I’m sitting in a Volvo A/C bus right now driving from Mangalore to Bangalore to do some mixing work on my new CD. I have to say, I have never taken an overnight bus in India that didn’t turn out to be an absolute nightmare, but this bus is totally sweet! I’m in a comfortable bed right now with a blanket and pillow, and the bus actually has shocks so that whenever we hit bumps, I don’t fly several feet in the air! I should be arriving in Bangalore at 5:00 am on April 27th, just 4 days before my return journey to the United States (Woot!).
I haven’t posted a blog since my last article about one month back, and the reason is that in the last month, I have traveled to, from, and between 11 different cities via 9 flights, 3 overnight buses, and 2 overnight taxis. I’ve recorded a new album, played in 2 concerts, sat in one concert, had 12 days of classes, explored North and South India, and ridden one very charming camel. I’ve barely slept, and I’ve had some of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime (I wish I had written about said experiences in detail right after they happened … blast!). After returning to the United States, I’m going to write a final blog article that will detail a lot of what has happened in India since February 1st, but I want to take a bit of time now to talk about the experience of trekking around a country with a world class touring musician.
Though my guru is wildly famous and wealthy now, he started his career from scratch with virtually no money, no actual saxophone teacher (because he is the first), and very little formal education. He lived the life of a traveling musician, performing wherever and whenever he could, taking crowded bottom class trains and overnight buses without A/C to various South Indian cities for gigs that paid pennies. He ate train stand food on the run to avoid missing his ride, he recorded albums for little pay and no royalties, and he spent the vast majority of his day either playing music or praying. Some habits die hard, and for that reason, my guru seems to still prefer taking overnight car rides for trips that are 8 hours or less (hence the crazy number of sleepless drives I’ve had here). For me, roaming around India has been an exercise in meeting the demands of a global icon using the methods of a budding, humble artist (meaning overnight trains, buses, and taxis, disgusting hotels, surprise gigs with little to no notice, and generally no sleep).
Living in India and being around my guru at this stage of my own musical career has shown me how truly remarkable the life of this world class artist with whom I study really is. The hardest part of being a successful professional musician is, of course, being a good musician. The amount of practice, listening, and musical emersion it takes to maintain the virtuosity required to compete on a world stage is large enough to consume the entirety of a normal person’s daily life. Now imagine having to additionally maintain a business, negotiate contracts for gigs, teach students, maintain enough political savy to keep the musical establishment loving and respecting you, deal with reviewers who consistently spew garbage, and, of course, support 3 children and a wife.
Each day I show up to class ushers in a fresh batch of people either calling or showing up to my guru’s door because they want something from him. Kadri mama is constantly giving money to temples, old friends, family, etc. He frequently deals with the requests (and often pleading) of hack students who want to study with him just long enough to put Kadri Gopalnath’s name on their shoulder and sell their product (their crappy music).
Nobody in this world is perfect, and my guru is certainly no exception. Traveling and studying with him, however, has been an exploration of a standard of excellence that is as high as any that exists in the world. I don’t know how my life has been so fortunate to continuously deal out opportunities to learn from the most impressive people on the planet. I ask those, however, who frequently tell me that I maintain unreasonable standards … how is it possible to be any other way when my life is packed with people like Kadri Gopalnath?