The Artist

You thought you new me but you don't. Heck, I barely know myself. So, because I'm apparently such a complex figure, I'm including two versions of my story: the official third person bio, and my own take. Neither are necessarily true.

As a composer, pianist, singer-songwriter, and entrepreneur,  Peter Saltzman has a long and rich career in the music industry. As an artist he has been leading his own groups, in a variety of genres, from jazz to pop to classical, since he was a teenager. His groups have included The Peter Zak Band (his erstwhile stage name), The Revolution Ensemble, and The Peter Saltzman Group. Along with these bands, he founded and led three companies, Zak Productions,  The Revolution Ensemble, and Music Online Alive.

As an artist and entrepreneur he has released three albums (one LP, two CDs). The first, Songs From Two States (1988), a collection of 1980’s style original pop/rock songs received significant airplay throughout the country, particularly on college stations. The second, Kabbalah Blues/Quantum Funk (2000), a critically acclaimed jazz/classical/ pop fusion, was hailed as being “ambitious, richly layered, wonderfully accessible” by the Chicago Tribune. His most recent release, Things Better Left Said (2003), highlights his mature songwriting, vocal and piano styles.

As a composer Saltzman's works have been performed and recorded by ensembles throughout the world, including a recording of his orchestral dance suite Walls (1996) by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. The same work was commissioned and performed by the Dallas Black Dance Theatre during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The Dallas Morning News called Walls "powerful stuff". 

Mr. Saltzman, who studied jazz at Indiana University (Bloomington) and composition at Eastman School of music, is currently an Adjunct Professor of music at Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches music technology and piano. His concert works have been published by Oxford University Press, while his film and television work is published by Wild Whirled Music. His music has been licensed for television shows, jingles and industrials, including My Name is Earl. (NBC, 2006)

A great deal of Saltzman's music is collected on his Bandcamp site: http://petersaltzman.bandcamp.com/

Whatever I say here needs to be understood in the context of the fact that I’m writing it, and that I’m not necessarily a reliable source when it comes to me and my ilk…

 I was born on the right side of the tracks, with the wrong attitude. While we were by no means rich, we were certainly well-off and became increasingly so as I grew older, into my teens. I was, at the very least, afforded all of the opportunities one would expect for an upper-middle-class white Jewish kid growing up in Chicago in the 1970s.

Unfortunately for me, and to my parent’s perpetual dismay, these didn’t feel like the right opportunities; they felt like the opportunities for another type of person; they felt like the prefabricated opportunities of somebody who was going to grow up the right way, according to the doctrines of the American dream and advanced capitalism. I’m an American, and a dreamer, but not necessarily at the same time.

And it’s high time we admit that the American dream isn’t for everyone, and that the failure to live that dream doesn’t make you less American: for people like Donald Trump, sure, but not so much for Willy Loman and many, many talented artists. Sure it works if you have the entrepreneurial bent of a Jay-Z—who is as much corporate titan as he is artist—but for the rest of us the American Dream can sometimes feel like a nightmare because its ethos are often in conflict with one’s very nature as an expressive artist.

The point is that you are generally asking for trouble when you go against your nature—unless of course your nature is that of a psychopath, in which case you should be put away or reprogrammed. Which is not to say that psychopathy cannot be a useful trait for an American dreamer or and certain types of American artists (Ted Nugent for example). I have no doubt that many successful Americans are psychopaths, but in general psychopathy is only beneficial to the psychopath (same goes for sociopaths.)

The larger point—since I’m neither a psychopath nor sociopath—is that in order to survive in a culture that still has elements of social Darwinism instilled in its citizens, you are often forced to go against your nature.  For some people going against their nature comes naturally—either because they long ago lost touch with their true natures, or because it was never that strong of a nature to begin with. For other people, their nature does fit comfortably into the ethos of the American dream. For a very few people—like the late Steve Jobs, and the aforementioned Jay-Z—their natures combine artistic sensibility and entrepreneurial greed in such a way that perfectly feeds the American dream machine, even while being counter-culture to the core. These people tend to become very rich.

I am none of these people. I come closest to the last example, with one vitally missing element: I don’t connect to the mass demographic dream machine. In other words, I do have a rich artistic sensibility, and a fair degree of entrepreneurial greed, but perhaps not quite enough of the latter to really make it big. I once wrote a song called (Don’t Wake Me Up From My) American Dream, which has the opening lines…

I’ve got a poet’s soul
And A CEO’s greed
I’ll write a hit song
About your deepest needs…

It’s a nice song, and a clever lyric, but unfortunately it’s not really true: I never wrote that hit song about your deepest needs either because I lack the greed, or I just don’t care about your deepest needs, or don’t know what they really are. Or maybe, my timing has just been bad. Given my artistic tastes, I think it’s fair to say that I was born either way too early or about 10 years too late. Whatever the case, I do know what I care most about (other than my wife and kids). It’s very simple: I’m concerned mostly about how notes fit together in meaningful, and sonically satisfying way, with or without words. When there are words involved, I also care how they work together, and how they fit with the music. I care about these thing regardless of their perceived commercial potential, but I still care about that commercial potential.

My dream—and it’s hardly uniquely American—is to write and play the best music ever. This, of course, is an unrealistic dream, but it’s kind of like trying to find the end of the universe—you know you’ll never get there but the idea keeps you going.