Levels of musical genius

I often think about what kind of unique musical talent some performer I enjoy possesses. A few examples:

  • J-Dilla was at the center of many groups doing amazing things creating an exciting moment in time, but at the same time was a master composer himself
  • Prince or Quincy Jones were often running multiple performers and groups, serving as sort of the well from which their respective musical ideas came from
  • Tom Petty isn't particularly gifted technically and doesn't write ground-breaking songs but is very, very good at working within a specific form and genre, one of the best in that space
  • Jimmy Page is not musically the best or most innovative, but very adept at the style he created for himself, is technically a good guitarist
  • Pete Townsend holds a group together, is the glue that leads a group of virtuosos, somehow the master creator and craftsperson who runs the group with a solid hand without making it all about him
  • Brian Wilson plays a whole ensemble, a studio as an instrument, micromanaging every detail to produce a sublime musical whole; Bruce Springsteen is close to this
  • Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen are excellent wordsmiths who get great results when the music around them is also pretty good
  • Annie Clark is a guitar-shred-meister who runs with the avant-alt mantle set forth by The Talking Heads
  • Merrill Garbus builds amazing lo-fi layered music of incredible stylistic range that sounds right at home on the festival circuit

The connection amongst these individuals is more than playing their instruments or writing their songs. They’re working a level above that, whether it’s Tom Petty and Jimmy Page making fine-tuned rock or J-Dilla, Prince, and Merrill Garbus micromanaging a subgenre into existence. I’m a little envious of that level of musical acumen.

Adam Keys @therealadam