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Entertainment: Not About ONE Thing.

When I was a young player, I took a dim view of other players I knew of who couldn't play very well, but had mastered stick twirling, head-banging, and other bits of showmanship. I thought: What's the use of all the showy stuff if you can't even PLAY your drums? The effect of this thinking was two-fold: I chose to be a drummer first, so I developed my playing, but in the process I didn't develop any kind of showmanship.

It was all about the music, right? It was all about giving the audience the best music I could give them, right?

Well, musicians very often forget that they are entertainers. Music happens to be how they go about it, but their over-arching occupation is entertainment. I've come relatively late to this revelation, only within the past several years. (I wish someone had said it to me when I was that younger drummer!)

It was during the Bebop era of Jazz that the "young lions" shunned the grinning onstage personas of their elders, and during the 60's that rock and blues/rock bands got away from that principle. I'm convinced that part of it grew out of the general rebellious atmosphere of the time, but at the same time both those forms of music underwent a shift toward more complexity and more, for lack of a better word, athleticism. It was serious music, and in that atmosphere, smiling and engaging the audience was considered trite, Sambo stuff. The audience were outsiders looking in.

Why, though, do people enjoy music, and go to see live musicians? Music is something that enables people to relax, to feel happiness (or sadness), and to forget about their problems for a while. Art Blakey put it this way: "Music washes away the dust of everyday life." As entertainers, our job is to facilitate a good time for people. This means that while we're on stage playing for people, we need to do more than just stand up there and play our instruments. We need to engage the audience, and look as though we're having the time of our lives up there - whether we are or not. It's our job. Joy is infectious, and the audience looks to those up on stage as an example.

After all these years, I still LOVE my job ... and I still struggle with making it LOOK like it's fun up there. (Old habits die hard.) Of course, it's not easy being stationary and hidden behind a big set of drums, but nowadays, you can bet that my face doesn't stay set in stone like it used to, and my body moves while I play ... and yes, I twirl my sticks.

It's not about just one thing (musicianship). Next time you hit the stage, try to remember that you're an entertainer. The difference - in you AND in your audience - will be noticeable in short order.

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