Courage to Change

Writing to you from Bochum, Germany in the middle of a Yellowjackets tour. After a week of very little sleep we were finally able to catch up last night.

Despite the rigorous schedule I’ve managed to exercise every day (sometimes twice a day), finish three octet arrangements and an orchestral arrangement, and write an article for Downbeat magazine., and most importantly, play great music with my favorite musicians!

This as a far cry from when I first started in the music scene.  Not that I was any less enthusiastic about music back then. But I now realize that I hadn’t attained the focus, spiritual connections, and systematic approach to doing things in and out of music that I am working on now.

At some point I realized I have a choice: I can hang out late after the gig and pay the price the next morning, or turn in early and get up early to exercise, meditate, work on some music.  I don’t have to drink and drug. If I hang out with people that are like-minded in this endeavor, I get the support I need. I can eat right and exercise, which gives me the energy I need to get a lot out of each day. I can choose to be dark and focus on what is wrong, or I can celebrate all that is right in my life and project gratitude.  I can accept where I am at in the moment and commit to working towards making things better.  I can either make decisions on my own or take the stance that I don’t know everything, and enlist others to collaborate with in decision-making.  I can dwell on my situation in an obsessive way, or focus on others by reaching out and expressing interest in what they are doing.

Throughout the course of my life I have adopted various habits out of fear, uncomfortability, or environmental influences, I would over-emulate certain saxophonists (Trane, Brecker, Joe Henderson) because I felt on some level that I had little to offer of my own (which was somewhat true).  My ability to hear the detail of these players enabled me to sound a lot like them. I eventually realized that I did not have to do this. I initially would identify the clichés in my playing associated with these players, and would then make a conscious effort to not play them. I also went on a quest to listen to ALL the great saxophonists as well as trumpet, piano, guitar, and vocalists to find a greater understanding of the music. I also began to practice improvising from a compositional standpoint, where patterns and intervallic structures became the foundation for my improvisations. I also gave some serious thought to what I was trying to project in my playing, and what would the components be. Little by little, with the courage to step out and play things outside of my comfort zone, I’ve been able to change my playing in a way where I feel like I’m “in the music” on a more profound level.

Sitting in the restaurant of the Renaissance hotel in Bochum eating breakfast I couldn’t help but notice the disparate levels of food consumption. European hotels frequently have lavish breakfast buffets. Many folks had their plates piled high with eggs, bacon, sausage, breads, pastries, and cheese. Their guts reflected their food choices.  I was one of these people for many years. I would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one sitting.  I eventually realized I could change my eating habits to better support what I was trying to do with m life.  Yoghurt, fruit, granola, green tea, then if I really wanted to stretch out, go back for some smoked salmon, cucumber, tomato, and a piece of wonderful whole grain bread with nuts baked into the bread.  This meal energized me rather than sending me into a food coma.  Serious groovilation!  And I feel good about the fact that by taking care of myself today my family won’t be burdened by me lapsing into chronic illness later in life.

It’s exciting to me to think that one can continue to change, evolve, and grow throughout their lives. It takes a certain level of courage and humility to do so, but the payoff is that you wake up each morning with excitement and wonderment, anxious to see what life will bring on this new day.





  1. Posted May 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Very enjoyable read Bob.
    I love being on the road and can easily identify with the challenges of staying on your own game while responding to the demands of touring.
    Similarly , I embrace the knowledge that Mercy itself is renewed each and every morning no matter what.
    That alone compels me to get out and touch the world in a very personal way , encouraging others as I go through the rigors of living moment to moment and achieving my own personal goals as best I can.
    Exercise could use a bit of improvement , but , a healthy regimen of mostly-organic foods and simply getting enough rest can make you feel like a new person.
    As always , have a safe trip and we hope to catch the band the next time you’re in St. Louis.
    I was very encouraged by what I saw and heard in April 2011.
    My workflow hasn’t been the same since …very productive and leaving me very little excuse not to be touring myself already!-lol
    All the best to you and the crew.
    Beau Shelby

  2. Tim Weston
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Very inspiring words (particularly about the aspects of playing) for me Bob on this Sun. AM in Topanga. Say hi to the guys for me !


  3. Posted May 21, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. Inspiring.

  4. Posted May 21, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I have a question. You seem to be very organized to be able to be so prolific. I can imagine it is easy to schedule practice time around your activities. but what about composing/arranging?

  5. admin
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    I’m fairly discipline about writing, and maybe less so with practicing. Writing takes up a large portion of my time. It becomes a matter of getting up early and hitting it every day. I also write on the road, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, wherever. With practicing I generally try to get in an hour or two whenever I have a free slot of time. Sometimes I’ll practice before the gig in the dressing room while on the road. I remember running into Mike Brecker and Pat Metheny at the North Sea festival one year. Those tow cats each practiced for a couple of hours before each and every gig. Serious dedication!

  6. Posted May 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    thank you for your answer Bob!

  7. Terence
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    I just turned 40 in February this year and i,m starting to feel my age upon me. All I can say is that food and half a dozen of cold brewskies every weekend are my only vices. Given what’s going on in society and the rigours of modern working & family life , its really hard to try and get away from that. I’m am always reading your posts with envy Bob. Wish I had that kinda motivation around me and in my face on a daily basis. Your absolutely right ! One really needs courage ! Thanks again for this ! :)

    PS : As much as listening to the Yellowjackets and Jazz in general does to relieve the “pain” , there’s always this tune from Pink Floyd that really says it all for me in this respect . The Thin Ice from THE WALL , Just thought i,d share this. :) Peace

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