time to change the way we view music and the arts

Single Minded About (Stripping Down) Sophistication?

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Joe’s Pub Logo (Cit. Joe’s Pub Facebook Profile Photos)

Only a short time ago I had written up that interview and breakdown of the lovely Amy Lynn and the Gunshow, prior to their appearance at Joe’s Pub last Saturday alongside Shayna Steele. While this piece isn’t meant to be a flat out review of the show, what transpired and how the audience felt about it fostered along these questions in my mind.

“What makes something sophisticated in the first place and, when are you gradually integrating approachable casualness into a sophisticated atmosphere versus simply becoming the former entirely?”

See, music, the arts…for at least a few years now I’ve been all for cheering on endeavors in any shape or form that has strived to break down those traditional airs. These airs, for a long time, have built up feelings of exclusion and apprehension among the general public. So when mixed genre venues like Joe’s Pub, (for example) pop up, and arts organizations do things like encourage ‘live-tweeting,’ it makes this seemingly ‘unknown world’ seem less ominous and more welcoming for gradual enjoyment but previously anxious onlookers. Like acquiring a taste for wine; two entertainment atmospheres delicately come together, creating an even better third collaboration.

Of course, when I say “come together,” I’m implying two things are meeting in the middle -that there’s compromise and change on both parts. Yet, if the ‘snooty’ symphony is the one that has to loosen its grip by allowing digital chatter so a younger generation feels more at home at their first concert, then isn’t that merely a stripping down of one side rather than a mutual evolution of classy and casual?

I’m applauding efforts for more atmospheres like the one of Joe’s Pub but is it really accurate to view it as a place that has a base foundation of sophistication but acts like a good intro to sophistication because its integrated things like lounge-style seating and serves alcohol during performances? What makes Joe’s Pub a ‘classy place that appreciates the laid back” as opposed to the other way around? Is it the inclusion of non-mainstream programming?


Both Amy Lynn and Shayna are fantastic singers. They embrace styles -60’s soul/pop and R&B/jazz respectively- that don’t jump right onto Top 40 radio and aren’t ubiquitous household repeat tracks but, are adored by fans nonetheless. They filled the house the other night and people were thrilled to hear their extraordinary abilities and deeply emotive songwriting. Aside from their solid performance skill though, both women have a knack for casual stage presence. Not in the attire sense mind you, but in how they interact with their audience. Each was a mix of friendly, open and just a touch racy (stripping and intimacy puns abound!) Of course this isn’t meant to lower the appeal level of the show. Quite the contrary. It was okay for people to laugh loudly, occasionally shout back and to start clapping in rhythm to the songs with the bands keeping the beat too.

All this in mind, are we still talking about a something with a starting point of sophistication or a starting point of casual because the leading ladies know how to keep the stage light rather than overtly serious? Is it just a more casual type show altogether because we’re exposed to a bit of crude humor  (God forbid Luciano Pavorotti makes a joke about intimacy in between cadenzas) and the performance is conversely iced with a delicate layer of adult complexity just because there’s jazz involved, which obviously defaults things to ‘high-brow’ because most people just ‘don’t get’ jazz…

Yes, I’m being rather loose with my words and lines of questions today, but sometimes, trying to be so perfect, so pristine and so exact with one’s explanation of a thought process and a perception on the world of art almost makes it more like a scientific lecture, which would just be incredibly ironic, don’t you think?

Maybe even in my quest to see arts of ‘low’ and ‘high’ standards meet halfway, I have to learn to abolish my own attempt at progressive thinking because it clearly can be equally as restrictive. One type of artistic atmosphere versus another doesn’t exist on an explicitly linear plane where the two walk in a perfect straight line toward one another. And so long as there’s an acknowledgement of both in a singular setting, then who met who where in the collaboration is moot. Artistic coexistence: something not scrutinized by percentages of what’s “classical” and what’s “casual.” Amy Lynn and Shayna were just damn good. Think anywhere past that and it will only bring on a headache of unnecessary proportions.


And hey, while we’re at it, I had brought back an old Taylor Swift post from the very early archives a couple days ago, as it seemed relatable to her present situation of once again veering further from her country origins but further standing out by breaking a #1 iTunes placement record over Lady Gaga. 

Well, her newest single is being positioned by reviewers around the internet as even more poppy than before and instead of initially recording a country track (the amount of ‘how country’ not the focus,) and following with a “pop mix” for radio play, the reverse holds true. The country mix came after; specifically to try and appeal to those stations which would probably no sooner ban the new single altogether because of its severe straying off of the country path. (Tell me the last time you heard a Swift single that wasn’t from her first two albums, on a designated country format station.)

So is Taylor Swift entirely a pop artist now, who just delves in country? -doing a complete 180 from her starting point? Heck, John Mayer didn’t start as country but his newest record is clearly that, as opposed to the rock/jazz/blues man he was branded as after his celebrated record “Continuum…”

Notice where this is going? Similar to how fixated genre stamps on artists’ releases are becoming more scarce as more albums get released, perhaps the stamps of identifying arts crowds have to go as well -even those used for the purposes of discussing their differences in order to progressively point out how they’re the same. Where does this leave people like me perpetuating the kind of discussions I’ve been drumming up the last couple of years? it’s a process right? So let’s see how things come to evolve and if you, me and anyone else that comes along, can just call things “good arts stuff worth talking about.”

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