My wife and I would watch G.E. Smith lead the Saturday Night Live band in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s. We called him “The Sharing Guy.” He was not on the stage to perform for himself as much as he seemed to be there to share the experience of performing with the other musicians. He never wanted the spotlight for himself, he always wanted someone else there. The more I listen to music, the more I learn to play music, the more I deeply appreciate music, the more I realize that great music comes from sharing, from great generosity like what we used to see 10 seconds at a time from G.E. Smith.
On the surface, it does not seem that generosity and music would ever really go together, in fact, it feels like they should be exactly the opposite. For the most part, we can assume that musicians are incredibly skilled and talented people. So much so that, at some point during their lives, they decided to themselves that they need to be on stage performing, and other people need to be listening. They are that good. They must be heard.
And if they are so good, if other people must be listening, then why must they be generous at all? Why would generosity help their music?
I was thinking about generosity when reading a lovely Facebook post that Lyle Lovett, the amazing Texas based singer-songwriter, recently made. He has been on tour, and has been posting beautiful photos of the theaters he is playing and the meals he is eating. This time though, he made a post about his bus driver.
“Most special was our bus driver Denny Autry’s having time to sit in with the band and me the night of our first show, the night he didn’t have to drive us anywhere afterward.”
On these summer tours, where bands are playing night after night in different towns hundreds of miles apart, the bus drivers sometimes have to sleep during the shows so they can drive all night to the next show.
“I’ve been riding with Denny for almost a year now, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know him, sitting in the jump seat next to Denny’s chair, visiting into the wee hours and watching the road through the windshield. Turns out Denny is a musician. He told me all about his years of touring, playing piano with gospel groups.”
Lyle Lovett is on the road. Trying to sell out concerts. Leading a large band (called The Large Band). Trying to survive night to night. He is a working musician, and he is talking about his bus driver, and the time they spend on the road together talking and learning about each other. Lyle asked his bus driver if he wouldn’t mind sitting in with the band during the next show (read that again…Lyle Lovet asked his bus driver).
“That night during the show, the audience was as blown away by Denny’s playing as we all were. The band and I are excited about playing with him again tomorrow night “
You can see a video here of Denny playing the piano, and he is excellent, and absolutely deserves a place on the stage next to Lyle Lovett, but all the musicians in Lyle Lovett’s Large Band are excellent, and Denny is the bus driver, and Lyle has much to do and much on his mind, and he is giving his bus driver a spotlight on social media and on stage. Lyle Lovett, through his generosity, is adding a special new dimension to his music and to the experience of the audience at his concert.
Generosity makes music special. I remember the amazing experience of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions band perform in 2006. Springsteen had released an album of traditional folk songs, and took a band of New York City troubadour folk musicians out on tour with him. I remember wondering to myself, at what point during these musicians’ careers did they ever think they would be on the road with one of the biggest rock stars of all time, playing to sold out arenas?
The shows were remarkable, as seen in this great clip of “My Oklahoma Home.” Watch this video, and note how Springsteen literally shoves his banjo player to the front of the stage during a solo, at the 4:41 time stamp. A banjo player. At the front of the stage. With Bruce Springsteen. Playing in front of tens of thousands of people. Generosity.
I also remember seeing Rosanne Cash and her husband Jon Leventhal perform recently, and she invited her son Jakob on stage to perform a song of his own. She sits on a stool in the dark towards the back of the stage, and watches her son perform for the sold out audience. When her son is done, and the applause has died down, she stands at the microphone alone and looks at her son. She is crying. “If only my parents were here to see that.”
Though I can’t really provide a strong connection between these examples, they are connected. They are connected for me. They are examples of different kinds of generosity. Generosity brings air and space. It provides opportunity. It is a reminder that music is at its best when it is about community, cooperation and recognizing talents and gifts of each other.
So thank you Rosanne. Thank you Bruce, and thank you Lyle. Your acts of generosity and kindness made me enjoy your music even more, and made me enjoy the experience of attending your concerts in new, different and often exciting ways.