1st Semester Comes To A Close, Vancouver Shows Jan. 3 & 15, And Do Artists Need To Struggle To Be Artists?

shot of artHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

First off, let me hype my upcoming Vancouver shows both featuring Miles Black on piano and Joe Poole on drums; they are:

Jan 3rd @ The Cellar: “Party Like It’s 1929!”: A tribute to the classic clarinet trios of Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard, and Benny Goodman and including some new original music by yours truly.

Jan 15th @ The Patricia Hotel: “Celebrating Jelly Roll Morton.” This show, for which I’ve been commissioned by the CBC to write some new music for, will feature a wide variety of Vancouver bands, including my trio. The event is commemorating Jelly Roll’s time spent living and working in Vancouver and will be recorded and broadcast on CBC Radio some time in the new year.

Moving on. Wow!, this 1st semester at McGill really flew by. Seems like only yesterday I was questioning the legitimacy of studying jazz in University and now here I am, thoroughly humbled by and impressed with the teachers here and finding myself really enjoying being an official student of this music again. Who’d have thought?!

Composition class with Jan Jarcyzk has been eye-opening as I’ve learned a few more ways to skin the cat. In particular, I finally realized that the highly structured, theoretical approach to music composition doesn’t have to exist separately from my more intuitive approach. In fact, the technical approach works quite well as a “helping hand,” it can open up different harmonic possibilities outside of my usual bag of tricks while giving cohesive structure to more complicated, advanced harmony. So there you have it; theory, logic, form, and intuition can indeed work together,… in perfect harmony.

Jazz Pedagogy class was surprisingly interesting given that it’s, um,… Jazz Pedagogy for Christ Sake!! For a subject that sounds about as interesting as having your teeth capped, there were actually a lot of interesting discussions about this music and specifically how to teach it without robbing it of all life and inspiration. Among other things it reminded me not to be so critical of how a subject is taught until you’ve tried doing it yourself or, in this case, at least thought about how you would go about teaching it. It ain’t easy, that much I can tell you.

Private lessons with Andre White have been a blast, and writing music for the 10-piece band was a fun challenge.

The only thing that’s been less than satisfactory is my compositional output, not in terms of quality (I mean, Come on!) but in terms of amount and overall direction. Actually, solidifying the compositional direction I’m working towards would problem solve the amount problem. As I’ve mentioned before, what helps to make McGill’s graduate program so good is the freedom you’re given to do what you want to do but along with that comes the responsibility of self-direction and motivation. For me, this involves looking at the big picture and asking “What do I want to get out of this experience of being at school and what do I want my grad school body of work to look like by the time I’m done?” For this first semester however, I kind of tabled the big picture while I had to see if I was even able to do the kind of composing/arranging work required of me. Well, it looks like I can. Sooo,… back to the big picture!

Now, some of you can probably sense another Danderfer blog about artistic planning coming up.

If you did then congratulations, you know me too well! It’s coming soon, not today though; I’ve got some more work to do in that area over the next two weeks and will share the results with you then.

Finally, I’d like to chime in on a little thread that began (partly in jest) in the comments section of this SMNP two weeks ago regarding whether or not “struggling” financially was really necessary for artists. In other words, do artists have to struggle (financially, emotionally, or otherwise) to be artists?

Since it’s rather impossible to put myself in the shoes of those artists who’ve quickly risen to fame and fortune (a few jazz artists come to mind) OR those who’ve struggled more than me (okay, so… just about every great jazz artist comes to mind), I can’t really say.

But my gut tells me that struggle comes with the job, not financially per se but just the nature of being an artist and always striving to be better. “Struggle” is probably the wrong word since it denotes a negative experience, while “journey” denotes a distinct lack of struggle. I think the best word for it is a “calling,” it’s something you’re driven to do for some unknown reason. Strip away the romanticized version of what it is to be a passionate artist and you’re left with the reality of a whole lot of work spurred on by some weird sort of day to day responsibility to yourself to express that certain something inside of you. Yes, it involves passion, struggle, elation, as well as business skills and a never ending workload that you don’t really walk away from at the end of your 9-5. To paraphrase a James Baldwin character “Only someone who could never be an artist would wish to be.”

In short, it’s a great job.

Now, does struggling to pay the rent help me to play the blues? Probably not, except in as much as it’s an experience and as such, good or bad, it informs what I play on some level. I’d have to agree with one commenter who wrote “Just dealing with the music is struggle enough. Being broke is a needless obstacle.”

There’s one thing struggle is good for though, and that’s for showing your conviction. If you’re continuing to work towards your artistic endeavours (with or without long periods of inactivity), year after year, through thick and thin, through numerous successes and heaps of failure then that alone speaks highly of you and your art. Struggle, of any form, may not help our art but it proves the deep connection we feel to it. It proves to ourselves and listeners that “Yes, I believe in what I’m doing, this is important to me, despite this long uphill battle I still have something to express that needs to be heard.”

Thanks for reading and have a great week everyone!