On May 6th, I sat down with Josh Grossman, artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. It was part of a series of live interviews Josh is hosting called The Artistic Director’s Guide to Jazz. We had a great discussion about four artists performing solo shows at the festival:
- Kurt Rosenwinkel – June 22nd
- Matt Andersen – June 30th
- Benny Green – June 28th
- Nellie McKay – June 30th
The interview was video recorded, but I’d like to clarify, develop and embellish some of my answers (as well as promote these shows!).
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One of Josh’s questions was about technical facility:
JOSH: “I saw Kurt Rosenwinkel in concert two years ago. He was doing things I didn’t think were possible on the guitar. Do you feel that solid technique is even more important for an artist playing solo?”
First, clarification: “What do you mean by “technical facility?”
One of my earlier posts on this blog was about perfect technique. It’s not usual that I can look back on previous posts and agree with what I’ve written, but my idea about perfect technique still holds:
- You have perfect technique if you sound exactly how you want to sound.
- Your listeners will think you have perfect technique if you satisfy their tastes.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about technique as another word for “replication.” If we can replicate something, we have good technique. Improvising jazz musicians, with good technique, are good at replicating what they’re hearing, replicating their role models and replicating the jazz tradition among other things.
(Interestingly, as my friend Dan Fortin noted, this idea applies to other art forms – dance, visual arts, wood carving, cooking, fashion etc. I wonder if it can apply to sports too – squash, boxing, running etc. Another post perhaps…)
Technical facility then, is like copying technology. Certain copiers are better, faster and more efficient at replicating than other copiers are.
HOWEVER! What if your poor, slow and inefficient copier is serving your needs perfectly? When discussing technical facility, it’s important to consider the circumstances for which you are replicating.
For example, I use a Brother MFC 7840n for all my printing, scanning and copying needs. I love this machine. It’s fast, reliable, wireless and fits perfectly under my desk. Now consider industrial printers. We may marvel at the fact that they can print 200 pages a minute, double sided, stapled, enlarged, in colour, etc, but there’s no way these beast machines would fit (or look good) in my studio. It’s totally inappropriate for my circumstances for many reasons. This machine would have terrible technique.
An artist like Kurt Rosenwinkel may have the technique of an industrial printer, but he may not fit in my home office!
Technical facility then, is no more important when playing solo than when playing in a band. The reason we think solo playing requires more technique is because we’re not used to replicating under those circumstances.
It requires different skills, different technology. Not better, just different.
I’ll revert back to a more common view of technique – playing impressively fast, for example.
Playing impressively fast is one of the best ways to demonstrate an artist’s proficiency. It’s like a universal benchmark, no matter how skilled his or her audience.
In this sense, technical facility can act as common ground between performer and audience. Once common ground is established, a relationship can be developed. That’s important.
So, “Is technical facility important when playing solo?”
Final answer: Yes and No.