Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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."