This Little Underground 

Bao Le-Huu resolves to hold area musicians to even higher standards in 2012, and dares them to meet the challenge

Before we get the NewYear in gear, I want to give a proper farewell to Orlando icon and jazz legend Sam Rivers. The only reason he didn’t make my year-end list of superlatives last week is because the news of his passing came in just past my deadline, but he most certainly belongs there. He was a particularly special gift to this city because he was so widely acclaimed far beyond Florida. So now I join the universal stream of gratitude that’s been flowing. Good night and thank you, sir.

While I’m on it, I mentioned Orlando Sentinel nightlife columnist Kelly Fitzpatrick as “biggest nightlife loss” in last week’s year-end column for obvious but also highly personal reasons. However, Rivers brings up the more specific subject of biggest losses in the city’s music community in 2011. And on that note, I absolutely must add veteran musician Ralph Ameduri to that list. Never have I seen such a deep public reaction to the loss of someone in the local music community. And with that, I’ll gladly put 2011 to bed.

The deal

The news forced me to open this way, but this is not the note on which I want to start this year. In my annual jumpstart column last year, I reflected on how far Orlando has come as a cultural city. Every day since then, localism has only widened, deepened and intensified. It’s actually cool to beat the local drum now. And that’s a beautiful thing.

But that’s not enough. Yes, it’s a critical step. But the only way for local pride to have bite, traction or any meaning at all, is for it to be validated by quality. Maybe this is the rigor of my Asian upbringing peeking through, but it’s not enough to simply be. You must be exceptional. Otherwise, it just doesn’t count. Admittedly, it’s not an existentially comprehensive assertion. But in practical terms, it is completely true. Lots of people, especially in today’s softening culture, will disagree. But they’re either unaware, without ambition or just New Age – none of which are acceptable.

Local for local’s sake is a noble enough stance, and there’s a meaningful number of you who now think that way. But, speaking with stone-cold candor, the only way to truly arrive on any level as a music scene is when we make ourselves good enough to be worth choosing – free of allegiance – among everything that’s available. And nowadays, everything – nationally and internationally – is available. Beyond insider circles of the scene, this is how the public at large looks at things. And it’s completely fair.

There is a difference between simply championing the local cause and actually willing it to be legitimately good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best on the national stage. There are already plenty doing the former, but those cognizant of and focused on the latter are the ones who will further our game and ultimately deliver us to the next level, something we should always be striving for. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in this for empty back- patting and zero progress.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that we do it like anyone else. We must do it authentically, on our own terms. But we need to always measure ourselves against the best out there, anywhere. Everyone else is. You can ignore, deny or resist that competitive context if you choose, but you’ll just be the conspicuous ostrich with its head in sand. Even when a shitload of people thought it was flat, the Earth was still round. So, yes, you can choose to be deaf and dumb about it, but that only makes you deaf and dumb. If you’re not in it to be good – whatever your definition of that is – then what the fuck are you doing?

Trust me, there is greatness here among us. I’ve seen it many times firsthand. But we have to keep on our grind and keep pushing our art and ideas ever forward with thirst, verve and inevitability in order to up our caliber. Insist on the best, from yourself and others. Only then will they know our excellence. So go, do your thing and, most importantly, do it well. Today.

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