Hope, a dream, and Aiko
As I've watched the carnival of absurdity that is the "music business", I'm continually confronted with young people who've just plain given up in the face of such small-minded chicanery. "Why should I even try", writes one young lady to me, "when the promoters won't even LISTEN to even ONE of my tunes? And if they DO listen, they want pictures of me that would make me blush to have taken. I am beginning to be depressed more often. I don't want this for a life."
Or this. "I found out that it's like a syndicate. I know that you call it The Jazz Cartels. I saw it first-hand. I own an antique shop now, and I'm happy. I admire anyone who can make a decent living at playing music."
And it got to me, for sure. I reached critical mass several years ago. It was not pretty. But that's over now. I have many plans, and none of them include the panhandlers of the soul... those that make a living by the toil of others, on the backs of others, at the expense of others... all of my dreams are rooted in my passion for art and beauty, and I've realized that The Music and the music business are distinct and separate entities. To maintain sanity you must separate the business from the art itself. Rahsaan Roland Kirk warned us. He gave us a short musical lecture on one of his albums. It went something like this: "We come in and play and then we split and you don't see us for six months or a year, and you think we done BEEN somewhere. We been off fishin' ... the business ain't nothin' but the BLUES! They ain't the same thing." And, as it was unkind to him, so it has been unkind to most of us.
Tinzen, the present incarnation of the Buddha in the Dahli Lama, was aked how he continued to smile while his people were being driven from their homes or killed and his country was being ransacked and pillaged. His retort was this:
"If I stop smiling, will the killing also stop?"
I am, admittedly, incensed when it comes to ANY injustice, and not just when it's inflicted upon me. It's hard for me to smile sometimes. I'm not as evolved as Tinzen. And the Western Civ adage "life isn't fair" has never been much of a solace or a comfort to me. I abhor prejudice and I abhor corporate-think. Committees do not make art. Individuals do. And the more powerful the art is, the more opposition it will face. The "enthusiasts" and art-patrons and administrators will always be supportive of what's safe, what's proven, and what meets the bottom line without investment risk. They're business people. Most have MBA's just like George Bush. And he never ran a business in his life that did not FAIL.
I can't fault business owners for adhering to bottom-line practices, but when the greed factor rules our very economy and the dollar is worshiped as the one true God, then I take offense.
I've said elsewhere, you have to LOVE your work with a passion, and you have to believe in it with every fiber of your being, and you have to DO almost everything YOURSELF to succeed. A team is a wonderful thing, but it takes years to build a successful and highly motivated and intuitive team.
As I embark on this new journey - which we can call "Jessica Williams Redefined" for now and safely change the name later as it morphs and grows and matures ... because it's a name for an idea that has no specific words, an idea that FUNCTIONS DYNAMICALLY like a living organism, and it is not like a static spread-sheet with indices for growth potential and costs averages - I am finding doorways popping open all around me.
I'm meeting new people. They're calling ME. They're coming to ME. Some of them want something (mainly money) and they're disqualified. There's nothing wrong with money, but it isn't the motivator here. The motivator is ART and OPPORTUNITY. The opportunity to make art, and to make it without the dirty little attachments that have historically gone along with it. When those attachments are removed, the art flows so much more easily. It's so much more fun.
Gee! FUN again! The fun and the freedom to be a child, to be a musician, to be an artist, to be just starting out without all the baggage and accumulated detritus. Like bugs on a windshield, their marks are removable with a lot of elbow-grease and solvent, and the view is becoming crystal-clear again, as I scrub away the years of bug-juice.
I know that some folks might think I'm a pessimist, mainly because of some of the "less-than-awesome" posts I've made here. It's hard to write an awesomely positive article about the erosion of our civil freedoms and government-sanctioned torture and BushCo's "war without end". That's just the nature of truth. When I want to make a point, I make it. Even if it's not awesome, which I have come to think of as a SoCal (Southern California) term meaning all fuzzy and warm and cuddly and touchy-feely. I heard it so often, nasal whine and all: "Gee, that's not awesome."
I want to make this right. I want to make pure, crystal-clear music. I want to make albums as good or better than the one I have coming out in April, internationally, on Origin Arts.
And I want the way cleared for the truly awesome musicians and artists that I am meeting now. I have met many great ones in the past, and have been unbelievably fortunate to work with many of them. But I want the way cleared so that they can live lives of freedom, lives full of expression and joy and promise. I'd like to see health care for musicians! I'd like to see organizations that are run by MUSICIANS AND ARTISTS instead of administrators and bureaucrats. I'd like to see - I know, the mind boggles - some fairness. I'd like to see our great American Music come out from the nightclubs and into the sunlight.
The nightclubs are fun, I suppose, for folks that enjoy hanging out and drinking and smoking and going home with someone new. But for making art, they're not nearly the best environment. And the pay is miserable. When was the last time the average working musician got a raise? Their average pay is lower today than it was in 1975! Just ask one. Any one.
And I'm NOT putting anyone down here. I played the "joints" myself for thirty years. I'm a reformed alcoholic because of it. I have serious lung-damage because of it. I still have nightmares about it. If it sounds like I'm speaking down to anyone, it's to myself. How could I be so blind, so downright self-destructive?
But then is then and now is now, and now is what counts.
As there are clouds in every silver lining, there are often silver linings hiding in the greyest and most foreboding storm-clouds. For me, the resplendent unpleasantness drove me to do something that I really didn't believe I had the energy or knowledge to do: take complete control of my own life. And that meant taking what are now just little baby-steps ... but soon, I'll be walking in strides, and, this time, without the rough terrain that required me to wear metaphorical mountain-climbing boots.
I learned that we are capable of ANYTHING if we apply ourselves and NEVER GIVE UP on our dreams. There are limits set by natural law, but even these limits are time-sensitive. Eventually, all dreams can be realized.
One example of a time-sensitive limit is gravity. In this enormous Universe, it is more than likely that what we call anti-gravity is a reality. If it can be imagined, it can be done. The scientists working in the "new physics" already know that particles become real when we need them to exist. The discovery of monopoles, the particle-wave entities that exist for less than a nano-second, may be paired and identified as "twins" and separated by light years, but when one shifts its polarity, the other one shifts its own polarity simultaneously. This is akin to faster-than-light communication. It's just one example of the mind-numbing shift of consciousness that is taking place under our very noses (or should I say under our very cerebral cortexes), in our culture and in the substrata of our existence. Nothing is beyond possibility, just as nothing is predisposed to last forever.
Radical things like anti-gravity aside, there are structural indices - guidelines - that make our dreams more accessible to us.
- Know what it is you want more than anything
- Do research on the many different ways to achieve it
- Prepare yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually
- Be prepared also to invest in yourself; you are your own best investment
- Surround yourself with totally positive people who believe in their dreams and yours too
- Do not give up at the first failure or at the hundredth failure
- Never do one thing without something else arising from it (musicians, think on-site DVD's)
- Success begins when your self-doubts begin to evaporate
- You are successful when you are seeing the results in real-time, not just when you are counting the money ... success is not always measured in dollars, particularly at first
- Don't ever give up, ever
- The most opposition usually comes just before the big breakthrough
- Don't think small, no matter how many strikes you've been told you have against you; most strikes turn out to be either paper dragons or advantages, not liabilities
- When someone says "it's never been done" or "it can't be done", run from them. Run! Run!
Last night I had a meeting with Aiko Shimada. We mainly just played. It was so easy. It wasn't like a rehearsal. She's a musician who knows her art as much as I know mine, and she knows what she wants. She tuned up, and we started. I was playing tunes I didn't know. Her tunes. It wasn't even a question of learning. I knew. Because her Music is like my Music. It makes sense, it's without unnecessary ornament, and it sings itself.
Then we talked a bit and played with the dog and that was that. It was beautiful. She is beautiful. Music comes from her soul as easily as rain falls from the sky. Our shared show at the Triple Door in Seattle on Feb 7, 2008 will be a success. She is at peace, and so am I. There were no nerves. There was no ego. There were no goals except to be ourselves and create beauty. It is so EASY when done with people like her. I have not met many people like her, but hope to. She is very special, and it will be a great honor to present her, to share the stage with her, to talk with her, and to play with her. It's already a magnificent success. I'm having it recorded, and making a DVD of it, too.
Along with that segment of my show, I'll be playing Music that I wrote that has never been played or heard in public before, including some pieces from my new album for Origin Arts, "Songs for the New Century".
Please be there if you can.
The advance publicity released by the staff of The Triple Door pertaining to Jessica Williams Redefined:
This evening, tradition meets innovation, as the great pianist, Jessica Williams, embraces 21st Century America with new music, controversial ideas, and a powerful message for our times.
Playing piano since she was four, she grew up to be a world-famous, critically acclaimed pianist. Now, she forges a new vision and a new direction for her far-reaching creative gifts. Part concert, part talk-show, and part journey of self-discovery for her AND her audiences.
Jessica Williams: REDEFINED is more than a show: it's a musical miracle, a life-changing experience, a constantly-evolving glimpse into the mind and life of one of today's most important musical innovators and radical thinkers. Jessica Williams, piano, technologies, opinions, and inspiration.
See the reinvented piano virtuoso Jessica Williams, up close and personal! For more information, visit www.jessicawilliams.com
Special Guest Aiko Shimada
Aiko Shimada moved to Seattle in 1993 and started performing her original music at local venues and festivals. Aiko has appeared on KUOW (National Public Radio) for live and recorded interviews on two different CDs, TCI Television in Seattle, KAOS radio in Olympia, KBCS radio in Bellevue/Seattle for live/interview shows, and KCMU (KEXP) Live Room and Sonarchy Radio, live shows.
In 1996, Aiko formed her own label, Bera Records.
Since then she released 3 CDs under this label. In addition, a Japanese label, East Works Entertainment released a CD called Sound, in 2000, and in 2001, Aiko was offered a record project by the world-renowned composer and saxophonist John Zorn. The CD Blue Marble was released under his label, Tzadik, and distributed worldwide in 2001 (produced by Seattle / New York composer / multi-instrumentalists Eyvind Kang and Seattle drummer/engineer Evan Schiller with the special guest appearance by Bill Frisell).
"... in an era when Americans are increasingly frightened of the unknown, Aiko Shimada's music is almost revolutionary in its mysteriousness. ... she's a godsend for Seattleites who, despite out times, are still looking for beauty in the inscrutable other." - Nathan Thornburgh, The Stranger, Seattle
"Local star Shimada has a love for darker colors and more complex musical influences, incorporating jazz and other ethnic sounds into a style that is deeply melodic, ..." - Mark D. Fefer, Seattle Weekly
"Shimada is one of the most original and creative musicians on the Seattle scene" - Paul de Barros, Seattle Times.