5. Push and Pull
After publishing one of these very first blogs, my pal and absolutely smokin’ guitarist, Bob Gaus, suggested that I expound on the concept of the “push and pull” a performer experiences between coming from a place of artistry vs. entertainment in his/her live performances.
I think it’s a great topic, so here it is. However, it’s honestly not one I can say I really think much about or agonize over. It’s nonetheless an intriguing concept, that I’m sure is different for different performers of different disciplines, age groups and styles. Here are my two cents:
The reason I say that I don’t think much about it is that I’ve just always gone with what fits my personality and what I perceive to be the philosophies of my musical heroes, and then just let the rest shake out on it’s own.
First of all, let’s face it, I’m not at any huge level. It’s not like I’m filling arenas or anything like that. Secondly, some of my shows begin with a dining aspect, (dinner hour/brunch), and while I never take the gas off or the juice out of my performances, I’m not expected to “entertain.” Rather, I’m expected to play appropriately within the confines of the situation in terms of volume and intensity. But that doesn’t mean that I have to be what some players call “wallpaper.” I hate that term and I don’t subscribe to it. I still try to put every ounce of creative juice I can into even the quietest circumstances. Soul doesn’t have to be loud or proud. In fact, these situations allow me to go into other styles/genres that don’t always work in a rocking, packed bar vibe: ballads, jazz, light classical… They allow me to show range and force me to be more subtle, yet exacting. In fact, I love the challenge of rising to the occasion of being a musical chameleon, and achieving, hopefully exceeding, expectation. I don’t know about you, but I can be moved to tears by very quiet, delicate music, as long as the soul is poured into it.
So, is that entertainment or artistry? If my soul is tickled by someone else’s soul in their performance, how could I ask to be entertained any better?
But even in a setting where I’m truly performing for an audience, do I change my musical behavior to somehow be more “entertaining?” Not really. To me, the most entertaining thing I can do is play the very finest damn music I can muster. Regardless of the setting. Personally, I sit for my entire performance, so it’s not like I’m going to break out into a jig or some slick choreography. But that’s my style, and it could be very, very different for another performer where a visual display like that fits perfectly naturally.
With that being said, it’s not as though I sit like a bump on a log while I play, either, as anyone who has ever been to any gig I’ve ever been on can attest. I put my entire body and being into every single performance. But do I do that to achieve a level of entertainment? No. Do I think that the visual that comes off of my performance adds to entertainment value? Yes.
For me, personally, it has to be organic. I’ve always played like I do as far as how physically into it I get. I know for a fact that some folks walk in, point, laugh, and say, “that guy’s getting a little into it.” But I don’t worry myself too much about that. It’s genuine, it’s real, and it’s merely a byproduct of what I’m solely trying to achieve: the very finest damn music I can muster.
This is my whole life. There is only one thing that I’ve done for my whole life, excepting eating and breathing: music performance. I put everything into it all the time, because, why not? Why would I ever think that the better thing to do would be to give less, work less hard, hold some back, “mail it in”, (another abhorrent term used in music circles)? No, for me, it’s all in, all the time. I’ll sleep when I die. We only have one life to live, and every day we all realize how fragile it all is.
So, whether it’s called art or entertainment, my attitude is the same: I feel that the best possible performance is equally the most artistic and entertaining.