Remembering one's self, or having an internal awareness file, with constant access capability, is a wonderful and necessary thing in the process of making music, since we all forget ourselves.
The term making music means different things to different people. In 1964, bassist Chuck Israels told me: "Whatever you do in your career, don't become competitive." I think I know what my wise friend meant, and have tried to put it into practice throughout my career in a very competitive environment.
The music business scares the hell out of me! I really don't spend very much of my time or energy worrying about what other people think of me. As former New York City Mayor Ed Koch always asked: "How am I doing?" I am happiest when I'm making music with other musicians, and not worried about how I am doing. "Live and learn", they say. My teacher, Joe Iadone, used to say: "Some of us learn in time; some of us learn too late; and some of us never learn at all." He taught me to focus on my own work instead of seeking other people's approval.
I was taught that an artist is an individual who spends lots of time, especially during the formative years, learning about the craft, studying the basics and working as an apprentice under older, more experienced artists while developing the
fundamentals of basic musicianship, and that specialized, personal concepts come later, if it is to be. Being a worker among workers, gaining the respect and trust of my fellow artists in the pursuit of making music was and still is of primary importance to me, more than making money, and achieving notoriety, which seems to be the primary focus in what they call the music business today. Just watch the Grammys for confirmation of that!
Some of what is loosely celebrated as music, made by so-called "Artists" is greatly dependent upon hype and marketing, just to sell product. Being an artist, in my way of thinking, requires something much deeper than focusing on public perception and acceptance. An artist has to decide what his art means to him. If his focus is on acceptance, rather than the integrity of the work, he might be compromising the quality of his work.
I attended a party thrown by a well-established "Studio Musician", I happened to overhear a conversation between the host and a well-known producer. What I learned in just a few minutes taught me that there is much more to the business of music than I had ever anticipated. The host successfully convinced the producer to hire him instead of another player who he had already contracted. I knew, from that point on, that I would have to do a lot more than just play well to get a gig in New York City.
In a conversation with my old friend, [drummer] Jack DeJohnette, I said that I was only doing some "dumb, little gigs, but nothing of importance." Jack's response was: "There is no such thing as little gigs; every gig is important." This was an important lesson about how he felt about making music. It isn't the perks!
We can choose not to identify with our fears, doubts, expectations and assumptions. The results of our efforts are not always up to us. Things happen the only way they can and for reasons that may not be important for us to understand. A door closing in one area might allow another to open. I try to do the next right thing and focus on things that I can change, while accepting the rest.
Having chosen the path of making music my livelihood, against staggering odds, I still have no regrets for having followed my heart. Yes, there were those who really didn't want me to do what they themselves could not find the courage to do with their own lives. Fortunately, I didn't listen to them, and I've spent 40 years as a professional musician. However, as a teacher, I never recommend that a student go into music unless they feel they have to!
Considering the job at hand, the bottom line, for me has always been the music. When I listen to today's jazz, I sometimes get the impression that some musicians are more into impressing people with their technical prowess, than making listenable music.
The music of John Coltrane or Bill Evans, to name two of my heroes, spoke for itself. When they did speak, they were calm, polite and articulate. Compare that to the political mudslinging that goes on in American politics. I think it is disgusting and sends a wrong signal to people. It says: "All is fair, as long as I get the job." Imagine music advertisements of the future: "Buy my CD, his sucks!"