Yes, I enjoyed it.
And as much as I can appreciate the criticisms I’ve heard from other musicians, I generally believe that criticisms of the musical content or whether the behavior of the JK Simmons character was realistic are completely beside the point.
This is essentially a story of a toxic student/teacher relationship, the pursuit of the brass ring of being an artist and more broadly, an exploration of the pursuit of excellence itself.
Of course the JK Simmons’ Fletcher character was over the top. It strains the imagination that he’d get away with the opprobrium he dispensed in any college environment.
But this is a drama and the whole idea is to convey…..well…..drama. Though I never personally experienced anything even remotely close to that, Fletcher represented a mentality I absolutely experienced in music school but taken to a hyperbolic extreme.
Fletcher was the archetypal drill sergeant hard ass. He was the guy who was going to tear you apart and force you to reclaim the remnants of your self-respect. He was the guy who was unrepentantly abusive when people underperformed because you knew that nothing less than perfection was expected.
The aspect of the Fletcher character that I found most interesting was the idea that a teacher felt any compulsion to behave in that way to produce results. Most people have heard the Buddy Rich bus tapes so there is real world evidence of that kind of abuse. There are undoubtedly other examples of professionals and educators who’ve resorted to similar tactics.
But what kind of art gets produced under those emotional conditions? Does it reinforce the myth of the artist who must relinquish any idea of pleasure, fun or joy in favor of some kind of self-imposed austerity and grim determination? Does it limit the range of emotion an artist can express or expand it?
Miles Teller’s Andrew ultimately prevails and finds a courage within himself, but he pays a steep personal price in order to obtain it.
I will concede one point of extreme suspension of disbelief. Fletcher sets up the climactic concert with a pep talk to the band. He reminds them that careers get hatched at these showcases. Representatives from Blue Note and….wait for it…… ECM will be in attendance.
I’m sure Manfred Eicher will be seeking his next artist to sit beside Ralph Towner, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, and Dave Holland at a college big band showcase.
Quibbles notwithstanding, I enjoyed it. And I’m enjoying seeing drummers being canonized in popular culture.