Saturday, November 14, 2009


Make up your mind. It can only be one way or the other. The choice is yours. This is a decision that you cannot wait to make, if you want any hope for success. This does mean any hope. What is it that you have to choose? You can’t have it both ways. You might have some clever ideas floating around to justify or explain away how you can get by with this but they are never going to work. This is like a “house divided against itself”. It cannot and it will not stand. Mutually exclusive, diametrically opposed, dichotomous intentions, irreconcilable differences, So, if you think you can be an artist and a critic at the same time, you can’t. The more you criticize others, the less of an artist you will become.

Criticism of others will turn on you for many reasons. You may start to believe that others think the same way as you. You may think that people in your audience are waiting for your every mis-step, your every flaw, and hoping to notice every note sung out of tune, every little time that you disconnect from your audience and stand there introverted about your own inadequacy as a singer. If you are so unprofessional as to voice your criticism to others, the ramifications are many: 1) Professionals are offended by criticism of others and the best ones keep their opinions to themselves and focus on their own “craft” being the best it can be. 2) A person who criticizes others is directing attention away from him/herself and probably for a reason known or one undiscovered. 3) You win the label of being critical and most people do not desire to be submitting themselves to such hateful and harsh scrutiny and they will avoid you at all costs. 4) You will appear as if you are difficult or even impossible to work with in a productive manner. 5) You kill yourself off and stand in your own way to any progress or will certainly thwart all hopes of rapid progress because you cannot do anything good enough or right enough to your own critical (as opposed to artistic) standards.

Criticism is not a “skill” or an indication of brilliance or of having superior knowledge or superior talent. Yes, we all do have opinions and we all have some concept of standards or artistry. If we put more attention on working toward being the best we can be, we won’t have time to look around at the things that are so wrong and so horrible about others. Anyone can criticize. But everyone cannot sing as a professional. Yet, professional isn’t even the real standard as much as being able to sing with a high level of aesthetics, of sincere feeling, of knowing that singing is for the audience and it is a gift that is given without expecting something in return.

Being critical causes artistic blindness and artistic deafness. If you find yourself uncomfortable or reacting to the people who praise other artists and you are filled with resentment or jealousy or worse, you might want to take some time and look at “the man in the mirror”. Focus on your art. What is so good about you or so right about you that you can speak badly of others? There is a reason that “the golden rule” has been called “golden”.

Being critical is a symptom of love, right? It is hard to use the words critical and love in the same sentence. Would you expect that a critical person would also be a great artist? Would you expect a critical person to be grateful? Critical people are negative. Negativity and artistry do not mix well. There are many many more career failures of people who are critical of others than there are critical people who are successes. Happiness does follow success but it also precedes success. Look for the good and you will find that there is more good than you ever noticed. But, if you want to be miserable, be very, very critical and you will soon find out where that road leads. Make up your mind. It can only be one way or the other. The choice is yours.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


You are disarming a bomb. There are two wires and you have to choose which one to cut. The bomb is ticking. It is so old, it isn’t even digital and the incessant ticking is annoying you, as a bead of sweat drips off your nose and onto the convoluted mess of wires. You have figured out that the two wires you have separated from the mess are the two possibilities. Still, you have to make a decision before the time runs out. You have a blue wire and a green wire. If you cut one, the ticking stops and everything is all right. If you cut the wrong one, the ticking also stops but the bomb explodes, vaporizing your head and sending your soul to who knows where. It is a tough decision, to say the least. It is actually the decision of your life. Your training did not prepare you to make this decision. Wait a minute! Green is usually a ground wire, but this bomb may have been built by a madman. Maybe he used a green wire to throw me, you think.

Have you ever been in this situation? This is the old “fork in the road but no road sign” problem. Which way do you go? Sometimes you don’t have enough information to make a good decision. Sometimes you don’t have the right tools, such as a compass, in the fork in the road problem. In most situations, you can gather information and make an informed decision. If you want to make an intelligent decision, you should not only gather information, but also check out the track record and the statistics of success that lie along that direction you will take.

When you make a firm decision, you cut off all other possibilities. A “cut” made in surgery is called an incision and the word incision is related to decision. So, you had better be certain, informed, and intelligent with your decision or you will suffer the consequences. With the right decision, you will reap the reward.

In the 70s, I had three touring bands. In one of these was a trumpet player. A nice guy but he was barely adequate, bordering on inadequate. He was a decent amateur more than he was a pro. Yet, every day he practiced diligently and consistently. He wasn’t on a plateau. A plateau may be temporary. He was hitting a ceiling and never did break through. Why? Whatever he was practicing was either the wrong thing to practice or he was practicing it the wrong way. My lead trumpet player offered to help him but he refused his help. I had to let him go and replace him with someone who could handle the demands of the position. My standards were very high and I could not compromise them because doing so would weaken the band musically and would demoralize those of us who were at the standard that we knew would lead to success.

As a singer, for many years, I practiced the wrong things and the results were: I had a limited range, I strained, I sometimes lost my voice, I had to “sing below my break”, and I couldn’t get rid of the break in my voice. During the eighteen years I lived in Las Vegas, I had friends who were singers. While I was singing in a show, one of my singer friends introduced me to a singing teacher and she taught me the right things, the right way and I handled my issues. The success of handling this and the freedom I gained were a million times better than the frustration that I had all the years prior. My musicianship was more than sufficient to keep me working professionally but I wanted to do more and my head was up against a ceiling until I learned to demolish the old habits which held me back for too many years.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


I went with Sheree to see Jewel in concert in Melbourne, Florida last night. The warmup act was an awesome lady dressed in a bumblebee outfit (Halloween) named Meiko. I don't even know if I spelled her name correctly, but she was excellent.

Jewel was onstage with three guitars, an electric and two acoustics. Having binoculars, I saw that she likes Taylor guitars. Understand that it was just her onstage and that she had three guitars, all with very different sounds. Her guitar playing is that of a consummate professional musician now. I couldn't say that about her first CD, where there was some uneven sounding rhythm and time on a song. Now her playing is beyond reproach. Mind you I was in Las Vegas for 18 years and played with and heard some of the best musicians who have ever lived and she is at that high level of professionalism and artistry.

Although her playing was impeccable, her singing was truly phenomenal. There is no one I can compare her to. She is truly unique and before I get into that, I have to say this: If you have not heard Jewel in person, she is light years beyond the CDs of her I have heard. There are sounds in her voice that I don't believe are recordable. Her tone is multi-dimensional. Let me clarify that. It is as if she is maybe 10 or more people at once. The overtones coming through the most pure tones are ultra-rich. She not only can do controlled fry tones, but also can do a thing where I could hear two pitches coming out at once and it was not "throat singing". For the distinction, you might want to check that term out on the internet.

As if her pyrotechnics were not enough, Jewel gets an enormous amount of unbridled uninhibited emotion out of herself. Somehow she can do this without caving in on herself. If you have ever sung and truly felt the emotion, you know that it is possible to become totally overwhelmed and overcome to where you simply cannot go on. She has made it past that point and with an intensity that seems to transcend time and space. I was drawn in and felt her emotion, almost as if it were my own.

Her musicality in singing her songs was far beyond her CDs. The essence was very much there but the new twists and turns were such that you could tell that her improvisational prowess is more developed than any jazz singer I have ever heard. Remember I was in Las Vegas for 18 years and did hear the best of the best. This is something that has to be experienced because mere words pale by comparison to the actuality of her artistic genius.

If you haven't heard Jewel live, you have only heard 1% of what is there.

Between songs she told fascinating stories about her life: Growing up in Alaska, her mother left the family, singing in bars with her father, worked her way across the U.S. and down into Mexico, singing for money the whole way and the whole way back. At one time she was homeless, living out of her car and then no longer had the car. This lady has more than paid her dues.

She ended her concert with two encores and the last including yodeling, which was the absolute best I have ever heard. She first did this at a "normal" speed and was impressive with her accuracy and speed, then she sped it up at a ridiculous speed and ended with yodeling that was at light speed. Obviously, not literally, but you would swear that what she did is humanly impossible.

I have never been so much in the present moment and totally fascinated as I was in this two hour performance that is hard to describe other than as a religious experience. That was the feeling I had, not worshipping her by any means, just lifted up and elevated to places I hadn't known before (and for a full two solid hours of Jewel).