Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When the music dies ...

One thing I have always liked about the 'less-than-commercial' music I enjoy is that the artists remain PEOPLE. I mean, I saw The Police three times during the late 70's - early 80's period, yet have nothing that really keys me into the trio as individual people. Contrast this with my elevator ride with jazz legend John Scofield in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge back in the early 80's. The quick chat in a group setting was casual, fun and REAL. I admit having to take a deep breath because he was the reason I was in the elevator, but considering he had been flying coach and dealing with traffic hassles (same as me) and having a good laugh ... it was all fun.

That sort of connection adds a dimension that is all too often missing these days. Most of the people my kids and wife like have their lives plastered on tabloids and TV shows, dealing with hundreds of paparazzi and bloggers speculating if buying those Twinkees makes them a bad parent. Again, I contrast that with helping Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society finish setting up for a show at my undergrad college way back when ... it was no different than setting up my own stuff from my high school band. Fun conversation and no pretense - and it allowed me to chat with Vernon Reid, who would go on to some fame as the guitarist of Living Color with 'Cult of Personality'.

There are numerous instances where I was able to have some interaction with the musicians and composers I admire, and this has added to my view of them not as disembodied producers of great music, but as people. This connection manifests itself when bad things happen to them - when troubled Emily Remler had drug issues stemming from illness and eventually died of a heart attack at 32 just as she was really beginning to shine, I was saddened for her family as well as the music world. It is interesting that in that smaller community her death was treated so much more respectfully than it would had she been a pop star of any acclaim.

So this week I have already read four obituaries of jazz artist whose work I admire - George Russell, Johnny Griffin, Joe Beck and Hiram Bullock. I was blessed to have seen three of them perform at one time or another.

But the one that really struck me was Hiram Bullock. I saw him play a few times, including with David Sanborn and also with an amazing band led by Jaco Pastorius. He was a serious musician who was never afraid to have fun with his music. He was a performer in a genre where artists let their notes do the talking, and he was a kind person to anyone who approached him. I was thrilled to see him later with the David Letterman house band - he was the guitarist who played barefoot.

I brought this up with my family, but it is really a foreign concept for them - as I said, they like music where the artists end up treated almost as some non-human persona, where any intrusion into their life is justified as 'the price for fame'. There is no disrespect we won't commit in the name of 'needing to know', which amounts to a money-grabbing feeding frenzy often sustained by those who are also screaming the loudest that it is wrong.

But what I tell my kids is this: I am sad that Hiram Bullock died. I am sad for his wife, his adopted kids, and his friends and colleagues; I am sad for fans who have tracked him for decades and for those who have yet to discover his music. But I am happy that I know that he was a person with good and bad traits who produced some wonderful music and also some mediocre music and wasn't always a good employee due to some bad choices. He was human, as are we all. I tell my kids that they need to remember that everyone is just a person, with flaws and strengths and numerous things that shape who they are and the art they produce.

They are people, just as we are people. Music is one of the rare things that permeates every corner of the world - styles and genres and tastes vary widely, but we all love music. It is important to remember that music comes from people, and is a reflection of their own experiences. It is important for several reasons - it is important because it empowers our kids to pursue their dreams to become whatever they want to become; it is important because it reminds us that everyone on the planet deserves the respectful treatment we would like to receive; and it is important because that human connection makes the musical experience more meaningful.

Encourage your kids to love the music that they love, and rather than bemoan how much of the stuff aimed at kids is 'corporate product pop', instead encourage them to remember that there are people behind that music who are really no different than them.

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