You can ride the bandwagon if you want to but you might not make it to the destination.
A long time ago, a good friend and a consummate music professional said to me, “Rio, you got to have your own platform.” I did understand the sentence and it totally made sense to me but I didn’t have enough experiences under my belt to know what that really meant nor the wisdom in that advise.
When I first started working at The Jazz Gallery, I thought I wanted to do bigger things in the future: bigger projects, bigger venues, and bigger artists. I thought that was the thing to do and I thought the way to achieve any goal is to network and to be noticed by people who were already somebody. I thought once someone takes notice of me and what I was doing, I would be pulled up to one of their wagons and I would ride that into sunset. I thought that notoriety and fame and power and authority of these people would rub off on me and I’ll be all set.
Mr. George Wein of Newport Jazz Festival took notice of me around 2010 and generously gave me opportunities to produce several shows for the Carefusion Jazz festival (formerly known as JVC Jazz Festival). I got to do bigger shows. Two things I learned: 1) doing bigger shows is amazing and gives you such high yet my heart is at The Jazz Gallery where my ears are to the ground and I get to really work with artists in meaningful ways; 2) Mr. Wein’s power didn’t rub off on me.
After the festival, I stupidly expected things to change magically. Nope. Then I remember what my friend said to me a 10 years prior. I was on Mr. Wein’s platform/wagon I was hoping that it will give me a ride to where I wanted to go. Nope. I realized that whatever/whoever get on Mr. Wein’s became his. It was to his credit that he knew who to hire to achieve his goals.
You cannot really take someone’s platform/wagon and make it yours. It does not work that way. If you are hitching the ride, what you are doing is just that. You have to eventually get off of it for any numbers of reasons and the timing often is out of your control. More often than not, you won’t get to where you want to go but instead, you are constantly forced to adjust to situation that you are thrown into. So I understood then: I got to have my own platform; No hitching a ride. I have to build one for myself. If I want to get to where I want to get to on my own terms, I got to have one with my name on it.
Building your own platform involves a constant battle with the feeling of insecurity, inadequacy, failure, and self-doubt. I was doing what I was doing because I loved it and it gave me such joy but it also gave me plenty of bad shit. Am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right choices? Am I making any headways? Am I just wasting my time and energy? Do anybody even care? Does that even matter? Why am I so broke? While all of that was swirling in my head, there was nothing to do but keep slogging through the proverbial mud. Joyously.
When you keep going, though, something eventually gets build. I think the secret to making it is simply this: not quitting and to keep at it stubbornly. It may be beautiful, ugly, fast, slow, big, small, fancy, reliable, or whatever. One thing for sure is that it is mine. People can hitch the ride from me and they can step onto my platform. But at the end of the day, it is mine. What I build cannot be taken away from me. And that is way better than trying to figure out which wagan/platform to get on next.