Posted by keithosaunders on December 1, 2011
When you’re a musician you’re always balancing your ego with your talent. You’re thinking about the music — how can I make it sound as good as possible, how best to interact with the rhythm section, and, as a pianist and accompanist, how can I best compliment the soloist.
Yet you crave validation and acceptance from the audience, as well as your peers. It’s natural to do so, I suppose, but there are times when this need can play havoc with your head.
The other day I had finished the first set of my Sunday gig when one of the audience members introduced himself as a fellow pianist. He complimented me, but only tepidly, and years of being in the jazz trenches had me realizing that he was sizing me up — taking my measure.
He asked who I had played with when I had lived in New York. I could have dropped some names — notable people who I had come into contact with during my 26 years there — but I preferred to mention those with whom I had played the most steadily — great players in their own right, yet not as widely known to people outside of the New York area.
I could tell he was unimpressed and he proceeded to give me a little of his background. Somehow this morphed into a didactic lecture on the jazz schools that were Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Betty Carter group. (not that they were real schools, just that playing with these masters was like being in school)
He was going on and on, and suddenly I realized that this guy was talking down to me. and he began to irk me. Of course I knew about Art Blakey and Betty Carter — any jazz novice, let alone a veteran, would know this. I began to lose patience with him and rather than have a blowup I decided to remove myself from the situation, excused myself, and went over to talk to another pianist.
I realized that I had walked into a trap. This guy may have been a west coast musician, but he had the vibing acumen of a seasoned New Yorker.
The punchline is that he sat in and brought down the house with a great solo on a blues. I felt it was gimmicky, yet I couldn’t deny that he had talent. Let’s face it, he cut me.
I have to give it up to this guy, though. It’s possible he woke me out of a stupor, because the next set, and the next night, I played with renewed intensity and fire. I’ll be ready for this guy the next time I see him, if only to avoid talking to him.