Sunday, August 5, 2007

Jazz Singing Redux - or The Jam Session Blues

Because this illustrates the point of my previous post so perfectly, here's an extended quote from fellow Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. Steve plays in the house band for the longest running and highest profile jam session in Chicago, Friday nights at the famed Green Mill. Here's what happened this past Friday:

We had a singer who might not have been half bad if she’d paid more attention to singing the song and what was happening around her onstage than dancing and making meaningless “soulful” encouraging yelps; another singer who wanted to sing two songs that none of us had ever heard of, and if [pianist extraordinaire) Dennis Luxion doesn’t know the song, it’s probably worthy of being obscure; and finally a drummer who was so transcendently awful that Rick [Shandling] had to come onstage and reclaim the chair midsong.

Steve goes on to eloquently state the bane of the jazz musician (or skilled musicians in any genre, it seems to me):

Now, I know that jam sessions are, technically, the place where you attempt to prove yourself, and, intellectually, I realize that if you don’t put yourself out there you’ll never advance. On the other hand, what is it with these people? I find this mystifying, this phenomenon (and I see quite a lot of it) of people who have no business being on any stage at all, let alone one of the city’s top jazz clubs, with (and pardon me if I seem arrogant) some of the best players around. These are either people with no shame, or with no critical faculties, and probably both. I guess that some of it has to do with the American Idol mentality; everyone wants to be in show biz, but no one wants to pay the dues.

[Emphasis added for, well, emphasis.]

Finally, Hashimoto engages in a little fantasy that I believe must be archetypal among musicians:

But I tell you, I’d like to catch some of these characters when they’re on the operating table; doesn’t have to be anything major, like brain surgery or a triple bypass. Something easy, like an appendectomy, maybe, and just barge into the operating room in my street clothes and grab the scalpel from the surgeon, tell the patient that it’s okay, I’ve always had a hankering to perform surgery, I’ve practiced plenty with my surgery-minus-one videos and my inflatable dolls, don’t worry, it’ll be fine, what’s the f****** problem, why do you have an attitude about it?

As I mentioned in my Jazz Singing post, this problem is not isolated among vocalists, as Steve's story indicates. It just seems that too many civilians "listen" with their eyes, which is why attractive albeit incompetent singers are not only tolerated but often rewarded. It's not just women either, in case you're thinking I'm being a pig about this. However, with rare exceptions (and they're usually band leaders), instrumentalists who can't play do not get hired and their reputations as "instrument owners" travels like wildfire among other working musicians.

Sadly, it is often the singer who hires the band - usually because if she doesn't get the gig she will not be out there working. The public can be fooled a lot more easily than those of us on the bandstand. Sidemen, take back the night!

1 comment:

Matthew Wengerd said...

Do you know what happened to Hashimoto's site?