Tonight we're going to hear another concert in Osaka, a cool new jazz trio called "Shukayman." I met the band when they were performing at a night club in Kyoto in November. The piano player, Shusei Murai, studied music at Berklee in the U.S. (and the drummer's mom is a friend of the family). When I saw them in November, I was impressed with their musicality as well as their ability to connect to and engage with the audience. Their music was out of sight, but it was their way of talking with the audience, their smiles, and their little bits of subtle, self-deprecating humor that made the two-set performance outstanding. Proof again to me how important spontaneity and emotional connections are with an audience. It's not just about notes on a page, it's about telling a story and sending a message with your music — right here and right now — with this audience.
Shusei, the piano player, is sort of a Japanese version of the U.S. jazz artist, Tom Grant. Tom, based in Portland, Oregon, is a bit of a legend in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and you can catch his songs on soft jazz stations on the radio or internet. Tom's a great musician, of course, but what I always liked about his live performances was his warmth and his friendly, engaging style that just made the connection with the audience so much better.
The lesson I've learned from watching great musical performances live is that the music plus the artists' ability to convey their (musical) message and connect with the audience is what it's all about. If done well, the end result is far more than just the notes played. A true performance transcends the simple act of artists playing music and people listening. It's bigger than that.
Here is a short video clip of Tom Grant talking about connecting. If you didn't know he was a musician, you might think he was talking about the art of presentation. But in a sense he is, because the art of musical performance and the art of presentation share the same essence. That is, it's always about bridging the distance between artist/speaker (physically and otherwise) and the audience to make a real connection. If there's no connection, there can be no conversation. This is true whether you're pitching a new technology, explaining a new medical treatment, or playing at Carnegie Hall.
"They're waiting for you to show yourself to them..."
— Tom Grant
To Tom Grant, performance is not an exhibition — I perform you listen. Tom clearly feels it's a two-way encounter. Here's what Tom said in an interview (scroll down) from March of 2005 (emphasis mine):
“There is joy in music for the player and for the receiver. I play music because it is my calling in life. I hope it conveys a joy and benevolence that people can apply to their own lives and thus improve, if only in the tiniest way, the quality of life on earth.”
Are not presentations about the player (speaker) and the receiver? A good tip to remember: It's not about us, it's about them. And about the message.
By the way, if you're interested in jazz, you might like this album by Tom Grant.