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 How good are these guys?
Author: HAT 
Date:   2002-08-09 15:40

I have just in the last few days seen more evidence on tv that the level of instrumental musicianship in the USA is at an astounding level.

First there was AMERICAN IDOL, to which many musicians like myself have become somewhat addicted. But this week there was a live big band backing up the singers. The arrangements were heavily cheesy but definately written with the best LA freelance players in mind.

And those guys were sensational. For the whole hour I didn't hear a note out of place from the band. WW doublings were handled with minimal fuss but total professionalism. These ww guys were undoubtedly among the best in town. It was nice to see them pick up a nice check.

It is truly amazing how some trumpet players regularly spend time way above the staff with great accuracy. Some lead trumpets on Broadway (here in NY) take portions of their books up an octave 8 times a week (and they get a special scale for doing it). The guys out west are just as good.

Incidentally, had that show been done here in NY, BB regular John Moses would likely have been among those called to play. That's how good (and well respected) he is.

Then last night the Boston Pops was on with John Williams. Normally I wouldn't even bother, but they just sounded great. Williams's music is far from easy, but he writes for the best guys in LA who sightread it like it's nothing. The Pops sounded just as good.

The important thing to remember here is that these guys played these nearly perfect and totally professional performances on very little rehearsal. Certainly less than 8 hours, probably much less. And they probably did 3-7 other such 'gigs' in the same week.

That's how good these guys are.

Something to think about, especially for those who dismiss the 'professional perspective.'

David Hattner, NYC

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: Sylvain 
Date:   2002-08-09 16:17

I agree with you David, those pro players are just unbelievable.
I know a few people in the Montreal Symphony and when they tell me how little rehearsing they have before a concert and how good they sound. It's just amazing.
Not to mention that Dutoit is gone and so they get a conductor for a few rehearsals and a concert or two, then somebody else comes in, crazy!
To me, top musician are just as impressive as professional athletes.

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: graham 
Date:   2002-08-09 16:50

Sounds stunning, but was it musical? How engaged were the emotions (the ones beyond simple wonderment and admiration)? I have heard professionals say (including of course the ones that can deliver this sort of consistency) that the greatest problem in music is that the pursuit of accuracy can easily eliminate expression and communication. Personally I don't mind the odd fluffed note if the players are really going for it, and the best professionals seem to me also to get that balance.

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-08-09 17:04

Granted those musicians are certainly in the elite group, and all praise should go to them for their accuracy and musicianship under different performing conditions - day in and day out.

But is it really any different or amazing from (for example) a top pro golfer who plays for his paycheck under different conditions and locales week after week?

In my mind - equally as stressful and equally as impressive.

The best of the best in any field (music, sports, medicine, journalism, etc...) are always impressive.

It's a road travelled by very few...GBK

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: HAT 
Date:   2002-08-09 17:58


Of course it was 'musical.' But the question you ask is loaded in the first place.

Some music is a 'product' more than an artistic expression. When you as a player are not the main attraction. . . as in playing in a band backing a singer or a show or whatever . . .'musical' means something different than when you play the Copland concerto at Lincoln Center.

"Musical" means doing what is required to express the overall sentiment of the event. . .it's not something you do as an individual artist necessarily. Drawing attention to oneself by being 'expressive' is not necessarily appropriate in these cases.

Now GBK has it right. Instrumental musicians ARE like atheletes in many ways, we're just talking about much smaller muscles. In fact, you'll find that many musicians (myself included) love sports and admire atheletes. If only we drew the same paychecks.

In fact, a big similarity between atheletes and musicians is that the seperation between those who succeed and those who don't very often comes from the mental or intellectual aspect of their performance. The stereotype of the big dumb jock lives because of what goes on in many high schools (and some colleges) but professional football players, for instance, have to be amazingly smart to perform their duties under such intense pressure and often while exhausted. Have you ever seen the size of the playbook they have to memorize (and have full comprehension of).

The same is true in music, if you can't subdivide the rhythm, remember the key signature, listen for intonation and balance, phrase based on the knowledge of the composer and his era and style and play your instrument perfectly all at the same time you sightread a chart, the profession isn't going to give you 10 years to catch up. Or even 10 minutes, sometimes.

Outstanding is outstanding no matter what profession we are talking about. But the amount of applied and specific knowledge to play an instrument professionally is enormous. Just think about it. I often compare it to flying an airplane or performing surgery. Of course, there is less danger to society when notes are missed, but. . .

Perhaps the difference is in the ability of people to appreciate the guy in the background. The guy who throws the block that allows the touchdown, the guys who maintain the greens and playing fields, the guy doubling tenor, bass clarinet and flute. You may never find out their names, and indeed the better they are the less you think of them. And that's probably just the way they want it.


 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: Doug R 
Date:   2002-08-10 03:17

Well, this all reminds me of a couple of things I mentioned on the BB in another context a while back: a fascinating article on the "Top 10 Woodwind Doublers in Los Angeles" in Windplayer magazine, issue # 62 (available as a back issue, hopefully). the article goes into great length about the kinds of musical challenges these guys deal with all the time, the immense job pressures of film scoring dates, live broadcasts (e.g. Academy Awards, the Streisand specials, etc.) and lots of specific info on their setups (from piccolos and piccolo clarinet to contrabass clt & contrabass sax). I admire these guys immensely because there's nothing easy about what they do, and nothing easy about the instruments they've chosen to play (in any of numerous combinations!!) and they just ... DO it!

Also, here's a website for one of the reed players featured in the article, Marty Krystall: www.k2b2.com.martyinstr.html (or just go to the www.k2b2.com website & click on Marty Krystal).

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: chuck 
Date:   2002-08-10 16:14

My hat's off to HAT. This is probably one of the best threads to appear here over the past several years. Should be required reading for everyone who aspires to being a reed instrumentalist. Chuck

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: Suzanne 
Date:   2002-08-10 19:56

Sure the band was good, but what did you think of the singers?

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: Steve Epstein 
Date:   2002-08-11 03:23

I've always disliked rating people in any field; i.e., so and so is the best, or "tops", because it's too general, obliterates subtleties... but, I have to wonder if studio musicians aren't in fact the "best" musicians in the world. Consider how many instruments you must play, not just play, but absolutely master. Consider how many genres of music you must master, in their authentic styles. Consider that you must sight read like a demon, transpose from any key to any key, play by ear. I suppose composing and arranging makes you more valuable, too. Browsing Marty Crystal's website... Wow! The guy's cv is just unbelievable. Not just a classical player and a jazz player, but both at such a high level!

If I come back in another life, I want to be a studio musician. Pressure? Nah! Sounds like fun!

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: Larry Liberson 
Date:   2002-08-11 11:53

One thing left out in the comparison between musicians and athletes is that of the physical stresses and dangers. Yes, the muscles used are different but the threat of injury and/or disability remains the same.

The difference? Well, while there might be a 'disabled list' for musicians, you can bet that the disabled freelancer won't be seeing a paycheck then -- and playing while hurt (which we probably all have done at some time) only makes matters worse.

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: HAT 
Date:   2002-08-11 12:37

LL, that's a great point.

In fact, Robert Marcellus is a sort of example of that. The stress of his position in Cleveland (combined with the diabetes he suffered from) ruined his health and forced him into retirement in his mid 40s. There was no workman's comp or disability or anything else for him. Fortunately for him, he was a gifted teacher. Amazingly, despite not having a college degree, he was able to obtain a good job at NU.

I read recently that an alarming percentage of full-time orchestral musicians have suffered from overuse related injuries. These are real, career-threatening, painful conditions.


 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: David Dow 
Date:   2002-08-12 01:16

interesting how long and productive Leister's career is and how active he is now in old age. At a master class I attended once he said health and exercising are good for all people. He also said (in German) musicians tend to sit too much and Pork out. He regrded Marcellus as a freind and drank a few beer at ICA meetings and said that stress management is part of career management. Sadly Marcellus is not with us now and we have to rely on the recordings and body of knowledge he left us.

 RE: How good are these guys?
Author: John Moses 
Date:   2002-08-13 15:15

Bravo, HAT:
Well put.
We here on the NYC scene do work hard, as do the LA players and all the other fine freelancers across the country.
Whenever you go to a movie, hear a jingle on radio or TV, or just enjoy the backup artists on your favorite CD, we're all working hard to make it happen.
I'm thrilled that it is being recognized on film credits and CD's.
Stay with your dreams, if you want to play with the "best of the best", it can be done.
Thank Mark for this wonderful site that helps you with your questions and dreams.

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