I learned how to dress for gigs from an older drummer that I worked with. His rule of thumb was to dress better than you think your audience will be dressed, and this was for a steady we had at an upscale restaurant. I've used that rule ever since.
    Being female, I must add here, that I do a fair amount of casuals and in situations that call for tuxedos. What I want to know is how come a lot of guys don't know how to wear a proper tux??Or a suit? Love the cuff links and guy who can tie a tie properly: that classic look is gorgeous. I'm going to start pointing the guys to your blog to read this post. As always, thank you for your music: your sounds are very inspiring.