Saturday, July 18, 2020

Rising Star

 "STAR? I'll be the judge of THAT!"

"Rising Star" or Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” - Two determinations of one’s ability and worth, by self appointed persons (usually non-musicians) who have concluded that, in their infinite wisdom, you haven't "arrived" yet or that what you're doing isn't significant enough for inclusion in the "official" categories of prominent music polls. These two terms, among others, are often regarded as offensive by artists who have been very active and productive for a considerable number of years or who have offered a tremendous amount of notable creative contributions. Realistically speaking, how can a player that is far removed from being a student or even an apprentice, still be relegated to the ranks of the "up and comers" when they have been living as professionals in a touring and recording capacity in excess of ten years or more? In any other medium they would almost be regarded as veterans and would be put in a position to actually train newcomers. In contemporary music, various labels that have been affixed to chosen players often serve as a hindrance to their ability to demand better pay and conditions - all because they were categorized as someone who remains a work in progress. Many see this as a debilitating and calculated move designed to promote the non-deservant and to stifle the progression of radical thinkers and non-conformists.

As it has been shown,  most polls and “ Best of the year end lists” turn the creation of meaningful art into little more than sloppy talent competitions or popularity contests and overwhelmingly represent the ideas and opinions of people who don't or can't play at all, but are almost always biased to a fault. And yet, players are expected to feel honored to be placed in a category or poll at all, even if said placement is markedly low in the rankings or behind someone who is a newcomer with very few clocked miles as a professional or is who is currently a darling of the pollsters and critics. It’s gotten so bad that artists and their handlers now openly campaign and solicit votes via email or on their social media platforms. It should also be noted that some genres of music do not participate in these types of various competitions and favorites displays.

There are two primary formats that the music polls are based on: 1: The READERS POLL, where  we are to assume that ACTUAL READERS cast their votes in favor of their preferred artists and that the tabulations of received votes are accurate and reflective of the tastes of the public?

The other format is 2: The "CRITICS POLL" Think about it. C R I T I C S....  As Jerry Seinfeld would often say, "Who are these people?" Just where is the Critics Academy where they learn to criticize and what is the necessary criteria for their acceptance or graduation from such an academy? Should the "critics" be accomplished musicians, or at the very least should they be decent and competent players? Should they have an expansive and extensive knowledge of music history, theory, composition, publishing, negotiation, touring, merchandising, promotion, etc? Or is having a massive collection of free recordings sent in for preview and review all that it takes to be deemed an "expert?" What other professional practice offers an allowance for non-participants to judge or speak on it so authoritatively? 

"Sorry to bother you, but I'd appreciate your vote..."

"Well... I LOVE your music, and I'm a longtime fan, but right now my plate is full"
Most frequently, an artist's placement in these polls, which are often painfully biased and whose votes can literally be attained via coercion, influence, ass kissing or even gifts and money, weighs heavily on the opinions of concert and festival buyers when they are set to decide who they will bestow the honor of placement in their bookings for the coming season. It is not difficult to determine who will enjoy the majority of said bookings when the same names that occupy the top of the magazine polls dare the same personalities that dominate practically all of the slots in performance rosters - year after year. It almost makes one wonder if their respective booking agencies and management are actually either bribing the presenters of the polls or are throwing their weight and influence around in some other fashion ("We won't allow you to book artist "A" unless you also book artist B&C")

However, none of this applies at all if you, as the artist, are unfortunate enough to remain in "rising star" purgatory for the better part of your career.

One time, a writer from Downbeat called me unnecessarily early for an interview (see below -click to enlarge) when I was fast asleep while on tour in Germany. He'd called to congratulate and inform me that I was in the #1 position in the "Talents Deserving Wider Regognition" alto saxophone poll. I was sleeping very deeply too, and I usually don't - especially in hotels. So I was very annoyed and I told the journalist that polls don't impress me, I disagree with the very idea of "ranking" art OR artists and that my appearance in polls has never changed or increased my eligibility for performances and tours whatsoever. I basically told him to leave me out of their polls because music is not a competitive sport and that I don't determine someone's artistry by their poll position He was shocked and taken aback that I wasn't humbled and super grateful and he printed a lot of what I said, (but not everything of course.) He then went on to name the many legendary musicians that have appeared in their polls over the years, as if I wasn't already aware of that. About this point in the interview was when I lost my patience and stopped talking. So that was that. Many musicians thought my reaction and comments were really funny, but my publicist didn't. Lol  I am always privately grateful to be recognized and acknowledged for my efforts, but at that moment, I simply wasn't having it. And for the journalist to attempt to "school" me on the validity and significance of critics or readers polls, made matters worse.

Being consistently referred to as a “rising star” by various polls and critic’s opinions sorely limits an artist’s ability to negotiate for what they are truly worth - despite the fact that they may actually be a veteran contributor to the creative music diaspora. In actuality, it’s insulting to claim that an artist is still “up and coming” if they’ve effectively been touring, recording and making a living from music for a number of years past that of a student. Polls should never be the measure of ones contributions or worth.
I have never enjoyed or payed much attention to polls and “ Best of the years end lists” because they have the potential to shatter the esteem of players that invest too much importance in them. Furthermore, they only really represent the ideas and opinions of people who don't or can't play or who are biased to a fault. But perhaps artists can use polls in their press kit bios to impress promoters or to solicit gigs. I don't know. It never seemed to make any difference. At least, not in my case.

So, congratulations anyway, you "Up and Coming, Rising Stars!"