We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Lee Barbour. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Lee below.
Lee, appreciate you joining us today. How did you learn to do what you do? Knowing what you know now, what could you have done to speed up your learning process? What skills do you think were most essential? What obstacles stood in the way of learning more?
Well, I started learning to improvise on the guitar by just letting my fingers go and using my ear to correct them. This wasn’t the best strategy for accuracy of ideas, but it did develop a certain amount of fearlessness and trust that I could land on my feet, no matter the musical risk I took.
When I decided to become a jazz major in college a few year later, that strategy became even more limiting, due to the constraints of musical form, advanced harmony and group cohesion. I saw that once I was required to do something specific, my free form, “do what I want” excursions no longer worked. My musical sense up to that point was informed more by the Grateful Dead and Phish than Miles and Coltrane.
I could’ve sped up my musical progress by being more disciplined and going deeper into the fundamentals. As a young person trying to become a great musician, there was very much a “hurry up and get great” mentality. In doing so, I skimmed a lot of material that I shouldn’t have. I’ve had to go back in recent years and really put in as much or more work to feel like my foundation is secure.
The most essential skills for being a working jazz musician are: great rhythm, a great attitude and professionalism. There’s a lot more, but everything else can be a work in progress. These things need to be embedded first.
In my first several years of being a professional musician, I’d say the obstacles in my way were mostly self-imposed. At that time, I didn’t know the most essential skills for being a successful musician. I played a lot of low-paying gigs and taught a lot of lessons. So, the time I had to continue developing my skills always came up against the time I needed to pay my bills. There was also plenty of time goofing off with friends and exploring other interests, as one tends to do in their twenties.
Lee, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My company, Avant Garage, is the business entity behind all of the different musical hats I wear. I produce music for myself and other artists, license music for film and television and book talent for events, mostly. I really enjoy crafting a sound, whether it’s for a movie or, more often, a private event. I play and provide musicians for lots of weddings and corporate events and it’s very satisfying to be a part of such a special day. Lots of time and planning goes into those and providing the soundtrack to that is what we do best.
As an artist, I regularly collaborate with others, tour and release music. This is where I get to explore the things that got me most excited about music as a young person…the thrill of live performance, the multi-dimensional sounds of studio albums and the magic that happens when people come together to be inspired by sound.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can provide some insight – you never know who might benefit from the enlightenment.
Firstly, I don’t think we are so dissimilar. It was clear to me what camp I was in from a young age. I couldn’t help but create, it was natural and unavoidable. For example, I took piano lessons when I was 6 and didn’t like to practice what was assigned; but when I discovered that all the black keys sounded good together, I’d freely spend lots of time just improvising sounds and pretending I’d composed them.
However, most of my efforts now are aimed at how to be better at business; how to be better prepared, understand my tax options, and be more professional. These are things that most non-creatives are way better at! I suppose it’s a “grass is always greener” scenario, but I think creatives and non-creatives are both served well by trying to understand how our neighbor has such a great yard, and what we can learn from them to have a more balanced approach to life.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
When I graduated college with a degree in jazz performance, I thought that meant I was a jazz musician. I mean, cmon, I had a piece of paper saying so. Because jazz is so difficult, I also thought that meant I could do anything else musically pretty easily and without much effort.
Well, I was wrong on both those points. Four years of training in jazz is the starting point. With consistent, almost daily effort of several hours, I think most people can become decent pro players in a decade. It takes another 5-10 years for mastery. Of course, there’s no end to the level of mastery, so it’s a lifelong process.
Also, all that time spent learning the language and your instrument, doesn’t necessarily transfer when you need to craft a melodic solo for a pop tune, or write for strings, or score a video. So those are separate but related crafts that must be studied and practiced, not for mastery, just for competency.
That’s a lot of time, effort and discipline. When I was 22, it was a lot easier to just imagine that my jazz degree program must’ve given me all the tools to succeed as a musician, otherwise I wouldn’t have graduated, right? Right??
- Website: https://leebarbour.com/
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Keith Bradshaw Reese Moore Mandy Chase