Staying Too Long At The Fair

I listen to Siriusly Sinatra on satellite radio frequently, and have collected hundreds of his recorded works. I think he is he best interpreter of the Great American Songbook in history, the pivotal point from “big band” to solo vocalist, and the antecedent for Elvis Presley.

There is no one who can interpret lyrics as he did, and certain classics (“Without A Song,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” Night and Day,” etc.) are really his alone. Many of the horn players in his recording sessions have said that they tried to emulate Sinatra’s phrasing and breath control with their instruments. For a long time there was simply no one better. (The female equivalent for my money was Billie Holiday.)

But I have to change channels when Sirius plays recordings from late in Sinatra’s career. The voice is gone, the phrasing rough, the arrangement a taunting reminder of what he used to be able to do. People were turning up at events to see the icon, not for the quality of the performance. He stayed too long at the fair.

Tony Bennet is still in good voice today at 85. Your time isn’t dictated by age, but by your capacity to continue to perform at a high quality level.

In your career, you need to continually reinvent and adapt to your circumstances and abilities. Some great artists didn’t begin painting until well past 70. Some actors came into their own late in life (or accepted differing roles well-suited to their maturity). I despair at watching a 60-year-old woman play a coquette.

What are you doing to take advantage of your continuing growth and maturity? Are you exploring new offerings, new value, and new markets? Or are you telling the same stories you did 20 years ago, using the same interventions your learned a decade ago, writing the same stuff you had ages ago?

I saw Sinatra four times in person, and think happily of the first three. Are you someone whom people regard as constantly fresh and exciting, or do they say, “Remember when?”

If you’re uncertain, listen to Sinatra sing “Once Upon A Time,” from the midpoint of his career.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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