Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Beyond the Pale...

A reader writes in about a peeve of his -- Carlebachy jam bands. He caught one such band's recent performance and writes:
I don't know if you caught the Chabad Chanukah telethon last night- if you did you could have seen 1) Marty and Jerry in the section 2) Jordan and Mike C klezing-out and best of all 3) Veroba reading lists of donors. That aside, I was hoping you might find time to Blog about Pey Dalid.I had a hunch that these guys were as terrible as they turned out to be and I was not disappointed last night. Such a performance should have been on the Yom Hashoah Telethon. OK, that might have been hyperbolic but I would love if you could blog in detail what is wrong with their side of JM. We all know about the shiny shoe scandals and shtuyot but rarely do people tear in to what is widely viewed as harmless, cute, hippyish, Carlebach inspired, 'mystical' jam bands. In their case, 'jam band' is more of an excuse than a description of a musical genre. What's more frustrating is that as more and more of these bands proliferate, many end up booking simchas, taking work away from more experienced and qualified musicians who rely on the business for their parnasa. Some of these bands-Soulfarm, Moshav (who are admittedly not on the same rung as Pey Dalid) take weddings begrudgingly to support their bar hopping gigs and do unprofessional work. Their idea of a kabalat panim is playing a CD through one speaker- and that's if they show up on time. These people call me to add a musician to their gigs and offer less than scale even on road trips. When I informed them of my price- they said they were looking for a "college guy to do it for cheap." These practices don't even come close to those decried by my normal employer who will go nameless (think Boro Park). Pey Dalid is a chief offender- under their new aggressive management, they are billing themselves as the "ultimate simcha band." While I realize this description is a matter of opinion- I have to say that the legit JM business should be offended. We are all too aware that because of educational priorities in the frum world, our public knows very little about music other than its volume. When a band like this sets out to convince chatanim that they are providing something different‚ than the played-out wedding orchestra, they will take the bait. Of course, it being an open market, there is nothing wrong with that- all I ask is that a qualified and trusted voice of the JM world takes a few pot shots at these guys who really suck. That's where you come in. I'll look forward to your response and hopefully a post will be forthcoming. If you disagree with me and choose to use my letter to mock me, I will resort to giving you a wedgie next time we play together (kidding). Take care, Chanukah sameach!
I think he's taken care of the rant all by himself. And I ain't afraid of no wedgies either!

In general, these kinds of groups don't bother me. I think that bands of that sort are selling an experience, moreso than a musical performance. As I see it, many of the bands in that style aren't about putting over a technically correct or professional performance. Rather, they're about getting people to feel the moment. It's kind of like a kumzitz where the guitar player only knows a few open position chords and regularly uses wrong open-position chords that do contain the same note as the melody (i.e. using G instead of Dm or Am instead of E). Sometimes the mood or general vibe is more important to a client than sophisticated arrangements, jazzy reharmonizations, or technically perfect or even fluid performance.

An example: I once guested at at a Carlebach Havdala in a private home where the singers sang off-key much of the time, the guitarist played tons of wrong chords, and the dumbek player kept starting, stopping, and losing the beat. From a musical standpoint, it was a disaster. For the participants (which includes the other musicians) though, the event was a tremendous success. They emerged from Havdala feeling spiritually charged. As a guest, I found the experience to be quite enjoyable-- although I'm not in a rush to repeat it -- even though the music was far from my standards. It was about capturing a moment and feeling, and that was succesfully achieved.

I do agree that the fact that the frum community doesn't place a high priority on music education is a large part of the roblem and is also why much of the current JM is what it is. It's sad that people are booking bands that can't play well simply because they're charging a lower rate and the client doesn't hear a noticeable difference. And, as far as price goes, I certainly can relate to the frustrations of losing a gig because someone is undercutting you and the client is focused solely on price. That being said, It is legitimate for people to try to get a band that will do a good job for less. If they will be satisfied with an unprofessional band, then why should they have to spend significantly more on another group when it is all the same to them? We may agree that it shouldn't be the same to them, but the reality is that it frequently is.

I occasionally get inquiries about my band from people who proceed to say things like "you really don't need a band these days; a one-man-band sounds just as good." I've also been told this many times at affairs I've played with Chassidish bands in Williamsburg and Brooklyn. It's really quite insulting for the band to be told this just after finishing a really great set, but these people really don't know any better. I think that in cases where a client can't tell the difference (obvious as it might be to most everyone) it makes sense for them to save the money and hire the cheaper option. Besides, I'd rather play for clients who appreciate what I do.