Thanks for your comments.
Let me clarify. This post addresses instances where musicians have the freewill to accept, reject or negotiate terms based on their supposed value. In regards to instances where musicians are starving, being blackmailed and/or being threatened by murder, I’ll have to save that for another post!
I just returned from playing a gig where I received no financial compensation. I perform at this venue because I believe it still offers value that is equal to the value of my performance. I don’t complain because the action of complaining assumes that this relationship is unequal. Complaining would be silly because it is in my power to reject or renegotiate these terms! It’s in all musicians’ power to reject or renegotiate these terms.
You may ask then: Would I sacrifice a career in music if I thought the whole world undervalued my work? You bet I would!
As for the Fountainhead reference, it's a beautiful quote and expresses perfectly my feelings on this subject. I won’t hesitate to share things that have moved and inspired me. Regardless, I don’t entirely understand your views as you’ve written them, so we’ll have to save the debate for another time.
Somewhere in the booking of a gig, there's a buyer, and there's a seller. Club owners, restaurant managers, wedding planners and concert promoters are all buyers that offer value (usually money) to performers (sellers) who offer their live music in return. When negotiating, buyers and sellers should be looking to establish a point of equal contribution where value-given is equal to value-received. Otherwise, the seller is undercutting himself or the buyer is throwing his money away. One side reaps the benefits of an unbalanced deal while the other side is left to respond to lost value. Because of it's familiarity, I think this process is taken for granted.
If you agree to play a four-hour gig for $50, you are bound by the nature of that agreement and cannot claim to be worth more or less for that particular occasion. You are worth exactly $50. Otherwise, you’re undercutting yourself.
This is an ethical dilemma. You know you’re product is worth more, yet you accept less. You’ve spent a lifetime perfecting your craft only to throw it away. You’re undervaluing your work, your craft, your purpose, your love, your music, and your life! You’re now offering the skin off your back. That lost value is made up with the price of your soul!
Remember, there is never an obligation for you to accept gigs, and buyers are never obligated to hire you. Don’t let any buyers convince you you’re worth less (and don’t let other sellers convince you you’re worth more). Know your own price, and if the price isn’t right, say no!
“In all proper relationships there is no sacrifice of anyone to anyone…Men exchange their work by free, mutual consent to mutual advantage when their personal interests agree and they both desire the exchange. If they do not desire it, they are not forced to deal with each other. They seek further. This is the only possible form of relationship between equals. Anything else is a relation of slave to master, or victim to executioner.”
- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
Tribute to Doug Riley
Juno-nominated jazz pianist extraordinaire Chris Donnelly performs music written and inspired by the late, great Canadian legend, Doug Riley (aka Dr. Music). Highlights include Peace Dance, Dinosaurus and Child Eyes from Riley's solo piano album Freedom.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 @ 12:00 noon
Chris Donnelly, solo piano
@ the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
Also, October 6th marks the beginning of a 2 week tour of Western Canada. The details:
October 6, 8:30pm | Winnipeg, MB | the Centre Culturel Franco Manitobain
October 7 10:30am | Vancouver, BC | Workshop for BCRMTA
October 8, 8:30pm | Vancouver, BC | The Cellar
October 9, 4:00pm | Victoria, BC | Workshop @ Tom Lee Music
October 9, 8:00pm | Victoria, BC | Hermann's Jazz Club
October 11, 7:00pm | Colwood, BC | Church of the Advent
October 15, 9:00pm | Calgary AB | The Beat Niq
October 16, 9:30am | Edmonton, AB | Workshop for ARMTA
October 16, 9:00pm | Edmonton, AB | Yardbird Suite
October 17, 9:00pm | Edmonton, AB | Yardbird Suite
October 18, 7:00pm | Salmon Arm, BC | Salmar Classic Theatre
October 19, 7:30pm | Kamloops, BC | Kamloops Alliance Church
Please visit my schedule for more details.
Hope to see you!
Find a sweet spot. It could be a melody, a groove, a climax, a note, or a chord. Anything that gives you that feeling.
Analyze it, experiment with it and have fun with it! Learn it in every key and at every tempo. For pianists, learn it in your right hand and your left hand. Write tunes based on them. Develop it melodically and develop it rhythmically. Own it!
Find the next sweet spot and repeat. Repeat until you’ve had enough! When you reach that point, you’ll know to move on. You’ll either be inspired to pick another artist or enter a period of output. Compose new music, arrange existing music and share your studies with students and colleagues.
Be prepared to sound a lot like Bill Evans!
Bill Evans? Great! Here’s what you should do:
Take your favourite Bill Evans record and listen to it a thousand times. Listen to it so much that you can sing it from start to finish.
Then get some manuscript and transcribe every note he plays. Every note. Right hand and left hand.
Take the manuscript to the piano and memorize it. Memorize how if feels under your fingers. Memorize how it sounds and memorize how it looks as notated music. Memorize it in every form. Test your memory by re-writing it on more manuscript away from the piano and without the recording.
Learn to play it exactly how Bill plays it. Try to capture every subtlety. Perform it from start to finish with and without the recording.
Can you taste it yet? Good! Stay tuned for Part 2!
I was once told: if you want to be a player, you’ve got to know tunes!
They were referring to jazz standards. Tunes you call at a jam session. Tunes by George & Ira Gershwin, Rogers & Hart, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Monk, Bill Evans and a host of others. Tunes that exist as part of the jazz legacy.
It’s a powerful statement, and has elements of truth, but it’s easy to dance around the language: “Does that mean, if you know lots of tunes, you’re a good player? If you know more tunes than anybody, are you the best player? How many tunes do you have to know to become a player? 100? 500? 5000? What if you learn non-jazz tunes? Does that make you less of a player? What if you’re only interested in performing original music?”
Here’s one way to look at it: If you want to perform music for a living, you have to be able to play something. You have to have repertoire.
If you want to perform music in ensembles for a living, you have to be able to play something everybody can play.
If you want to perform music in ensembles for a living, with no rehearsals, no discussions and no music, you have to have a common body of (memorized) repertoire that can be called upon at any time.
If you want to perform music in ensembles that only plays Charlie Parker tunes for a living, with no rehearsals, no discussions and no music, you’d better know every Charlie Parker tune.
(Side Note: In this case, you’d better know how to sound like Charlie Parker too!)
Let’s look at it from another perspective:
If you want to create an ensemble to perform music with no rehearsals, no discussions and no music, you have to hire the musicians that have the most extensive repertoire. You have to hire the musicians who know tunes. Otherwise, your band has nothing to play, and you don’t get any gigs! The more tunes you know, the more likely you are to be hired for this type of ensemble.
So how many tunes should you know? Maybe first you should ask: How do I want to make a living?
Larry Shields, Director
John MacLeod, Trumpet
Jason Logue, Trumpet
Lina Allemano, Trumpet
Kelly Jefferson, Sax
Tara Davidson, Sax
Colleen Allen, Sax
Will Carn, Trombone
Scott Suttie, Trombone
Chris Donnelly, Piano
Brian De Wolfe, Guitar
Mike McClennan, Bass
Colin Kingsmore, Drums
I’m am now forwarding the feed through Feedburner (as opposed to using Rapidweaver’s raw feed), and just finished experimenting with its settings. The feed should be much more readable and accessible now.
Thanks for your patience!
How can we minimize the time spent maintaining a high technical standard? Improvising musicians have an inherent solution. Their notes can be variable to maintain their standards. Can’t play fast today? Then play slow!
But musicians who are dedicated to reading music have a problem. They may know a piece perfectly today, but if they pick up that piece years or months later untouched, they’ll have to relearn it (not completely, just parts of it). Is this avoidable? I don’t think so. But I think it can be managed, especially if the initial learning of the piece is undertaken with lots of patience and discipline.
I’m still exploring. Any thoughts? If you decide to recycle a piece a year later, how long does it take to get it back in shape? How do you minimize that time?
On Facebook, I’ll get twenty event invitations every week. I used to read them all to get insight into what’s happening in the arts community. My keenness tells me to know about everything and everyone. But there’s no time! There’s too much information coming from too many people. I have to be very selective.
These are examples of when MySpace and Facebook don’t work as networking tools. I used to add MySpace friends like that. But I recognized early how futile that is.
Online relationships need to be nurtured just like real relationships. Do you think by simply adding one more friend to your profile, you’re advancing your career? How about 500 friends? 10,000? Having 10,000 random MySpace friends is no different than having 10,000 business cards thrown in a box. Totally useless! Unless, you have the skills to stand out, make an impression and nurture genuine relationships with your friends/contacts.
If they haven’t already, I suspect that users will eventually become numb to all the information available to them on social networking sites. Which means you have to stand out and reach out to them in a unique way. Read this book. I would recommend using Keith’s tactics for online use. I think the skills required to build ‘real’ relationships can be easily transferred to build ‘online’ relationships.
I’d be interested to know if Keith has any plans to write a book on this: creating successful relationships in the digital world. As well as showing how the skills can be transferred. I’m sure he’d be able to offer more insightful strategies. I’m looking forward to it!
Piano students seem to think otherwise. They don’t realize that solid right-hand and left-hand relationships are a result of building, shaping and maintaining an extensive vocabulary over a span of many years. We can’t focus and actively improvise with both hands at the same time. One hand always has to be on autopilot, even though it may be for only a few seconds. Therefore, your hands must have an intrinsic vocabulary to pull from while they’re on autopilot. They have to rely on muscle memory. Otherwise, your hands will only play what they know: nothing.
What do you do with your left-hand? Well, what’s your concept? You have to give your left-hand something to play first! Let’s say: a quarter-note bass line over the blues.
Side Note: How do you form a concept? By asking, transcribing and listening to the specialists!
Pick a twelve-bar, quarter-note pattern and stick to it. This is not a creative exercise. If you’re wavering from the pattern, you’re wasting time.
Practice it a million times. It’s all about repetition. Train your left-hand not to think. Learn it forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards. Learn it from the start, the end and the middle. Learn it in every way. Memorize the notes. Memorize how they look, how they sound, how they feel and how they taste. Learn to play it in your sleep. Know it better than anybody else. Own it. Add your right-hand. Experiment with different melodies, rhythms, tempos and improvisations. Try to throw off your left-hand. When you’re comfortable, move on to the next pattern and repeat.
This process achieves two things. First it develops your muscle memory and vocabulary. Secondly, it rids your playing of bad habits. But only if you’re disciplined enough to stick to your patterns and immediately fix any mistakes and inconsistencies. Again, this is not a creative exercise. You’re infusing vocabulary into your muscles. Creativity would be an act of blending vocabulary. That doesn’t help your left-hand autopilot. The whole point is to think creatively with your right-hand!
Of course, for future study, try putting your right-hand on autopilot!
A truth about music competitions: Their objective is to reward excellence; Prizes are given to the most excellent participants.
This truth breaks down when you define excellence. Most people assume it refers to artistic excellence, but they’re often disappointed when they realize that artistic excellence can mean so many different things to different people. They’re especially disappointed when excellence is sought in non-musical forms. Like a participant who is excellent at drawing a crowd, or excellent at creating hype, or excellent at influencing judges! When it comes to music competitions, you can’t rule anything out. What do you expect when things are built on shady principles? No arts competition is immune to this inherent paradox: Presenting excellence objectively.
An interesting thought: Notice that even though we are aware of this absurdity, people rarely question the merits of competitions and competition winners because the language in their presentation compels us to assume artistic excellence is always achieved. Especially when we are far removed from the actual experience. For example, you may pick up a newspaper and the headline reads ‘Joe wins first place in music competition,’ or you see a two-minute news segment on a local pianist who is awarded first prize in a piano competition. Their presentation and language will always demand that you accept the implied objectivity.
From an extreme viewpoint, one could say that anytime we organize, participate in, or acknowledge the validity of music competitions, we are promoting this absurdity and giving in to the language that’s describing the impossible. It’s the willing suspension of disbelief. It can occur obviously, like being a judge or a participant. But it can also be subtle, like reading ‘Chris Donnelly places 2nd in the 2007 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition’ and subconsciously validating my name and music.
It’s too bad that competitions are so enticing; there’s something in them for everyone. For artists, it’s a great opportunity to network with other artists and (if lucky), walk away with some money! Judges are paid and held in high esteem. For presenters, they act as great marketing gimmicks. And for the public, they can be engaging, satisfying, dramatic and participatory. Music competitions will demand that everyone form an opinion despite their level of expertise thus they act as a means for the public to participate in the music community (and the absurdity). Everyone only has to sell his/her soul!
Actually, I’d like to believe I’m leasing it…hence this blog.
In regards to Montreux, excellence was at the mercy of these judges:
Chucho Valdés (Cuba) - presiding judge
Al Copley (USA)
Moncef Genoud (Switzerland)
André Manoukian (France)
Denis Matsuev (Russia)
Aziza Mustafa Zadeh (Azerbaijan)
Leo Tardin (Switzerland)
I didn’t speak to the judges about their decisions. I have my opinions, as does everyone else. But I decided that my experience as a participant overrides my experience as an artist, pianist and educator and so, for a number of reasons, it would be inappropriate for me to express them here. But I would encourage you to make your own decisions! The participants:
Zoltan Balogh (Hungary)
Elmar Brass (Germany)
Claude Diallo (Suisse) – Encouragement Prize
Chris Donnelly (Canada)
Thomas Enhco (France)
Beka Gochiashvili (Georgia) — 1st Prize (Shared)
Christian Li (USA)
Regina Litvinova (Russia)
Jorge Luis Pacheco (Cuba)
Peter Pinter (Hungary)
Mathis Picard (France)
Kuba Pluzek (Poland) – Encouragement Prize
Isfar Rzayev-Sarabski (Azerbaijan) — 1st Prize (Shared) & Public Prize
Matthieu Roffe) (France)
Xaview Thollard (France)
Franz Von Chossy (Germany) — 2nd Prize
Did the judges make the right decisions? I’ll let you decide. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree.
But one thing’s for sure: The winners were excellent!