Greg Osby on the audience and musicians who play for themselves

From Openskyjazz:

The always thoughtful saxophonist-composer and record label (Inner Circle head Greg Osby weighs in on the audience in general, with a particular emphasis on calling into question musicians who only seem to play for their own self-aggrandizement and that of their peer musicians.

A recent conversation with one of my colleagues was both illuminating and also sad at the same time. My friend, who had just completed a lengthy tour, was lamenting that for the entire duration of the tour, he felt that the audiences just didn’t “get him” or were oblivious or apathetic to his mission as an artist. (“They just weren’t hearing me, Man.”) I attempted to reassure him that we, in improvised music, are often subjected to blank stares and less than ideal responses to much of our proud work that we may have spent a great deal of time developing. Our audience numbers and the amounts of positive feedback are considerably lower than that for other situations that usually have fewer demands on them in terms of sacrifice, intent or pure artistry. This is a fact that we have been conditioned to regard as normal and therefore have accepted.

I have often struggled with this notion myself, given that I have endeavored to be as provocative and progressive with my work as is necessary in order to inspire myself and my bands, as well as to leave the audience with imagery that would be reflective of my full artistic intentions and purpose. Producing experimental, risk-taking music and stretching conceptual parameters has been what my peers and I consider to be quite normal, and we impose very specific expectations on ourselves as well as on each other concerning how things should progress or be constructed. However, what I consider normal and acceptable has often been dismissed as “cerebral, left-of-center, “cutting edge”, and I am often called a maverick or even controversial. Although I understand the need for description, it has dawned on me that these labels, as well as my failure to connect with audiences outside my own artistic indulgences are what, on a broader scale have served to fail the music in terms of “reaching the people on a very basic level.

My current dilemma was more clearly illustrated when I played a few tracks from my latest release “9 Levels” a year ago for my sister in St. Louis. Mind you, my sister has never been one to tactfully withhold her opinion. Although never deliberately malicious, her candor has a sting to it that is often misinterpreted. After listening to said tracks, I wanted her honest overview of what she’d heard. Her response, although jarring, was quite possibly the eye/ear opener that I’d needed, and it was probably necessary that I’d heard it from a loved one as opposed to someone with a questionable agenda. She said that my work sounded like Mad Clown Music, and that it gave her the impression similar to that of a multi-act circus with the sword swallower in one ring, multiples of clowns trying to fit in a small car in the next, acrobats on the flying trapeze and trained seal, lions and elephants – all going on at once. To her, it was impossible for her to focus on any one element because so much information was bombarding her auditory senses at the same time.

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