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So, what keeps an artist going through the down times?

Diane Barnes on Smooth Jazz Cruise

Happily back to performing My Stroke of Luck at The Marsh, San Francisco after a two- week break. YES!

So, down times, can't really own at the moment! Thankfully!!!

(Though lost a great friend 2/14, Howard Meehan, a genuine genius, creative mentor, whose web profile - opposite of his life footprint- is so tiny, no web site to link, and Googling his name pulls up someone else. ;-( )

But sharing some lessons from a week at sea! (Image from back of Celebrity X Summit in The Bahamas.)

I'd signed up for the sold out 15th Anniversary sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise to the Caribbean (ports Costa Maya, Cozumel, Belize and CocoCay) over 15 months ago, before I even knew if I'd have a run of my show in San Francisco. Then falling as it did between the first and second extensions of my show, it came as a welcome respite. Imagine, 15 A-list musicians, including Marcus Miller, Gerald Albright, Brian Culbertson, Boney James, Peter White, Keiko Matsui) and a resident comedian (Alonzo Bodden) free roaming the ship, formal concerts and open jam sessions, talkbacks and hallway meetings sun, warm sea breezes, miles of open ocean, picturesque ports with white sandy beaches, warm, calm water and effortless gourmet meals, all shared with 1800 likeminded souls (and a private verandah to escape the crowd)- close to heaven.

The real beauty of this cruise, billed as The Greatest Party at Sea, is how accessible and interactive the artists are. I love the music, the concerts, pool parties, jam sessions, informal meet and greets, other afficianatas, new friends, great weather and laid back ports, but find the artist talkbacks totally enlightening. (It was at one of these that Boney James shared how he earned the nickname Boney that is now his professional name! Anyone familiar with his music, knows the "Go, Boney, Go Boney, Go Boney!" chant is the door to some pretty inspired solos! But that story, I'll save for him to share with you!)

One taalkback featured the horn players. To begin, each artist described how he or she navigated becoming a professional musician. Each spoke of discovering his or her instrument or instruments, being encouraged (or not), challenged, finding mentors (Candy Dulfer: Prince) and lucky breaks (Richard Elliot: tours with Natalie Cole, The Pointer Sisters, The Temptations, Euge Groove: recording with Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Patches Stewart: with Patti LaBelle, Al Jarreau). Their stories and paths meandered. Candy, the daughter of a professional musician, watched her father, then picked up his saxophone, knowing. Richard Elliot, a junior in high school, was saved by a music teacher who dusted off an old saxophone from his garage for a lost soul. Beautiful, personal stories coming from artists in the peaks of their careers. Inspirational!

But the life of a musician, and that of of any artist, always has moments of doubt, of failure, times when the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be seems an impassible chasm, where the setbacks seem insurmountable.

So I asked, "What is it that gets you through the tough times?

Candy, the moderator, said, ”Good question,” and looked to see which of her panelists would be the first to answer. Euge Groove looked away, saying, “Not touching that.” Richard Elliot took the mike, but as he did, his body slumped in the chair. “Do we really have to go there?” Then, he took a deep breath, and told of being 19 years old, on the cusp of a breakthrough, when every instrument he owned was stolen, including the gift sax that had started his career. He spoke so honestly of the trauma he felt, that he seemed to slip back in time. Shaking his head, he handed off the mike.

“But how did you recover? How did your find the will to go on? What did you tell yourself?” I asked.

After a few moments reflexion, he answered. “It was the belief that music was my life. That is what I had to do.”

Patches, who has asthma, said, "I'm always struggling with breath. You've got to have enough air to make this thing speak!" He described a bout of particularly severe struggle to find the breath for his trumpet, then added, “But it was my love of music that saw me through. And then someone said to me, "Your cd, whenever I put it on, it lifts my spirit.'"

YES, and!

Candy was the last to take the microphone. She's a professional musician who has not had children of her own, if you don't count her music. She opened a letter: "Our son has been diagnosed with cancer. He's in the hospital. Can you send him something to help?" She felt stricken. What could she offer that would make a difference? But she had to rehearse, so she taped the rehearsal, and made some commentaries about her work and what she was thinking/feeling, and sent it off, thinking, "As if that will do anything." Three months later, she got a letter from the same parents. "You're playing in our town next month, we'd like to bring our son to see you." They came! The son was in remission and hanging on every note. She was blown away.

So, once again, do not underestimate your power: the audience can be the wind beneath an artist's wings.

Kirk Whalum, who leads the Gospel Hour on Sundays on the cruise said, "The life of a musician is a life of faith. You have a skill, and you have to market that skill and wait for the phone to ring.... Hunger is motivation, and you are grateful for every single opportunity. But you need faith."

Rick Braun said, "Music touches people so deeply. Have to honor that. One time, I was at a sound check, and there was a young guy there with his instrument in his case. At the end of the check, he asked if he could play for me. He played my solo! So I gave him a lesson! I had to! I have to give back."

So, if you've ever wondered what keeps your favorite artists creating and going despite all the challenges, think about the power of audience, of young artists, of sharing, of faith, of believing, of community. Clap, stand, buy tickets, write, speak, let the people whose artistic endeavors inspire you know they mattered.

With gratitude... You make our creative lives possible!



"Poignant...deeply moving...her stage presence glows with her personal warmth". Huffington Post

"Compelling...thoughtful." SF Examiner

"“Diane Barnes’ story is one of incredible luck, incredible misfortune, and how tenacious love can be in the face of adversity. It’s the show you should be seeing right now.”

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