Why Did I Really Start Lifting?

The short answer is in this video from 1999:

At around the four minute mark, Gary Thomas takes a solo.  My friend Charlie Sigler showed me this one summer a little over six years ago, and I had never heard anything like it.  The note groupings and phrasing seemed like magic to me because I didn't understand what was going on, but I could hear that there was some sort of structure.  Most of all, the intensity throughout the entire solo was mesmerizing.

This got me thinking, How does he get his sound?  Why does this have so much more intensity than most of the other music I've been listening to?  After a lot of listening and practice I realized that this question couldn't be answered in the practice room.  When I played segments of this solo, it never sounded like Gary Thomas.  Even when I played the exact same notes and rhythms, it just sounded like a 19 year old kid who couldn't bench an empty bar playing some stuff he transcribed.  I continued to wonder what the key to Gary's sound was because clearly it went beyond just the notes.

Music is a language; it's all about communication

If you're a musician reading this, you've probably heard something similar to this dozens of times.  It's a cliche, but that's because its true.  Studying this solo taught me that notes and rhythms are just a means to an end.  Gary is communicating what only he can communicate due to his life experience.  As you can see from the video, part of that life experience is lifting weights.  Getting into the kind of shape Gary Thomas has achieved takes decades of discipline not only in the gym, but with diet, sleep schedule, and more.  I am not so naive to think that going to the gym defined Gary's entire life.  It was just one thing that stuck out to me watching this video.

Gary Thomas in 1986

Gary Thomas in 1986

So yes, my inspiration to start lifting was Gary Thomas.  For some people its Arnold Schwarzenegger or their big brother, but for me it's Gary.  I thought his playing was powerful, and I wanted my playing to be powerful.  People talk about alignment of Mind, Body, and Spirit, and I felt I needed to make my body stronger in order to see that strength reflected in my playing.  Six years later, I'm glad I made that decision.  Greater than the physical benefits of playing a bigger setup and pushing more air through the horn were the mental benefits -- the discipline of weight training has helped me work on mental strength and focus.  Also, the lessons I've learned in the objective world of iron, pounds, and physical movement have helped me navigate the sometimes all-too-subjective world of music.