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Alternate Take #14-Getting The Clap

By Stanton Kessler

Musicians are some of the only people, other than athletes, who receive applause when they excel, and sometimes when they don't. Most other professionals are left simply with the satisfaction of doing a good job and getting paid for it. A plumber will never experience the exhilaration of a standing ovation, an insurance agent doesn't get applause for formulating a policy, and a surgeon rarely hears two hands coming together for saving a life.


In the jazz world, it is customary for the audience to applaud, not only at the conclusion of a tune, but also after each solo. It's a luxury we have grown accustomed to, yet, its appearance is sometimes a mystery, its absence frustrating.

The mature musician will claim that they don't play for applause, but for the simple joy of performing. They are lying. While in principle it may be true, in reality the consistent lack of overt appreciation can undermine the confidence of even the most seasoned veteran.

Until my senior year in high school, my interest was evenly split between music and art. The immediate gratification of music appealed to me and was a deciding factor in choosing it as a career. The sound of applause rippling through an auditorium after a performance was intoxicating enough to create a desire or even an addiction for more, much like a drug (not that I would know anything about that).But the ability to consistently repeat that phenomenon is fleeting, a puzzle that will never be solved. I have received wild applause after a solo that I would not wish on my worst enemy, and heard the silence of deep space after a solo that I felt deserved transcription. The fact is, you cannot trust applause. It's a little like believing your own press. Applause is completely subjective and if you base your self worth on it, you are trapped. It is simply not a reliable barometer of your ability, yet we continue to unreasonably depend on it out of ego and vanity.

Applause also serves to complete the circuit of energy that flows between the listener and player. The applause is a thank you, encouragement and acknowledgment, so it is incumbent on the musician to reciprocate with some sign that they got the message.

It is helpful to understand applause if we break it down into types. Then, we can examine each form independently, thus giving us a little clarification into the whys and wherefores of this elusive beast we so crave.

DISCERNING—Applause from other musicians and avid jazz listeners. This is the real deal, folks.

STANDING OVATIONRarely deserved, it can cause the hair on the back of your neck stand up and make you, for five minutes, feel like a god. Conversely, can make you want to vomit when given for the mediocre.

HALF-HEARTEDWhen the audience applauds only because they think they are obligated. It usually takes the form of a trickle and is more embarrassing than helpful, so why bother?

INCIDENTALThis comes from people who have been talking constantly and seem to be totally unaware of you existence, yet, when the room suddenly breaks into an ovation, they turn and follow suit like sheep. The incredulousness of this event never ceases to make me laugh, so in the end, it may serve as a positive experience. Freaky, isn't it?

UNEXPECTEDUsually, this occurs at a corporate awards dinner. You have been hired as background music and expect nothing. Out of the blue comes arduous, sincere applause. It can be quite startling and a little frightening, since it is now apparent that they are actually listening and have just raised the bar. Shit.

ONE PERSON CLAPPINGAlways the singer, a parent, the drunk at the bar, or the lover of a band member. Silence is preferable.

DELAYEDNot sure the solo is over and occurs midway through the next soloist’s first chorus. Better late than never.

INAPPROPRIATEToo soon. Can happen anytime you leave too much space or during a complex or false ending.

CONFUSED ABSENCEThis happens when the listener thinks that your solo is part of the head due to too much melodic content, as if there is such a thing. You are thereby robbed of your reward by ignorance. That's life.

PREFERENTIALThere is no applause after your solo, but the next soloist, usually the guitarist or drummer, receives the adoration normally reserved for Paul McCartney. Sadly, it can be the result of Confused Absence, a compound form of applause.

UTTER SILENCESpeaks for itself, and referred to in the Biz as "a tough room".

SURPRISEThere is no applause after solos, but delirious clapping at the end of a tune. The shock to your system is visceral, bit you get over it pretty fast. All's well that ends well.

UNRELATEDA sudden outburst of applause in an unlikely place. It comes from a table where a birthday or anniversary is taking place and invariably occurs during a ballad. I usually say thank you anyway.

That pretty much wraps it up. Do I hear applause?


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