“Dig and be dug” is a phrase I use often and it’s pretty simple concept that we as jazz artists often forget about. I see it as the Golden Rule for music – do unto others as you’d have them do to you. Apply that to checking out other musicians’ playing and the concept is simple, right? Maybe.

So often going to a jazz club when you are a jazz musician doesn’t mean going to hear the music. It’s about being “on the scene.” It means going to the club, walking in without paying and standing in the back of the club with a bunch of other musicians and talking, basically ignoring what’s really going on – the music. I’ve seen it everywhere from NYC clubs I frequent like Smalls, Smoke, or even The Village Vanguard. I’ve seen it at festivals and concerts. I’ve seen paying patrons turn around and ask musicians to stop talking so they can enjoy the music! How backwards is that?

Good or bad, professional or student, it’s still live music and live music is REALLY special. It exists only for a fleeting moment and then it’s gone. It’s worth hearing.

I was playing my usual Monday night gig at Hillstone in NYC last week and one of my favorite pianists wandered in – Bill Mays. I’ve met Bill a few times and I’m a fan of his music – he consistently comes up with some of the most creative textures on the piano – but he doesn’t really know me and certainly didn’t come to the bar specifically to hear me. This place is not really a listening room at all (though the sound is great when it not too rowdy) and in spite of what or how we play, we are basically sonic wallpaper and there only for effect. But Bill and his wife took a seat right up front and were focused on what we were doing – listening, applauding. Talk about feeling flattered!

I had a nice conversation with Bill after we finished. He asked me about some of the music we were playing – we don’t play your usual jazz-gig repertoire, so there was a bunch of tunes he didn’t know. But what struck me most for some reason was his story for how he ended up there. He had just played at a memorial service at St Peter’s Church next door and he and his wife poked their head in to look for something to eat. They heard some music and that was what drew them in to the restaurant. So they sat right up front and really checked out what we were doing.

Stop right there – first of all, how many times have we musicians been out looking for a drink or something to eat and stumble on a place with music and say, “there’s a band here, let’s go somewhere else.” Admit it. Secondly, sitting right up front and really checking it out? Focusing your attention for maybe 30-45 minutes on music? Unheard of.

I’ve been bothered more and more by this tendency jazz musicians have. I’m not saying I’m free of guilt. I’ve talked in the back of clubs. I’ve decided to go other places. But more and more I find myself in the front row of performances of all types where it’s just me and the music, and you know what? It’s such a better way to experience music.

Thank you to Bill Mays for stopping by my gig. Having you there was really inspiring for the performance. It also confirmed to me the correct way for musicians to “dig and be dug.”

So, the next time you’re out checking out music look for me. I’ll probably be up front and I’ll save you a seat. We can talk during the break.

 

  • “Dig and be dug” – I didn’t invent it.
  • Check out Bill Mays music: http://billmays.net
  • Stop by Hillstone sometime and sit up front. Greg Ryan and I have been co-leading this gig for 10 years. If you’ve been “meaning to stop by” I’m really not sure what you’re waiting for…
  • This front row thing is definitely preferable for an acoustic (minimally amplified) music experience.