Somewhere in the world right at this moment, someone is making great art in front of a select, intimate group of people...someone who deserves more fame, more money, more recognition, but who volunteers his/her time and talent in the face of the immediate unavailability of any one (or all) of these things to be our surrogate on some collective, heroic journey.
On Sunday night, I sat in a small, dark, hot room (The Stone) watching and listening as Ben Senterfit led his fearless quintet through a soulful set of music that was by turns meditative, chaotic, gritty, muscular and prayer-like. Like all great art, it had a destabilizing effect on my consciousness, calling into question basic assumptions I have about the way I live my life, the choices I make, the beliefs I have, the aesthetics I'm attached to.
Just as painters push paint around a canvas and dancers move their forms across a stage, great musicians move feeling; watching this band, tonight, was like watching trees get struck by lightning. Each member of the group opened himself up as a conduit to the forces of the moment, and transmitted them via sound and emotion through their instruments and back to us. It was thrilling.
In upending my own assumptions about things, the music also had the power to fill in those newly-vacated spaces with new inspiration, new ideas, new possibilities. Real art does this. It makes us look inward, clears out the cobwebs, and gives us back the greatest gift of all: our true selves, revealed, the selves that we can easily let get covered up by unnecessary layers of thought-garbage. Real art cleans us out.
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The band was one unit, an organic machine, working together toward a common goal of truth and (sometimes ugly) beauty. In addition to double-threat Ben Senterfit's sax and guitar (both played with grace and conviction), there was Jacob Sanders' baritone sax, Kailin Young's violin, and the relentlessly grooving rhythm section of Jarad Astin (organ) and Matt Crane (drums).
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All of this, for $10. Ten bucks. The price of one drink in any number of NYC establishments. And how many people were there, besides me? About a dozen.
How many people in New York City went to see the Yankees and Mets play that day at their respective stadiums? I looked it up: 88,652.
Twelve people went to hear Ben Senterfit tonight at The Stone. Twelve. I'm not saying that baseball can't be a fulfilling activity, or that live music somehow has more intrinsic merit. I love baseball. I follow it closely. It brings me great pleasure and diversion.
What I am saying is: something is askew here, and maybe it says something about the state of the American psyche. Imagine a world in which eighty-eight thousand people in NYC went out every night to hear live music. Or half of that? Or a quarter of that? What about a world where ten percent of the people who go to sit in the stands to watch millionaires compete against one another on a ballfield instead went to a live performance? And imagine if half of those people, say 4,000 or so, or half of a half of those people, say 2,000, or even half of a half of a half of those people, say 1,000, felt as inspired as I did after hearing Ben Senterfit at The Stone? What if 1,000 people every single night felt their assumptions and beliefs shaken, were forced to consider new perspectives, felt humbled by the beauty that art can bring, felt more in touch with themselves and the rest of humanity than they did before they walked in the door?
Of course, that's assuming a lot. It requires every show to be as good as the one I saw. It requires every band to be as talented and fearless. It requires those 1,000 people to even know where and when the good shows are happening. Is every live show great? No. Is every baseball game great? No. Seems to me the odds do not favor either. I'd like to think you're as likely to see a great performance just as often as you're likely to see a great ballgame. Which is to say, once in a while. Sometimes. They don't happen every night, but they're what you hope for, and they're why you come back. When they happen, it makes sitting through the mediocre ones -- and even the bad ones -- well worth it.
I was a fan of live performance long before I became performer myself, and it is the audience member and fan in me that urges you to do yourself a favor and make it a practice to go and put yourself in a space with people who are making art right in front of you. It doesn't matter whether it's a jazz band, a dance group, an orchestra, a theater company, or what have you . Go be there and support people like Ben Senterfit, and places like The Stone.
And bring a friend. Bring ten friends. Make it an outing the same way you would if you were going to a ballgame. Have a meal together beforehand, or after. You may go in thinking you're doing something for the artists by simply being there (and you are), but you may leave knowing that you did something even greater for yourself.
Check out Ben's Community Music Space up in the Hudson Valley...our man is doing the right thing.