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Alcohol and pianism (Read 3088 times)

Offline maxim3

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Alcohol and pianism
« on: November 28, 2018, 07:43:48 AM »
I have long been interested in the drinking habits of musicians. It seems that in the classical world, alcohol and performing do not go well together, but in other musical cultures, things are less clear-cut.

Let us jump immediately to a famous example. Art Tatum is universally regarded as one of the greatest musicians ever to have walked the Earth; beside the evidence of his extensive recordings, everyone who ever saw him play testified to his astonishing and consistent pianistic genius, and the documented material overwhelmingly makes the case.

Yet it is also known, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he drank huge quantities of beer while he played typical dates. Indeed, he died from physical ailments that are commonly associated with alcoholism. Genius aside, he was a common type of nightclub musician; he brought business to the venue, so there was no question of paying for drinks. [I've done this myself, and believe me, a free drink is hard to resist.] His usual order was three bottles at a time of Pabst beer in a large, ice-filled pitcher. He would empty a number of these during the course of an evening.

History is full of anecdotes about non-classical musicians who were widely regarded as geniuses while they drank and drugged themselves to death.

But concert virtuosos of classical music? Where drugs and alcohol are concerned, the picture is utterly different. Limiting our discussion to a single drug, alcohol, we must agree that no 'classical' concert pianist, past or present, has ever sustained any kind of career with a pitcher of beer sitting on the piano during every performance.

So, what's going on? Any drugs / alcohol experiences, or anecdotes, to relate?

I suspect there must be a huge gulf of difference between the interpretation (reproduction?) of notated repertoire, and everything else. To put this as starkly as I know how, consider that extremely accurate transcriptions of the spontaneous performances of famous improvisational jazz musicians are widely available; is it remotely conceivable that anyone would try to perform, or record, such transcriptions, while drinking?

(My personal contribution to this topic -- I've never been able to drink while either performing or practicing, although I tried many times. I never got good enough at an instrument that it didn't require my full and sober concentration.)

Offline rachmaninoff_forever

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Re: Alcohol and pianism
«Reply #1 on: November 28, 2018, 03:01:26 PM »
Iíll drink a little to calm nerves before an audition or recording.  For regular performances Iíll drink a little if thereís like a party beforehand but not for the sake of calming nerves.  I donít NEED it if Iím nervous or anything, but it does help a bit.  And I donít drink a lot.  Iíve never performed drunk before and Iíve only actually been drunk like twice in my life ever.  So itís only something slight.  It might just be a placebo tbh.

I know quite a few people who like to smoke beforehand.  Weed though not cigarettes.  I wouldnít be able to do that though I get extremely tired and lazy.
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Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Alcohol and pianism
«Reply #2 on: November 28, 2018, 07:29:35 PM »
Fats Waller was also a big drinker (and eater), and i wonder if the reason jazz musicians of this era liked to pull a cork might be due to the locations where they performed.

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Offline j_tour

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Re: Alcohol and pianism
«Reply #3 on: December 07, 2018, 06:43:29 PM »
Well, I think part of it is, as already mentioned above, you'd be surprised just how many units of alcohol some people can put away and still be "functional."

On the second hand, there's probably a reason a lot of jazz pianists tend to be on the larger size ó despite the physical effort, they're doing more than eating chicken wings.

I think there's another thing involved ó namely, once you know your craft, there's a kind of impulse to be like "eh, eff it, I'll just drink some wine and do this set."

For me, learning new pieces is what discourages (or should discourage) too much impairment.  I think the more open to learning new through-written repertoire one is, and able to make some tracks thereon. 

I suppose it's a balance between how much studying one does and how much performing one does. 

For me, I can't study music and work out fingerings and such under the influence, but for performing, it doesn't matter so much.
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