Sunday, September 2, 2007


Just when you thought it was safe to read this blog, yet another post about jazz singers comes hurtling at you:

In addition to the points I've made previously primarily (but not exclusively) about jazz singers I must add a further conclusion that I was reminded of earlier today. It concerns the inverse relationship between ability and the need to control. It has been my experience that the less competent the performer the more she has to take charge, direct and control the musical situation (and sometimes all the business surrounding the performance as well).

Earlier today I worked with a mediocre singer who can, on occasion, sound pretty good. Today was not one of those times. She brought in new material which was not so impressive to begin with and then tried to premiere it in front of an audience before the tunes were really finished and long before she was comfortable with the music. (We'll leave aside the less than helpful or accurate charts for the time being as that is a subject for another tirade.)

This singer found it necessary to read the charts aloud for the trio. It was rather like a teacher reading aloud from a textbook which one could easily read without help. She didn't offer anything helpful and it turned out that she didn't quite follow what she had written down for us anyway. Then, during the performance she did a couple of embarrassing things like over direct us at cues and make a big deal about a repeat she needed to add. We even had to stop and go back to a section in one of the songs because she fouled up the words (like anyone else KNEW!). It was truly a bag over the head situation.

On the flip side, when a top notch singer comes to a gig, she hands out the book (if there IS a book), counts off the tune and sings. If there is some important fact we need to know it will be either spelled out in the chart or indicated in a subtle MUSICAL way from the singer. People who are competent at their craft don't find it necessary to over-explain or hover over you while you do your job. Miles was notoriously cryptic with his sidemen over the years and just listen to the performances he coaxed out of his bands by saying next to nothing and leading by example.

There are a number of fabulous singers it has been my pleasure to work with who perform, act and communicate like they are IN the band. In fact, it is almost always true that the better the singer, the easier time one has playing with them and the less they feel it is necessary for them to direct. The control freak divas are, for the most part, in the realm of the poseur or, at best, the mediocre.

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