Strange Duos with Kurt Elling
A week after getting back from Japan I did a couple of gigs with Blue Note vocalist Kurt Elling. I've been doing less and less sideman work of late but Kurt's stuff is so different from my "immediate world" that it never seems to interfere with my other projects, so I though "what the heck". It turned out that our first gig was at Macy's (!) - a "jazz fashion show" sponsored by Jazziz and Vogue, in which various major label jazz artists performed and alternated with models showing their "wares". One artist in particular attracted my attention (and who shall remain nameless :-). Perhaps normally the procedings would not have left any particular imprint on my mind, but as I was discussing with Kurt, I am currently weighing whether to sign with a major label myself, and so I was I guess feeling particularly sensitive about the whole major label "machine". This particular artist's appearance was actually preceded by the distribution of postcards advertising the impending release of her new CD, which featured, among other cuts, a rendition of a song from an extremely successful pop album and in which she was pictured posing provocatively in an almost "sex kitten" style. This song choice struck me as a rather cynical and obvious choice of material (of course I have to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she chose the tune because she sincerely likes the tune, period :-)).The artist first brought out what appeared to be a DAT tape machine to provide an accompaniment designed, I guess, to mirror as closely as possible how her music sounds on the "smooth jazz" radio stations it probably is mostly played on. She was also accompanied by an attractive female bass player (with whom I think I actually went to school), performing in a vaguely see-thru white blouse. When it came time for her to play, the DAT machine actually was I suppose set in the wrong place, so we were treated to little snippets of the wrong rhythm tracks for presumably other cuts from her album. Finally, she found what she was looking for and proceded to "play along", literally, with the recording. I know this sounds overly-purist of me (perhaps at age 31 I'm just getting "old" and stuck in my ways :-)) but it struck me as striking that she felt the need to play with the aid of a tape for such a small, intimate event.
I mention the above not to be overly critical (too late! :-) but because it underscored some of the fears I have about the "major label" experience - the focus on quick business/market decisions instead of musically truthful ones, the over-emphasis on image and style over content, etc., etc. I was almost ready to "throw in the towel" with respect to majors right there, after her performance. Thankfully, however, when Kurt and I performed, the audience seemed to sincerely like what we were doing, and I guess this reminded me that whatever one's approach, if one is honest and truthful, one hopefully can't help but connect. So I guess I concluded that as long as I could maintain that sensibility in whatever context my music is destined to appear in, I should be ok (knocking vigorously on wood :-)...)
The next day Kurt and I performed for a "day time morning show" in Connecticut. I won't say much about this, except two things: 1) one of the other guests on the performance was a man whose name currently excapes me, but he's the Nobel-prize-winning guy who discovered the modern method of doing DNA analysis - just seemed interest to be even remotely in a context where I could run into and talk "shop" with a guy like this and 2) the comment the show's producer made to Kurt and I right before our 3 minute promo performance, after we told her we were jazz musicians, which was "Are you going to improvise? Most people are afraid to when they go on live tv." All we could say was something to the effect of "uh, well, that's what we do, but don't worry, we're trained professionals and everything should go all right", etc., etc...