Creative Process, Jazz, Music, Singing

Authenticity (Happy Birthday Billie Holiday)

Everyone’s got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.” -Billie Holiday

This quote is so powerful. I had not heard it before this morning and it has pulled up some deep thoughts for me. I think there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between being INSPIRED by someone’s performance, and/or striving to capture a spirit that another artist has managed to achieve with a tune — through their choices of tempo, rhythm, depth of harmonic understanding, etc. (combined with the feelings evoked from within their heart based on their life experiences) — and COPYING.

I also believe it is a valuable exercise to STUDY the work of other artists and to ANALYZE why something they do well is unique and brilliant, … but, yes…it is QUITE ANOTHER THING to memorize and/or copy someone else’s performance and pass it off as your own work.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that some people who do this really believe they are talented and creative rather than just being excellent copiers*.

In the spirit of concern and love for musicianship combined with authenticity, I say to them: “think about it, when you copy another person’s work you are not being authentic with your audience, you are not being authentic with yourself, and ultimately, you are not developing a way to tap into expressing your feelings through the music, through your performance. You are not building an authentic creative process for yourself, just a creative ‘trick’. There are intangible, introspective steps that you are skipping by simply copying. Your ego might be happy about the reaction of your listeners who believe you are fully expressing yourself, but your soul may be left wanting a deeper connection, a way forward that will transform how you communicate the energy of your true self through EVERY song, not just the one you are passing off as totally your creation/energy.”

Happy Birthday Billie Holiday. OFTEN copied, NEVER duplicated, always an authentic expression of her own truth.

7 April 2019 – Laurie Early (songwriter, NYC)

*Yes, I know there must be a better word than “copiers” which to me implies a photocopying machine. I considered “copyist” but in music that means someone who transcribes written music (and I didn’t want to confuse the issue.) “Copycat” seemed a little too juvenile a word, so I nixed that one too. Feel free to comment on a better alternative 🙂