You just don't get me, man...

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Thu Sep 22 3:56pm

Last week, I was sent (thanks Denise!) a link to a condensed and edited version of an interview Branford Marsalis did with Chris Kornelis from the Seattle Weekly. (The article is here.) In a nutshell, Branford is suggesting that some jazz artists have some work to do when it comes to connecting their music with their audience. He suggests that:

"So much of jazz, it doesn't even have an audience other than the music students or the jazz musicians themselves, and they're completely in love with virtuosic aspects of the music, so everything is about how fast a guy plays. It's not about the musical content and whether the music is emotionally moving or has passion."

I've reacted to the interview on two fronts. As a music lover and consumer, I agree with his suggestion that music must connect with an audience in a fairly basic way. A listener has to be moved - something has to happen emotionally. Or at least, that's how I react - or want to react - to music. As a life-long student of jazz, I might delve a bit deeper - check out the form or harmony of a composition; examine shifting time signatures or rhythmic groupings - but only if, on the surface, the tune made me bob my head. Or be reflective. Or dance.

As an Artistic Director, the idea of audience appeal becomes especially important. Whether I'm checking out a submission which is straight down the middle or complete far out, the music has to have an appeal beyond "look what I can do." I may be looking to book a free show or a 1200-seat hall - either way, the audience has to dig it. It's certainly not an exact science - why does one improvising ensemble catch my attention more than another? What makes this vocalist "better" than that one? I'm not always sure...beyond the required technical and artistic proficiencies, it's usually just a feeling, an instinct. A musician giving his or her all, or a particularly original approach to a standard.

The creation of music is a tricky subject (never mind the fact that I am with some frequency accused of being a music snob). I recognize the value of creating music which challenges convention, or that is "art for art's sake". Without music and musicians pushing boundaries, I fear the art might never progress. But when it comes to connecting with an audience, or getting a gig at a festival, it takes more than advanced technique and harmonic analysis. It's the soul of the music that will grip me, not the number of chord substitutions you've stuffed into a bar. The two need not be mutually exclusive - there is lots of music that does both - but, to be completely cliche, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing..."

Speaking of swing (what a segue!), I'll be checking out John MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra this Saturday night, September 24th at Walter Hall, located in the basement of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music. It's sure to be a great night - not only is this a Juno Award-winning band, but they're playing the music of Rick Wilkins, one of Canada's great writers. For more information go to - I hope to see you there!

And finally, Yvette Tollar posted this gem on Facebook sometime last week. Sheila Jordan is very good and very hip, capable of connecting with an audience while doing all sorts of wacky things musically. So here she is, being her outgoing self, scatting to some cows. I love it.