The Future of Today’s LIVE Music: which way is it heading?

Trust me, it is very easy for the pessimist in me to rear its ugly head & get real negative on this particular subject. But every once in awhile, something positive comes along, pleasantly surprises you, & restores your faith.  So it really does all depend on how you look at it: is the proverbial glass really ‘half-empty’…or is it possible that those few remaining drops can somehow give you enough optimistic strength to believe that that there is still a chance—for LIVE Music to survive?

 

Dancing with the Stars vs. Brian Culbertson

 

First, the Negative: Dancing With the Stars

Back in February 2014, at the beginning of it’s 18th Season, the ABC-based TV show ‘Dancing With the Stars’ announced that it would be letting go its Music Director, Harold Wheeler, along with its entire 28 piece LIVE Orchestra.  In a press release, it thanked Mr. Wheeler for the services of his incredible talent & capabilities—stating that he & his orchestra had done a fine job over the past 17 years—but that the show was now changing its direction & would be using more (pre)recorded accompaniment music…but that it would still retain the services of a now much smaller combo band.

 

As would be anticipated, this announcement created an up-roar within the music industry & community, its public supporters, & of course with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM—the national musicians’ union).  Here was my own take on it:

 

“I don’t know if it’ll actually kill the show or its audience (as some now-hopefuls are predicting), but it definitely lowers the overall ‘class’ of the show. I think that the novelty of the show’s premise itself is already on the back side (down-slope) of its ‘life-curve’, so I’m sure the obvious ‘corner cutting’ here is mainly an effort to reduce costs—in order to offset the diminishing TV viewer ratings–& thus its also diminishing advertising revenues. But I’m certain that they are also attempting to prolong the show’s chance of staying on TV, by now trying to appeal to a younger viewing audience—a demographic group which is already used to being force-fed ‘pretend’ music on a regular basis—so much so, that not only can’t they distinguish what is REAL & LIVE MUSIC [vs. that which is (pre)recorded], but worse; they really may not even CARE anymore! ‘Ignorance is Bliss’–& at this point, they might actually even prefer the ‘canned’ music. Further, TODAY’S YOUTH (as compared to the youths of generations past) really DON’T DANCE anymore. So this move by DWtS is probably only a even fraction of what they REALLY wanted to do—which is to use ALL (pre)recorded music & have NO BAND at all anymore—but how class-LESS would that have looked (& SOUNDED)?? Please realize then that the small combo band which is now replacing the multi-talented Harold Wheeler & his orchestra—is really only there for VISUALLY ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ (no matter how talented THEY might also be).  But instead of stooping to the (all-be-it stereo-typically) dismal quality-level of the today’s karaoke-at-best style of music, how cool would it have been for ABC hold firm to the standard & tradition of REAL LIVE MUSIC to accompany their dancing program, & rather CHALLENGE (& DEMAND) it’s now younger targeted audience to elevate the CLASS of what they’re actually LISTENING (& maybe even DANCING!) to.

 

‘Money’ is not the only ‘measure of value’, but its power still affects all the other ones—as it is often the one with the ‘last say’. Then they just pull the old advertising gimmick & focus all their efforts on convincing you that ‘less is better’ for you anyway.–peterjblume.com“

 

(In the show’s defense, they did at least start out with & retain a full high quality LIVE orchestra for the 1st 17 seasons…)

 

 

Now, the Positive: Brian Culbertson

 

Around the same time, another musical story broke—even if on a much smaller hyped level; veteran Smooth Jazz Artist – Brian Culbertson (piano, keyboards, & trombone) announced that in celebration of the 20th anniversary of his very 1st album release (called ‘Long Night Out’), he was going to be revisiting it—in its entirety—in order to re-make it the way he had always intended—with real LIVE musicians!

 

Back in 1994, Brian Culbertson had recorded ‘Long Night Out’ in his dorm room while he was a still a student at DePaul University. Because he didn’t have a lot of money to work with but knew how to use the latest technology, he played whatever instruments he could himself & then added synthetic (virtual, computer-generated) instrument sounds for the rest (synth drums, synth bass, etc). From that ‘little’ album, he got signed to a VERY nice record deal…& has had an illustrious career ever since! Over the past 12 albums he’s released since that time, he has remained strong to his musical integrity—he has continued to mature musically, he has developed for himself a much respected reputation, etc…& as his success grew, so has his recording budget—thus he has been able to play with & use some of the best ‘old school’-minded LIVE musicians in the business—who now actually seek HIM out.

 Anyway, the ‘new’ album (called ‘Another Long Night Out’) was just released earlier this month, & as promised, Brian used a barrage of ALL LIVE & VERY REPUTABLE musicians.  He didn’t have to, but he WANTED to…to go back & do it RIGHT. He also went the extra (& more costly) step to self-produce the album, in order to make sure that ALL creative decisions were retained for himself….& as much as the original version of the album itself was tasty & palatable (& thus also $uccessful), its re-make & re-release (in its entirety!) is really on a totally different, definitely much more sophisticated, elevated & very special, level!!! And it just goes to show what REAL musicians can do….it really makes a difference. And this remake of the SAME MATERIAL, just 20 years later, may also reveal something else: that consumer-musical tastes might NOT actually change as much or as quickly as the business part of ‘the music industry’ would like us to believe…!! BTW, the new album—immediately went to the #1 slot on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts!

 

I just bought the new CD myself & trust me, it really kicks!—like the music in the tradition of that particular genre did back in its heyday during the 80’s!  (Pfft!–EVERYTHING IN THE 80’s was better, right?!…well, mostly…) But maybe I’m biased; SOOO many of my musician-idols in that genre are on this new thing (for a complete personnel listing, see below). Some of you listeners may not necessarily find the CD to be your style of music, but I’m certain that regardless, you will still appreciate its incredible musicality & the way it was made.

 

Instead of ‘Dancing With the Karaoke Machine’, why not treat yourself to ‘Another Long Night Out’? Like me—even if for only a brief moment—you might just find that this particular ‘glass’, is actually SOMETIMES still ‘half-full’.

 

—Peter J Blume 4/2014

 

The A-list of Personnel Brian used on his new album re-make:

 

Russ Freeman (Rippingtons) – guitar

Eric Marienthal (Chick Corea Elektric Band, solo and others) – sax

Chuck Loeb (Fourplay and solo) – guitar

Candy Dulfer (solo & Prince) – alto sax

Steve Lukather (Toto) – guitar

Paul Jackson, Jr. (Tonight Show with Jay Leno and countless records) – guitar

Will Kennedy (Yellowjackets) – drums

Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Bruce Hornsby and others) – bass

Nathan East (Fourplay, Toto, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and others) – bass

Ricky Lawson (Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Yellowjackets and others) – drums

Michael Thompson (David Foster, Celine Dion and others) – guitar

Lenny Castro (percussionist for like, everyone) – percussion

Michael Bland (Prince and the New Power Generation) – drums

Michael “Patches” Stewart (Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller and others) – trumpet

Ricky Peterson (David Sanborn) – Hammond B3 organ

Rick Braun (solo artist) – flugelhorn

Ray Parker Jr. (solo artist) – guitar

David Benoit (piano solo artist) – arrangements for a 33-piece orchestra

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