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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Celebrities

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I got a lovely email this morning. It was from the producer of the Phil Collins Big Band Tribute show I played on last year. We made a DVD of the tour and it was sent to Phil Collins as a gesture. We received this signed copy back.

It was nice to have some acknowledgement from such a big name in music but what does it really mean? In an age of countless celebrities, its hard to work out whether rubbing shoulders with the stars really makes a difference. I would certainly like to perform more with some world class artists but what does it take to get there? In this blog I offer my thoughts on celebrities and why so many people are fascinated with the celebrity culture.

Firstly, I think that everyone likes a good story. Us Brits are renowned for our trivial conversation about the weather and the strength of a good cup of tea. It’s nice to break out of the mould occasionally. A chance to talk about something exciting helps with the humdrum life we can often find ourselves wrapped up in. For this reason I see nothing wrong with seeking out the thrills of celebrity-spotting and having some contact with them. Twitter is a great way to do this but it can be addictive – be warned!

A lot of celebrities have worked very hard to be where they are and would mostly be described as successful. Success in life is an obvious ambition for all of us so its no surprise that we tend to drift toward other successful people. Celebrities often mix with other celebrities as they often haven similar attributes. One way to become more successful and a celebrity in your field (if that’s what you want) is to try to join the circle. Many people do this the wrong way though. If you try to make friends with someone then it has to be a two way street. Who would want to hang out with someone who is constantly drawing from them?

Celebrities appear in every field. From music, the arts, and television to bee keeping, carpentry and pillow design (I’m not sure why those last three things popped into my head)! In many cases you can contact these people and have a reasonable discussion with them. One student of mine was working on a transcription of a Bob Mintzer piece (a true super star in my mind), he wrote to him and was sent a copy of the chart and a very pleasant email from the man himself. My wife often rubs shoulders with olympic equestrian competitors and shrugs it off as something that is just inevitable. It seems that in certain areas, arts, football, chefs etc, celebrities are completely blown out of proportion.

It’s easy to find a route to the top when you start talking to people. The 6 handshake hypothesis exists for a reason. People often forget that for every superstar, there is a pyramid of support holding these people up. Many musician friends of mine have worked with big names and when I ask how it went, they usually give me a fairly mundane answer. I spoke with Derek Nash, the alto sax player for Jools Holland’s band, earlier this year and his description of certain events was so similar to the gigs everyone else does! You get there ridiculously early after travelling for hours, wait around in a drab backstage area, maybe eat some dried up sandwiches, sound check, wait around some more, post a few pics feigning excitement on Facebook and Instagram, do the show and ride the massive natural high, then pack up and travel miles back home or on to the next show. All this while the real superstar arrives last minute after hobnobbing with other celebrities and eating a slap up banquet, does the show, gets almost all the credit, stays for the aftershow party and beds down for the night in a luxury hotel.

If you decide that you want to meet some celebrities then I would suggest trying some of the support structure first. Session musicians have often got more to offer anyway and in my eyes are the real heroes. Do some research and find a great session musician in a band, or in the style of music you are interested in. They will usually be very normal, approachable people. I’ve managed to book a musician for gig I have coming up who is currently working with Dame Shirley Bassey. I’ve worked with this bass player before. He is a top guy and a fantastic musician and if you asked him, you could probably go to his house for a reasonably priced bass lesson and a cup of tea!

The other option is to pick a superstar in a ‘not so glamorous’ field. My son is about to do his first grading in Jiu Jitsu on Sunday and if you look into this sport, you can find world champion competitors on your doorstep. Most will offer private lessons and advice.

Maybe you don’t want to make friends with master pillow designers or session musicians and you haver decided that YOU want to be the star. Well…for those people, I would recommend listening to some advice I heard from an interview with Steve Martin. This quote has become a bit of a mantra for me and I work on it everyday, not that I really want to be a superstar; success will suffice!

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