Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Find out what it means to me

Of course, the jazz blogosphere has been abuzz about Keith Jarrett's most recent outburst at Carnegie Hall. I've written about my Keith experiences before, and I hold fast to my sentiments: Jarrett is a masterful pianist, but I have absolutely no need to see him live anymore.

At Playjazzblog, the author makes the point that audience discourtesy has grown in recent years, with which I would not argue. A few years ago, I witnessed two stragglers walk in on the last song of a David Binney set at Casa del Popolo, and proceed to talk through Binney's solo at the foot of the stage. Binney was compelled to chastise the dude, and everyone in the house held no grudge towards Binney's behaviour. That's an extreme case, and I would wager that that kind of blatant and oblivious disrespect would warrant a Jarrett-esque reaction from anyone. As someone who attempts to suppress his coughs (without noisily wrapped lozenges, I might add), puts his phone on silent and leaves his camera in its pouch, the other reason I am in no hurry to see Jarrett again is because of the "atmosphere he has created," as he said in Montreal last year. I find that atmosphere highly stressful - going into Jarrett's concert at Place des Arts, I was more concerned with whether someone would sneeze or take a photo than with the beauty of the music that would be taking place. His notoriety for his tantrums have possibly led to provocative audience behaviour ("let's see what Keith will do when I piss him off this way") instead of creating the sanctuary he so obviously needs. Bruce Hornsby is equally picky, and on certain bootlegs you can hear him take down people with cutting humour, interjecting "Tell 'em what they missed!" to latecomers before returning to his verse on a dime.

On the flipside, how much artist disrespect should audiences put up with? With Lauryn Hill having performed here on Sunday, I see an interesting parallel to Keith Jarrett. I was not at that show so I'm only going off the previous reviews I have read and the flurry of activity on my Facebook feed. Like Jarrett, Hill's behaviour of late is as much a part of the spectacle as her music: would she show up? How late would she be? Would she be on her game or not? She only graced the Metropolis stage at 1 am, and delivered a set that was reportedly mixed at best, with some glimpses of her magical talent buried under ham-fisted rock arrangements. That fear is why I didn't buy a ticket to see one of the best soul singers of our generation. Miseducation is an inarguably fantastic album, but Hill has not been firing on all cylinders since. (What happened to that whole neo-soul crew anyway? Maxwell took ten years to resurface, D'Angelo is who-the-hell-knows-where...) But Metropolis was full. At what point will audiences back away? I suppose when they buy tickets to this show and somehow still expect "Walk on the Wild Side."

It's a balancing act to be sure. Perhaps it's because I'm an artist at a level where I don't have the luxury of being dictatorial to my audience, but I tend to err on the side of being welcoming, or at least trying to. I've had my fair share of nights where the talking crowd is overwhelming and intrudes on the bandstand. But I've never made a big deal of it on the mic, nor have I stormed off stage. If Jarrett decided to remain in his home studio and put out gems like Jasmine, I might be more compelled to put down my dough to witness his mastery live, warts, risk and all. But considering the vast majority of his output since 1983 has been recorded live, I'll stick with the documents of audiences that venerate Jarrett and allow him to create, and allow me to listen in privacy, free of coughs and camera flashes.

1 comment:

Matt LeGroulx said...

Somewhere along the line jazz musicians were separated from the their audience. I think this is actually a result of the jazz musicians' quest for respect. When they started presenting themselves like classical musicians the audience/musician dynamic changed, I think for the worse. Of course, jazz musicians from the music's inception and afterward was not suffering from disrespect solely based on their music but because the performers themselves were not respected as human beings. So, it's perfectly understandable that they would go this route but I feel today we have jazz being presented in settings that, to me, is not conducive to good music. The more vibrant the environment the more vibrant the music. IF the people playing would stop being such self-important assholes and realize that it would be good for everyone if the audience actually enjoyed themselves, too. Sometimes they actually pay to get in. In your home studio it's all about you but when you put yourself on a stage in public you're an entertainer.

I had probably the most fun I've ever had at a show recently at Fat Cat in New York. Samba da Bahia was playing. People were dancing, drinking, playing ping pong, generally having a great time. And so was the band! And if anyone was talking, and lots of people were talking, it didn't bother anyone. Not even the jazz musicians participating in the late-night jam session.

I understand that samba is not a sit-down-and-shut-up kind of music, but still. I think a lot of musicians, and audiences could benefit from this attitude.

I'm so sick of the whining musician. Not making any money? Deal with it. Stage too small? Deal with it. Gear not in great shape or generally of crappy quality? Deal with it. People talking while you're playing? Deal with it! For chrissake, shut your yap and deal with it! Maybe, just maybe, your music isn't so amazing that everyone should shut the hell up and pay attention. Maybe you should be grateful that anyone's paying attention at all. We all have obstacles to overcome but very rarely does being an asshole to the people who write your paycheck, so to speak, help you overcome them. Yes, being a musician can be rough but so can working in a factory for 30 years and the people I know who've worked in factories for decades appreciate the fact that they have a passion. When did WE lose that? When did the act of making music lose its specialness?

Well, David I hope that you didn't feel that any of that was directed at you. I just feel very strongly that our musical brother/sister-hood is in poor shape these days. We've lost our guts somewhere and have become, well, assholes. Generally speaking, of course. There are plenty of folks plugging away out there just happy to be even plugging away in the first place.