Thursday, November 1, 2007

Artistry in a World of Entertainers

“A person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination”

I've spent the last few years exploring the places life has taken me – playing music, writing essays, dating, drinking, living, and really plotting out where I would like for things to go. I've studied various types of music extensively, and plan to take my studies to Berklee next year, and I have also had a vast array of playing experiences along the way. My performance experiences include jazz combos (many), big bands, rock bands, funk bands, wind ensembles, symphonic bands, Latin ensembles and free jazz ensembles, etc. I have played concert halls, amusement parks, clinics, bars, business conventions, art galleries, stadiums, baseball fields, recording studios, basements, pretty much everywhere but heaven, and the (no longer a) planet Pluto...

Along the path I’ve forged on this journey, I have been a struggling artist in a world of performers/entertainers; I have discovered that artistry and performance are two separate disciplines; I have friends on both side of this fence, and I'm not here to say there is a right or a wrong, but merely a difference.

The ARTIST is a creative, forward-thinking, and often times disturbed (laughs) individual who gleans a feeling of accomplishment and success from the creative PROCESS moreso than the PAYOFF of the process; the artist is rooted firmly between tradition and innovation, always paying homage to that which came before, while carving a new niche for him/herself. An artist often finds inspiration in a multitude of ways, and channels his/her craft as a means to communicate their life experiences to the world. This is a lifelong process, and a delicate balance between creativity and craftsmanship. As a jazz musician, for example, I must execute a high level of technical proficiency on my instrument while striving for a personal approach to the music I play…the two go hand in hand, as is the tradition. In contrast, the direction I go with my music and how I draw from my experiences is what sets me apart as an artist. One never creates art for the purpose of a paycheck, it is only out of necessity that an occasional blasphemous obligation be fulfilled in order acquire….well, FOOD!

As an artist myself, I am amused at the variety of milquetoast definitions that come up on when I type in “performer…” (To take action in accordance with the requirements of; fulfill - - -To fulfill an obligation or requirement; accomplish something as promised or expected - - -To portray a role or demonstrate a skill before an audience - - -TO GO THROUGH OR EXECUTE IN THE PROPER, CUSTOMARY OR ESTABLISHED MANNER.) These definitions support my statement that to perform and to create art are in no way the same thing, and therefore, wouldst thou not concur that one is compromising his/her artistry when undertaking a job that asks for one to “take action in accordance with the preset requirements?” The performer (entertainer) operates from a different place in the mind than the artist: it is the duty of the performer to please an audience, and therefore the performer’s task is to research that which is a widely accepted aesthetic, and master the portrayal of such. A performer must be a part of or relate to the masses, and thusly the product is guaranteed to satisfy. Performance (entertainment) is not necessarily a lifelong commitment in the way as artistry; a performer need only fulfill the requirements of the role they are filling. That being said, one can carry out a slew of performances and never hone the other sides of their craft. I have fallen into this pattern myself, where summers bring five shows a day, six days a week, with one day off…it gets hard to motivate oneself to perform all day and then spend the nighttime “woodshedding.” For the performance-minded musician, the paycheck is typically the deciding factor in the acquisition of a gig, and the inspiration is gleaned from the audience, and not necessarily from within the self, or the wonders of the art itself.

I have played music, hung out, drank, philosophized, and argued with both of these demographics on many occasions, and we all have our own reasons and motivations for “belonging” to our respective sides. I have been in both positions on several occasions, and it was my experiences that have led me to the conclusion that I stand strong on the ARTIST side of the fence, but there are very strong arguments from the entertainers too…it all lies in what you value most, and for each and every one of us, that answer is a little different.

I strongly believe that while we are young, we MUST investigate all the possible realms of expression, and in the pursuit of our voice, destiny, purpose, however it speaks to you, experience dictates that which should come next. There is a voice inside of us all that tells us what to go for if we are listening – you should really listen! There comes a time when every performer needs to up their game when it comes to versatility, because that is the commitment you are making, and it is your calling card. There is that same time when the artist must avoid the temptation of those gigs that offer fat cash, and no spiritual reward, and eventually eliminate such opportunities as an option, in pursuit of their own craft…the more gigs you take for the sake of the cash, the more you're going to plateau as a player, not having time or motivators to inspire the growth of your art. The more time you spend going through the motions, the less time you spend inspired to pick up your axe. As far as I see it, there is a gig out there for all of us; if you commit to taking on the gigs you really love, you’re leaving those other gigs open for someone that really wants to play them! I never want to be playing a gig I can’t stand for the money when someone else could really be getting a great experience from that gig, because chances are, there is a better gig suited for my talents, and someone else might not really feel like playing that one…


Individuals in Relation to the Outer World

We as humans perceive our world as a series of relationships. For example, beauty is defined as “the quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.” Beauty, therefore, does not describe a subject as a NOUN, but rather describes the relationship of the properties and characteristics that make up the subject. There are several properties belonging to each specific subject, which in relation to each other, in fact, make up OUR PERCEPTION of the subject itself…therefore, with the exception of the atom, nothing in our universe exists on its own.
Aesthetic qualities such as proportion, shape, color, taste, sound, texture, and so on not only help us to define what we are reacting to, but how we are reacting, and why. One woman’s features in comparison to those of another will be perceived differently by two different men; man number one may be attracted to woman number one for the same reasons that make girl number two more attractive to man number two …We make our decisions based on comparison, and our experiences laced with such decisions make up that which is our individual ideal. What one person finds to be exciting, for example, may be vastly different from another person’s concept of excitement. In music this truth is exhibited in not only the vast array of styles in existence, but in the construction of the music itself, that is the relationships between properties of the music. What is harmonically dissonant to one listener may seem quite consonant to a person of differing musical taste, making neither listener correct or incorrect, merely DIFFERENT.
As we grow and learn from the time we are children, we learn to relate things to one another; we relate images to sounds, feelings to memories, and begin to assimilate a general scope of understanding of what the world is. It is our responsiblity to continue that process of learning, expanding, and connecting throughout every day of our lives. The relationships we discover become more complex, and increasingly subjective - we learn to relate the seasons to the tide to the moon to the sun to the solar system to the universe itself; we then break it down to metaphors and begin to relate behavioural patterns to patterns in nature, we begin to see the process of attrition, or the logic and order of mathematics in everything we do. It is the way in which we connect these ideas to our lives that makes us who we are. Just as our experiences lend us to view a subject in a particular light, we must proactively seek to understand things beyond our personal experience in order to fully understand something. It is enriching to reach beyond our initial distaste for something to appreciate the good that we did not originally notice. This is the advantage to having more experiences in life.
In my estimation, we are inspired to make our choices based on our varying experiences on this earth, and are defined by our interactions with our surroundings. Our goal as individuals, therefore, should be to understand the world as objectively as possible, so that based on our experience and understanding, we may subjectively make our unique contributions without prejudice.
that is all for now, but there will soon be more.

Relationships - Inspiration in Art and Music

Art of any kind is meant to be a reflection of the life the artist leads; it is meant to grow as the artist grows, and become richer as the artist becomes more enriched. The concept of DEPTH to an art is what separates that which is timeless, and that which is fad. Depth reflects the amount of heart, soul, and respect the artist puts into the art - it is intangible. The old saying goes "you get what you put into it…" I would go as far as to say, that you put into it what you get out of it…after all, it is the wonder of our first encounters with art that inspire us to create it ourselves. We connect to specific things; therefore we naturally create that which lies within us, and strive to create that which is within our means.

In searching for inspiration along my musical journey, I have done a great deal of research into the lives, interests, goals, and practice habits of my heroes. I have discovered that relationships are the basis for everything that is music: from the relationship of pitches that create harmony and melody, and the concept of time and relationships between durations of notes that make up rhythm, to the roles of different instruments functioning in the group to fulfill the performance of a composition. In studying relationships, I have discovered the necessity of research into that which is of interest to me. It was research that led Charlie Parker to listen to Lester Young's saxophone playing, in turn inspiring Parker to delve into the music, and eventually create his own sound (bebop), which would inspire jazz musicians to this day…his fast, technical facility and agility in navigating chord changes inspired John Coltrane to dive even further into those same focuses. This progression has led to a heightened expectation of the musicians in the jazz community to have a strong facility both on their instrument and in the music itself. One musician will be more greatly inspired by sound and rhythm, and another more by tension and ferocity, and we need both of these musicians in order to have the necessary balance in the music community.

In regard to balance, I find it very interesting that the musicians I most admire have the ability to play more than one instrument well; this brings a heightened sense of awareness of the roles of the different instruments in a playing scenario. What's even more interesting to me is that these players carry this knowledge of other instruments over to their principle instrument, and are able to drive the band from any role they may have. For example, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, and myself, along with many more musicians are all tenor saxophonists that play drums seriously. This knowledge and feel for carrying the rhythm of the group translates into having a solid rhythmic feel on the saxophone. Many musicians double on the piano, which gives them a strong harmonic reference from which their melodic ideas can spring. These perspectives bring the whole scheme of the music into light, and bring us to best understand the relationships between the given aspects of the music. It is equally as important to carry the melody to a tune, and the harmonic structure as it is to have a firm grasp on the rhythmic feel that is in place. Musicians that have inspired me to explore these options are Joe Lovano and bassist Jaco Pastorius. As a saxophonist, Joe stresses the importance of playing a single-note melodic instrument such as the saxophone, and having a firm grasp on all the other aspects of a tune from which to draw on in improvising. Jaco in his famous instructional video talks of the importance of a bass player understanding the melody of a tune in addition to holding down the bass part….both of these musicians exemplify that which is the ultimate artist: He who understands his role in a group, and not only fulfills that role to exceptional standards, but is able to transcend that which is his role and contribute to the whole of the piece/performance. It is to me reminiscent of the soccer goalie that carries the ball across the field and scores a goal.

I recommend that we all look deep within that which inspires us to tap the deepest part of our potential. To the musicians, I suggest we all look hard into the history of what we do, and try to contribute to the future of our art. Know what contributions the legends of your instrument made to the way it is played, and even better, draw your influences from musicians of other instruments. My primary influence for rhythmic phrasing is bassist Jaco Pastorius, and as a horn player, that opens up a world of new ideas for me.

Good Luck, and please, put into your art the love and joy that you get out of it.