There are moments in most live musical sets that more or less require some sort of dialogue, or banter, on the part of the musicians. The smaller the setting, the closer the audience, the more necessary the banter seems. The truth is that this act of bantering is almost as much of an art as the music-playing itself and yet many musicians seem to lack the requisite skills.
The Banter is important because it effects the momentum of the set: it can either interrupt it or it can drive it forward. It could be said there are even musical elements to it: a harmonious balance, a cadence, a duration. The problem many musicians run into is a lack of intuition with this bantering. They may talk too much, or not enough; they may tell random stories from their day or their lives that come across as purely irrelevant; worst of all they may try to make jokes and fail. There’s probably a reason you are a musician and not a comedian, my friend (Although, for the record, Steve Martin in the company of his Banjo Band has the art of Banter DOWN).
All that being said, when musicians rock the art of the Banter, they stand a cut above the rest. They are suddenly performers, not simply music-makers.
A prime example can be found in the trio that is The Spring Standards: James, Heather and James. The most impressive part of their relationship, and consequently their banter, is that it feels genuinely collaborative. No one seems to be the ring leader and no one is trying to steal the spotlight. It is Banter, in the true sense of the word. It is playful, relaxed, endearing, completely comfortable yet totally unplanned. They finish each other’s sentences and make impromptu puns off of each other’s remarks, as well as off of comments from the audience. They are in tune with one another’s senses of humor and at the same time it is clear that they respect and enjoy each other.
As a result, we, the audience are charmed by these three incredibly talented musicians. A wall is broken down that separates them, the rock stars, from us, the civilians. Our hearts open and we trust them. We want to hear every word they say and every note they play. Which is lucky for us because The Spring Standards’ music (around the Banter) is even more enchanting than the banter itself (hence our reason for being at a music set and not an improv show).
So can an excellent musician be terrible at banter? Or can a band with sharp and witty banter play unappealing music? Most likely. But without some level of proficiency in both, they may never be truly great performers.
**Don't miss The Spring Standards in action again at Rockwood Music Hall on Tuesday February 9 at 8 pm**
Photo credit: Jeffrey Augustine Songco, from the band's Myspace