There’s been some thoughtful discussion lately here on iRoM about the interaction between musicians and audiences. A lot of it was focused on performers’ obligations to their listeners. Check out Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1, and Keeping It Real 2 and Norton Wright’s Keeping It Real: A Minority Opinion, along with the readers’ comments, to get the full picture.
And here’s another perspective with a different slant. I first blogged something about the subject three or four years ago, pointing a finger at both the players and the audiences. Since the questions I raised at that time remain virtually unanswered, I thought I’d ask them again. (Continue reading below for the responses.)
By Don Heckman
Have you ever wondered:
Band leaders always seem to announce the names of the band members in the middle of loud applause? Making them virtually indecipherable. Can it be that some of the leaders are worried that the band members might receive a better reception than they do? Let’s hope not.
Every solo by every musician (and singer) — regardless of its quality — is applauded? Granted that musicians deserve and appreciate response from their listeners, what’s the real value of such an all-inclusive response? And why can’t it wait until the end of the piece? At which time, the leader — after the applause — can give much more meaningful recognition to the soloists. The added benefit of that approach would be an opportunity to actually hear the subtle connections that good musicians frequently make between solo passages — a repeated riff, a variation on the previous player’s concluding phrase. Good stuff, and most of it missed in the rush to clap, cheer, hoot and whistle.
If we’re going to have so much applause, why can’t we also have some mass audience hissing directed at the fools who can’t wait until the last note fades before they establish their presence with a whoop, a holler or a deeply insightful, “Yeah!”? God forbid that the music should actually have an opportunity to come to its own creative conclusion without audience assistance. It can, you know. If you listen.
The drum solo always has to wait until the last number? It’s become like clockwork — here comes the Dreaded Drum Solo and the intermission is next. Surely drummers deserve something better than a pro forma appearance positioned as a last minute afterthought?
Anyone have some answers? Send them along. I’ll be happy to share them.
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March 10: BRICK WAHL HAS SOME ANSWERS:
By Brick Wahl
Band leaders never know the names of the musicians in their band, or else they are too high. Sometimes, though, musicians have long Polish names and no one knows how to pronounce them anyway.
The musicians’ Moms and Dads might be in the audience and the audience doesn’t want to embarrass them. Later, Mom and Dad are replaced by grandchildren, and you’d have to be a real creep to want to make them feel bad. So applaud already.
In the past, massed hissing in jazz clubs has led to shootings, beatings, and riots. Sometimes all in one night. I once let out a deeply insightful if ill-timed “yeah” that accidentally caused a bass solo, so I learned my lesson.
Drum solos used to occur during the intermission. Consider yourself lucky.
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March 11: NEAL WRIGHTSON HAS SOME ANSWERS:
By Neal Wrightson
I agree with #1. It is often frustrating when band leaders introduce the band while they are playing, while the audience is clapping and hooting, etc. But not all do this. Some actually take some time to introduce each band member, even waiting for the applause to die down. I think your theory is true sometimes – I sense in the timing and perfunctory quality of some intros a disdain for the exercise, and maybe the band members. But other times I think that musicians are not always speakers, and are ‘tone deaf” about the importance of the moment.
As for the other objections – I think that the loose quality of a jazz concert and audience is part of the history and tradition. Sometimes the vocal responses remind me of a revival meeting or inspiring speech, where the audience is moved to vocalize their enthusiasm. I am torn about this, because sometimes audience members can be maddeningly insistent on adding their “contribution” to the performance, but overall, I think I prefer this wide-open, democratic quality to rapt attention and people “shushing” each other. I love Keith Jarrett, but he is a good example of this; a bit of a prima donna, much too grumpy about every little noise and interruption. Jazz is, to a great extent, an audience participation experience. The energy of the audience makes an important difference to a performance.
As for drum solos, (and bass solos) as the parent of a jazz drummer I would say that they are only occasionally brilliant, and do not often add to the piece as a whole. I agree that they are often included at the end pro forma, instead of as an important element in a specific piece. Yet a beautiful drum or bass solo is inspiring and as important as any other soloist in an ensemble. My drummer son tells a joke about a drummer who is researching the roots of jazz and goes to Africa. He is being led by an African drummer to a village where remarkable drumming takes place. They are walking a long way, and as they get close they can hear the drumming. Then the drumming stops, and the African drummer stops dead in his tracks “Oh! oh!” he says. “What’s the matter?” the musician asks, with dread creeping into his voice. The African says “When the drumming stops – next is the bass solo!”
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