Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Basic Beauty

Basic Beauty

The best reason for doing anything is the joy of doing it.

DB - The Vagabond


I've always been an analytical artist as well as a practicing one. A stage manager, once said to me, "Why do you talk about it so much? Why don't you just do it?" The answer was that I enjoy talking and thinking about it.
Ten or so years ago I became intrigued about the subject of "entertainment." What is it that enables someone to stand on a stage and do something such that hundreds of people will forget everything else and watch and listen. What is that magic? I knew I had it myself but I couldn't identify what it was.
So in my spare time I decided to see if I could understand it by seeing as many entertainers as I could. I went to operas, Broadway musicals, night clubs, orchestra concerts, jazz concerts, rock concerts. I watched singers, dancers, magicians and clowns. I saw people performing in huge arenas and concert halls and on street corners. Some were better than others and some had the unmistakable magic of the entertainer no matter what they did. But I still couldn't define it. Well, I kept searching and a day came when I finally saw it clearly, in a most unlikely place.
Damrosch Park in New York City is a place with a band shell. It's an outdoor performing area in Lincoln Center. It seats 3,000 people. I played there once myself as host of the Du bonnet Chamber Music Festival. In the summer they would book in various artists to perform - three different groups, one after another.
One afternoon a friend called to tell me that Liam Clancy was scheduled to appear there that evening, he and his wife were going and would I like to come along. I thought that would be fun so I did.
Liam Clancy was part of the famous Clancy Brothers Irish folk singing group. When it broke up, his brothers Tom and Paddy went their separate ways and Liam formed his group. But this is not about Liam Clancy.
He was second on the program following a young folk singer I didn't know, who was okay. When Clancy's group was finished my friends wanted to leave. But just at that moment Liam Clancy said "Stick around because you've got Percy Sledge coming."
Now I'm a classical music lover. I'm not a great fan of R&B/Soul. There's nothing wrong with it, I just never went seeking it out. But Percy Slege was almost an American institution. I didn't know he was still alive, much less still performing. So I begged my friends to stay and hear him, and we did.
He came out and stood there in a white suit, in a spotlight, with a microphone, backed by The Uptown Brass (a high quality Harlem big band) and sang. And he was riveting.
The place was overflowing with spectators. In fact, my friends and I were nowhere near the stage. We were way at the back, sitting under the trees. But I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I and thousands of other people were completely engrossed.
He sang all of his famous songs, including "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "When A Man Loves A Woman." During that song there was a musical bridge where the band played and he didn't sing. Instead he spoke about tthe song, and without bragging, but with a sense of the enjoyment of the privilege, he listed all the great capitals and countries of the world where he had sung that song. And just before the musical bridge ended he said "and New York City."
I will never forget that moment. It was like sunshine suddenly bursting into my heart and my head. I saw it. He loves his songs, he loves singing them and he loves singing them to other people for their pleasure and enjoyment. That's entertainment! It's as simple as that. And I knew it all along.
Thank you Percy.. Thank you forever.

Tags: analytical actor, entertainment, Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, Liam Clancy, Uptown Brass, Percy Sledge

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