Live the life first.


I recently returned from a great tour of Italy with my band. It was both revealing and triumphant on many levels. While we were out, an Italian friend read and translated to me a review of one our concerts. The writer commented that the band sounded somewhat uninspired and misdirected, or something to that effect. Without making any excuses, defending the band nor opposing the writer’s impression of the show (he was partially correct, by the way) I always ask myself, “How are statements like this useful and to whom do they serve – especially AFTER the fact?” We drove almost 8 hours to arrive directly to the venue that day without so much as a decent meal, shower, change of clothes or any worthwhile rest. Traveling in an 8-seater van through the Italian roads was no less than absolutely brutal, and we did it all on very little sleep from each previous night. There was rarely any room for recovery, as this was practically our daily pace for a couple of weeks. It is quite common for traveling musicians to perform in a semi-delirious state resulting from lack of decent rest and nourishment. Again, no apologies or excuses – these are simply the facts of the touring lifestyle for those of us who have chosen to dedicate ourselves to taking the music directly to the people.

With this in mind, I’ve always figured that wouldn’t it be great if, in order to be a certified music journalist, a writer would have to earn his or her bones by actually traveling with a band on tour for several weeks or longer- just to experience firsthand what life on the road really entails? How else would anyone know what “the life” really demands of us? It’s not all fun and games by a long shot and for those of us who don’t have adequate representation, financing and a solid business structure, it’s certainly no pleasure cruise, and there’s little to no time for leisure during our daily hectic schedules. Every day off has to be paid for by the leader, so in order to reduce expenses, it is common for groups to work every single day, which takes it’s toll both physically as well as musically.

Imagine, if you will, the tremendous demand on one’s personal energy reserves that it takes to command your body and mental focus in order to function properly during a tour without adequate sleep and nutrition for days or even weeks at a time. Traveling to exotic countries and experiencing foreign cultures may sound glamorous and exciting… well, it is normally, but most of the time when on the road we’re required to visit a different country or city every day or two in order to meet the tour overhead. Each day off drains the budget, so a touring band must keep moving. I’d love to have a journalist onboard just so they could accurately chronicle the day-to-day schlep that we must endure in order to make it to each destination. It’s not always fun, but it’s definitely a fact of the business. 

Experiencing this kind of torturous pace, as we do regularly, would be the best indicator of what our daily trials demand, and how we must rise above them in order to deliver our best performances regardless of our physical or mental state. Musicians are always told that in order for their art to be considered authentic, they must deal with certain realities that the art form imposes on them. If this is indeed the case, then the same set of standards and criteria must be engaged for anyone who considers themselves enough of an authority to comment intellectually on our craft. We’re not always perfect and are expected to occasionally deliver under extreme and extraordinary circumstances. It would be ideal if some of these factors would be considered before a reckless dismissal of our work occurs because unfortunately, once it’s been documented, it can’t be undone.


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7 Responses to Live the life first.

  1. Greg Osby says:

    Here’s a comment sent to me from saxophonist David Binney (who couldn’t post it here for some reason…)

    Well, that tells it like it is. It’s right on, as anyone who does what we do knows.
    This gets complicated though when I really,honestly, think about it. We are doing that sort of travel for a couple weeks, maybe 3 on average. The rest of the time, at home, we don’t even have to worry abut waking up at a certain hour. So, I feel that when the show goes on, regardless of how we feel, we must deal. And we do. There’s a rare time that we don’t. And, in this discussion, on the surface I don’t have sympathy with the writer that is critiquing the show. But if the writer is supposed to be the voice for people in the audience, then I have to take that writers view on the show seriously. I mean, as the viewpoint of the person who doesn’t know or care what the circumstances are prior to the performance.
    Now, yes, I would love to have the writer travel with us and see how hard it is. It’s at times ridiculous. I just traveled 11 1/2 hours on the train yesterday right to a 2 set gig. But the report ultimately in my mind should be from, or I should say, “to” the viewpoint of the person who knows nothing of that struggle. That means the pressure is on us as musicians. And I guess I welcome that pressure. I worked day jobs in an office for 10 years. I know what that’s like. I sympathize with people who do that. But I’ll take the road to the gig over an office, any day.
    Now with all of that said, I agree with Greg. Writers should travel with us at some point and know what that is and what it takes to get up for a gig after that sort of travel. Ultimately the difference in the review should and would be small in wording but huge in scope. Just a couple of words added to a sentence that mentions how we traveled all day right to the gig to play for the people, and THEN say the we were “uninspired”. That would mean the world to us and maybe a little to the reader. It’s fine to criticize. As Greg said, the writer was right, but a word in there about the circumstance. Context. Just so the person who might not have liked it that one night, comes back one more time to give it another chance.
    Ultimately, I totally agree with Greg. The writer should travel with us first. I would just hate to have a writer do that and write a good review that’s colored by those travel circumstances. The review ultimately has to be about the music and for and from the office workers viewpoint tempered with a deep understanding of what it takes for musicians to do what they do under rough tour conditions.

  2. Greg Osby says:

    Points taken, Dave. I also wouldn’t want to influence anyone into offering favorable reviews just because they earned their road “wings” from hanging on tour with musicians. I’m primarily vying for an overall enlightenment and awareness from those who regularly make it their point to enlighten without facts, details nor experience.

  3. Joseph L. says:

    It’s unfortunate that such critics/journalists clearly don’t take in consideration the “behind the scenes” circumstances.
    I was part of the tour as the bass player in Greg’s band. I was born in the US but I grew up in Italy; they call it “Il Bel Paese”, which means “the beautiful country”, sure beautiful, and there are many things that I love about it, but I felt in many circumstances that I had to mediate between two worlds, the “new world” and the “old world” mentality. Through the tour we had to deal with certain circumstances, working conditions that were, as already described, to say the very least, rough.
    Said so I will like to point out the fact that artists, individuals that by nature do much traveling, deal with many different mentalities and ways of doing things, and this develops a strong flexibility. In other words artists to me are generally very open minded individuals, but it doesn’t mean that they necessarily accept everything that is thrown at them. They simply deal with the circumstances and always, if true artists, try their best to perform a meaningful musical experience for the people in attendance.
    I think it is too easy for critics to sit back and criticize a concert without considering certain working conditions that might be in certain cases disruptive to the artist.
    YES, it will be a good thing if critics/journalists would be on the road with the musicians.
    They might be a little more cautious in their judgement.

  4. Seth Bohen says:

    Hey Greg I agree with this, I feel that in order to give the best judgment a journalist should be on the road with the band; however in defense of the journalist they often have strenuous travels to get the story, they get into the situation and live it. Much like musicians I feel you have those who stay local and play minimal gigs where they are comfortable, but you also have those who travel the world, bringing music with little rest, because of their love for the music. You have journalist who simply stay in their area and write basic reviews, but you have those who travel the world getting the perfect situation for a story and meeting a deadline. Thats how they make a living and live their life that way. It is just as brutal at times as traveling for gigs. However I do agree that in order to best critique a band that journalist must be on the road and understand what the musicians are enduring. Awesome blog Greg, thank you.

  5. Greg Osby says:

    At the very least, journalists would do better to engage in open dialog with musicians in order to ascertain what the artistic goals and aspirations are/were. It’s quite reckless to assume and guess what cats are “trying” to do. Just ask, and all will be revealed.

  6. Peter Wisely says:

    Hey Greg, I think seth has a valid point, but I also agree with the idea of open dialog with the musician. I feel that if the journalist gets involved on more of a first had account it is not only more affective for them but it helps generate a gripping story that the reader could get genuinely involved in. I’m going to check out the Other Opinions section now. Do you by chance have any teachings/lessons about jazz? I’ve recently started divulging my life with a lot of jazz and I would like to have a bit better understanding of it. Thank you


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