Are we over New Year’s Resolutions yet?

It’s 2017 and what better way to usher in the year than another instalment of Borderless Counterpoise. In this edition I have decided to tee off something that doesn’t directly pertain to music per se; New Year’s Resolutions.

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Woop-de-doo… taxpayer funded carbon emissions

The person who was fun on December 31st but is pumping iron with a hangover that could kill a donkey on January 1st. The person who has smoked for 3 years but is waiting for the clock to stroke midnight before they give up the durries. The person who believes the miraculous crystal healings bestowed upon them from the ash of fireworks will instil the beginnings of an odyssey which will show them the many meanings of life. These are the people who recite nonsense phrases like “New year, new me.” “I’m waiting for the new year before I…” “Come January 1st, I’m going to…” and act indignantly, believing that the change of the calendar will also turn them into a completely new person.

And now, here is an emotion most of you who know me will think is completely disingenuous; sympathy. Because, I want to change. You, my beloved reader(s), probably want to change too. Maybe it’s a skill you want to acquire, or something habitual that irks your significant other or your family. Maybe it’s something more vain, like a crooked ear or warped nostril hair.

I can’t blame other humans for that. I want to change, too. I want to get better as a human. I want tidy nostril hair. I want to swim in a pool of Turkish Delight.

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#nye #hashtag #dammit #hangover

The expectations behind life-changing ambitions that are dreamt up by these resolutioneers are often shallow and not thought out; they walk into a gym that takes a year’s worth fees and train twice. They quit smoking cold-turkey but smoke when they drink. They decide to read that book they’ve been meaning to read, but get halfway through the prologue before tearing it up in a fit of rage because they actually hate the fucking book. They usually don’t plan the steps to get to their goal.

This is not to say that resolutions don’t work, or that we shouldn’t change. You should change, yes you! Change now! I hate that thingy that you don’t like about yourself! But don’t go learn origami or some other pointless bullshit (EDIT: I’m sure origami has some cultural significance to some people, just don’t do it because you folded your napkin at the table and thought you were very fucking good at it, white boy). Do something useful.

So, go. Go change. Change as little or as much as you want. Do it now. Heck, do it later. Do it whenever you damn well please, because a change is as good as a holiday. Actually, holidays are way better. But for the love of all that is unholy commit to your change, not to something you said before you came-down off a three-tab’-high last year.

Piece(s) for Peace

I’ve been away fighting internet wars with conservatives. We’ve had an election, a result of that election, and the world is still in a state of decrepitude. But why hasn’t music fixed this yet?

Part of my research for this blog is finding things to disagree with; a task which is incredibly easy. I simply log on to Facebook; a harrowing glimpse at the fringes of pre-zombie-apocalypse society and what they think about the new Ghostbusters film. It doesn’t take long for something to pop up in my feed (usually a meme) that will incite blood-boiling fury. Not all of these are noteworthy; memes come and go. Sometimes I’ll share a meme just to provoke the same reaction that I have with all of your dumb memes; and it always works. I can hear the click-clack of keyboards, as I put on my devil’s advocate costume (it’s just a plain white t-shirt actually).

But this…

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Can’t even see the band

…  is the worst. Words have failed us for centuries, true; but music has yet to say anything. “But the songs speak to me,” you whine. No. No they don’t. Lyrics maybe. Unadulterated music though says nothing in any language. The limitations that music has as a method of communication far outweighs its abilities to communicate on any level.

Given that fact, I challenge any composer or songwriter around the world to write a piece of music that will end wars, end racism, end sexism, and end the prominence of Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump in the media. You will be rewarded with a certificate that says ‘Peacemaker’ and it’ll have your name surrounded by glitter, plus credits for any supplementary honours you may receive from peace orginisations or tertiary institutes. This challenge is legitimate. I will be at Officeworks hunting down appropriate quills, parchments and adhesives this evening.

Having said all of this, it’s important to acknowledge that peace will unlikely be achieved in our lifetime, and possibly in the lifetimes of several generations after we pass. So, be realistic about you expectations of what music can and cannot do.

 

 

 

 

We should all stop calling it ‘Jazz’

Wait! I know you were about to do it. You were about to call yourself a ‘Jazz Musician’. But have you stopped to consider the implications of that? Just because you have a music degree doesn’t mean you know shit about the word ‘jazz’, and the abuse of its context in music making drove me to quoting someone who I musically don’t agree with.

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Nicholas Payton – promoter of #BAM (Black American Music)

When I was 21-or-so, someone gave me a copy of Nicholas Payton’s Nick at Night album. I must have listened to that album around 100 times before I got sick of it. I was very much into composition at that stage and not much into how people got around changes, assessed musical challenges, or the immeasurable intensity that ensembles achieve. The opening track had a harpsichord and bass line that blew my mind, mainly because I had never heard that texture before and I was into it. Clever compositional devices that made me play that album on repeat through the mp3 to tape adapter in my red 1989 Ford Festiva that struggled to make it both up and down hills. Then I got Payton’s Place – which was a bit underwhelming. And then Into The Blue, which was the end of my interest in Nicholas Payton altogether, or so I thought.

More recently though, social media has made it incredibly easy to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ people who were once an inspiration. I got blocked from from Nicholas Payton’s Facebook page for pointing out the irony in quoting yourself for your own Facebook status (seriously). But Payton’s blog on Why Jazz Still Isn’t Cool (the follow-up to his blog Why Jazz Isn’t Cool) is riveting; an amazing article about recognition in music. Despite my reservations toward his mostly arrogant statuses, I have to agree with his words in this case.

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Nicholas Payton – promoter of #BAM (Black American Music)

Now, transcending genre is something that I truly believe in, and cultural appropriation of music is a frenetic horse to hitch your wagon to. Justin Timberlake was berated by Eric Owens for his contribution to the whitewashing of modern R&B music. This was a move that really baffled JayTee (or is it JT?), who responded “the more you realise that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.” I’m no expert, but isn’t that a white dude trying to push ‘delete’ on an issue that doesn’t affect him?

Private institutions teach ‘Jazz’ as a degree without a necessary discussion about the possible stigmas attached to self-associating as a ‘Jazz Musician’. A few institutions have swept this complex issue under the rug by re-branding their courses as ‘Contemporary Music’ or ‘Improvised Music’ while offering no alternative to the ‘Jazz’ curriculum that it once taught under a different roof.

Some institutions are only making it worse – there are universities with an overwhelmingly white population playing ’40s and swing-style Big Band music. Big Band Swing is the music that played over American airwaves while the B-29 bomber ‘Enola Gay’ dropped ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima, which killed nearly 70,000 people instantly. Is that the music they want to be associated with?

Then there is the term itself, as Terry Teachout from Wall Street Journal explains;

“[I]t was widely assumed, apparently incorrectly, that the word “jazz” derived from a similar-sounding slang word that initially meant “energy” but started to be used around the turn of the century as a vulgar term for seminal fluid. Because Storyville, New Orleans’s notorious red-light district, was one of the very first places where jazz was played, both the word and the music itself came to be widely seen as socially disreputable, a sentiment that persisted for decades. And while many whites saw jazz as a black music and held it in contempt for that reason alone, the belief that it was a lower-class music was equally common among status-conscious middle-class blacks.”

The history of ‘Jazz’ is also littered with domestic abuse, sexism, drug overdose, and undiagnosed mental illnesses. At least the Top 40 has some race and gender diversity, and has outspoken allies of LGBTIAQ+ rights, Feminism, Black Lives Matter, and other important equality and other social justice movements. If Jazz died in 1959 as Payton suggests, then it had next to none of the diversity in numbers that music of the 21st-Century does. Be that as it may, the 21st-Century is off to a better start than previous centuries; but we all hope that this is the valley before the peak of equality.

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If you think “Miles Davis has no style,” you probably haven’t seen this photo

All this sets up perfectly for the entry of Miles Davis into the conversation. My favourite ever Miles quote, from a 1982 television interview with Bryant Gumbel, is this; “I don’t like that word, jazz. I think it’s Social Music.” Social Music; this encompasses everyone and everything. It is free from discrimination. It is free from prior contexts. It is not bound to any idea, it IS the idea. And everything else is a cover act. I’m not saying don’t play Mingus charts, but acknowledge that his compositions were born from the frustrated ramblings of a multi-ethnic man born in 1920s America that refused to compromise his own musical integrity; a legacy which is so often forgotten when programming his music. Now, imagine booking that as ‘Jazz’ – that should be criminal.

None of the Jazz heroes ever professed a meaning behind the term. Louis Armstrong was heralded as defining what Jazz is, and even he said “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Wynton Marsalis said that Jazz is “music that swings,” but that discounts the origins of the music and is even open to interpretation, especially if you’ve ever heard a brass band try to ‘swing’. Keith Jarrett said that “if classical music is a clear photograph of a stream, then jazz is that stream,” which is a cryptic metaphor, considering Keith just implied the photo comes before the event. Duke Ellington LOATHED the term. So did Mingus. And Nic Payton prefers Black American Music, and that’s fine too – though the title Wangaratta Black American Music Festival doesn’t have the same ring to it, doesn’t always swing, and is predominantly white Aussies.

All in all, I am an advocate for any and all music without labels. Labeling anything you do as an artist without acknowledging the implications that label may have is irresponsible, and I know so many people who I love and respect who still give themselves the title ‘Jazz Musician’. Aside from that, the ambiguity behind the term Social Music is much more appealing, even if it was conceived by a fairly well documented womaniser and serial domestic abuse miscreant… tortured genius is a can of worms I’ll think about for next time.

 

External Politics and Music

External Politics and Music

Music is quite liberating as a performer. Performers are afforded choices between all permutations of pitches and their placements within time. Whether those choices mean anything is a different argument; either the musician has made those choices for a reason, or a reason the musician made those choices is projected on by the audience. Ever since the advent of secular music, there has been temptation to relate to music through other means – to try and give it another meaning outside of a sacred context.

Before I begin; this is a very narrow set of opinions on what I believe is a broad topic. I’ve decided to break this into two parts – external politics and internal politics of music.

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Art Ensemble of Chicago; some of whom are in traditional African attire

Some musicians have projected politics onto their music. At the height of the civil rights movement in America, the Art Ensemble of Chicago would dress in traditional African clothing and parade through the streets, often integrating other facets of the arts (theatre, visual art, dance) into their performances. Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite is a provocative suite dedicated to the oppression of African-American slaves. Beethoven’s Third Symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. There is an entire genre called ‘National Socialist Black Metal’ which is authenticated by neo-Nazism-driven lyrics.

What makes the diverse types of musics political is the image that has been projected onto it by the artists. Sure, you can hear the anguish in Abbey Lincoln’s voice for the generations of African-Americans who were enslaved. You can hear the war-like bravado that Beethoven may attribute to Bonaparte. And NSBM probably sounds like a very pleasing and politically correct version of MmmBop. But what correlation it has to the music itself is unclear. To clarify, music is just frequencies (and how they are presented over time); not lyrics, not liner notes, not album covers.

The University of California in Santa Barbara’s Music Department presented research on political pop music and whether or not that translates to political fans.

“It is not clear how or to what extent general audiences relate to music on a political level,” the researchers Mark Pedelty and Linda Keefe claim. Political pop appears to attract more political fans, but not the other way around. It simply isn’t enough for me to play my right-wing amigos a Pussy Riot song and all of a sudden they understand feminism.

This week was a massive week in politics and world news, which actually made me nervous before posting this article. Orlando is now home to one of the most brutal firearm-perpetrated massacres since the frontier wars of America. This fact has struck the hearts of patriotic Americans, gun-owners, and anti-gun lobbyists. However, no one has been more saddened by this tragedy than the LGBTIAQ+ community around the globe. This is also coming off one of the most controversial rulings in a rape case ever; Brock Turner received a 6-month sentence for raping a woman. British Labor MP Jo Cox was murdered by Tommy Mair; the gunman allegedly shouted “Britain First,” referencing a far-right political party whose policies are centred around nationalism, anti-immigration, and anti-Islam. I also read, in the same week, about a young woman who courageously poured her heart out about sexual assault in the tertiary education system in Australia. She’s certainly not the first person I have heard of being groomed by a teacher or mentor, and every colleague that I respect hopes she is the last.

The world is in shambles, and no music will ever fix it. That’s not to say that musicians aren’t allowed to have their voices expressed through music. In fact, displaying ones frustration and angst through the arts is why secular music came about in the first place; it was time for music to be separate to the church. At the hands of musicians, so much music has hitched its wagon to political motifs.

I guess music doesn’t necessarily have its own political agenda. It is often attached to one though, and that’s a positive thing. A program like YoWo is a good example. YoWo provides a safe environment for young women to make music together without the competitive masculinity and sexual objectification that young men often inject into the arts. Kendrick Lamar spitting “I don’t give a fuck about ‘no politics’ in rap/My little homie Stunna Deuce ain’t even comin’ back” is voicing an opinion that needs to be heard about violence in and toward the African American community in Compton. And yes, even singing about the Aryan race, no matter how bigoted and totally bizarre it is, is better than lynching people. I’ve introduced lyrics back into the equation, but that’s part of projecting an agenda onto music.

 

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NSBM is actually totes fucked – here’s a basket of puppies instead.

Besides all that, you can align your choices politically with what you listen to. David Bowie was a statutory rapist – if you don’t like statutory rape, don’t listen to David Bowie, or choose to leave your political projections out of music altogether. Eminem has a tonne of controversial lyrics about violence against and objectification of women – don’t like that, time to turn off Marshall Mathers. Miles Davis had drug-induced rage spirals where he’d get violent with his partners. Chet Baker forced his wife to shoot up heroin using the same needle he and a drug dealer used before him.

It’s hard to force an ultimatum of a moral moratorium on the work of badly-behaved musicians, but it’s time audiences considered the role of their politics in their listening choices. It’s like consuming anything else; if it was the same price, you’d choose the free-range eggs and not the cage eggs, right? Or maybe you walk into a restaurant without a care of where any of the produce comes from, with a just-let-me-eat-my-pork-slider attitude.

Musicians have been using their art to convey their political agendas since the advent of secular music. It’s not their responsibility to fix the world with music, even though it might tip a few fence-sitters one way or the other. Artists are respondents to their environment, That’s why it’s great to make music to voice pleasure or disgust in a social environment made up of people who have opposing political views. Just don’t expect music to change anything except itself.

 

The Goodest Music

The Goodest Music

Music as a concept is good. It is sound organised in such a way that can be intriguing to the ear of the listener. But what makes a piece of music, an improvisation, or even a song, good?

There are many opinions on the topic of good music. Daniel Robert Dinu described music as sounding bad or good depending on timbre and the relationship between melody and harmony. He also states that “in western music there are two types of scales, the major and the minor. The best way to explain the difference between them is simply, major scales sound happy and minor scales sound sad,” and you probably know how I feel about that (it’s bullshit). He also doesn’t mention rhythm and cites Morgan Freeman as being more listenable than Justin Bieber (which I don’t dispute, but he is conflating subjects).

Clearly this Dinu fellow has been huffing on the glass barbie. So I work backwards by starting with what I think is good music. Well, I don’t think much of it is good and a lot of it just is, and if it captivates my full attention for the entire duration, then I enjoy it (that is until I hear exactly that again, and maybe again, then I start to appreciate it less and less and eventually destroy it, meaning none of it is good for long). I played my significant other, playwright and blogger, Jessica Bellamy some music. She found Freddie Hubbard, Toto, 1000 Names, Xavier Cugat, Miles Davis, and Marc Hannaford all fun (I am so lucky). But then I redirected to a clip of Jeremy Ellis, and instantly her radar for dickheadery pinged. For those of you unfamiliar with Jeremy Ellis, he’s basically a button pusher – just an extremely dexterous and technically proficient one who does all of his button pushing live (as he explains “when I stop pushing buttons, the music stops”). I guess, he does give off a dickhead vibe; google glass, mane of curly red hair not unlike the comedian Carrot Top, and stage banter that is beyond arrogant. But not once did Jess say anything was ‘good’ (even though I was trying to squeeze that answer out of her).

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Jeremy Ellis – the Carrot Top of the EDM world.

Good music isn’t an artist or song or personality, then. What about being good at what you do? Take, for example, trumpeter Peter Evans: a trumpeter who is doing shit on the instrument that is unfathomable to 99.9% of the brass-playing population. Yet Evans has received so much online hate for his albums and performances. Jack Walrath once called him a fraud and posted a berating and sarcastic review of Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s Blue on Amazon (under a guise). Jack happens to be one of the most abysmal excuses for a trumpeter I’ve ever heard, and recently posted clips of himself on a jazz trumpet forum that made my ears bleed (self-inflicted, I just wanted the noise to stop). BUT, that album simply isn’t good to Jack Walrath (Jack Walrath’s favourite trumpeter is Jack Walrath, by the way). So even if you’re blindingly good at your instrument, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make music that is universally good.

So, you or I can’t make good music, nor can Morgan Freeman. But, we are still entitled to think music is good, because music is an art and art is subject to our individual tastes. So that means making good music is subjective too; which I often forget when I’m being critical of Justin Bieber (who doesn’t actually make music, he’s just a singer).

What’s my point again? Oh yeah, that’s right – I don’t care about your opinion of what you think good music is, and I don’t expect you to care about mine. BUT, maybe we should be listening for what others think is good in music, it might surprise you. Nicki Minaj displays incredible timbral versatility with her voice and is a major contributor to the subversion of male dominated rap culture. Late Coltrane is a great study in intensity and the new (at-the-time) relationships between harmony and melody. And that Snarky Barky band that’s playing around town at the moment play boring music really well together. Point is, you can find the good in anything and even then, doesn’t mean it’s actually good.

All in all – all music is good, just as much as it’s totally shit. Glad that’s settled.

Unneccesary Impositions to Young Ears

Unneccesary Impositions to Young Ears

Education, by all accounts, is a privilege for some and a right for others. Westerners are afforded education as a right, but some are not so fortunate. A classical music education is something we are lucky to receive in Australia; as a matter of fact, the majority of the Western world does. In other places, music is a integrated part of culture, which is educated through time-tested aural methods and other non-formal study (learning from a teacher, rather than from an institution). But is music education really that important?

Another example of purist bigotry was published by The Telegraph this week. I was actually planning on writing about something else this week, but this really ground a notch into my intolerance post.

“Needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English. But, suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.”

Those are the misguided words of violinist and pro-music education spokesperson Nicola Benedetti. I shared the article just to get a few piques. I thought I’d reserve my own opinions for this article because I guess I really don’t care about Facebook all that much.

Arts education is often prioritised further down the ladder than artists would like. Musicians seem to catastrophise more than others, because there is no universal theory of music. Of the arts, music is the least direct because of people like Nicola Benedetti claiming that classical music “…has life lessons, … uplift and joy and sorrow and tragedy – all the things that you will have to deal with in your life at some point.” In reality, it’s just a bunch of frequencies tempered to a twelve note system organised by dividing those frequencies into measures of time.

It sounds like Benedetti has confused Mozart with Shakespeare. On that point, the dramatic arts offers two honourable roles in your life that are very meaningful; maid of honour/best man speech, and a eulogy. You’ll be able to script it, time it comedically, perform it with confidence, and you’ll know which side of the stage is safe to exit when you’ve used the old “all past lovers can now give back those keys” joke at both events. We may have a need to draw something as an explanation or diagram (like in visual arts). We may need to be flexible and fit to get out of an awkward situation (like in dance, probably best you don’t read into that too much). But there is no specific life  skill that requires understanding of music, other than understanding music.

And before I get a billion emails from educators and every advocate for music education, let me make something clear: understanding how music is made makes it so much more beautiful. And we’ll never really know how it works. The human race has been studying music from every angle to try and understand it better, but the beauty is in the details of music from all periods and cultures. The beauty of music is in the study and performance of it, and it’s a great part of a well rounded education. But forcing someone to appreciate a symphony makes music out to be an undesirable pursuit of theories in a artistic climate that has moved 200 years beyond that.

“[I]f you were to turn round and say to a kids: ‘Would you like to play video games or would you like to have a maths lesson?’ Of course, they’re going to go for the video games,” Benedetti claims. In a generation that would prefer a video games over school, it’s no wonder we have electronic musicians creating music without having a background in music theory. And despite what musicians with a more formal education may think of that method of music making, it actually doesn’t make it any less music as what they are doing – there is no more or less “musical”.

I don’t think Nicola Benedetti intends to be voicing the outdated opinions of classical music education; her passion for music education is to revive the dying art form that is European classical music. The problem with that particular style of teaching is that music isn’t stagnant. Mozart moved past Bach. Time for self-proclaimed ‘classical’ musicians to move forward too – both in standards of education and performance.

Enviable Stratagem of Commercially Successful Instrumentalists

Enviable Stratagem of Commercially Successful Instrumentalists

In Western society we have a new, seemingly more accurate, way of measuring how successful your music career is: how much your concert tickets cost and how many social media followers you have. For example, Nigel Kennedy: 2994 Twitter followers, 29,652 likes on Facebook, concert tickets from around AU$40 in his home country (UK). Not bad, Kennedy, not bad. This is quite enviable for a musician who isn’t selling out concert halls and reaching 30,000-odd punters at the click of a button, because all musicians want is to be heard and continue to live (pay bills, pay rent, eat food, buy more instruments).

This is a common, yet achievable, pipe-dream among jobbing musicians: survive off your art, without compromising your art. Sure, you may have to split the bill on an order of 8 dumplings between 4 simpaticos, or fabricate cappuccinos for hipsters, or (heaven forbid) take a wedding gig every now and then, but all these things are doable. And it seems that the rich and famous have it sorted: tour the world, make your art, enjoy the finer things, repeat. This begs the question, “why do we put these successful musicians down?” I happen to think, at least from my own experience, this attitude is born from envy.

For example, I envy so much about Kenny G (34,200 Twitter followers, 1.6 million likes on Facebook, AU$65 to see him in Budapest): the bank account, the slender tailored outfits, the ‘doing what you love for a living,’ the unrelenting mass of well-groomed hair, wise investments in Starbucks, a couple of aircraft, and a single-figure handicap on the golf course. However, I’d rather listen to a soundtrack of senior citizens hanging out laundry than hear Kenny G butcher Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World again. You see, G isn’t known for being an ultra-musical polymath who transcends the dichotomy of smooth and modern jazz saxophone whilst still upholding the values of high art in motion that the finest improvising musicians are known for. In the words of guitarist Pat Metheny, “there must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments.” So apart from being a heinous saxophone player, G also has the nerve to persistently cover the work of others or provide the world with an unadventurous, über-diatonic soundtrack to auto-fellatio. Why would I, or anyone else, envy that?

Well, what about someone with less controversial criticism to his name (maybe more followers than that Kennedy chump too)? André Rieu: 64,000 followers on Twitter, 1.8 million likes on Facebook, and starting price of AU$80 a ticket to see him in the nosebleeds of Rod Laver Arena later this year. This is more like it! With numerical credibility like that, Rieu must be the greatest living classical musician. I should expect a revolutionary on the violin, and a infallible concertmaster.

I pull up a random YouTube clip of Rieu. A golden carriage worth over AU$50 million rolls onto the stage. The set is like a Viennese gondola ride: white dresses, flaxen hair, coattails and bow ties. When the music began, I instantly pummeled my fist into a concrete pillar with fury. I discover Rieu plays the music of dead, white, European men, exclusively. And by ‘plays’ I mean, looks like he’s trying really hard by pulling the O-face while literally fiddling with himself. He doesn’t give a shit about harmony, or time, or anything musical except the alert tone from his phone when another cheque clears.

This envy I harbour for G and André (even Nigel no-followers), isn’t about money, or fame, or golf handicaps. It’s about exposure. I also feel disappointment over what they’re exposing the public to. A ‘new’ version of a Viennese waltz? A ‘new’ version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? A ‘new’ version of the song which is a subversively optimistic outlook on the racial and political climate of 1960s America? What is their concept? “Ignore music”? Part of me now sympathises with Nigel Kennedy, though, because out of the three, he genuinely tries to do ‘new’ things with old repertoire; but that’s like that edible soil bullshit you see in trendy restaurants – it’s just old grated chocolate, and the Four Seasons is just Vivaldi. But is it really a surprise; three middle-aged, upper-class, white men dominating the financial pissing contest in instrumental music?
My final hope looks promising. A humble 5,671 Twitter followers, 17,464 likes on Facebook, and I remember seeing him as an impressionable teenager for a small fee that even my single mother could afford. He’s revered internationally; a feature at the 2016 International Jazz Day celebrations at the White House, head of a tertiary education institute that specialises in jazz, and he’s technically able on almost any instrument, with the exception of drums (which his brother plays). His life is luxurious; yachts, planes, rally cars, an enviable collection of musical instruments, and two sons which are following in their father’s footsteps to the noble path of clocking the jazz idiom. It breaks my heart to think that James Morrison, a stand-up guy with students who are in awe of him as a musician, has relied on gimmicks for his entire career. This is tough. Every Australian trumpeter I know has owned (or copied) a J-Mo album and heard it in its entirety. And if you, my faithful but now furious reader, are into short term thrills like having sex with bear traps, then J-Mo is your guy. If you like sophisticated harmonic choices, interesting rhythmic interplay, and unique melodic choices, I suggest you look elsewhere.

The entire reason that any of the aforementioned musicians are rich and famous is because they found their gimmick and began to flog it to death. All of these musicians have worked very hard to achieve this goal too, no question. James Morrison can play all the learned patterns over 3-6-2-5s on cor anglais and piccolo trumpet until he decides to stop, just like André Rieu can play Strauss from memory on the violin while thinking about what region his next bottle of wine is going to come from.  And Kenny G… has a marvelous head of luscious curls, and that takes dedication. But they’re all tricks; a magician who has perfected slight-of-hand magic isn’t actually making the coin disappear. And if you like these performers, by all means don’t take what I am saying about them to heart. This is an opinion column. If this is the version of success in music that you’re after, you don’t need to thank me for giving you the formula. Find a gimmick, manipulate it and publicise it, and don’t change. Create music as a means of searching for something more than money, fame, or perpetual discounts at Starbucks, get obsessed by the intellectual pursuit of music itself and don’t let envy ruin your routine.