Jackie Evancho and Joan Baez – A Tale of Two Voices

Early in Joan's 55 year career

Early in Joan’s 55 year career

 

Joan at 75

Joan at 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit to seeing things that are not there. Sometime I just want to connect things, to try and make sense of things that I do not fully understand. Jackie and Joan have no real connection, other than the extraordinary voices they were both born with.

After six years of watching Jackie (including seeing her six times in concert) the one fact not in dispute is that her career has been in a long term downtrend. Concert goers have mostly moved on, witness the fact that her recent Symphony Hall concert in Boston was only able to fill a third of the seats. She has parted company with Sony, dumped her orchestra in favor of karaoke, and failed to offer her fans anything other than what they first saw six years ago – a voice talented singer who stands at the microphone and sings.

Jackie now seems to be in the rear view mirror. She would pop up fairly regularly in the past- maybe a concert in my area, a talk show, a fundraiser, or opening a sporting event. It is hard to imagine that she formerly appeared several times on The Tonight Show, as well as guesting on one of the most highly rated prime time reality shows- Dancing With The Stars.

In fact, if you have read anything about Jackie over the last year, it is likely related to her decision to abandon her classical roots in favor of a new “pop” sound, or her excitement over having her new sister-  the transition of her older brother Jacob to her sister Juliet.

[I do not want to debate LGBT, but there is a sadness here. As much as one can be grateful that a loved one has joined a family (Transgender) that talks to their experience and gender identity, it is a very difficult life in so many ways, that any parent would be concerned over their new daughter’s long term happiness, and the collateral effects on the rest of the family, Jackie included.]

But the most obvious evidence of Jackie’s disappearance is the apparent end of her specials with PBS. PBS provided steady exposure for Jackie including three specials, the first two being part of the prestigious Great Performances series. This included her remarkable Dream With Me in Concert special, which remains her finest hour.

Joan's 75th Birthday Celebration appearing on PBS

Joan’s 75th Birthday Celebration appearing on PBS

 

When I watched Joan Baez on PBS this week (Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration), it was like Joan had filled Jackie’s spot. Both are favored by PBS types- one for the promise of what she could become, and the other for what she has become. They share a few songs (“Danny Boy” being the most notable), and of course the voices- not identical but both are extraordinary sopranos with a purity and control rarely found. Their versions of “Danny Boy” are linked below. I hear a lot of similarities when I listen, and both are extraordinary.

I connected Jackie with Joan in those early days. Could Jackie be the next Joan? Would she eventually appear on stage without the big orchestra (or today’s Karaoke machine) and accompany herself on guitar as Joan did fifty-five years ago? Would she ever sing a Child Ballad? Would she discover the music that her fans loved, and give us something even better? How do you record hundreds of songs in multiple genres (Taylor Swift and Puccini included) and fail to find something you like from Bob Dylan, someone Joan covered extensively in her fifty-five years?

Jackie and Joan were both born with the wondrous gift of an extraordinary musical voice. But that gift is only an opportunity. As Thomas Edison wrote:
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”

This is a story of Joan applying hard work to make something of that opportunity, while Jackie chose to simply run with that early AGT fame and squeeze out every dollar. No investment equals no return, and her six year history is now reflecting that decision to not invest and do the hard work.

Jackie seems devoid of the passion and dedication needed to elevate her game. She does not write, or play an instrument, or dance. She stands at the microphone and sings- you would be hard pressed to point out any growth other than mother nature being at work which her team seems ready to exploit. There is a Wrecking Ball down the road- Miley’s is probably available.

The new intro for Ombra Mail Fu

The new intro for Ombra Mail Fu

Love that Ball!

Love that Ball!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is that famous saying used to encourage the pursuit of education- “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”. I find it equally unfortunate for Jackie not to apply the hard work necessary to fulfil the opportunity presented to her. No – Jackie is not required to sing, but she wants fans to pay hundreds to watch her in concert- the commitment of her fans needs a matching commitment from her to be better than her last performance. Instead we have the karaoke music, nondescript new songs from the likes of Peter Zizzo (Apocalypse),  and that pervading feeling of déjà vu.

I started adventureswithjackie because I wanted there to be an accurate record of major events in Jackie’s career.  I also thought it would be interesting to watch a performer evolve from such an early age. And I hoped I would eventually go to a Jackie concert and hear her sing Bob Dylan and other favorites from my generation. (Yes she performed Bridge Over Troubled Waters (S&G) at the Cirque benefit, but to my knowledge it was only performed that one time.)

Required reading!

Required reading!

If I was Jackie’s Mom or Dad, I would hand her a copy of Lindsey Stirling’s book “The Only Pirate At The Party” and lock her in her room until she finished it. In addition to learning about rebuilding a career, and that her idol Andrea Bocelli is akin to pond scum,  she would learn about the satisfaction and success that can accompany hard work.

Her early fans have largely rejected her move to a pop focused sound. Pop is so ubiquitous these days, and there is nothing particularly compelling about “Jackie pop”.  She has abandoned the music that brought her to the dance, and seems oblivious to what fans found so appealing in those first years. You can sing what you want, but fans always have the last word, deciding with their dollars what they like and will support.

Now the PBS specials are gone. In a Great Performances special this week, we watched Joan Baez perform in the “good music” slot which Jackie had filled in the past. It provided more evidence that while Jackie still has her voice, her opportunity is rapidly fading. PBS fans had been an important constituency for her, but the failure of PBS to continue their investment in her tells us her PBS fans are moving on.

Joan at the Capitol Center in New Hampshire (March 2016)

Joan at the Capitol Center in New Hampshire (March 2016)

I saw Joan Baez in concert earlier this year. How often do you get a chance to spend a few hours with your first crush from so long ago? Her concert closely followed the PBS special, with the exception that she performed without all the guests featured on PBS. It was a sold out concert populated with a good number of seniors, fans who knew every word of every song she performed that evening. It looked very much like a Jackie audience- yeah those PBS types. They still fill concert seats, buy CD’s, and download songs.

 

Obviously we wish Jackie well. Music is a challenging career, and for those who are mystified that Jackie is where she is, I would only say music is so much more than the technical expertise made available to her with that God given voice. Joan Baez understood that, and worked tirelessly on her craft. It was her passion for music, her goodness, and years of hard work that resulted in her fifty-five year career and current PBS special.

Congratulations to Joan! Your fans have been with you all this time. And a fair amount of sadness for Jackie, who was provided a wonderful opportunity but has yet to supply the passion that opportunity needs to evolve and triumph.

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[By the way, if you are not familiar with Joan Baez, then you should take advantage of the wonderful videos available on YouTube, especially a very early BBC concert production that suffers a bit on the visuals, but has a remarkable full fidelity audio track. A great introduction to early Joan Baez, and amazing that we have it. When you watch, what compares do you hear with Jackie?]

 

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