Spreading Myself Too Thin

I've already mentioned a bunch of influences - rock in high school, Joe Pass and Wes in college. Also, in college, I listened to a lot of non-guitarists, and sort of became a "jazz snob," listening pretty much exlusively to jazz. Big influences were Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Bud Powell, Keith Jarrett, Gil Evans, Duke Ellington (his trio stuff in particular). An album called "Unity" by Larry Young with Woody Shaw, Elvin Jones, and Joe Henderson was a big influence. On guitar, besides people I've already mentioned, I later got into Django Rheinhardt, Jim Hall, Mike Stern, and of course Bill Frisell. After I got my masters degree at the University of Miami and got out in the real world, I realized, contrary to what I thought in school that:
  1. You (or at least "I") can't make a living playing jazz, especially post-modern, cutting-edge avante garde, whatever you want to call it. In fact, most of the time you're lucky to not have the police called on you even if you're playing for free.
  2. Just because you can play jazz doesn't mean any and every other style is a breeze to pick up.

I learned quickly that I couldn't play rock, country, blues, or just about any other non-jazz style to save my life. I got out my old Van Halen I and II tapes and eventually started checking out blues/rock/country players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Jeff Beck, Brent Mason and Danny Gatton. I also re-discovered Jimi Hendrix, whom I'd loved in high school. I also started checking out a lot of other styles of music in general and have come to admire and respect such artists as Prince, K.D. Lang, Bonnie Raitt, Madonna, etc. Also, blues guys like Albert King, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Vaughan and others, as well as Bob Marley and other reggae, 20th century composers such as Stravinsky, Ives, Copeland, and Berg, Indian classical music, Eastern European folk music, African traditional and pop music. I've even checked out some of the loop based Drum&Bass/Techno/Jungle, type stuff and found that there's some interesting stuff out there in just about any genre.

All of this stuff I've been checking out sometimes seems like too much. Sometimes, instead of one happy melting pot of disparate influences, my head seems unable to mix and blend and I come up with "Tom's Stevie Ray Vaughan thing," "Tom's Hendrix thing," "Tom's Jeff Beck thing," "Tom's Indian/Ethnic thing," etc. The last thing on earth I wanted to become was a "studio" type player that could ape any style convincingly but had no style of his own. Besides, my technical imprecision doesn't work too well with that mentality. Studio players are expected to perform like robots, it seems, and I can't even come close to that: that much about my limitations I do know.

I guess in the back of my head for some time now my idea has been that my "unique style thing" could maybe end up being a bunch of styles and sounds from every idiom of music, but not having the slick "studio" mentality and still being really spontaneous and creative. I just don't know if that's possible; it may be a conflict of terms. It also may be spreading myself too thin as I mentioned earlier. If I try to do too many different things, maybe I'll never be great at any of them.

The other thing I sometimes wonder about, and I don't know if I'll ever really know the answer to this, is am I, Tom Lippincott, simply biting off more than I am capable of chewing? Maybe I don't have the superhuman talents and abilities to meld all of these elements into something truly unique and lasting. I doubt very many people in the history of the world do. Then again, the worst I can do is fail. I wonder if I have that potential for "greatness", or if it's the kind of thing that's been nagging at me for a good ten years now, which is that if it was going to happen, it already would have.

Or maybe my problem is that my priorities are in the wrong place. Maybe I need to simply love music and dedicate myself to improving as much as I can from day to day. If I can learn to always be happy and content with that, I guess happiness is pretty much a shoe-in. Greatness, or happiness? I sometimes wonder if it's pretty much one or the other. It seems that many great people in history have been horribly unhappy people. I suppose there is potentially a great deal of satisfaction derived from the tremendous self-discipline involved in the striving to achieve greatness.

However, it seems like there is a path in life that many people take and are very happy with that involves the "simple things" in life, such as one's family and/or loved ones, taking pride in one's job, whatever that may be, and simply learning to enjoy the act of living itself. It also seems like this path could be potentially at odds with a striving for greatness. Maybe it is necessary to view music and guitar playing as one of those things in life that is simply there to be enjoyed, and a great joy can be achieved in the total immersion of oneself in the discipline of music. I DO know that I have an intense love for music, and that it's made me feel things that nothing and no one else has ever made me feel. It has definitely gotten me through some times that I honestly don't think I would have gotten through without it. I guess the secret is simply to live life the way that feels right to do it. I've always had the experience that if I truly follow where my heart is telling me to go, I pretty much can't go wrong.

A Voice / Technique / Feel / Spreading Myself Too Thin
Sounds / Getting Nervous / Guitar / Introduction



As I mentioned in the introduction, the essay was written several years ago (during the summer of 1996). Since that time I feel like a lot of my questions and frustrations have begun to resolve themselves, almost without any conscious effort on my part. I don't know if it was the influence of Mick Goodrick, what he had to say, or simply the fact that I wrote out all these thoughts and was able to discuss them with someone who had been more or less down the same road already, but soon after my lesson with him I felt like I began to see things a lot more clearly, and really DID stop worrying so much about "when will I find my own voice" or "am I talented/good enough to even be trying to do this music/jazz thing?" When I go back and read the things I wrote I find that the answers to most of the questions I was asking fall somewhere in the middle of the possibilities I speculated about, and that again, time and patience seem to have a way of making everything fall imperceptibly into focus.