Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | January 2, 2011

Entertainer, Musician or Both?

I’ve been on stage with great musicians, great entertainers and some were both. Is the entertainment more important than the music?

When you go to a performance should you be entertained or should you embark on a spiritual journey that empowers you? I believe in a village/community sharing in the experience. When does it become a spectacle?

Various performers/listeners disagree on this topic. The difference between John Coltrane and Illinois Jacquet exemplifies how the public embraces the “entertainer.” Both men were excellent musicians but Mr. Jacquet got more attention due to his showmanship.

What about current artists? Who are the modern day entertainers? Is the artist responsible for training their audience? Some singers sing while others change into ten different outfits during the first half of their show. When we listen to music do we seek entertainment, inspiration or both? Must we be willing to do anything to make money? “You gotta have a good hustle” I was told. Is it enough to be an artist? We use the term “artist” so loosely today that we forget what it means. Maybe that is the issue? Is it enough to be highly skilled or do we need a gimic? Sex appeal? Is it about music anymore? Really, is it?

Ok, get set, go! Are you ready to dance, sing, jump through fire, inspire with quasi meaningful thoughts? Is that what it takes? I remember when I considered taking some head shots. I was told I needed to wear my shirt a certain way and make sure the shot caught the gaze and color of my eyes. Last time I checked I thought I was a musician.

The reality is people have to eat and the public determines what is hot. Idealism doesn’t provide sustainable income unless the community supports the ideal.

So I ask, what do we like? Do we like great music? Do we want theatrics when we go out to a performance? There is a level of entertainment when we listen to live music but what is over the top now? Are we listening to the performers? Do we care about dynamics, skill, message and other nuances? Are we willing to substitute quality for entertainment? Who can we listen to without expecting them to jump around? Can quality be exciting enough or do we need more?

As a musician should I strive to reach your soul with music or should I focus on shaking my assets in button down shirts? Maybe I should do both?

Entertainer, Musician or Both?



  1. I am firmly in the camp that this doesn’t need to be an either/or situation. I know some musicians who just want to be “artists” and don’t feel it’s their duty to anything beyond that. It works well for some and not so well for others. If you can make that work for you, more power to you.

    For me, I approach it as both. When I’m working on music, writing, rehearsing, I’m fully in “artist” mode. But when I get on stage, I like to entertain as well. Not to the detriment of the music, to be sure, but I know that when I go to a show I like to be entertained, so I try to do the same for my audiences. It doesn’t need to be over the top either. Your examples of costume changes and such are the extreme. To me, being entertaining is as simple as telling a story or two about the music, introducing the musicians in a funny or light-hearted way, but most of all just having FUN and showing it when we play.

    I wrote a couple of blog posts about this subject a while back. If you’re interested you can check them out here:

    and here:


  2. I wonder does this question have to do with Jeremy Pelt’s new upcoming CD ? Lol. Anywhoo Should we only play dorian over a two chord or are there other possibilities ? If one artist chooses to articulate like Clifford and another like Miles who is right ? If I choose to pray standing up versus sitting down does God hear my prayers ? Perhaps because in the Christian churches there are many dominations I tend to give folks freedom to choose their own path and focus on my own. When it comes to being in the art and entertainment world I believe everyone who is at the top of their game worked hard. I’ve had my eyebrows waxed,went shopping, find the right hair products that is a lot of work. Also I don’t think folks should overlook the hardwork that publicists, managers, photographers, stylists do as well. Should their role be minimized or degraded ? They take their role veryy seriously and many had just as much training to do their job as the musician.

  3. As an observer of the art of Jazz only, I would like to think that a Jazz musician would be interested in finding a way to connect with his audience. Because even though the music is essentially his or her work, as a creative entity, it cannot be come to life if the consumer cannot find joy – no matter how it may be defined – in the visual stimulation that a live gig or concert must give. Therefore, the artist (am I saying it right?) has to know his audience as well as he or she knows himself, and in so doing calculate how far to go in pandering to the fans, much in the same way you would play “tea party” with your daughter, for her sake.

    But every artist is different, I think. So Cyntje, I would prefer to set the hypotheticals aside and have a discourse with you about your philosophy. Consequently, I would like to ask you to answer the rhetorical questions you have posed to me; then we can have a pointed discussion. For I am a mere observer of the art of Jazz, which disqualifies me from speaking for the musicians.

    Knowing where you stand will help me to appreciate your music according to your standards rather than mine.

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