Pro Pianists: How Not to Sound "Cocktail-ish"?

  • Pro Pianists: How Not to Sound "Cocktail-ish"?

    I've been playing more solo piano gigs, and there's something I don't completely understand.

    I play lots of different styles, but when I choose to play melodically/conservatively, with lush harmony, I realize I sound to people like a "cocktail pianist". Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but it's just not the way I'm looking to present myself.

    It's not something that can be escaped via sophisticated harmony....lots of 13, flat 13, tritone subs, etc etc actually make me sound MORE "cocktail-ish" rather than less. Only if I go past about 1963 (i.e. take a more angular approach, less anchored harmony, generally more "out") do I sound like a jazz player.

    Horn players don't have this problem. A sax player blowing diatonically through a 2-5-1 progression sounds like pure jazz. But the public - even the hipper public - has such a burned-in reaction to pianists that it's hard to be perceived as anything but corny background music when playing mainstream jazz solo piano.

    I love playing both pre-1963 and post-1963. I'd rather not have to go modern/out in order to get respect. And while, ideally, what counts is my artistic muse rather than what listeners think, I do make my living at this, and must pay at least some attention to how I'm received.

    So what I'm asking is what are some signifiers to avoid in order to come off as less cocktail-ish?

    • rm508 a dit :...
    • Utilisateur
    • 22 oct. 2008, 23h15m
    I find jazz guitar has a similar burned-in reaction for me, no matter what's being played ...

    I'm not a pro-pianist (and I'm admiring your tritone subs there) but I suppose cocktailish means at once bland and anonymous, as well as over-egged and falsely emotive ... like a declaration of love peppered with old borrowed lines from the movies. You're right that sophisticated harmony doesn't help, because it only makes the pie even more rich, without adding any dissonance (or at least, any dissonance that won't be quickly resolved). Drawing out or lingering over phrases, or otherwise milking them for affect (I mean affect, not effect), is usually what gives cocktail music its preciousness. I think what I'm suggesting is directness of expression and emotion.

    Probably also best to avoid a tuxedo and a smug, pursed upper lip.

    PS I'm following your pre/post 60s piano distinction, but out of interest, why 1963 as a marker in particular?

  • Yes, the key difference OUGHT to be in one's musical/creative intention. Playing that vocabulary with emotional honesty OUGHT to make listeners draw a distinction. But the world, alas, simply isn't that subtle.

    In fact, the cheater's way to avoid being heard as cocktail-ish is to do the very opposite, and be even more contrived and pushy by heavy-handedly inserting pregnant pauses and other "free-spirit signifiers" so that easily impressed people say "wait, this is different from that cocktail stuff!"

    1963 was an arbitrary pick. But it's about when Ornette was gearing up, and Trane was starting to veer, and lots of other zeitgeist was moving toward less diatonic and conventional playing. Of course, that zeitgeist eventually congealed into cliche, as well. Rebels, like gravy, always congeal in the end.

    Thanks for your posting, I enjoyed it.

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