I recently watched an installment of the PBS documentary The Blues. One of the musicians featured in it astounded me: the pianist, singer, and comedian Martha Davis, who died at age 42 in 1960. She’s a brilliant performer, in total command of her materials and, more important, of herself. Watch these clips and wonder at her ease, her sense of timing, the latent powers in her playing and her singing, and her wicked sense of humor.
After enjoying these clips for their tremendous entertainment value, watch them again and see what you can learn from Martha Davis in practice. For instance, it seems to me that her poise of head, neck, back, shoulders, and arms plays a role in her mastery (as it does with Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, and all the other jazz greats I’ve blogged about in recent months).
I also think that Davis has found a perfect balance between “doing things for her own pleasure” and “doing things for the pleasure of her public.” In other words, she cares a lot about her public . . . and she probably doesn’t give a hoot about other people might think of her. Suppose the public really wanted her to push her head back and down into her neck, roll her eyes, and sweat up a storm in a display of “feeling.” Would she do it? I doubt it. She shares her talent with the public in a straightforward and casual manner that is also very generous and touching. But she doesn’t make a show of herself, so to speak. With her, it’s the materials that count—the rhythms, sounds, words, and jokes—and not her emotions about those materials. She’s an extravert but not a narcissist. My theory is that she loves herself without being in love with herself.
All right, enough with the fancy theories. I’m just going to watch her clips again (and again . . . and again!).