Lately I've been noticing a cultural shift in thinking when it comes to live music. Maybe its that I'm getting older and more cynical or maybe its that I'm imagining things... but I feel like as a culture, we are not really valuing live music a whole lot in this day and age.
Whether or not this is true, I really think that seeing live music is essential to becoming a good musician. Learning from YouTube videos and recordings is great, but there's something irreplaceable about going to a live concert. It's everything-- its the process of physically going somewhere to experience something, the fact that you pay money to get in, the fact that the sound waves in the room actually get to impact you emotionally and you get to share that experience with everyone else in the room.
I was fortunate that my parents have always loved music deeply and wanted to nourish my musical interest. I remember when my folks brought me to see a concert of local Minneapolis jazz musicians where someone read poetry and the musicians played things that sounded like what was being spoken. I thought it was amazing that they could improvise so fluidly, making up ideas so quickly on the spot.
When I was in high school, me and my music buddies would hang out and jam, then on the weekends we'd go to local Minneapolis/St. Paul jazz clubs like The Artists Quarter and the Dakota Jazz Club to see local players as well as touring artists. We'd go to the Minneapolis summer jazz festival to see headlining artists like Benny Golson, The Yellowjackets, Dewey Redman. I've seen Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Brad Mehldau, Chris Potter, The Bad Plus, Kenny Garrett... the list goes on and on. I also saw rock and indie bands, hip hop groups, etc, both local and touring. Going to those concerts were major events when I was growing up!
I didn't just go to these concerts because I "should" or "had to..." I went because it was such a compelling experience! Of course, some concerts are more exciting than others... some that I enjoyed more and some that I enjoyed less. But I learned so much from going! I remember going to see Joshua Redman for the first time and imagining this big, huge, loud tone to come out of his horn! And the whole night, he played with a beautiful and natural reserved quality... he didn't try to impress us with how in your face he could be... he played beautifully and from the heart. But on the records, he sounds so amplified! Lesson learned-- you don't have to play loud to sound good!
Watching the mannerisms of great musicians, the way they listen so intently to one another's solos, was also fascinating. Minneapolis saxophonist Mike Lewis (of Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Happy Apple) said that sometimes he enjoys pieces where he doesn't play a whole lot, so he can enjoy what his band mates are playing!
I'll end by saying this. As a musician who has always enjoyed live music, I find it disheartening that its so difficult to find venues to play music in nowadays. When you strive for a high level of artistic excellence in your music and nobody claps after the song ends. When you work on your musicianship only to ask yourself "is anyone even listening?" In the end, I don't need a pat on the back every time I play, and I don't need the approval of an audience to bolster my self-worth. But I put a lot of effort into creating good music, and my desire is to share it with people who might enjoy it and be blessed by it.
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.