Last weeks post has sparked some considerable debate. Mixed in among the many ‘Beavis & Butthead’ like rants have been a few very well thought out opinions both in agreement and disagreement of the “James Hetfield” post. Most interesting has been the question that seems to have arisen from the aftermath: what is a virtuoso?
Many are applying the word ‘virtuoso’ to someone who is able to engage in fast soloing. The guy at the right, for example, is the historic violin wizard Nicolo Paganini, who is a classic example of a virtuoso. If he were alive today, he would probably be thought of as a ‘shredder’ as well. While there is no official definition of a ‘shredder,’ it seems to mean someone who plays fast solos, like Paganini, or modern guitarists, myself included, who engage in fast soloing.
“Virtuoso,” on the other hand, does have some ‘official’ definitions. For example, the Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary, defines a virtuoso as a highly skilled musical performer. Using that as our definition, I ask the following: Is James Hetfield a highly skilled musical performer?
Most would probably say yes. But some would argue against his being termed a virtuoso since he doesn’t fit the description of a so called ‘shredder,’ Now here’s where things get murky: must one be a ‘shredder’ to be a ‘virtuoso?’
I say no. Why should the terms ‘virtuoso’ and ‘shredder’ be mutually intertwined?
To me, a virtuoso is someone who achieves two things. The first is that they create good music (something which is in itself completely subjective). The second, (and this is important), is that they are able to execute it flawlessly. There is no truer test for this than a live concert.
When I saw Metallica last February at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, it was a great concert largely because of James. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the other guys performances. They were all great and the music wouldn’t have been the same without them. But only James was flawless.
I’m speaking mainly about his guitar playing, since vocals are too subjective for this discussion. His rhythm playing, slow melodic solos and acoustic playing, which had a couple pretty cool licks thrown in, was perfectly executed. It showed a strong sense of timing, technique, dynamics, feel and dare I say it, virtuosity.
Where do I get off making this judgement? If I may be so bold, I think its safe to say I’ve acquired a developed sense of hearing. It’s been very much helped by jazz studies at the New School. Some of the teachers there were great pianists like Richie Beirach and Gerard D’Angelo who would drill me with these ‘ear training’ techniques, such as being able to pick out triads, chords and intervals instantly. I’ve also spent countless hours in the recording studio which acts as an audio microscope and heightens ones standards of listening.
I’m not saying any of this makes me ‘special,’ only that like the many other music professionals out there with similar training and hands on experience, I have an ear for the slightest glitches and discrepancies. And I’m telling you, James Hetfield is a the real deal, the type of artist that a producer looks for in a band, the guy who is able to deliver effortlessly, on the spot and with consistency. I’ve talked to many others I respect, engineers, producers and musicians of all genres, and they agree.
So when I said James is a ‘virtuoso’ it was not from the perspective of a ‘fan boy,’ or to be an ‘ass kisser’ (as a couple nitwits have indicated), just an honest opinion from a music professional.
I think it is best summed up by an insightful comment by someone called ‘Jostopholes,’ who really seems to get it:
” Skolnick’s comment doesn’t mean james can shred like him or friedman but more that james brings a wide array of things to the table[vocals, rhythm, lead songwriting] in a greater, more balanced capacity than just about anyone in music, much less metal.”