The John-Paul Interview

We first met John-Paul Gasparrelli with a short interview in our very first issue. At the time (September, 2001) he had just become the Musical Director/Keyboardist for “O” in Las Vegas. Though only Musical Director until Spring 2003, his story of how he became a musician, his climb up the ladder, and his thoughts on music are inspiring.

John-Paul comes with an extensive resume. Primarily self-taught, he first came to LA in 1985, playing in many different groups and situations. From ’94-’96 he was the Musical Director/keyboardist for “The Carolina Opry,” a musical variety show in Myrtle Beach, SC. He then returned to LA until mid-2001, when he ventured to Vegas and became keyboardist for Bellagio Casino/Hotel act Dian Diaz. It wasn’t soon after that the Cirque came calling.

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–What first attracted you to the piano?

Well, from the age of 10 to 14 I was an accomplished singer and actor in musical theater in San Jose and Sacramento community and summer-stock theater, which is where I started as a performer. After appearing in productions like “West Side Story”, “Damn Yankees”, “Tom Sawyer”, “The King and I”, etc., I discovered that I had a naturally good singing voice, so much so that I was being scouted as a child performer for Broadway shows. But my mother wouldn’t let me fall into the “child star” thing, as too many of those end up _not_ having a career as an adult. So, I was this child singer/actor in Sacramento, performing in productions with people like Molly Ringwald, who later went on to be a big star.

–You say you were being scouted by Broadway. Did *you* want to do that at the time?

Boy, and how! I had caught “the fever” as they say, and because it was so much fun and it was something that I could do successfully I was really into it. But my Mom and Dad, being the wise people they were and are, put “the brakes” on that situation. At the time I was unhappy about not having my parents be the “stage mother and father” that so many of my peers had pushing them. In retrospect, I am so thankful that I didn’t end up a Hollywood casualty child-star. Practically all of the child performers that “make it” have _no_ career after they are children. And my parents didn’t want that for me, as much as they knew that I wanted it as a child. I’m very blessed to have such wise and caring parents. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I had gone the “child-star” route.

–Many musicians it seems initially turn to music as an escape. Trying to get away from something uncomfortable, be it a hard home life, or school, or whatever. Would you say that was true for you?

Well, without going into too much detail, if you knew my early childhood you would know that from the time I was 6 to 10 years old, I had a very bad time. From ten years old and up, it became a very good time. I started performing when I reached my 10th year, and I think it was both a celebration of my “exodus” to a new life and probably also an escape from my previously horrible years. So I would say it was both an escape _and_ a chance to find a way of expressing myself for the future.

–How did the piano come into the picture?

As I was being hired to sing at various events I had to frequently hire a pianist to play for me. So, after a friend’s mother who played at her church showed me a couple of chords on the piano, I started figuring out, by ear, how to play music from people like Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, etc. Also, as I had played clarinet from the 2nd to 10th grades, I knew how to read music and I transferred this knowledge to the piano. So I had the ear thing going, as well as music training from the clarinet.

As I got older, I started teaching myself jazz, R&B, pop and anything else I wanted to learn. I always had a good ear for copying things so most things I was studying came fairly easy. As I went into junior high and high school I became more and more interested in learning jazz and the singing thing, while still a strong focus, took a back seat to the piano, which had taken over my primary efforts.

In high school I became the “school pianist” playing for anyone and everyone that needed a pianist, from the school choirs to the jazz band. You name it – I was there, and hungry to get as good as I could in all styles. From there I applied and was accepted to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. My high school jazz band teacher was an alumnus so he recommended that I go there. I went very briefly and returned to Sacramento shortly after to begin playing in dance bands.

–Who gave you your first keyboard?

My first keyboard was a small upright acoustic piano which my mother and father gave to me. I was about 12 when they bought it (the first of three acoustic pianos), and they also bought my first electric keyboard setup, which consisted of a Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano and a Korg Poly 61 synthesizer. I was so excited to get these keyboards – this was very big stuff for a blossoming keyboardist just starting to gig in 1983. My how times and technology have changed!

–What was your first paying musician job?

In 1980, when a drummer friend and myself (playing keyboards) were hired for a dinner party. Talk about a small repertoire – I think we knew about 12 songs then, and for four hours of music there were lots of repeats! As for my first paying gig as a performer, period, I was hired at the age of 12 to sing at a function in Sacramento. That was one of the ones when I had to hire a pianist (before I knew how to play!). This gig made me think that I should teach myself the piano and avoid the outlay of money. Ah yes – greed is indeed the mother of invention!

–What attracted you to making music your career?

Well, as a child, I always admired kids on T.V. that were performing, and wondered if I could do the same. I think the fact that singing and playing music has always come very naturally to me, without a lot of stress and difficulty, and the fact that (hopefully) what I play/sing sounds halfway decent, encouraged me to make it my career. (Not to say that it’s been an easy road, because it most certainly has not been!)

–How did you first become involved playing keyboards in LA bands?

After returning from Berklee in Boston I was anxious to start playing “for real” and not just studying it in a classroom somewhere. I joined a local band in Sacramento, “cutting my teeth” with this and a couple of other local groups. After a few years I started looking to L.A. as somewhere I could play with great musicians _and_ find more opportunities than Sacramento could offer. So one day I packed up everything, moved to L.A. and started “making the rounds.” It was a long process (as any effective networking process can be), but after a few years of playing with as many people as I could I started being able to make a decent living just doing music.

Around 1987 I moved to Long Beach after getting married, and met a singer named Derek Bordeaux. Derek had just started his own group at the time and he heard me playing with an excellent band in Newport Beach. He called me for a gig one day and things just snowballed from there. He ended up having the top R&B group in Orange County at that time (Derek and the Diamonds), they ended up being the “All-Star” R&B/Jazz cover-group of the time, attracting all the great players in that area.

This is the kind of thing that happened throughout my time in Southern California; you start getting a reputation (good or bad) as you play more and more in the area, and you start becoming a part of the network. By this process, I really got the opportunity to hone my playing and musicianship with some of the best players in the world…

–What lead you to start playing keyboards as backup for touring acts such as Expose and Debarge?

Again, by exposing (no pun intended) myself to as many opportunities as possible, by being “hungry” to get “good,” and playing for sometimes very little money gave me a decent reputation in the area. This led to lots of “word-of-mouth” situations, where out of the blue I would get calls from groups like DeBarge and Exposé to work with them. It really was a “climbing up the ladder” sort of thing; one thing always seemed to lead to another. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but my playing skills and business sense always grew from whatever I was involved with at the time.

–Your involvement in the Carolina Opry is an interesting note on your resume. How did this opportunity come about? What did you take away from the exprience?

Actually, during the country music boom of the early 90’s, a guy I had become friends with in the 80’s, and had stayed in touch with over the years, ended up moving to Nashville and becoming the musical director and keyboardist for superstar Garth Brooks. He and I had been friends before his big break, and when I found out he had started working with Garth I contacted him in Nashville to congratulate him. I had been working with, ironically, vocalist Johnny Lee (“Lookin’ For Love In All The Wrong Places”) at the same time, so we had something in common.

When we finally got back in touch, he told me that I should consider moving to Nashville, as the “country craze” was hot at the time and there were many opportunities to work in this arena. So I took a chance and made the move to Nashville. (This was also because he had set me up for an audition with Wynonna Judd, which I flew out to and did great on, but didn’t get the job because I was “from L.A.”.) So, hopeful to get into this market, I once again packed up the truck and moved to Nashville.

When I got there, my friend set me up with lots and lots of auditions with many of the country stars of the day. But nothing really materialized with them, although I could play the material effectively. About the time I was considering giving up on Nashville, I got a call from the producer/director of The Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach, SC. He had gotten my resumé from a mutual friend, and was looking for someone with my background to add to his show. He flew me out to Myrtle Beach, and I was impressed with what I found. I was offered the job, and not having anything to hold me in Nashville I moved to Myrtle Beach and joined The Opry. A high-budget show and slick production, it was a great experience and gave me lots of valuable insight on how to be an effective musical director. It wasn’t the level of show that Cirque du Soleil is, but it was very effective training and experience. And of course, living at a beachfront condo was great, too!

–After working in Los Angeles for many years, you moved to Las Vegas to play keyboards for Bellagio Bar act Dian Diaz. How did this opportunity come up, and why did you decide to make the move away from Los Angeles?

After I stopped working with Steve Oliver, Jeff Kashiwa and The Art Of Sax in L.A., I took a hiatus from playing music at all. I was increasingly becoming jaded with respect to the over-inflated politics, false promises, and the “much ado about nothing”-ness of the smooth-jazz world. You wouldn’t believe all the nonsense that goes on in “elevator-music”-land, but it does and did, and I finally had had enough of all the phonies and such. So I took six months off to think about which direction I wanted to go in, as the smooth-jazz thing, IMO, had become a dead-end market.

One day I got a call from old friend Bruce Conte (the founding guitarist of Tower of Power) to play with his band on their regular “run to Vegas.” Bruce had been in and out of The Art of Sax over the years and we had become good friends. So off to Vegas I headed! Once there I ran into another former bandmate that had moved there, and he told me that Cirque du Soleil was looking for a keyboardist for the “Mystere” show. He got the contact info for me, and I immediately became interested in the organization. I sent them my newly-released CD and promo kit, and hoped for the best.

A day before the end of my run with Bruce in Vegas I received a call from Cirque, inviting me to audition. I accepted and they Fed-Ex’d me the material. Two days later I went to audition and did well. I went back to L.A. hoping to hear from them, but never did. So I decided to take a chance and move to Vegas and hope for the best.

Once in Vegas I started looking for work. Within a couple of weeks I heard that vocalist Dian Diaz was looking to replace her keyboardist in her house band at the Bellagio. Wanting to work I made arrangements to audition, and was offered the job. It turned out to be a great experience and gave me the opportunity to work with many of the current great Vegas players, including Dian, herself a wonderful vocalist.

Then, three months after my audition with Cirque, I got a phone call from Montreal asking if I would be interested in becoming the musical director of “O”. Of course I said “Yes!”, and a week later they offered me the position.

It’s amazing what happens when you just “throw yourself out there,” and do your best. I’m very grateful for all the great things and great people I have been involved with. A wonderful career, to be sure.

–You produced your own CD, “Moonlight.” Why did you decide to produce an album?

For the longest time I felt the need to officially realize my musical ideas and abilities into a tangible medium. Just to have my playing ability and ideas just “floating around out there” is not a good idea if you’re serious about making the most of your career. So I decided to make the commitment to do a CD _for real_, and not to compromise on any part of it, putting as much into it as my resources and ability at the time would allow. I knew many people that I was playing with that had taken halfway “stabs” at making their own CD and they always seemed very “homemade” to me. This was something that I wanted to avoid as I really feel, when you make your own CD, that it is truly your “calling card” and that people get the gist of who and what you really are with regards to your talent, your attention to detail, and your self-image. There is a saying – “You only get one chance to make a first impression”. I think, especially when producing your debut CD, that this is a true statement.

Also, when you want people in the industry to take you seriously as a viable candidate for whatever they may be needing someone for, having a well-done CD is vital. It really is your “calling card”, and that’s why I spent so much pain-staking effort in making it the best I knew how at the time.

–How long did the album take to put together as a project?

From start to finish the CD took about a year and a half. The good thing was that I was able to figure out on my own how to do everything to produce it. I literally did everything from the recording, composing, arranging, playing, singing, producing, engineering, mixing, etc. The things that I did not do were the saxophones, some of the vocals and guitars, and some of the drum fills. The photography was from an ace guy in L.A., and the design work was done in partnership with a graphics guy in L.A. as well. It’s amazing what can be done with enough time, energy, some great keyboards, a good mic and a Macintosh G4 computer!! It really is limitless if you invest the time into it. I think all in all it was a very good first effort.

–I agree with you, the CD is a very good “calling card.” How much did the album cost you to produce? How many copies did you have made?

The album cost about $3000 in actual money spent. That obviously wouldn’t be taking _my_ time into account as there were hundreds of man-hours involved on my part. The fact that I was able to do most everything myself with the Macintosh computer really made a huge difference. I had about 1200 copies made. To be honest, I never had any illusions about “making it big” with this CD – it really was intended to be a good “calling card” to show my abilities as a player, writer and producer. And I think it succeeded in this context.

–When did you start recording, and were you also working during that time?

I started at the beginning of 1999. The actual recording of the parts went pretty fast once the arrangements and parts were there. That was the part that took the longest. Creating arrangements and parts that worked correctly were the toughest thing to make happen. It really takes a period of time to “age” parts and arrangements that you come up with. What may sound correct and exciting one day may (and often did!) sound dumb the next. So being patient and letting time pass really makes the difference. If I can listen to something over and over again over a long period of time then it works. But if I listen to something over the same period of time and it starts bugging me, or I get bored, then it’s time to change it. Obviously you can’t wait forever, but I think you start realizing when something is right and when it’s not.

I was indeed gigging and working in L.A. during the time I was producing my CD. I was living in Pasadena and was playing with some great jazz players, which really fueled my input into the album and sharpened my “chops” for when it was time for me to play on it as well.

–How long did the actual recording and mixing take?

The recording took about four months total, but the mixing is where the work really is!.. I spent SO much time mixing, remixing, relistening in cars, people’s homes, other people’s sound systems, etc. to be able to make sure that the arrangements and mixing would translate correctly in as many environments as possible. What sounds good or powerful in one environment may sound lame and weak in another. My mixing concept is one thing that will change on the next CD. I think that my CD would have been even better if I had mixed it in a pro commercial studio instead of my various apartments at the time. And having a “real” engineer, which I would never consider myself as, is a must. There are so many tricks and things that a real recording engineer can do that I, being a musician primarily, will never know. What I did have when mixing were my ears. As they are pretty good, and I have a strong idea of arrangement, this is what saved my CD from my ignorance of “real” engineering.

–Which aspect gave you the most pleasure?

Writing and playing the piano stuff. Being a piano player first and foremost I’m fairly proud of the piano playing on the CD. Not the best in the world to be sure, but I still think it’s pretty good.

Also I had fun, and am proud of, the synth bass parts. Playing bass in a song correctly is one of the hardest things to do, and coming up with the right part is tough. You have to have the right sound and be strong, but not _so_ strong as to be noticed. If you notice the bass over the song then it’s too much. But if you notice how much the bass _isn’t_ noticeable, but is subliminally carrying the song and grooving, then you’re doing it right. I think the bass stuff is really good on this CD.

–Do horn arrangements come easily for you?

Actually, I love making horn section stuff with keyboards. I am very much influenced by groups like Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire and the big bands, and am an avid admirer of genius horn arranger Jerry Hey. I have studied their horn arrangements for years and really have made an effort to discover what makes them work and how to create them. One of the things I was hired a lot for in L.A. was my ability to simulate a live horn section with keyboards. I have one of the best horn section sounds in my keyboard rig that you’ll hear. Playing with all the jazz and R&B groups that I did in L.A., you start figuring out how to make keyboards sound like a real horn section.

–What do you think makes your keyboard horn sound so good, and how have you modified it to make it so? In other words, what makes a good horn patch sound? Is it more the sound, or the way it’s played?

It really is a combination of things, but I think it comes down to how you phrase what you play. The basic sound is very important, but once you have a good sound, if you don’t understand how real horn sections phrase things and what they _wouldn’t_ play, then you get into trouble. Understanding the limitations of ensembles and implementing that when you are simulating them is really the key. Having all the technique in the world doesn’t make any difference as a keyboardist if you don’t first understand what these ensembles play and what they don’t. Dynamics, harmonic content, voicing patterns and articulations are all so vital when trying to create a believable horn section (or string section, for that matter). I often hear players trying to play horn stuff on keyboards that is just plain embarrassing, because they just haven’t taken the time to really study what’s going on.


–Being a professional musician can tend to be a very mobile career, meaning you move where the work is, more often than other professions might. Has that been true for you?

Yes I have had a very mobile life due to the ever-changing nature of the business. But I don’t think that being mobile is an exclusive trait to the music business. I am starting to discover that to be truly successful in _any_ business or career, you have to be willing to be “liquid” and not get too comfortable in any one place forever. The people that I have seen _not_ do this have stagnated or missed opportunities that would never come again. The fact that I have been open to change, and being “uncomfortable”, has led me to this place in my life. I look back on the toughest, most uncomfortable times in life and they were when I was “on the move”. But they were also the times when I was playing at my peak and composing my best stuff. So it’s a trade-off. But being “willingly mobile” is a vital factor for _anyone, not just musicians, to be truly successful and long-lasting.

–Can you be steady location-wise? Can you settle in Las Vegas and expect to play for 20-25 years?

I’ve met people here that have been playing Vegas since the early 60’s (with Elvis no less!) and are still going strong. Vegas, for all of it’s craziness, is a great place to be a musician. There is so much entertainment here and it’s only getting bigger.

–What changes have you seen in the musical performance business since you started?

When I started playing in L.A. nightclubs in the early 80’s it was a booming time and very popular. Jazz, R&B, Funk and Pop were very viable things in that town and you could make a decent living playing that stuff. Today I know so many musicians that have had to quit music because that whole scene in L.A. is now gone. Times and music do change and it certainly has in L.A. It’s like the jazz scene in NYC in the 30’s and 40’s – by the 50’s that scene with Bird and Gillespie was over and Rock had replaced it.

–What is the scene in L.A. like now?

As far as I hear from my friends that are there it’s a tough scene. I mean, who wants to hear a third-rate version of “Brick House” or “Mustang Sally” yet again for the millionth time? Most people do not. And club-owners are not attracting paying customers with that at their clubs.

To these people that are there for their art, I take my hat off to them. But to me life should be a balance, not an extreme of any direction. I think that you can be great at something in your life without it having to be at the expense of having a prosperous and somewhat “normal” thriving existence. So many people I know think that to be good and “real” they have to lead a forever struggling way of life. If you have integrity and are true to what’s honest and real then things will come your way eventually.

–Which gets more jobs in your opinion – niceness, attitude (or self-confidence, some might call is arrogance), or talent? I know they may all factor in to some degree, but which is primary?

In my opinion, to be really successful you have to have the total package. If you’re a nice person but have no real talent or skills, you can only go so far. People hire people that can deliver “the goods” more or less. Likewise, if you’re amazingly great at what you do but have lousy people skills, are dishonest, mean, or are bad in handling business, then as great as you may be talent-wise you will only go so far as well. I think you can be confident and very able without being a jerk or dysfunctional. But unfortunately I’ve found that most of the bad rap that musicians get is well-deserved. A lot of musicians are one way or the other – either amazingly talented but impossible to count on and/or work with, or are really easy to work with but cannot do the job correctly and have very little talent. Then you have the nightmare person – the person who is a jerk, is mean and/or dishonest, and also cannot play or perform. And amazingly enough these people are working a lot. It’s a strange brew. Personally I have learned from many over the years how _not_ to be or act. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but my goal has been and is to be the best person I can be, deliver the best possible product, and help as many as possible _whenever_ possible. I think with this combination and philosophy success will follow _you_!

–Have your job experiences changed your outlook on music, how it is used, or how you may use music in the future? If so, how?

It’s funny – when you get “outside your box”, and go out into the world _without_ a safety net you start realizing just how many amazing opportunities there really are out there but had been invisible until you made the choice to see and investigate new ideas and ways of thinking.

–Which has more “staying power” in the industry, singers or musical instrument players?

It really depends upon how resilient your body and mind are. Some singers can sing great for their whole lives and some burn-out in 2-3 years. Some instrumentalists play through their 80’s and 90’s, and then there are those who get carpel-tunnel syndrome or some other malady that stops their craft. It really depends upon how you treat your body and mind and how careful you are in life.

–Do you ever get Carpel Tunnel symptoms (I’ve always wondered how working musicians care for their hands)?

Yes, I have it and it is irritating sometimes. But working out every other day in the gym makes it less noticeable. It really doesn’t affect me or my playing, knock on wood!

–Another musician-health question: Do you have tinnitus (ringing in the ears, often caused by repeated exposure to loud noises)?

I have been fortunate to not have developed it, although why I haven’t is a good question. For years I stood next to a very loud saxophonist (who shall remain nameless), and the volume really took it’s toll on my ears. Thankfully my ears have stood up against that punishment from years past. I don’t think I will ever (knock on wood) have to worry about playing music at such loud levels again.


–How would you characterize your music? What would you call it?

I think that forcing your music into one or another category can border on taking yourself too seriously from the consumer’s point of view. Sure, you have to have an identity of what and who you are, but I think that if you just go with the initial idea of your sound it will find it’s way by itself, without you having to force it down anyone’s throat. I think music can be seen in many stylistic ways, and why limit yourself? I think it’s funny and self-indulgent for jazz musicians to try and reclassify themselves as “rock” for legitimacy’s sake. It’s like those guys in wedding or lounge bands that are balding but have ponytails, and are still “rocking out” on guitar or whatever – the image that _they_ have of themselves and what others see are totally different. Same thing with music; you really have to have the honesty and the _courage_ to see yourself as realistically as

But I think it’s good driving-around-in-your-car music. It’s kind of the “smooth-jazz” thing, for better or for worse !

–“Smooth Jazz” – That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard the “Moonlight” CD. How do you feel about that characterization, is it bothersome?

Well at one time, like anything else, it was a compliment to be considered “smooth-jazz”. Now I believe it is definitely not. Just like when country music was hot with Garth Brooks, now it isn’t anymore. You can’t get stuck in one style, you have to move and grow. I know so many people that refuse to change with life. They stick with one thing that is comfortable and then rationalize their determination to be stagnant and lazy. I have to admit that it’s an easy thing to get stuck in if you aren’t careful. But it’s dangerous, and the times when I have had the most success are the times I tried to re-invent myself and what I wanted to do. For example, I’m not a big Madonna fan, but I admire the fact that she’s always looking to improve and refine what she is doing. She didn’t get stuck in one thing and then tried to live on that forever. I couldn’t tell you the last hit she had or sing the melody of her last single, but as a performer and artist I commend her on not getting complacent. She is a great example of what someone can do if they try to think “outside the box”.

Some people I know try to formulate their musical output and I think that’s ridiculous, like producing musical “fast-food”. The “smooth-jazz” market and artists that I know are just making glorified “elevator music” in my opinion. I know that will put some people off by me saying that, but the truth is the truth.

For my next CD I will be very conscious of not being “smooth-jazz” as I think it’s an easy thing as a musician to sell-out and default stylistically. Especially if you’ve ever had the delusion of grandeur of being the next Kenny G, David Benoit, or Boney James. It’s time for all the smooth-jazz drones to find something else to do and quick!


–Have your job experiences changed your outlook on music, how it is used, or how you may use music in the future? If so, how?

I think my entrance into Cirque made me realize that there are so many other possibilities in music than I ever realized. It’s funny – when you get “outside your box”, and go out into the world _without_ a safety net you start realizing just how many amazing opportunities there really are out there but had been invisible until you made the choice to see and investigate new ideas and ways of thinking. The music of Benoit Jutras in “O” really struck me as an amazing example of how combinations of instruments previously thought of as “uncombinable” have been combined to create an amazing tapestry of sound and emotion. Benoit is a modern-day genius. What he has done with the art of composition is really something, and has opened my eyes a little more to the amazing possibilities of composition and arranging.

What I think I will get from Cirque on a musical level is a deeper insight as to how to discover my talents on writing for film and theater, which is something I have been considering trying my hand at. It won’t be in any way as strong a focus as my work with “O” and won’t be for some time to come. I don’t think at this point I could ever seriously consider a paying career in that but you never know what the future may hold. In any case, my exposure to the music in Cirque, and the longer I am around it, will give me more and more education and initiation into the complex world of film and theater scoring, the next frontier for me, personally…

–What is the most challenging thing (about being a musician)?

Lately it’s been to keep the “O” band in tip-top shape with regards to making sure that things always stay on the top level quality and consistency-wise. It’s a tough show to play 10 times a week, and making each one sound as precise and fresh as the very first – it’s harder than you would think. But it’s a great challenge and one that I really enjoy and feel I am successful with.

–You say you’ve taken much time getting the “O” show together. What were the difficulties you had to overcome regarding your Musical Director’s job at “O”, other than learning how to work the keyboard setup?

The show was indeed together quite properly. As with the addition of any new band member, or myself, there was the initial “fitting-in” to the situation, and that does indeed take some time to settle. I took quite a bit of time, and still do, to make sure that I continually study the various acts on stage so that I can more effectively call the musical sections to them. The better you study the many variations of what can happen with the acts during a show the better prepared you are when strange and inevitable things occur (which they sometimes do!) I don’t think you can 100% anticipate what each and every situation will be like during a show so you constantly try and learn as much as you can, so that you aren’t caught too off-guard when something out of the ordinary happens.

When I first began the show the whole concept of “calling” sections of the music verbally to the band as the action occurs was quite new to me, and completely different from anything I had ever done. Although I learned the show in about 4-6 weeks time, and was conducting it alone after 8 weeks, it was quite a challenge to take on the responsibility. Gaining the confidence of knowing that you can handle with calmness and control _any_ situation that may arise is the biggest challenge. Also, getting the rest of the band to trust and have confidence in my decision-making was something that was very important to establish from the very start, and I am happy that we all have a very good and mutually supportive relationship. The band is made up of very wonderful people. Each member really brings something special and different to the show and it’s the chemistry of the band that really makes the music work as smoothly as it does. I am very priviledged to be working with such gifted and wonderful people.

–How do you keep the O band in “tip-top shape”?

Even the L.A. Lakers need constant practice and attention to detail. I like to think that no matter how great people are doing there is always something to improve. I take this concept to myself as well. This band is wonderful and to stay wonderful it requires someone who cares and tries to always bring out the best in them, both as people and as musicians. I think that I have been successful in doing this for the band of “O” and they have been successful in doing that for me.

–What is the best thing about being a musician?

Sleeping in as late as you want, although I do get up every day at 9:30 A.M. or much earlier lately – insomnia, go figure! Seriously though, I do feel truly blessed to be able to make a good living doing this – playing my instrument and making music for money as well as pleasure. Being a musician has introduced me to the most amazing people and situations as well.

–What inspires you?

The fact that my professional life has become so successful inspires me to trust and believe that my personal life will follow suit. I’ve always hoped that, professionally, things would go this well.

–What recommendations would you give to young folks just starting out, musicians who are interested in a *career* in music (as opposed to those who think they’ll make the rare “big splash”)? My interest here is on what one can do when young to make a sustainable living performing music.

As with anything getting a real foundation in the basics of a craft is essential to having longevity in the chosen industry. These kids that just want to “be a star” are living very dangerously. They have no real skills at the craft, and as a musician I think it’s more reliable and desirable to have a real, tangible ability to perform a service that cannot be subjective in it’s inherent worth. For example; you may think you’re going to be the next Madonna but not everyone else will think so. But if you spend 20 years becoming a great pianist no one can dispute that you are a great pianist, if that’s what happens from it. You will most likely always work. But as the next Madonna you may work, but most likely you will not. It’s about choices and about how much time and effort you are willing to put into something.

I always thought that investing in developing content and quality as a musician was much smarter than trying to figure out how to fool people with image and glitz. What I do and what I am as a musician may not be as “sexy” as what Billy Idol, does but I’m not complaining. I take great comfort in knowing that, despite what trends may come and go, no one can dispute that I am a competant player and that I know my stuff. And this is because of the _time_ and work I have put in and nothing more. It was a _choice_.

But this has definitely come at a price, a lot of time, sacrifice and work. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. To me you either do something right or you don’t do it at all. To think that you can depend upon what’s “trendy” at the moment to propel you and yourself to riches and fame is a crapshoot at best.

So – in my long-winded way, to aspiring musicians wanting to have a long, enjoyable career in the arts I say this: learn the fundamentals, learn the basics, and learn them well. Do it right from the beginning and you won’t regret it. There is no shortcut. Even if you become an amazing musician it is still a hard, tough road, full of uncertainty. And that’s where you need to hone your people skills. You need both – hard work at the basics of your craft and great people skills. One without the other and you won’t make it. And then be prepared to spend 20 years making it happen. And then _keeping_ it happening. I never let my guard down for a minute. The time I do someone will come in and move me out. And one more thing to remember: have fun and don’t take it too seriously. Important words. But by all means – learn music and your craft FOR REAL, not a shortcut via image and fads.