In this episode, we had the pleasure to chat with Jazz musician, Anthony Woodroffe Jr. aka Tony Paul, a saxophonist primarily, he also plays other woodwind instruments. We discuss growing up in a musical family, however, still having to make a choice to pursue his passion for music over becoming an accountant. His thoughts on formal musical education, getting over the fact that there is always going to be someone better than you are and the importance of having a growth mindset.
Do listen and enjoy.
How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
For me, creativity is intrinsically linked to expression. It's how you respond to something in a manner that is uniquely you. That expression while influenced by external factors boils down to how you see the world and what you want to say about it.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I think we are innately creative beings, all of us. While the "level" of creativity can vary from person to person, the expression of that creativity, whether it's music, acting, visual art or otherwise can and should be developed through apprenticeship or schooling or just hard work.
When did you realise that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
I've always been around music as both of my parents are involved in the arts. There hasn't been a time that I can remember when I wasn't expressing myself through music. I sang in my primary school choir and started learning woodwind instruments when I was in secondary school. I think it has always been a part of who I am or rather I got exposed so early that I can't distinguish a time when it wasn't there.
What is your standard for evaluating your creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are financial rewards relevant to your projects?
I think that along with most other creative people I tend to be pretty harsh on myself. Because art is subjective, I try to find the reason behind the creative work of others or try to understand what they're trying to say. Although technical elements can be easy to judge I think with creative work, there's something more profound. It's hard to put a price on the intangible, but the market-driven world seems to do it for us sometimes. Whether monetary rewards are compatible with creativity; I can't say, but I do think people should be paid fairly for their work. Financial awards may not be the primary motivation for my projects, but it does factor in. No one wants to be a "starving artist".
Do you think the views of other people influence your perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours? What role do you believe the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
Each one of us has an ego. More than anyone else, I think creatives put themselves into the public domain to be judged and criticised because of the nature of our work. So yes, when others view that work unfavourably or otherwise, it's hard not to start doubting oneself. Vice versa, when one attains positive acclaim, the fight is on for the ego to not let our heads get swollen... remain grounded and take positives and negatives with a grain of salt. I think at times there is an expectation of what creatives should and should not do that varies depending on the culture one exists within. The interesting thing about creating art is that one is free to choose how much you are influenced by external factors. If you are trying to reach the general consciousness of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, then our culture will determine your efforts. I am more interested in having an effect on individuals, so I don't feel our culture has a direct impact on the way I pursue my music.
Does your creative work come easily or do you struggle with your ideas? What obstacles (if any) do you experience when you are creating? If you do face obstacles, how do you get past them?
To answer this accurately, I'd need to explain what I do. I play the saxophone, but the context is usually within the jazz scene in both in Trinidad and Tobago, and regionally. So there are two sides to this endeavour, there is the performing and improvising side, and then there's the composing side. I love playing, so most of my practising is geared towards this. Composing music, on the other hand, has always been challenging for me because sometimes I feel like the extra time spent on composing could be utilised elsewhere. Honestly, it's been an excuse, and I have recently been suppressing the little excuses that we make to prevent us from getting stuff done to work on some original music. Generally, when things get overwhelming because of my schedule or if I start to make excuses, I try to break things down to their simplest tasks and move forward that way. Time management is also an important skill to develop.
Is there something that you do to put yourself into a creative state of mind? If so, what? How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
I listen to the music of the musicians I admire the most. It helps to focus my mind on what I want to say in my music. When I improvise, apart from the things I work on in the practice room, I try to interact with the musicians I play with and respond to what they're saying. Because of this, some idea I may have had doesn't come out in the way I heard it but is affected by the moment I'm in.
Was the way you express your creativity now always your ambition? If so, when did you know for sure?
My dad played the trumpet with Sound Revolution, so I wanted to do that (I was rubbish on the trumpet btw). When I started saxophone around the age of twelve, everything fell into place. By the time I was fifteen, I knew I would not be a "horn man" doing calypso tents or playing in a soca band, instead, I wanted more, playing classical music and eventually jazz which to me is one of the purest forms of expression that a musician can have.
What has been the most significant sacrifice you have made for your craft?
I was studying to become an accountant, a seemingly lucrative occupation. At twenty-five, I quit ACCA and my job at the time and decided to pursue music full time. A year later, with the support of my mother, I was in the UK doing a BA (Hons) Jazz Studies degree at Leeds College of Music. It was the best and hardest period of my life. Being away from family in a cold country with little to no money studying music that was not native to my culture with students a few years younger than myself changed my appreciation for music and the life that musicians choose to live.
Which creative people do you admire? Why?
There are many that I admire and some that I have not personally met yet, but I'll try to name a few who have directly impacted my life. Clive "Zanda" Alexander is one of the persons instrumental in the development of Kaiso Jazz but it's his willingness to work with young musicians is what I admire the most. He, Ray Holman and Micheal "Ming" Low Chew Tung fall into the category of master musicians that share their knowledge. Raf Robertson (deceased) for his no-nonsense manner and his stance of not accepting mediocrity from those around him has profoundly impacted my life. Dr Andrew Marcano aka Lord Superior or Supie or Brother Superior for his commitment to being a gentleman and demonstrating that it is possible to respect people.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Very early on in my career, I found myself at a gig that ended with a jam session where another incredible saxophonist was playing. Comparison and self doubt set in. I ended up speaking to a musician friend named Ron Aqui who was at the show. He said something along the lines of "If you're honest about what you are doing, people will accept it". That statement for some reason set my mind at ease and has become my mantra. I make an effort to play without fear and just to enjoy it because that is my truth. I'm not there to show off or to compare myself with anyone else. I love music, and I am thankful I get to do it.
Do you believe that it is essential to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
I don't remember where the phrase "You can't please everybody" came from, but there's a reason it exists. If your work is meaningful to you, chances are you may find someone who values it. If you're creating merely to please others, there's no guarantee you will be able to please everyone and worse than that, if you don't love your own work, I can't imagine that being a fulfilling existence.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Thankfully I've not experienced any significant rejection to the music I create, but I believe that is because of what my perception of success is. If I thought being rich and famous was the definition of being successful, then I guess rejection would be something I considered daily. I am aware that what I do is a niche market at best so financially it won't make me rich. I've been fortunate to have worked with so many of the stalwarts of the local music scene so on that basis I have been accepted on the terms that I place value on.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Doubt happens more regularly than most people think. I believe it's a part of the process of being a creative that you can either use to help motivate you or cripple you. I use it as the voice that tells me I need to practice more and not remain stagnant.
What piece of work are you most proud? Why?
I've recorded with Elan Parle and Vaughnette Bigford among others, but I think the work on the Trinijazz Project album to date is what I'm most proud of. It's a snapshot of where I was musically at the time, but I'm most proud of it because the project itself was with musicians whom I respect deeply and consider family. So it was an album with mutual respect and love.
What is your ultimate creative goal and how attainable do you think it is?
My ultimate creative goal is to travel the world playing jazz festivals doing original music. I think one is only limited by the size of their dreams. As much as a lot of my time is devoted to teaching at the Academy for the Performing Arts at UTT, I have to balance that work with the effort necessary to achieve my own aspirations.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
"If you're honest about what you are doing, people will accept it". It's easy to forget the reason why we do what we do. That statement reminds me daily to have my core values at heart every time I decide on what project to partake in.
To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you give them?
Dream big, work hard and enjoy the journey. Also, try to find the value in both the good and bad experiences you encounter.
For what would you like to be most remembered?
My white pants (an inside joke)... Honestly, I hope I am remembered for my passion for music and always trying to give my best to my colleagues.
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
High flying green
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