I am a musician and not a star. I believe that it’s an important distinction. It is the luckiest thing that might befall a person: finding something you truly love and following that muse down the path it leads.
It’s a different life than some of my friends in the music business who have had more success, more stardom than me. I bare them no ill will and feel no jealousy for their fame nor shoddenfreud when, as will happen in rock and roll, they get themselves caught up crossways between the big ego that fame seems to promote and the dumb things they do with that big head of steam. It’s understandable. As one friend Todd told me, “What would you do if one year you are playing a local club for $1000 a night and 12 months later you are headlining a concert arena in the same city at half a million dollars, an American idol?” He has a point.
When friends ask me why my band has stayed together 23 years I like to say, “We have not been spoiled by success” but that is not really true. I’m very spoiled by 15 tours of Europe and producing 10 CDs with my band that have sold well from Japan to South America. I’m proud of the radio play I’ve had, TV shows I’ve done, awards I’ve received, and remember the first time I heard my song on the radio. What a rush. And I’m lucky. This fall one of my songs will be on the ABC TV show “Men In Trees.” As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh the places you will go.”
But I’m not a household name like Robert Palmer or John Mayer and because of that no record company has every told me that I have to write a song just like “Simply Irresistible” over and over again. I’ve never been frozen like those red lipped girls in the video, always the same, never changing.
I’m a musician not a star, and my job is to explore, not to recreate the same record I did last year.
My band has a wonderful horn section, a love I picked up a Berklee College of Music. And we’ve explored everything from old swing to a jagged edged rock with horns that borders on Metallica meets Blood Sweat and Tears. Fun stuff and never stagnant.
I wake up every morning and get to do something new. Go someplace new. How lucky is that. I get to play my guitar and sing for a living. I have done it since I was 17. I’m almost 55 and I’m just beginning to learn how much better I can be if I just learn a little more today. A new fingering, new chord, come up with a new melody. And the more I teach, the more I learn.
In the end, that is the difference between a musician and a star. Musicians, no matter how successful, love to teach because it brings up questions that they must go and find the answers for. And then in turn teach again.
John Gillespie was a great teacher. The world knows him as Dizzy Gillespie. Now I don’t know this for a fact because I never got to ask him but I think the reason that he never lost his way, like his pal Bird, was because he was a musician and a teacher, not just a jazz superstar.
This I believe, if you love to so something, like playing music, strive to be the musician first and not a star, not an America idol. Be a player and a teacher so that you never stop reaching out for something you must work just a little harder than everybody else to achieve. Then you will be lucky, you will be happy and focused and challenged and grateful for the gift of music that, as Dr. Seuss wrote will take you to so many wonderful places. “Oh the places you will see.”
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