Banishing stage fright with the Jazzmen
Banishing stage fright with the Jazzmen
Last week I told you the story of Darryl Jones, who played bass for Sting when he started his solo career with the album Dream of the Blue Turtles. Today I want to tell you about another of Sting’s musicians, so that we can learn another useful tool to conquer stage fright.
To recap the story…
If you recall, Sting was trying something totally new. He was leaving a very successful band, and was striking it out on his own with a whole new group of musicians. They were about to play their first concert – a new band, playing a set of songs where half were completely new and unheard, and all of which were being re-interpreted. Sting, if you recall, hadn’t got together just any old band. He had found a group of jazz musicians, and was creating a whole new jazz-rock fusion sound.
Director Michael Apted filmed the build-up to the concert. He asked each musician in turn if they were nervous. Last week we learned from Darryl Jones’ reply. This week we turn to saxophonist Branford Marsalis, to see what he can teach us.
The other jazz man.
Branford Marsalis is another profoundly inventive jazz musician. Back in 1985 he was just at the beginning of his career, but he already had an impressive resume. And he was never one to mince his words! So when Michael Apted asked him if he was nervous about the upcoming gig with Sting, this is what he said:.
“If I was Sting I might be nervous but I’m not Sting, I play jazz, I know what it’s like to be shat on, you know what I mean? I am a jazz musician, I know what it’s like to play some stuff that nobody wants to hear.”*
I know this is a little stronger language than normally appears in my articles, so bear with me…
Branford Marsalis isn’t nervous. Why not? Because he is used to an audience not necessarily liking the music he is playing! Marsalis here leads us towards what I believe is a very strong motivating factor that lies behind many performers’ stage fright:
they fear the audience’s bad opinion.
Fear of the audience is a strong reason why people fear going out to perform. Back when I worked in professional theatre, I can remember actors nervously peering out from the wings, scanning the audience suspiciously, and wondering if they would be a ‘good’ house that night. And by ‘good’, they meant an audience that liked them and liked the play.
Wanting to be liked is completely understandable and natural. The problem arises when we think about the audience so much that we begin to lose sight of what it is that we need to do in order to win their good opinion.
We need to perform.
In other words, we need to summon up all that we have learned from our hours of research and rehearsal, all the work that we have done, and carry out the performance in a way that we have reasoned out is going to best achieve our goals.
‘But shouldn’t we be thinking about the audience?’ I hear you cry. Well… Yes, but not in the way that most people do. Obviously we need to remember that the audience is there. But do we need to tie ourselves in knots to try to please them? Well, no, not according to Branford Marsalis! His experience very clearly included situations where, in pursuit of his creative goals, he played in such a way that the audience just didn’t like it. On that day. At that time.
The thing is, not everyone can be happy all the time. But what might you sacrifice in order to satisfy your audience? What if Stravinsky had burned the score of The Rite of Spring straight after its controversial first performance? Western classical music would have been very different!
FM Alexander said, “where the ‘means-whereby’ are right for the purpose, desired ends will come. They are inevitable. Why then be concerned as to the manner or speed of their coming? we should reserve all thought, energy. And concern for the means whereby we may command the manner of their coming.”
Branford Marsalis, when faced with the choice of playing the way he wanted, or trying to be ‘right’ for the audience, chose to play in the way that he had decided was best. He stuck with the process he had chosen. And fear of the audience’s reaction became unimportant as a result.
What about you? Will you stick to the process you’ve reasoned out will get you to your goal?
* Sting, Bring on the Night, directed by Michael Apted. Quote occurs at about 60.58 on the DVD release.
** FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.587.
The 110-year-old Titanic violin that miraculously survived the sinking ship
The 110-year-old Titanic violin that miraculously survived the sinking ship
This violin holds a lifetime of stories in the grain of its wood…
Of all the instruments in the world, violins and other string instruments are often renowned for their longevity, with the centuries-old creations of Italian luthiers, Amati and Stradivari, holding hundreds of years’ worth of stories, and selling for millions of pounds today.
Few, however, can compete with that of the Titanic violin – the instrument played in April 1912, as the RMS Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean after its fatal collision with an iceberg.
Today, the violin is held at the Titanic Museum in Tennessee, as part of their public display of artefacts and memorabilia from the ship.
But the story of how it got there is not quite so simple…
A wedding that never took place
The now-famous violin was crafted in Germany in 1910, and was gifted to Wallace Hartley of Colne, Lancashire, as an engagement present from his new fiancée Maria Robinson. An inscription on the instrument’s tailpiece read, ‘For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement, from Maria’.
The sweethearts likely met in Leeds, where Hartley played as a musician in various institutions around the city. Having previously provided musical entertainment on the RMS Mauretania, Hartley was contacted shortly before the RMS Titanic departed from Southampton on its maiden voyage with a request that he become its bandleader.
After his initial reluctance at leaving his fiancée, Hartley agreed to join the transatlantic crossing, hoping to secure future work with some new contacts before returning for his June wedding.
Tragically, the wedding never took place. Four days into the crossing, the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic ocean, and sank on the 15 April 1912, taking more than 1,500 passengers and crew members with it – Hartley included.
‘Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight’
In a depiction made famous by the 1997 film Titanic (see above), the eight musicians on board the ship continued to play amid the havoc, as women, children and first-class passengers were loaded hurriedly onto lifeboats.
At maximum capacity, the lifeboats barely had space for half the people on the ship, and as the wooden boats began to depart with seats still vacant, it soon became clear that many of those still on board the rapidly sinking cruise liner would not be saved.
As was his command, bandleader Wallace H. Hartley gathered his seven fellow musicians to play music in an attempt to calm the pandemonium and still people’s fears. Survivors of the ship report that the band played upbeat music, including ragtime and popular comic songs of the late 19th and early 20th century.
One of the popular myths surrounding the Titanic and its historic fate is that the band played the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ in their final moments. Some accounts dispute this, claiming that the musicians were last heard playing Archibald Joyce’s waltz, ‘Dream of Autumn’, before abandoning their instruments.
If the musicians were indeed playing music to the very end, it does seem likely that Hartley would have chosen the hymn as their swan song.
Hartley’s father, Albion, was the choirmaster at the Methodist chapel in the family’s hometown, and had introduced ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ to the congregation.
Hartley had also told a former colleague on the Mauretania that, should he ever find himself aboard a sinking ship, the hymn would be one of two pieces he would play in his final moments – a chilling foreshadowing of events to come.
Only three of the musicians’ bodies were recovered from the wreckage, including Hartley’s. A detailed inventory documents the personal effects that were found with him, including a gold fountain pen and silver match box, both engraved with his initials, and a diamond solitaire ring.
Rediscovered in an attic
Despite some reports to the contrary, there is no evidence that his violin was found strapped to his chest in its case. We do know, however, that it must have been recovered, along with a satchel embossed with Hartley’s initials, as a telegram transcript from Maria Robinson to the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia reads, ‘I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiancé’s violin’.
When Robinson died in 1939, her sister gave the violin to the Bridlington Salvation Army, who passed it on to a violin teacher. The teacher passed it on further, and in 2004 it was rediscovered in an attic in the UK.
Sceptics initially refused to believe that this could be the real thing, assuming that the violin would have been so badly damaged by water that it simply could not have survived.
However, after nine years of evidence gathering and forensic analysis, including CT scans and a certification by the Gemological Association of Great Britain, it was confirmed that this was, in fact, the violin that Wallace Hartley had played aboard the RMS Titanic.
Forensic experts certified that the engraving on the metal tailpiece was “contemporary with those made in 1910”, and that the instrument’s “corrosion deposits were considered compatible with immersion in sea water”.
Sold for nearly a million
On 19 October 2013, the violin was sold at auction by Henry Aldridge & Son in Wiltshire for £900,000 (equivalent to over £1,000,000 in 2022), a record figure for Titanic memorabilia. The previous record was thought to have been £220,000 paid in 2011 for a plan of the ship that had been used to inform the inquiry into the ship’s sinking.
The violin is irreparably damaged and deemed unplayable, with two large cracks caused by water damage and only two remaining strings. Its current owners are unknown, but believed to be British.
As for Hartley, he was buried in his hometown of Colne in Lancashire, at a funeral service that was attended by over 20,000 people, and included the hymn that will forever be associated with him, ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’.
The headstone of his final resting place includes an inscription of the hymn’s opening notes, above a violin carved out of stone.
Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69
Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69
In a nod to how Redbone sought to exist outside of time, much less current musical styles, his death announcement gave his age as 127.
Singer-songwriter Leon Redbone, who specialized in old-school vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley-style music, died Thursday, his family confirmed. He was 69. Though, in characteristically whimsical fashion, the official statement announcing his death gave his age as 127.
Although Redbone’s pop-defying predilection for seemingly antiquated musical styles of the ’20s and ’30s made him the unlikeliest of stars, he became one anyway, appearing several times as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” — including two spots in the inaugural 1975-76 season alone — and landing frequent appearances with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” into the 1980s. Later popular successes had him singing the themes for TV’s “Mr. Beledevere” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” along with contributing a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel to the soundtrack of “Elf,” for which he also voiced the animated character of Leon the Snowman.
Redbone had officially retired in 2015, with a representative then citing unspecified health concerns that had “been a matter of concern for some time” as the reason for his being unable to continue performing or recording.
A post on Redbone’s website confirming his death contained enough deadpan humor and obvious fiction that it was almost certainly prepared in advance by the singer himself. “It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127,” it read. “He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody.’”
Ironically, one of Redbone’s most popular concert pieces was “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” — a number that incorporated whistling solos that further ensured Redbone would be talked about in his absence. That song title, which dates back to 1930, was adapted as the name of a documentary about Redbone that premiered at festivals in 2018 but has not yet been widely released.
Redbone’s improbable career saw the release of 16 full-length albums beginning with “On the Track,” his 1975 debut on Warner Bros. He went on to put out albums on his own August imprint through Blue Thumb, Private Music and Rounder, with his final new release, 2014’s “Flying By,” issued through his August Records imprint (distributed by Rounder), as were all of his recordings dating back to the mid-1980s.
Jack White was a fan, as became clear with Third Man Records’ 2016 re-release of Redbone’s Warner Bros debut as well as “Long Way from Home,” a new collection of recordings unearthed from the early ’70s, before he was ever signed.
White was only the latest in a long line of celebrity acolytes, starting with Bob Dylan, who first turned Rolling Stone on to Redbone in 1974 when he told the magazine, “Leon interests me. I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell, but you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”
Bonnie Raitt was another huge supporter, saying, “He’s probably the best combination of singer-guitarist I’ve ever heard.”
The fabulism in the statement of Redbone’s passing on his website was nothing new for the singer. When he was first profiled by Rolling Stone prior to his debut album coming out, the autobiographical details he gave out included: “My father was Paganini and my mother was Jenny Lind. Wunnerful, wunnerful.”
In later speaking about his preference for remaining enigmatic, Redbone said, “I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there.”
As writer Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle once put it: “To get caught up in biographical detail is to miss the point of the creation of Leon Redbone. The 1960s folk revival restored awareness about influential American blues players. But other worlds of old music and performance were left in mothballs: ragtime and old-time jazz and the sounds of vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. By projecting a persona without a detail-filled biography — essentially a caricature — Redbone deflected attention from himself (though stylishly so) and back to his songs.”
Biographical details did emerge, possibly against his best wishes, even if they stood little competition against the enduring enigma his fans enjoyed. The Toronto Star revealed that he was born Dickran Gobalian and “reinvented himself under the guidelines of Ontario’s Change of Name Act” when he moved from Cyprus to Canada in the mid-1960s. He got his start playing Toronto folk clubs in the early ’70s, the newspaper said, pointing out that he later settled in Pennsylvania.
“Very little of my life goes into my music,” Redbone told the Star, explaining the disconnect between his public and private personas. “I’ve never considered myself the proper focus of attention. I’m just a vehicle … not so much for the particular kind of music I prefer, music from an earlier time, as for a mood that music conveys.”
It may be urban legend, but the story goes that when music industry legend John Hammond asked Redbone for his phone contact, it turned out to be the number for Dial-a-Joke.
His persona oddly lent itself to numerous commercial syncs, from Budweiser to Purina’s Burger ‘n’ Bones dog food.
That Redbone showed up in animated form so often, from the dog food spot to his vocal work as the snowman in “Elf,” may have been prefigured by the artwork for his Warner Bros. debut. That album cover featured not a photo of Redbone, but rather a Chuck Jones drawing of the character Michigan J. Frog. That was a possible gag on Redbone’s singing voice but mostly on how the star of the Warner Bros. cartoon “One Froggy Evening” was brought back from an earlier time in formal, anachronistic garb to sing music from another era — in other words, a character that could loosely have been the amusingly anthropomorphic model for Redbone’s own.
At a 1990 concert at L.A.’s Roxy, the power went out but, naturally, Redbone continued to perform acoustically by candlelight. At that show, Redbone summed up how the appeal of the earliest pop music seemed obvious to him, when he encouraged the audience to sing along with “Polly Wolly Doodle”: “This song’s more than 100 years old,” he said, “so you’ve had plenty of time to learn it.”