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May, 2004


by Webmaster

(with additions from Bob Dolan, after column was archived)

We all define "professional" in different ways.

Last month, a friend of mine was suddenly taken to the hospital. I was deeply affected, and though I wasn't performing, I was still "in public." I commented to another friend, a musician, that I didn't like to be "down in public." He told me, "That's because you're a professional."

I've had discussions about stage behavior with another friend, also a performer. Professionals, we decided do certain things. They don't have fights on stage. They don't burn bridges. They respond to the audience. They keep their material fresh.

This friend recently told me a story about Jerry Lewis. I've never cared for Lewis' humor, but this story made me respect him as a performer and a professional:

Jerry Lewis did stand-up comedy in Las Vegas. Each show was different. When asked, Lewis said that there were paying customers and staff: band members, waiters, etc. The paying customers would enjoy themselves, because that's what they paid to do. But they would enjoy themselves more if the band and waiters, etc. were also enjoying the show. And that would happen only if the shows were fresh every time.

I've seen shows that were identical, word for word, note for note. Those shows are entertaining. Once.

I've been in bands that rarely changed set lists. It was comfortable, to a point, because we weren't always working hard to learn new material. It was also boring. We knew our material, but we were bored and the audience was, too.

I'm in bands that never rehearse or use set lists. Our material is always fresh and new because we don't all know what we're doing. It isn't boring at all. It's scary. My band mates seem to enjoy the "deer in the headlights" look on my face.

I'm also in bands that rehearse and use set lists, but the set lists use different material for each gig. We're working hard to come up to speed on each song for each event, but the show is new and fresh and fun, for us and for the audience.

I've discovered that audiences will forgive musical mistakes, if we're relaxed and having a good time. And if we're having a good time, our audience will too. And, isn't this what we professionals are trying to do: help our audience have a good time?

If you have any comments about professionalism, please feel free to send them on to me and I'll publish them here.

"A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it." — Alistair Cooke, contributed by Warren Floyd
"I own and operate a small business that keeps me in the public eye on a daily basis. I am also a performing songwriter and a public seminar speaker that works on a regular schedule. I've lived in the same town (Colo Spgs) since 1981 and met a lot of people. I can rarely go out without seeing someone I know. That has a tendency to put me in the spotlight and on stage most of the time. Those of you in the same position as me, usually don't mind, we do what we do because we love it. Life is a stage that we set ourselves. The public is very aware of you, your moods and actions and most (public) are aware of any changes they notice. When I go out casually, I am still in the public eye, I am usually up, on top of my game — somewhat like running for mayor (shaking hands and kissing babies). If you are used to being on stage and are comfortable with you surroundings, honest and natural to your own feelings, then you will shine as being a true professional. If you are uncomfortable, your audience will likely see right through any front you attempt to put up for them. Be true to yourself - be a professional." — Woody (Gold Dot C.D. Woods)
"Thanks Sandy, good to see someone paying attention to this topic. One of the hallmarks that separates good bands from garage bands is the desire to pay attention to every moment spent on stage, from the spaces between songs, proper dress for a particular gig, and the artist's connection with the audience as well as each other or, worst of all, zoning out entirely. I was playing a gig years ago in Aspen, a ritzy affair under a huge tent. The whole audience was involved at the other end of the tent, and my band was getting goofy. Between songs, an elderly man came up to us and said, 'remember two things- someone is always watching, and you're getting paid to do this', and walked away. This moment has always stayed with me, and has come in handy at those times onstage when I momentarily forget how fortunate we all are as musicians, to follow our passion and make pretty good money in the process." — Gold Dot Jeff King
"Quote from Uncle Kit - Professionalism is.......not killing the bastard who repeatedly asks for 'Margaritaville' "................." — Kit Simon

Thanks for visiting AcousticByLines.

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Additions from Bob Dolan

[H]ere are four observations about true professionals:

  • Professionals are totally focused on getting it right.
  • Professionals pay meticulous attention to details.
  • Professionals sublimate their ego for the sake of the music (performance).
  • Professionals deliver the goods.

My Dad's name was Robert Emmett Dolan. He is known by most as a screen composer, but had careers on Broadway and in Radio before Hollywood, and in TV and again on Broadway after he left Paramount. During his years leading orchestras on Broadway, at Paramount, and at NBC, my Dad got to conduct some very talented people. Only two of them did he mention to me. A third I observed.

* There was Joan Sutherland. My Dad worked with her on a television production for NBC. He described her as a total professional. He said that they needed several takes to get the recording right, but that each time Sutherland was there — absolutely on pitch; absolutely on time. From this story I get a results oriented description: "A True Professional delivers the goods."
* There was Shelley Manne. Don't remember why my Dad was conducting him — probably because Manne is my favorite drummer of all time. The fact that my Dad was conducting him sorta overwrites the "how and why" of it in my memory. After a take, during and after the playback, Manne would ask my Dad about options. ("Did I get this right?" Would it be better this way?") My Dad had two comments here:
  1. Manne demonstrated professionalism by being "totally focused on getting it right."
  2. Manne could have taken a position that, as the best drummer in the world, he didn't need to consult with others on what he was playing. Instead he was open to, indeed initiated a sort of musical brain-storming. My Dad felt this was professional conduct because he was "sublimating his ego for the good of the group's music."
* The one I observed was a recording session in the early '50's at Paramount with Nat King Cole. This was late in my Dad's career at Paramount. I think he was a producer by then, and therefore not conducting the orchestra. I suspect the reason I was allowed to attend the session, in part, was in thanks for the support that my Dad and Johnny Mercer had given Cole in the '40's.

In the session, Nat Cole delivered the goods. Nat Cole was totally focused on getting things right, and didn't let his ego get in the way. I was amazed at the sheer number of things that needed to work in order to record. What I saw here, that my Dad did not mention, was a professional who paid "meticulous attention to detail."
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