Look, I'm not going to lie to you. Nobody ever just woke up one morning and thought, Of all the things possible in the vastness that is life, what I'd really like to do is play smooth jazz 250 nights a year." It just doesn't work that way.
It's not something you can plan for—it's all circumstance, I swear: You want to play music for a living. You bust your ass paying your dues in tiny clubs with six people in the audience. You think about all the talented jazz musicians out there who can't make ends meet and you start to worry. The next thing you know, your agent has you filling out forms to legally change your name from Mel Jablonsky to Michael Langello, and it's seeming like a good idea. Then suddenly you're 40 years old and you open up your dresser drawer to find nothing but linen pants.
But it starts so innocently. When you sign up for band in the fifth grade, you're upset to learn that the only instrument left is the alto sax, but you decide to make the best of it. You tell yourself, This sounds kind of cool, I guess, sort of." What you could never know is that at that moment you have taken the first step down the long path toward a highly lucrative spot in heavy rotation on every smooth jazz radio station in every dentist's office in the country.
So you land a couple gigs at a hotel lobby sitting in for a buddy of yours, just to pay the rent. So what? Then you start picking up hours doing session work because you just found out your wife is pregnant. Big deal. Eventually, you're standing on the deck of some record executive's yacht saying, I'd like you to meet my very good friend, Chuck Mangione." How did this ever happen?
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