In my work as a musician and writer, I’ve had the privilege to connect with people who set trends and measurably impact their world. This includes well-known subject matter experts, authors, scientists, innovators, business geniuses, and entrepreneurs. Among this group of influencers, the ones that impacted my approach to music were national level musicians who moved the genre forward to something new.
I have noted that musicians who have made a real difference were not particularly privileged, advantaged or special. Some come from disadvantaged families (such as Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton) with crushing circumstances and limited capabilities, but they found ways to rise above their situation and transform their genre. Researching the life of musicians, I’ve observed a few things that generally lead these people to influence others.
Those who influence others usually found a way to turn their weakness or their background into their strength; Miles Davis falls into this category. The musicians that influence the direction of their genre are usually focused, committed, and unable to be distracted from their journey. This sense of meaning and purpose is what gives musicians like Pat Matheny drive and sets forth his guideposts for others to follow.
At the same time, mature musicians who impact the world know deep inside that they are not perfect. They understand how their skill and knowledge has gaps, biases, and limitations. They are always learning, growing their skill. They often move outside their chosen genre to expand their experience.
Those with huge influence understand the power of relationships and are able to engage with the world openly. They’re not afraid to get out there – connect with others, share their knowledge, and offer their authentic and often contrarian viewpoints and opinions. I think that Vince Guaraldi was one who stood held his ground when he was criticized for selling out and writing the Peanuts cartoon soundtrack. The outcome was some truly marvelous music.
The senior musicians tend to avoid targeting a specific arbitrary goal or outcome as a destination, because they believe the outcome is embedded in the journey. It’s about what they’re learning, experiencing, and building. They are able to embrace failure and criticism more readily than others. They are more fluid and flexible, and more open to the process because their ultimate goal is not about upholding their income or stature, but about new ways to push through the journey. There have been numerous musicians that have impacted my approach to music, but the dominate influences are Miles Davis, Vince Guaraldi, Pat Matheny, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton.