“If you think you might be ready for a change, you probably are.”
This was advice given to me recently as I was agonizing over several potentially life-changing decisions.
Looking back, I can see that it has rung true more than once throughout my life and career. Maybe it’s not a new idea, but it occurred to me that it could be helpful to others undergoing similar transitions or questions, so I thought it was worthy of inclusion in this blog.
It bears noting that musicians’ lives don’t necessarily fit a “normal” mode, because of the travel, the obsession with our art, and for various other reasons. The artist’s lifestyle isn’t necessarily thought to be conducive to raising a family, making money, getting up early, living a square or “stable” life… I always thought it was exactly what I wanted, and still do in some ways. But there have been 5 or more years during which I have never been in one place for two weeks straight. (As they say, “be careful what you wish for”). The fact is, I got almost everything I dreamed of and then realized that my dream was changing, sort of… (Young people, take note- your goals and values may change. You’ll be aiming for something you know you want, and ten years later when you’ve got there, find that you’re suddenly someone else, with different goals.)
Eight years ago I had built up a life as a jazz musician in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I was able to make good money playing music on my own terms mostly, without working too hard. I had a good reputation and lot’s of contacts. My daughter, Camille, was four years old.
I had been trying to grow my carer by traveling to perform, attend conferences, meet influential industry people, etc… Then it occurred to me that if I brought players in from NYC to play with me in Columbus, I could develop meaningful relationships with them and perhaps impress them enough that they would hire me to play in NYC and around the world.
Some of the players I brought to town included David Murray, D.D. Jackson, Greg Osby, and Billy Hart-all big time artists that I hoped to connect with. Luckily enough, D.D. Jackson recognized something in me that he felt he could utilize, and he brought me to NYC to record, rehearse, and perform. While in New York, I reached out to other people and acquired other possibilities to work, with people like Akua Dixon and Steve Turre.
People I met in NYC advised me to move. They couldn’t understand why I would stay in Columbus. NYC is, after all, the center of the universe for a jazz musician. I thought it would be problematic to leave Columbus as long as my daughter lived there. How could I leave my daughter? It seemed implausible, unthinkable. Making such a change just wasn’t going to happen, or so it seemed.
Until three things changed my mind. First, it occurred to me that I could commute to Columbus and stay with family. It would take a toll on me, driving back and forth, but at least I wouldn’t have to pay two rents. Second, it occurred to me that if I never moved to NYC, I would someday possibly regret it. Someday I would be mad at myself for not having tried, and I would always wonder “what if”. Finally, someone I respected told me that it wasn’t just my duty as a father to be there for my daughter, but also to set an example. What better example, they asked, could I set than to take a chance, move to NYC to chase my dreams?
So I did it. I moved to New York. it was hard, scary, new, and ultimately, the 100% right thing to do. I met so many incredible people, learned a new way of life, developed artistically and personally, and climbed my metaphorical mountain. It was perfect in every way, with all of it’s challenges and rewards.
In fact, it was so hard in New York that I didn’t really start to feel like I was actually “making it” until about 2 years ago. That was about the point at which I started to consider the unthinkable: Moving back to Columbus, Ohio.
Why unthinkable? Because at this point I was bumping elbows on a regular basis with all my musical heroes. I was comfortable in my own skin as a New Yorker, knowing my way around, with a nice apartment in a great neighborhood, cool gigs, eating dinner with Phillip Glass and the like, playing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, seemingly just a step away from the ever elusive “big time”. I was living the artist’s dream life.
But something was nagging me. Although my daughter flew to Brooklyn every month to stay with me and we did fabulous things in NYC together, giving her the best of both worlds, I wondered if I could give her more by living near her, seeing her more regularly. Then I wondered if it would actually make ME happier to be around her more often. I was deeply conflicted over the decision.
Finally I made the choice, with great trepidation, to move back, in spite of wondering if everyone would call me a failure and all that, that I “couldn’t make it in New York”, that I had “given up”. I knew the truth, but figured I could never explain it to others, i.e. that I hadn’t left because I gave up, but because I really just wanted to be closer to my family.
To some people this may seem obvious, but to a lot of artists living in NYC it can seem incongruous for a life as an artist. Many of these people I know well and I have seen how they live- with nothing compromising their art-kids, family, location, money, etc…They live to be artists. And this was something I thought I wanted too, except I also wanted other things, especially a close relationship with my daughter.
After I moved back to Columbus in the spring of 09, surprisingly, right away, I felt great, and so happy to be here. And I couldn’t be more happy with the decision now. I have a nice house and get to see my daughter all the time. I enjoy many of the other advantages of the city such as easy travel around town (as well as via the relatively small and friendly airport), inexpensive cost of living, relaxed expectations, closeness to other family and old friends, and more.
Recently I was struggling with yet more decisions about whether to take a leave from some regular jobs I had been doing which required me to travel a lot. Although these jobs brought prestige and money, they required a lot of travel and they didn’t necessarily further my own artistic development or brand promotion. It seemed unthinkable to forego the financial security, but after agonizing for a long time I finally followed some advice. Colleen’s dad, Leo, my father in-law, told me that whenever he had felt like he might need to make a change in his life, and he followed through and made that change, he had never regretted it.