Category Archives: Greg Osby

Top 10

Top Ten

I remember when I first started going to jazz festivals as a fan and eventually as a participant. I was in my late teens and early twenties when I made the observation that, each year, the same personalities and groups were appearing on all of the festivals. I’m talking late 70s and early 80s. The lineups would then consist of maybe Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, the MJQ, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson and others that I, being a young (and impatient) up-and-comer who was eager to hear things a bit more modern, inspiring and less nostalgic, had absolutely no interest in seeing and hearing – especially year after year. It was a formula that only got even worse. There was no variety and I didn’t feel as if my interests or tastes were being considered where the programming was concerned.

Throughout the 80s the lineups steadily became a bit lighter, audience-friendly and more pop-oriented. Artist like Al Jarreau, George Benson, Spyro Gyra, etc. were in heavy rotation. Many “serious” artists were displaced in order to make room for these “guaranteed seat fillers”. I was annoyed that I couldn’t see Joe Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, etc, or any of what I considered truly innovative and inspiring artists at any of the big festivals. All they seemed to book were crowd pleasers, Grammy winners and artists who topped in the annual magazine music polls. Later on, it got even worse to the point that these days, pop artists completely dominate the bookings, along with the jazz “top 10” artists who appear on ALL of the festivals. I won’t post any names or acts because it is in poor taste to do so, not to mention that most of them are friends of mine. In fact, I don’t blame the artists for this deterioration of variety in programming. I blame the booking agents and festival promoters for their failure to provide the public with a broader presentation of the richness that the jazz scene offers.

So, there is a very real problem which should be addressed, which is that the representation of the entire creative music world has been reduced to the output represented by a handful of artists who have, and never will change or modify their music for fear of alienating the fickle tastes of the people who booked them in the first place. Unfortunately, the promoters don’t have any real idea of what is truly progressive or provocative “on the street” because their information is solely gotten from the content of magazines and polls. I never see any of the festival promoters in the clubs scouting for the “next” new artist. I do, however, see musicians pop up all of a sudden on every festival every summer – and I wonder where in the world they came from, and how did they emerge from total obscurity to getting major bookings without having “paid dues” or having cut their teeth with an established veteran? This phenomenon continues to weaken the ranks and cheapen the integrity of the scene as a whole and unfortunately, I see no end to it.

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Ladies First

Where are the Ladies?

I’ve been on a personal campaign for several months focusing on one subject in particular but not limited to that one subject exclusively. It’s a common topic of discussion that I have with my students and friends which concerns an issue that plagues the music, not necessarily from the perspective of the performers (but then, again, perhaps it does…) and sometimes influences the choices that the musicians make in performance and programming. However, unlike many issues that are of importance to the music community at large, this one has a simple and clear solution.

On a few occasions, I’ve openly vented from the bandstand at a few of my shows about how difficult it sometimes can be for me and my mostly male band to play for rooms that are exclusively populated by males. One of the most startling images that I’ve ever had while performing was one time when I was playing a ballad, attempting my best to be tender, honest and emotive – only to finish my solo, open my eyes to witness a room full of beards, hairy legs, unclipped toenails and several pairs of old-ass Birkenstocks and sandals worn by a room full of dudes. With the exception of the wait staff, there wasn’t a single woman to be seen anywhere in the place. The images AND the moment were equal parts startling, horrifying and overwhelmingly discouraging. And, as this had happened so frequently in the past, I felt obligated to take action and address it.

I felt it necessary to end the tune early and picked up the microphone and asked, to no one in particular, “We sincerely appreciate your patronage and support, but does anyone in the house have any females in their lives who would enjoy an evening of live, improvised music? Are there any women in your lives that you could POSSIBLY have asked to accompany yourselves here in an effort to bring some balance to this gender-disppoportionate audience?  Perhaps a landlady, Mother, sister, female cousin, bag lady, roomate, friend – with or without benefits, maybe even an EX, ANYONE! We’re trying our best up here, but this boy’s club mentality has to end now! It’s a tall order for anyone to expect us to perform non-testosterone- infused music for a room full of scruffy guys all night”.




In short, I’ve spoken to a number of friends, most of whom are all in accord that the one-sided gender imbalance (where patronage is concerned) is one condition that has helped to prevent the music from moving forward. Many male musicians are hopelessly preoccupied with “flexing and profiling for their boys” instead of engaging in artful storytelling or attempting to reveal the less testosterone-driven aspects of their character. During performances, some musicians proceed as if it is not considerd masculine to be fragile, sensitive or to employ a broader pallette of dynamics in their work. This type of thinking and performing, along with the lack of a strong female presence at concerts, has done a great deal of harm to the general perception of the music at large and is detrimental to it’s image and it’s ability ot be more universally accepted. 

So guys, please bring a date. Go Dutch, if necessary. Just bring SOMEONE sometimes other than your “bud”. Of course we have no problem playing for whomever will support us, but our ability to express ourselves would be fully realized if we had the support of both sexes.








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Sounding “Young”


Here’s my answer to a young saxophonist who asked me to evaluate his playing at a competition where I was a guest on the judicial panel.

(He didn’t win, by the way.)


“Concerning your playing, I have very few recommendations. You pretty much got every judge’s approval at the semi-finals and we all had you hands down as the overall winner. Basically, you lost points during the finals because some of my co-judges felt that you weren’t assertive enough during the straight-ahead/swinging part of your presentation . I guess they were looking for more fireworks and visually-projected dedication. But to be honest, I would have played it exactly as you did. I don’t believe in excessive body movements, squealing, circular breathing, growling, multiphonics, unnecessarily long-held high notes or any other types of showboating. These are affectations and tricks that less skilled players resort to in order to get “house”. Uninitiated listeners usually eat this stuff up, but it is trickery at it’s best and is shameful behavior for true artists, such as yourself, to resign themselves to. Research any video of the icons of this music and you will observe that most of them played with Zen-like focus and stood quite still. All that moving around creates subtle changes in the position of your mouthpiece and will alter your intonation as well as your grip and hand position – thus affecting your accuracy and articulation.


Personally, I listen for how a player develops his story and how coherently they get their ideas across with detailed phrases and concise statements. I’m from the super clean technique school. Many players get by solely on slurring everything, playing with really loud volume or with a series of crowd pleasing licks. I don’t support this approach to improvisation. Fortunately, you are not plagued by these types of issues. Basically, I think the main thing is for young players not to give away their age when they play.  This is a common subject of discussion with older players. It seems that younger players tend to crowd each bar with an enormous amount of content when simpler statements would be more effective. Young musicians also always tend to play far too many choruses during a solo. This is the giveaway that they are either in a rush to “say it all” or that they don’t gig enough and it makes them sound “young” and unrefined. I know about this because I used to be one of those players. It takes a while to develop the ability to know when to lay back and when to dig a little deeper. 


So, stand a bit more still and don’t overplay (AKA sound “young”) or you’ll be out of tune and will bore everyone to tears…. "




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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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A Shift Has Taken Place


I’m noticing that a lot more younger people are attending our shows all of a sudden. A couple of weeks ago week I did the Vanguard in trio format with Paul Motian and Jason Moran. Each night the place was populated by an under 30-ish crowd by at least 50%. Not only was it refreshing to perform for a room of eager and attentive new patrons but it also served as a representative beacon of hope that the music is again reaching and affecting younger sets of ears. Perhaps the tide is turning once again and audiences are responding more favorably to music that requires a bit more than the average listener’s attention span, which sometimes can be quite short.


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