I’d like to offer a few last points here in order to clarify my position, then I’ll be done with this subject. Please bear in mind that my opinions and offerings here are based on my own experiences and observations, and that I’m well aware that many will disagree with them. That said, to those who aren’t receptive to my position, it isn’t necessary for you to post mean spirited jabs in an attempt to make your point. Opposing opinions are fine, personal barbs won’t be tolerated. If you have issues with my music, that’s fine as well, but reasonable people know that it’s impossible to have personal issues with someone that you’ve never met. Childish cyber-jousting with someone that you don’t know personally or that you have no REAL beef with is crossing the line. I’d prefer that you address your issues to me in person, where I can deal with them accordingly, as a man would. Or, if you prefer, you can send me a personal email and we can handle it one on one that way. But to cower online with no real potential of contact or resolution is plain cowardice. Again, I can handle anyone not liking my music. It’s the inane posting of insults that my students and supporters are forced to read – THAT is a serious problem for me.
That said, please allow me to clear a few things up before I find myself caught at a performance, sans suit, by a reader of this blog who might be looking for justified reasons to call me a hypocrite. First of all, of course the clothes that a musician wears don’t affect the quality of the work. We know this. That wasn’t my point. My point was to address the problems concerning the visual aspects of performance preparation and presentation. If you wish to close your eyes at live performances, it may suit you better to stay home and listen to CDs. I never thought I’d actually live to experience people defending musicians-as-slobs in such a supportive fashion, as if it should be the objective of any performer to deliberately look that way. It’s far beyond reason to me to know that some folks believe that the ideal of musicians dictating what’s hip is representative of “old folks music”, a statement so recklessly offered by a previous post. Tell that to any orchestra member. Their music is WAY older and yet, they show up for work CRISP, and ready to deal. Why anyone would go so far to suggest that Jazz musicians should look like hillbillies on stage is beyond ludicrous.
And just to make myself clear, It’s not just about the suits, per se. It’s about the attitude and attention to detail by the musicians, who are unnerved when audiences don’t provide them with full attention or the level of respect that they feel their sacrifices to present good music should yield. I personally don’t feel respect is warranted when the stage is inhabited by a group of sloppily dressed bums who should do better than to present themselves in such a disrespectful manner. Let’s face it, when you go to a quality restaurant you wouldnt expect your food to be served on a plate with remnants of a previous dish or smeared with fingerprints, would you? For a master chef, presentation is essential to the dining experience. The palette is primed by means of inviting visual stimulation.With this in mind, how can a live performance be considered complete when the musicians themselves havent primed themselves for VIEWING presentation? Of course opponents of this perspective will offer that one can’t see how musicians dress on a recording, but that is not the focus of my argument. I’m not challenging anyone’s right to dress as they please. I’m speaking from the perspective of a bandleader as well as from that of an ardent fan of live jazz concerts, and I feel that artists should present themselves appropriately for a paying public. Performing for an appreciative audience is a privilege, and I certainly shall, to the best of my ability, treat anyone who pays for my art with the utmost consideration and respect by means of a TOTAL presentation – and not just good music played while wearing jeans and dirty sneakers.
Let’s parallel an evening of music to that of having a great a dining experience. Some people prefer, when eating out, to settle for sloppy Mom & Pop diners, fast food chains, and greasy spoon type establishments. They have no problem if their food is served on unwashed tableware, that the chef openly picks and scratches various body parts and NEVER washes his hands or any of the serving utensils, that the wait staff openly talks over the food or coughs without covering themselves, or bothers to dress in server’s apparel. It’s also no problem for them at all that the fried chicken tastes like fish because each was cooked in the same oil. It’s certainly no problem at all that none of the chairs or seat cushions match and have holes in them where visible springs and tacks prick you where the sun doesn’t shine. The fact that the place hasn’t been painted or remodeled in decades doesn’t factor into how the food tastes to them at all …. all they care about is the VIBE of the place and they would contend that, to them, the food tastes better in these types of joints than when dining in a well tended establishment, which is also known as having a dining EXPERIENCE – and not simply grabbing a sloppy meal somewhere. Yes, the food may indeed taste decent, but the preparation and presentation is highly suspect. People who eat at these places regularly are perhaps the same folks who also don’t seem to mind to have their music served to them by jazz bums. To this I say, “Bon Apetit”. For me, music, like food is a complete experience and I feel no obligation to close my eyes during a performance and to pretend that I’m listening to a recording. Performance ethics and concern towards appearance are not disposable factors where my idea of a total live musical experience is concerned. But that’s just me. I don’t expect everyone to agree nor comply with my taste in this matter, because I’ve realized how futile it is to debate with individuals who won’t budge on a subject. We could volley back and forth forever and there will be those that will maintain their position that the manner in which musicians dress has no importance at all – and that’s fine with me. I respect differences of perspective and opinion. I will maintain my position that I won’t hire slovenly-dressed musicians that dress down my bandstand.
Bill Cosby told me once that in his circle of friends in the 50’s, jazz musicians were considered the very definition of style. He and his friends would, as best as they could afford, try to emulate the look of the musicians on the covers of the lps. He said that his favorites were Miles (of course) and Lee Morgan. Unfortunately, many of the current musicians have somehow bought into the lame argument that the music is more important than garb. I would tend to agree, if all they ever did was to play inside their homes. Once an artist demands payment for his craft, then that product needs to be packaged properly. One doesn’t buy food that is haphazardly packaged either. Proper presentation makes food taste better, just as it can enhance a musical performance as well. Of course, it’s a matter of taste and preference. Some folks don’t mind drinking fine wine from a mayonaise jar….
Here’s a couple of links to blogs which feature other viewpoints.
There’s also a online blog of a truly bitter and misguided individual, that no one has ever heard of, who, along with his tired bunch of loser friends, has taken it upon himself to attack me PERSONALLY with his “writings”. His problem with me has nothing to do with the current topic but rather stems from a series of sensationalized misquotes that I allegedly said in a jazz magazine from over 20 years ago(!). (Anyone who doesn’t know that magazine articles are chopped up, edited and embellished beyond recognition immediately after the actual interviews have taken place truly doesn’t know how the game is played.) I don’t know who he is and he has every right to disagree with my views, but he’s taken these web wars to an entirely different level. He claims to be a saxophone player and critic and yet no one that I know has ever heard of him or even heard him play. Many so-called critics and self- proclaimed authorities on music and art are little more than frustrated hack musicians who spread poison in online forums. Their writing offers little resolve or insight as well. Just pure hate and jealousy. That said, I hope that we never meet. I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll conclude by suggesting that stage attire should be venue and genre specific. When I toured with Phil Lesh and the Dead, I wore jeans, sandals and appropriate garb for the gig. Actually, when i did wear jeans for those shows I considered myself to be dressing up for the gig because it was something that I would never do on my own. It was a stretch for me to even wear jeans on a gig. But that was what was expected and I went with the flow.
So do your thing and do it well. It wouldn’t hurt to try to look great while doing it either.