"What nobody tells people who are beginners – and I really wish someone had told this to me – is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, and it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only be going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambition. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You've just gotta fight your way through it."
Ira Glass is right on the money. There is a definite gap between where I am now as guitarist and where I want to be. Day by day, I'm closing the gap. It will take years to get there, and I'm fine with that. As a musician, I've had my nose to the grindstone in recent years. I try not to compare myself to the musician I will eventually become. Instead, I focus on the here and now, challenging myself with new concepts and increasingly difficult material. Sometimes I look up from the grindstone long enough to realize that I've made some important steps. Little epiphanies here and there have helped me realize that, while I'm not yet where I want to be, I'm getting there. I'm able to play my daily scale routine faster, more fluidly, and more consistently. I'm able to learn new licks and songs more quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more quickly I was able to learn the Rent guitar book compared to how long it took to learn parts for other musicals I've played recently. So, again, I'm not there yet, but I'm making progress. The key has been, and will continue to be, to just play and play and play. Practice at home. Play in public as often as possible, even if it's just for tips and food. Get on a sub list and sit in with other bands. Play wherever and whenever you can.
Our taste guides us in our quest for artistic excellence. There are so many great jazz guitarists out there, and they all serve as my guides to a certain extent. My favorite jazz guitarists from the past include Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. Some of today's finest guitarists include Tommy Emmanuel, Pat Metheny, Martin Taylor, and Frank Vignola. If I had to pick a living guitarist who most closely matches my own aesthetic, I would have to pick Russell Malone. He has amazing technique, but he often reigns it in and plays some of the most beautiful ballads I've heard on the guitar. Even when he's burning through a solo, he plays melodically and with intention.
Here are a few videos of Russell Malone that represent the future musician I would like to be. In the first video, he's accompanying Diana Krall. His low key comping is masterful, and he plays a beautiful solo. The second clip, Mugshot, shows off his funkier side, and in the third video, he plays a tasty solo guitar version of How Deep Is Your Love (yes, the Bee Gees song).