Authenticity

August 30, 2018

I feel that as a genre, smooth jazz for the most part is departing in some ways from authenticity. Heck of a way to start a post, right? Seemingly bashing the genre of music that I'm a part of and embrace. But I'm not bashing it, I'm simply pointing out what I've seen and experienced for the last decade or two. Hear me out, and you may or may not have a new perspective. That's for you to decide. I'm simply speaking my mind from experience.

 

Anybody that knows me will tell you that I'm not afraid to speak my mind, even if it may cause some controversy. But if it's something I've experienced, researched, or seen personally, I will stand by it wholeheartedly with no remorse. That being said, when we think of live performances, many people interpret this experience in their own way. Some want the performer to put on a visual show. Others go for the experience of hearing and seeing the music played in a way that they can't get on the record. And a few may even want the experience of just seeing what it looks like to see the artists play what's on the record. Each person has their own reasons, and no one has control of that but the individual listener. Most importantly, it's no fault of their own; they have that right.

 

With that in mind, it's the performer's job to figure out which one is natural to them. Notice that I didn't say which one they think people want to see. Personally, I enjoy giving people something that they can't get on the record. A new interpretation with every performance influenced by my thoughts, emotions and daily experiences. Even if I were to play the same song twice in a row for some strange reason, I would not play it the same way. I often will give the band cues at any moment to extend, skip or create a new section during the performance based on how I feel. Now I've been to plenty of concerts that span various genres, and the ones I enjoyed the most were those from artists who did what was natural. As for the unnatural performers, it was plainly obvious that they were "faking" it. Personally, it makes me uncomfortable to see someone on stage faking the funk, literally. It's nauseating in fact. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's my reality and the reality of many others I've spoken with.

 

History tells us that there are artists who are very authentic within the genre. So much so that they started a trend. The problem is too many artists are simply copying what these trendsetters have done, straying from what is natural to them. The result is an unauthentic performance that screams, "Look at me, I can do it too!" This has been going on for so long within the genre that it's now more or less an expectation that you perform in a particular manner started by the trendsetters. And this is no fault of the trendsetters. It's the fault of the people too afraid to do things their own way, the way that works for them and is natural to who they are, not only as a musician but as a person. The sad part is that audiences and tastemakers have been conditioned to see this for so long that they hardly notice it, and anything authentic gets shunned as either over the top, too boring, too different, or not conforming to the "standard" which in and of itself doesn't exist. There is no standard when art is involved. If you disagree, simply take a look at Picasso's work or listen to Prince and Stevie Wonder. Or you could look at Michael Jordan and admire his unique accomplishments and style. The list of bold individuals goes on and on. It's hard to make a difference in any aspect of life if you're simply emulating someone else. The true powerhouses in their field are the ones unafraid of criticism and rejection and who unfailingly stay true to themselves.

 

So are there artists who are still authentic? Definitely. Some of them are accepted, and others are rejected. Some people like one artist's style, and others may hate that same artist's style. And that's the beauty of the creative field. You will not please everybody. And you certainly shouldn't. I can tell you that trying to please everyone is one of the fastest routes to true failure. It's not the artist's job to change the minds of listeners and observers. The artist's job is to convey their art in a natural way and leave it to the viewer/listener to decide whether or not they like it. Let's all keep an open mind and stay true to ourselves, both as listeners and performers.

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