…And Thank You Especially, Mr. West.
Not many people get to do what they love for the rest of their lives- but Jerry West is an independent artist in the Tulsa area who still does what he loves doing: making and performing music.
I know Jerry better as Mr. West. He was a member of my high school marching band staff for two years, and one of the best music educators I have ever had. Sadly, the high school I attend decided to let him go because of budget shortages—they could not afford to pay for a part-time staff member.
However, music is not a part-time part of his life. It is full-time with him, and he rarely puts down his guitar. Music is his life, and he likes it that way, even when it wears him out. His directing job is a good indicator of how dedicated he is to his own music and that of others. He has directed state champion bands while helping students like me realize their music potential and take steps toward achieving it. West’s dedication to music is obvious also in the music he writes. His proficiency on guitar is astounding- his spastic style is a blend of guitar gods like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. And he’s nearly as good, too.
But enough background information. I went to see him perform not too long ago at a local Starbuck’s. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while, even though I had heard some of his recordings, so both the prospects of seeing him and seeing him perform excited me. He did not disappoint, either. He didn’t play any of his originals, but he played several cover songs that you couldn’t help but tap your foot to. Included in his arsenal were songs by a diverse background of artists including Maroon 5, Garbage, Zero 7, 3 Days Grace and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. It was quite entertaining to say the least.
His formula was simple: play a rhythm line into his effects processor pad and solo over it. His solos were melodic. His solos were chaotic. His solos were terrific. He would play the vocal melodies of the songs and then completely spazz out over them, his fingers practically creating smoke on the fret board.
However, one of the most thrilling parts of his playing was not just the solos he played, but the faces he made when he got into the music. He would make strange-looking monkey-like faces and bob his head—and the odd part is that as humorous as it was, it was also inspiring. To see a man of his age sitting in a coffee shop, beating songs out of an acoustic guitar and getting into those songs is truly inspiring.
To see the crowd response he got in a coffee house was also inspiring. It started off just my two friends and myself (both also former students of his) listening and talking to him between songs. It grew into a small crowd listening to him and commenting on how good he was. Several people left the coffeeshop during his set, but they made sure to give him kudos before they were gone. He was very gracious in accepting the compliments, reacting with a smile and a humble “thank you”. Despite the small reactions to the compliments, he radiated with a certain glow that got brighter with each compliment.
Later, I thought about a couple nuances of his performance that stunned me: how he doesn’t make much money off of these coffee shop gigs, how small of an audience sees him during these gigs, and how few of the patrons actually pay attention to the performers in these coffee houses. None of it mattered to him. He is doing what he loves to do in front of a small amount of people looking to get some cappuccino. And no matter who did or didn’t listen, he was happy to just have the opportunity to be playing music somewhere. This is a mentality that many independent artists tend to lack. It’s inspiring to see someone that’s not concerned with how much money they are making or how many fans they have at that point in time, and are instead glad to just have the opportunity to do what they love and have people hear them play.
Music is not about the fame and fortune. Sure, the money and fame can be very enjoyable, but independent artists should be happy with the fact that they have the gift of music in their lives, and should help share it with others. Mr. West is one of the few that does all of this, and for that quality I am very indebted to him. All independent artists should strive to take on the attitude he does, not just for their own benefit, but for the listeners’ as well. Who knows how much better an artist could make someone’s night or how much better they could make someone’s frappuccino taste if they just performed because they could and put their heart in it?
I suppose it’s a quality someone learns when they become a teacher. Teachers know that even when they are teachers, they are always students in the field of music. Mr. West is just one of the many teachers in the world, and his gig really opened up my eyes. Not just with good guitar playing- but with an inspirational attitude that I hope to adopt when I am his age. Who knew life lessons could come out of Starbuck’s? Thank you, Starbuck’s. And thank you especially, Mr. West.