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Ha ha ha ha. Sorry I thought of the corniest title I could think of. It's not the way I think, however.....

3 people at concerts recently have come up to me and said how lucky I was to have been given this gift. Let's dissect this from my point of view.

It's funny because after a bunch of concerts I'm thinking, wow, I sucked! Then someone comes up and says something about a gift!!! :-)

Without getting into 'who gave the gift' the idea of receiving this gift is a little strange to me. First a gift requires very little effort. Pull the bow off and take the gift out and it's yours. So this gift analogy is troubling to me. I don't like it.

Secondly I spend a lot of time thinking I stink on this instrument. So no one gave a gift, because this is so hard for me to do anything on the instrument. So n my mind nobody gave me a gift but rather a curse. I bet a bunch of you think that way.

Now if I was given a gift it was to be born into a family where I could practice. That's the only gift. I wonder how many people way more talented than me are in a war torn country or are in an impoverished country. I bet that number is pretty high.

I wish people knew that to play this instrument has nothing to do with a gift. There are people who work hard on something and become good at it. Then there are those who don't work hard at it. That's it to me. The ones that work hard most likely have an aptitude for it, sure. I think though that comes about when you are a baby for the most part. You know growing up stuff. Being around music. Mozart worked his tail off as a child and so did Tiger Woods and I would think that Gary worked hard at all this. These guys are so 'gifted' because they worked at an early age on all this.

I think if you are a young player, get the 'gift' notion out of your head and just realize that hopefully the gift you have is to have the time to practice a lot. Because that's the only way you are going to get good on this instrument.

That is IM (very) HO.

What do you think?


John Keene Wed, 06/18/2014 - 15:51

I think we agree that people who compliment in that manner certainly mean well by it, but I also think they are saying more about their perceived lack of being gifted. In my case, "what a gift" is usually followed by "I wish I had..." I usually remind them that they may not play piano, but I certainly don't have the knack of wielding a surgeon's scalpel either. So it tends to even out.

tonymiceli Wed, 06/18/2014 - 20:16

In reply to by John Keene

yeah but, i played with a surgeon that said musicians work as hard as he worked on his degree. also played with a judge who said the same thing. a great vibe player = a great surgeon. they are equally as good and skillfull at what they do!

AND, i still don't like the 'gift' idea. i want people to know how much work goes into this, i think they will appreciate it a lot more. i think because of computers and how easy it is to play a loop and play som bs on top of it, they have no idea.

i think back in the day they had more of an idea.

what do you think?

John Keene Thu, 06/19/2014 - 09:01

In reply to by tonymiceli

I tend to look at being complimented as "gifted" as simply the layman's way of expressing themselves since they really have little way to know what all goes into it. And also, I've had salesmen tell me that the biggest compliment that they can get is that "you make it look easy." For me, Milt makes it look easy because he just looks so cool when he plays, but I know perfectly well that's not the case.

At the same time, I do wonder about certain people who have that extra something, and the evidence tends to support that. For example, Charlie Parker shows up in 1945 with his concept fully formed, and he died ten years later and it's hard for me to trace improvement over that ten years because it just seems to be non-improvable from the outset. Same with Louis Armstrong - to me, he just arrived in New York in 1923 fully formed in his ideas, technique, and overall approach. Beethoven composed the Ninth Symphony totally deaf, whereas Stravinsky treated composition as a 9-to-5 job, and it certainly worked out for both of them. And in these forums, Gary has talked about not working things out as much as simply "just working" due to being on the road with no practice time due to the non-portability of his instrument back to the hotel room.

On a somewhat different note and to respond to your earlier statement in this thread, I certainly do have to compliment you by acknowledging that there was a serious problem you were having back then and sought therapy to sort it out. Just goes to show that you successfully put your feelings into a perspective that ultimately worked out. Ray Charles wrote in his autobiography that "I can bullshit others, but I can't bullshit Ray." So - I think you did a very good job in that respect.

anthonysmith Wed, 07/30/2014 - 11:26

In reply to by John Keene

When people who are not musicians, or are musical dabblers come up and compliment your playing by mentioning your "gift," I agree that they are admiring in you something they are not capable of, and don't really understand. It's the same as going to see improv comedy, and being blown away by how effortlessly and effectively the actors/comedians generate material on the fly. It seems like a natural gift, because it's something you can't fathom doing yourself. You don't understand the methods, techniques, years of training, etc., that went into developing that craft. Same exact thing as what we do as musicians.

But... the second thing is, I do believe in inherent gifts. Tony, you have a gift to make music. I humbly believe I have a bit of one, along with many people who frequent this site, and pretty much anyone who has persevered and made a career doing this most likely started with some kind of gift. If you don't like the word gift, substitute "vocation." I remember my dad noticing when I was young that I had a good natural ear for music, and also passion for playing the piano. Also, I was never afraid to improvise, to express something personal and creative. There are brilliant classical musicians who have mastered their instruments and have jaw-dropping technique, who are scared ****less to improvise, to "make a mistake." There are different types of gifts. Some have to do with attitude and mental aptitudes, not just the physical/athletic attributes necessary to play an instrument well. Another example of a gift is the ability to communicate your music to an audience, regardless of the style of music. Certain singers have this, and they might not even have a great natural voice, but their ability to connect with people and make them feel engaged in a given performance... that is certainly a gift, one not everyone possesses.

I think you should cut yourself a break and acknowledge, after all these years, that you have some natural abilities that galvanized your interest and development, so you could become the great musician you are today. :-D

On a final note, we just spent some time with Warren Wolf yesterday, listening to him play and also absorbing his thoughts about making music. I think it was clear to us all that Warren possesses some inherent gifts. If you don't have some natural talent you brought into this world with you, you're just not going to play the vibes like that... ever. Doesn't matter how much you practice. Does anyone disagree with that?

My two cents for now :-)

... and I say none of this to negate the YEARS OF SACRIFICE AND COMMITMENT it takes to become even mildly proficient at playing music!

HaukeRenken Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:07

i totally agree with you tony.

when people come to me after gigs and ask me from whom i get these skills, from my mother or from my father?... i just smile and say, "ah who knows?!"but i think: hello? maybe i worked on that by myself? - but i dont want to be rude or something, because they just want to be nice to me. - you know what i mean.

but also, when im thinking about how gary burton plays with 25 or 26 there must be some kind of talent he got for this instrument. sure he worked a lot but to get to this level in this age there must be some kind of predisposition (is that the right word?). - just my thoughts about talent and "gifts". :)


tonymiceli Wed, 06/18/2014 - 20:14

In reply to by HaukeRenken

sure it could be predisposition. but i think at some point he had to work very hard. and he came from a very musical family. he was working from a young age. there are so many factors that go into this. i just read a great book on mozart explaining that by age nine he had practiced approximately 4000 hours. most people with 4000 hours of practice at any age can play fairly well. not if you're nine it looks a lot cooler than in you're 21.

when my sister picks up the mallets and plays (she has never played) like gary, then that will be a gift.

tedwolff Wed, 06/18/2014 - 19:31

Perhaps the "gift" you are given is the fact that lots of people like your playing! You have a bit of a following. I'm sure there are plenty of excellent musicians, artists, and writers who create work that never attracts any interest. Van Gogh never sold a single painting in his lifetime.

I'd say count yourself lucky that people like your music.

tonymiceli Wed, 06/18/2014 - 20:11

In reply to by tedwolff

ok, but it's not a GIFT. i went through a shit load of therapy to learn how to be nice to people. it's not a gift. that's my point.

back in the day, i would tell them F off. i didn't want to talk to anyone, i hated people (well i was afraid of people). i was mean, nasty and didn't give a shit about anything except practicing. i thought gary burton sucked, milt jackson sucked, david friedman sucked, i thought everyone sucked but me. get it? i was soooo screwed up. i was the one that sucked.

people know of me and know of my playing more so than yours because of the frickin hours and hours and hours I've spent building the bridge to them. that was and is hard work.

btw - i like your playing! what a gift you have!

my connection to people is not a gift it's a trade and a win win situation. i give a lot of myself hoping people will listen to my music. that's why in this tiny tiny vibe world I'm well known.

Babu Thu, 06/19/2014 - 04:57

I agree with you Tony, we didn't receive any gift. First of all, from who ??? Could be only from a god... and if you don't trust in any god... etc. All is hard work and dedication, patience...
But at the same time all this hard work make you look play easy. Gary's virtuosos runs seem effortless, and it's part of the show - live music is not only for ears, but for eyes too.
Then the peolpe in the audience, not being musician themselves, cannot imagine all the hard work behind that so easy looking music. At the same time they understand very well that a good concert is something very special, very uncommon. The two ideas are conflicting, thus the "magical" explanation, the gift. That's the musician's paradox : more he works hard, more he seems effortless in his playing, and more he makes people forget all the hard work behind. One part of the glory's ransom.
When I was younger, I tried sometimes to explain to audience people how works music, but I ended up killing their dreams and interest. With our music we can offer a big gift to them : some moments out of this world full of all kinds of hassles. And it's, at least for me, priceless.
My 2 cents

Marvel Thu, 06/19/2014 - 05:44

Well meaning or not, it's annoying.

A few years ago, I took 5 weeks out of my life to cycle from the prairies over the Rockie mountains to the west coast. Along the way we had many people tell us how lucky we were. It had nothing to do with luck! We researched, saved our money, trained, fixed up our bikes, quit our jobs, and left our girlfriends behind. I understand that some people have more complicated situations -- such as having a mortgage and kids -- but nothing comes free. There's always work and sacrifice necessary. And it's damn well worth it!


gloria krolak Thu, 06/19/2014 - 17:33

I think that's backwards -- the gift is in reverse. It's YOU (musicians) giving the gift to US (listeners). So thank you, thank you. A million times, thank you.
I see how much practice, work, time, effort, thinking, planning, expense, go into just playing an instrument, and that doesn't begin to cover all the marketing work, getting gigs, networking, etc., etc., that goes along with that if you plan to share the results.
Sometimes I hear some of the pros wondering if they were any good, doubting their performance, lacking confidence. I am always amazed, they sound so good to me. But I do think the best artists are the ones who are never really satisfied with themselves/their performances. Keep learning, keep growing, keep improving, stay humble. It goes with the territory. Maybe you should listen to your own recordings more. You'll be impressed!
Tony, I know you weren't looking for a compliment with this thread opener, but here comes one. Your "I Loves You Porgy," from Looking East, is IMHO one of the very best . There is such a depth of feeling. It's just gorgeous. So do you suck? I don't think so.
I'm also glad to know you now like (some) people.

Piper Sun, 08/03/2014 - 22:43

I didn't actually read all the comments but my feeling in response to the headlines is that your real gift Tony, is that you have so much to give.

tonymiceli Mon, 08/04/2014 - 22:55

In reply to by Piper

yeah well it's effort. and i think no matter what we do it's ultimately for many reasons some of them selfish. but it's better to be give to get rather than just simply take.

my philosophy is you cut down a tree you should plant a tree. right?

and for me again none of this is a gift. it's just working very hard. maybe for some it's easy, but not for me! just sayin


What instruments does this pertain to?