WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DO YOU PLAY?
I'm at a dinner party and...
The question I most dread in casual conversation: "What kind of music do you play?" It is easily the most obvious, most natural question that follows someone’s discovery that I am a recording/touring artist. I usually toss off a basic response that refers to Jazz and Blues, Singer-Songwriter, etc., etc., which is a reasonable and not wholly inaccurate answer. However, truth is, there is a wealth of information missing in that reply, but, hopefully, it yields a quick escape from the subject altogether. My musical world, at least in my head, is a vast universe of sound and style that can’t simply be summed up in a three word response, which is how the industry has expected artists to reply, or to state in print, for as long as I can remember. Honestly, I find it nearly paralyzing to have to answer this seemingly innocuous question. Why? Because it’s like someone asking you what kind of person you are. How does one summarize that in three words?
It’s not that I don’t want to be asked about my music. It’s simply that I don’t have a satellite view of my style, my sound; a view which presents itself like the broad stroke of a brush, a singular color, or even three colors. I only possess an ever changing understanding, an ever broadening view, of a musical landscape that is an immense palette of ideas, inspirations and knowledge which informs my songs. Sometimes, clearly, but many times in a less defined manner which is the beautiful mystery of following one’s muse. Yes, I lean toward Jazz a great deal… and classic R&B and Soul. I employ the elegant simplicity of Folk and the muscle of the Rock & Roll and Blues I soaked up early on in my musical discoveries. Sometimes there is a Latin vibe, or some listeners find a New Orleans sound hidden deep in the mix. I use the language of time signatures, chord changes, and melodies to bend these varied genres in to the shape of my own musical language. Like a blacksmith at his sonic forge, I’m pumping away at the bellows, hammering and twisting until I get a sound that makes sense to me; not because it belongs to a particular “style” but because it appeals to my musical sensibilities and belongs only to me. Therein is the pursuit of my life’s work; to explore, expand and cultivate my own sound. The artists I have been so deeply inspired by seem to have all been on the path of this same method, drawing from a similar well of this ideology, as it were. What do you call Van Morrison’s sound? What about Joe Jackson, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell or a myriad of other artists in that camp? And we can’t just identify as Singer-Songwriters. I actually detest that term, as it says absolutely nothing. Maybe there was a time when being a Singer-Songwriter defined more obvious parameters to the listener, but not anymore. Anybody who has written a song they’ve sung around the kitchen table is a Singer-Songwriter. So, again, it means nothing in terms of defining one’s actual sound and style.
The pretentiousness of firing back a reply such as, “Well, you just have to listen to my music and decide for yourself” is not acceptable. Which is very unfortunate as it is the perfect answer and the antidote to my near paralysis brought on by the dreaded question. We can’t simply say, “I do original music”, because A) I know from personal experience that this isn’t a satisfactory answer and comes off with arrogance, pissing off anyone acting as manager/agent who is within earshot of this conversation and B) every composer thinks what they are doing is original. All of us are thieves in the song factory… which is actually a base level result of being inspired by the artists we love. The high watermark is to define one’s sound and style as something that the listener can only tag with your name.
And so there it is. I play Woody Russell’s music. At least, I aim to do so. Oh, if it were only that easy. No, my dearest potential listener, I know that’s not enough of an answer so here is the box I wrapped it in: I’m a Singer-Songwriter who is deeply informed by Jazz, R&B, Rock and Soul and Theater and Nature and nearly everything else I’ve heard, experienced, tasted, felt, witnessed, etc., etc. The list is a thousand miles long and that only scratches the surface.
Oh, and then there is this matter of the lyrics; a conversation for another time.