“Art and Spirituality and Commitment are all very important, but if you can have some barbecued shrimp along the way, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.”
When I heard the great trumpeter/wit/visionary/prankster say this to a promoter who asked that if the Art Ensemble of Chicago was so “spiritual” how come they were so into Italian clothes and fine champagne, I knew when I stopped laughing that I had heard something profound. As usual, Lester hit the issue square in the belly. Commitment and integrity don’t demand walking on hot coals, self-flagellation, asceticism or any of the other trappings of stark self-denial and extreme sacrifice.
There is an enormous amount of joy, exuberance and deep satisfaction that results from the pursuit of transcendence and profound truth.
Too many artists – and people in all walks of life – shy away from commitment to that challenging tightrope between artistic integrity and economic success. They view the path as too hard and requiring too much sacrifice of the little pleasures that are so enticing to the frivolous pursuits of fun and pleasure. It often stuns me as to the obstructions and diversions that they throw in front of themselves to undermine their own potential. Sometimes they convince themselves that they are refusing to compromise. This allows them to take on the inertia of “why bother” that allows them to indulge themselves in the mundane under the delusion of commitment. This may be one of the worst – among so many – means of self-destructiveness employed by the artist. And that includes a certain contempt for including the earning of money in their pursuits of artistry.
But once you take on the title of “professional musician” the first word demands the same focus and commitment as the second. Inherently that creates a context of compromise – of a sort.
A certain well-known pianist told me in the early career stages “I don’t want to compromise my music.” My response was “the first time you accepted a dollar to play the piano, you compromised your music. Now let’s try to make the most of your decision. Otherwise you should go into the woods, the desert or a cave and play just for God.”
But the compromise in pursuing the ducats does not have to mean a compromise of integrity. That requires serious thought and honesty.
Here’s what I say in my book Straight Ahead… about the issue of compromise:
Download the free eBooklet excerpt from Straight Ahead… by clicking the image below.
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