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September 05, 2010


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Ricky Riccardi

Great points about audience interaction, Marc (and the picture of Pops was profound without even calling attention to it). And regarding Monk being the start of the too-cool school, the man got up, danced, spun around in circles and looked completely immersed in his music while audience members couldn't take their eyes off him...showmanship!



Monk probably realized that verbal communication wasn't his strong suit, and made up for it with interesting hats and dancing. Miles got lots of bad press for turning around or leaving the stage when not playing, but it just fed into his mystique. Besides he would only have looked silly dancing to Coltrane's solos. Dizzy, an extrovert, got good mileage from clowning on stage, but it wouldn't have worked for Miles. Playing serious jazz requires intense concentration, and for most trying to put on a pop-style stage act at the same time would be a major distraction. Traditionally, classical music concerts didn't involve a single spoken word, and audiences didn't expect it. A perfunctory bow, and maybe an occasional hair toss from the soloist, were all that were required. Talking to the audience is good, and many jazz artists are adept at humorous banter (James Moody, Marvin Stamm, etc.) However music is a much more intense and intimate form of communication, and audiences looking for more superficial entertainment aren't likely to seek out jazz concerts in the first place. I remember seeing a few minutes of a Dave Koz performance on television. He was performing an elaborate sexual pantomime with the bassist and the audience probably loved it, but musically nothing was happening. So yes, stage presentation is important, but when it gets in the way of the music it's only making jazz more irrelevant.

Bill Forbes

While I fully agree that jazz musicians should communicate effectively with/entertain audiences, I'm pleased to report that nowadays here in the UK my experience is that these qualities are admirably present in players. I've just returned from an afternoon gig by trombone virtuoso Mark Nightingale with a very talented regional outfit, the Swingshift Big Band, where the wit and repartee was of the highest calibre. In no way is this untypical and I would particularly single out saxophonist Alan Barnes in this respect. Yes, when I went to hear jazz 50 years ago, things were more formal, particularly from the "modern" school, but even then there were exceptions, such as the late Ronnie Scott, whose humour never lagged behind his considerable saxophone skills.

Ian Carey

"Either stage musicians stand or sit there expressionless the entire set or they engage in forced banter, often at inaudible levels, making everyone more uncomfortable. Off stage, their communication skills are even more miserable, unable to greet fans or carry on a few lines of conversation." Wait, you were at my gig last night?! You should have said hello!

Bill Kirchner

The fact that The New School Jazz Program has a course in "Stage Presence" is one indication that we educators well recognize that there is a problem.

When I was in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, Bob Brookmeyer used to lament the lack of theatricality in many jazz performances--the lack of proper usage of lighting, for example. Though between the studied stiffness of the classical world and the frequent gaucherie of rock gigs, there's a happy medium. In any case, stage presence is a skill that, like many others in life, is acquired gradually over a period of many years. I know that firsthand.

John P. Cooper


During the Swing revival of the late 90s, we had 5 big swing bands operating out here and all the leaders and vocalists were unfailingly nice to people and fans.....even the one sometimes ornery leader always took time for his fans with a chat or a greeting or a question or a compliment.

Maybe the fact that there were always dancers at these gigs (which were dances) helped to bridge whatever gap may have existed. Happy dancers are easier to gauge than happy listeners.

Doug Zielke

"I'll play it and tell you what it is later"- Miles Davis


I've repeatedly noticed what you're talking about re musician's audience interaction and often miserable social skills. Jazz is such expressive music, you would think it would be the other way 'round. Even if the music is serious, that doesn't imply solemn -- and if it is so serious, maybe try to dress better. Just sayin'.


... if at all, Doug, if at all!

What strikes me most are either missing announcements, or almost inaudible ones. The times are over where most people were familiar with the songs the musicians played.

I can't get it. Okay, we younger cats play our own compositions, but why *not* announce them, if before or after?

And when you're doing this: Raise your voice, and tell the audience what you played, and *who* your band members are. Then, some guys are telling only the first names of the crew, not their last names. I don't get that either. Kindergarten, or what?

I always play a very nice example of the past when meeting musicians at my place:

"And finally on drums: Joe Haynes!" -- Some neat applause, but a tense silence, a pause of very long, embarrassing seconds. -- Then: "Did I say 'Joe'? Well, you know I meant 'Roy'. I didn't mean it, really... And now ladies and gentlemen, to start things off, based on "How High the Moon," here's "Ornithology"..."

"Symphony Sid" Torin at Carnegie Hall, 1949, when he announced Bird's quintet. -- He at least could name the tunes correctly, and knew the rest of the band members, and announced them clearly.


The ideal jazz musician would be a person who was not only a master of his instrument, but also a warm, wonderful human being as well - for me, the personification of this ideal would be Clifford Brown. I'm sure we can all think of musicians who are masters of their craft and good, personable people as well. Unfortunately, the reality is often musicians who are musical wizards but who also have varying degrees of personality defects, from charming eccentricity to bloated egos to personality disorders to outright mental illnesses. It can be a tradeoff. The well-adjusted personality often doesn't lend itself to artistic creativity. The person who has both is rare and doubly gifted.


I was thinking about this after I posted my initial comment, and I remember at least one gig where the musicians were very audience friendly and entertaining even when they weren't playing: A James Carter show I saw at Iridium in NYC probably 11 years ago now. Took my parents to see some jazz while they visited (they were astonished, on getting into the foyer, to see that not only was Les Paul alive, he played there every week!!) Anyway, Carter put on a great show; his kind of jazz isn't my folk's cup of tea but he was so all-round entertaining they really enjoyed themselves (and Carter's ridiculously casual technical mastery of his horn(s) impressed Mom, a musician herself). And he was well dressed.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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