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Saxophone Lessons Learned

Being an Individual Sax Player in the Music Business

It is very important that any art form be real. In today's world, it is harder than ever to be true to who you are. The Music Business is defined by a few originals and a vast number of cheap copies trying to bank off the success of the few.

It all starts with two words that don't belong together; Music and Business. Real music is just that; real music. Business is the financing and marketing of Music. The Business pushes artists to sell. To sell one must be commercial, which today almost always defies the concepts of original and art.

Younger Musicians come up seeing the success of earlier Artists and then begin copying that previous Art with sound alike redundancy that sells but eventually kills the original Art form due to a total lack of originality or personal creativity.

For instance, in Smooth Jazz, young want to be Artists have taken an already commercial adaptation of Jazz and repeatedly regurgitate Smooth Jazz sounding songs using elements of bigger selling Pop Music that has little creative juice in it to rewrite lame copies of a copy of an adaptation of an original. What do you get? An Art form that is selling nothing worldwide, labels dropping Jazz Artists like the plague and Radio airplay that continues to call Pop hits Smooth Jazz, and very little available time on Radio for instrumental pop or Smooth Jazz as we now know it.

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To survive, any Art form or Genre must be real. But time and time again, short sited Business genius sends the Artist and the Art thru the rinse cycle called Copy and Sell. What we have is formula and money driving the process and junk being produced on a daily basis.

The Business people are not really the problem because they don't understand Art and can't be expected to. The problem is ours, the Musicians.

I have heard a thousand times from my Church pulpit that we all come into this world as Originals but most leave it a Carbon Copy. Blaming the process or just being aware of the tendency does nothing. We have to look within and see why we end up loosing site of where WE fit in the process and make a strong determination to be real and original.

Our culture seems determined to sell conformation. If you look at any group of kids that think they are being original you will find nothing more than a sub culture that creates copies with different rules. Punkers, rockers, the pop preppies, the druggies, geeks, you name it. They all conform to a different set of rules and lack any originality even though they think they are so original because the are fighting the status quo. I see groups of high school friends all dressed the same every day. We are afraid to be ourselves and find comfort in conformity to avoid the risk of rejection by our peers.

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There is no place for this in Art of any form. Socrates' said, "Know thyself." You can not be true to who you are if you have no idea who you are.

Many never even ponder the question.

As a musician, I have had to make a choice to be myself and deal with the consequences of nonconformity. My lack of commercial success and financial duress are directly effected by this.

I spent my early career learning from my hero's and coping much of the music I loved. The music you love is part of who you are. These influences are exactly that, influences. To copy and become a David Sanborn clone would have been a very short lived career since he would always be better at being him and is an Artist, so he is always growing and changing. I first fell in love with his playing in the late 70's and early 80's. To clone his style at that stage of his career would have made me a copy of Sanborn at that stage of his career; nothing more than a lame copy. I won't drop names here but there was many a sax player that did exactly that and they are not around anymore because they had no artistic merit.

We need to make an effort to know who we are, our music tastes, our influences, our experiences, our relationships, our backgrounds, our life positions, our spiritual journeys, and our personalities; allowing these things to shape our Art, Music, Playing.

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If we are only looking for the quick buck, a cheap copy will do. Every Kenny G copy will tell you it worked great. Most of them don't even think they are lame copies because they have bought the success and confused it with Artistic validity. Cool thing is, being a real original includes not caring about the success of the lame copies, because, I could never and will never sell myself that short to get on the Wave again.

I have played with just about every "Artist" in Smooth Jazz and can tell you many of these guys would never have had a single CD sold if it where not a truly shallow Art Form to start with. Much of the problem in Pop Art forms has to do with the advancement of technology and the lame content of Pop music requiring no Musical talent, making it possible for people with no talent to appear to be Artists. These people are being true to who they are because they have no talent, can't write a song and know someone who owns a computer with $600.00 of software that they can almost use. For some, lame is them. I just think it sucks that anyone would ever buy that junk.

What is an original? A person that knows who they are. A musician that can actually play an instrument well and is always growing in these skills. I know Smooth Jazz guys that have played the same lame licks for year 10 years now. Art is always growing because Artists are always stretching and experimenting, trying to create something cooler and more exciting than the last thing. If you are not improving, you are not growing and have little to offer to the musical voice of the world.

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An original hears everything, but listens to the voice within. Maintaining your person gets easier with time. You don't have to chase every whim in Music and second guess every time the CD sells less or the show does not go over well. Speaking as an original I can say it is much easier from the beginning. For me, it is hard to play games and try to be something I'm not because I actually know what I am.

To maintain Artistic Integrity, one must not need the approval of others to survive. I don't care if you like my music or think I am a great sax player. I honestly don't care. It does not challenge my reality or shake my sense of self worth. I don't care if you don't like me, think I suck or anything else. I am not driven by the need to get others approval. I am driven by the need to be me and be growing, with every new project being the next step of who I am becoming.

To be an Original, one must be content with not fitting in. My world is controlled by the pressures to conform and the costs are many when not giving in to the status quo. What makes angry Artists is the thinking that it should not be this way. An Original has to give up the notion that people will ever be less stupid because they know no better, and that is OK. I don't get made that others feel the need to project there will for my life. I am actually OK with it now, listen and ignore most of the help offered by well meaning observers.

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I know who I am and love being me, all the time. I can't imagine ever going back. I honestly believe the world is a lamer place if I don't be the individual God created me to be. Call me sick but I actually enjoy challenging the status quo with something they don't understand and can't control - a real person, an Artist and an Individual.

"They" will never change because "They" can't. You have the choice to make. Lame copy? Real Contributor to the world with a unique voice, artistic integrity and personal expression thru your music? I know what I choose.

Greg Vail

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