South Florida – based pianist and recording artist James Dawkins and I share a common history – we served as music ministers in sister churches (and before that, I was a music education intern in his high school jazz band – which really just means I’m getting older), and we both branched out into full-time music careers. He’s worked with local and international artists in gospel and pop music, and recently released his smooth jazz project, “Smile For Me.” I sat down with James over some breakfast and we talked about working as musicians in church and secular settings. Here’s a portion of our discussion. The full interview will appear in the book “God and Gigs” to be released later this year.
Character is very important. I’ve recommended guys that made me look bad, and I’ll never recommend them again. It’s not 100% about skill. I know guys that can (only) play on an entry level, but I put them on my team.
Why do you aspire to be more than an “every Sunday” church musician?
My gift was bigger than the four walls of the church… I wanted to broaden my horizons. We (church musicians) can’t be boxed in. Our music has to reach everybody, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity.
What issues arise when churches work with touring musicians?
Most of the time when churches hire a good quality musician that’s ministry minded, it never occurs to them that they might leave. That’s part of the problem of when musicians leave; they (churches) never plan for your departure. Communication between church and musician has to start from the beginning. People reject what they don’t understand. My commitment to the church is to find a suitable replacement while I’m gone. I handle the business of paying my replacement so they don’t have to worry about that.
How do you prioritize your time to create?
We (musicians) have to get on the ball, and make a difference. Sometimes we can get caught up in other things. I want to treat this music thing like my life depends on it. I’m making that vow to myself. The clock is ticking.
How important is your faith while on tour?
I believe that if you have a solid foundation before you get caught up in touring and traveling, then you have a basis to stand on. But if your faith is shaken, you can get lost in the shuffle. You have to be rooted and grounded before you ever branch out (to tour). Our lifestyle is the example.
How do you deal with the competitive mentality between musicians?
I was always confident in my ability to do what I can do. I can only be me; I can’t be anybody else. If we took that mindset, everyone would end up better. But if I have a mind to compete with you…that’s not a winner’s mentality. My strong point may not be yours, and your strong point may not be mine. We all have something to bring to the table. We still share common ground because we’re professional musicians.
For more on James Dawkins and his music, visit his website www.mrjamesdawkins.com.