[Dixielandjazz] : Mardi Gras >> Band Tips >> What is a Professional?
BudTuba at aol.com
BudTuba at aol.com
Thu Mar 6 21:55:12 PST 2003
In a message dated 3/6/03 5:15:48 PM Eastern Standard Time, zenith at ans.com.au
> When a business man retires from his day job and now only plays music
> fulltime, does that make him a professional musician or are you talking
> union membership here?
The definition of a professional musician versus an amateur musician has been
vented on the DJML many times. There are several contributors who have
devoted their entire lives and beings to music and no one would question
their attitude and approach as anything but profession. As times of want for
playing opportunities came along, they continued to slug it out night after
night and in most cases shunned the opportunities of making a "killing" in
some other way. When someone suddenly appears from out of the woodwork (as
we would say in America) and starts to get popular in music for whatever
reason (maybe an effective manager), there is a natural tendency to wonder
why...why not me? and resentments can be harbored. That could be what makes
some old guard professionals dimiss the upstart as "not professional".
The cause of professionalism is often confused with the musician's union.
Certainly in the old days, the union provided some protection for the large
cadre of people who made music for a living. There were many abuses taken on
musicians to gyp them of their pay or find a lower bidder for a gig, etc., so
the concept of a union found a home. However, in today's free-wheeling world
of entrepenuerialism, who needs a union? What can they do for me?... is the
question that new entertainers quickly dismiss. Our union local has many
members who are lucky to play 10 times a year! Are they being professional
or amateur about their ambition? (Well, they will draw a pension some day.)
I can recall some negative criticism in this forum about Kenny G. Now I
don't really care for his syrupy sax style and will change the station as
soon as I hear it on the radio, but thousands of Americans must like it or
have been convinced by the momentum of their friends to like it, for he
continues to be broadcast frequently. Is Kenny G. a professional musician?
I would have to say yes from what I know. He has reached the status where he
don't need the union. I don't know his union status, but frankly would be
surprised if he is a member.
Now enters a consideration of the amateur musician. I have seen all levels
of skill among amateurs and have played with some who look to me as "having
made it" and played with far more who I think "have made it". I recently
passed through the Eastman School of Music and happened to hear eight tuba
players all crammed into a tiny practise room waiting for the opportunity to
audition for the Marine Band. They were sharing insight and ideas as they
perceived them as to how to pass muster on the test. From the licks I heard,
everyone of them can flow halos of notes on the tuba around me, but are they
professional? Well, not quite...they're either amateurs hoping to become
professional or something in between. Turned out I heard later from a Marine
band alumnus who now resides in Rochester and tutors on the tuba, that only
one of them was accepted from the Eastman School, the first one in eight
years and the one who was accepted...was a pre-freshman not even yet
matriculated! Was he an amateur now turned professional?
What happens when these kids come out of music school with abiliity to burn,
trained in all the idioms, perfect pitch, able to transpose instantly from
any key to any other and play trumpet from a Eb sax part or whatever. Play
church music on Sunday, concert band on Tuesday, and jazz on Friday,
improvising the heck out of stuff with chord progressions much more
complicated than Back Home In Indiana. Do they still have to earn respect by
20 years on the road, to be called "professional" musicians? We have such a
pianist in our band. Is he suddently an "amateur" by playing with us? He
likes what we do because of our roots in the history of the trad jazz style
and he adds to our sound by his knowledge and different perspective. There
is a constant tug and pull to keep him "simple" while he pulls us into the
world of complex.
Now our band has been around for a long time. We are technically amateurs,
having had professions that sustained us over the years. We range from a
research chemist to a handyman in home repair, but we share a great love to
play the sounds of jazz from its earlier formative years. In order to be
able to play that stuff, we need an audience. It is only when you get an
audience, that it fulfills the needs as articulated by Sir Barbone in his
post WHY WE DO IT. So we have to be innovative in how we get audiences. The
days of the good paying nightclub and country club gigs is GONE for eight
piece groups. We pay our professional members more than our non-professional
members. We practise every week to keep our timing right and not forget the
songs. We play a lot of gratis gigs for charity to keep in front of the
community and keep sharp. We play in festivals where we drive 90 miles to
get 45 minutes on the stand. Is our dedication any less professional than
the old guard? We're trying to wave the flag of REMEMBER REAL JAZZ just as
hard as any of them. Jim Cullum started out as an amateur with his dad's
Happy Jazz Band...when did he turn professional?
Well, I'm exhausted from all that typing and heavy breathing. Now I'm going
to sit back and watch the fireworks. As Stonewall Jackson said, "Go to it.
Traditional Jazz since 1958
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