Humdrum, daylight things most musicians think when they play

My buddy Robert Moore was going through boxes while unpacking and he came across this clipping from the New Yorker somewhere around 1980 - one of their "Profile" series, but unfortunately he didn't have the info to ID who is speaking, exact date, etc. Nonetheless, here's an interesting tidbit.

"Last evening wasn't bad at all," he said as he worked on his hands. "I played well, and somewhere around eight a whole bunch of jazz fans came in, so I played for them until after nine. The only trouble was that the hammer of the G above middle C broke, but I doubt whether anybody noticed. Once, the English pianist Harold Bauer gave a concert in San Francisco, and an F-sharp got stuck just after he'd begun his last piece. He struggled with the note, trying to disguise that from the audience, trying to keep it from ruining the piece, trying to get through. When he came offstage, his manager said to him, 'Harold, I've listened to you up and down the world for twenty years, and that last piece was the most moving performance I have ever heard.' Which means that audiences are rarely on the same wavelength as performers. In fact, two very different things are going on at once. The musician is wondering how to get from the second eight bars into the bridge, and the audience is in pursuit of emotional energy. The musician is struggling, and the audience is making up dreamlike opinions about the music that may have nothing at all to do with what the musician is thinking or doing musically. If audiences knew what humdrum, daylight things most musicians think when they play, they'd probably never come."


David Carlos Valdez said...

Great comment Zach!

I feel exactly the same way. I find myself being highly critical of even obviously great players like Brecker or Chris Potter. They sound great, what do I have to complain about!? Do I want everyone to have the same concept as me?!?!?! Am I just jelous?!

Right now I've got about 55 gigs of MP3s on my computer. Do I even bother to listen to them? NO!

I'm so jaded that very little music excites me anymore. What does usually isn't even Jazz. I still enjoy listening to Jazz, but not as much as when I was 18. I couldn't get enough back then.

I guess it's like they say the good thing and the bad thing about getting older-
You're not as obsessed with sex.
(or music)

I agree with yout Zach that the reason we become critical of music is by being so critical of our own
playing year after year.

Maybe the solution is that we give our ourselves a break once and a while about our own playing.

Anonymous said...

W/r/t what musicians might be thinking while playing versus what audiences might be thinking whil listening: It is possible to do moving, emotional things and be completely unaware. Are children aware what joyful sadness they can instill in a grandparent just by playing on the swings? Is a dog missing a leg aware how much our heart breaks when we watch him play fetch?

W/r/t missing an F#, or other preoccupying setbacks during performance: When D'Artagnen's father gave some advice before D' left for Paris to join the three musketeers, he said "Discipline will set you free." Yes, discipline in practice, discpline in putting in your time, day in and day out, but could it mean discpline in your creativity as a willful handicap? Like when swimmers let their leg hair grow long before a race. What if you decided "I'm going to solo over some standards that I've played a hundred thousand times before, that I know inside out...but I'm not going to play the fifths of chords." Or "Today, it's ALL chord tones, no matter what, no passing notes, no blue notes." Imagine if every chord tone could be beautiful, too, in tune and with great, fat tone, and if the lines, the melodies, the rhythm was there, you would have this TRULY organic, no frills, spherical sound, just because you told yourself to take something away.

When writing prose in college, I would try experiments, not by adding skills, but by purposefully limiting the ones I do have. "I will write a moving story where every sentence is 7 words or less." "I will only use 'action sentences' in the story, and put musings/narratives in the footnotes."

Perhaps without the F#, it WAS the most moving performance, the most emotional - perhaps his licks were fraught and perilous, and miraculous when he pulled it off. Is an action movie any fun if the hero is running along a train? Only if he's about to be crushed by a flying saucer full of bad guys and the train is on fire, heading towards a cliff. Perhaps peril is something to incorporate into performance, too.