My teacher, or mentor might be a better word for him, Charlie Banacos, was specific with his idea that music is a high powered form of medicine disguised as entertainment, and was quick to dismiss people who might study with him under the idea of becoming better “entertainers.”
“Art for art’s sake” was one of his more popular mottos.
I’m a studied jazz musician and I’m an entertainer so I did find some inner conflict around this thought because at some point they clash. There’s a line between the two: Are you playing for yourself or for your audience? It’s the one point I can remember not completely agreeing with him on. And yet, I did somehow at the time try to believe it might be true.
Ten years after his death and in the wake of covid, I’m in full agreement.
When I see people responding to musicians outpouring of live concerts and broadcasts during the lockdown, regardless of the quality of the sound or the musicianship, the evidence is hard to overlook. I’m reminded of the new age book movement of uncredited authors quoting the healing powers of the harmonics of vibrating crystals and the sacred chanting of buddhist monks (not necessarily untrue it seems).
On the other side of that, the people I notice who don’t listen to music as much anymore seem to suffer as well, in complex ways that they don’t even see.
And while it might be easier to talk about the physics of vibrations and harmonics (science) it might prove a leap of faith when relating to an amateur musician singing the lyrics wrong to “Smells like teen spirit” with an out of tune guitar from his bedroom, there must be a connective thread somewhere to be found.
And if we’re not playing for ourselves first we can’t really be heard by anyone else, but the magic in the medicine is in the sharing of it with others.