Are Rock Stars Nice People?

Mozart, Vivaldi, and Hendrix are considered music stars from their time period. All three were considered virtuosos, revolutionary performers, and composers. The term Rock Star is a 20th-century notion. In the time of Vivaldi and Mozart, wealthy popular musicians did not really exist. The modern media and the free market aided Jimi Hendrix in a way that was not possible in the 1700s.

Mozart and Vivaldi’s funding came mostly from royalty and the church. Neither composer ever had a position that would give them job security and make them wealthy. In Mozart’s time Gluck, Haydn, and Salieri had the major court appointments. J.S. Bach, a contemporary of Vivaldi had a full-time church job in Northern Germany. Vivaldi had basically a music teachers job at an orphanage for girls in Venice. He was under a yearly contract and it was sometimes not renewed, he was then out on his own to freelance. Beethoven and Schubert were some of the composers who first to go “free Market” organizing and funding their own concerts. Hendrix’s fame and money came from recordings and live concerts, the common man voluntarily paying for his services.

Musicians taking their act on the road has always been important. They traveled greatly and they traveled with assistants. The young Mozart traveled with his father and sister. The father’s goal was money, fame, a long-term job and education for his children. Mozart learned Italian and other languages as he studied other countries music. They made some money and got some fame, no long-term employment developed. Mozart did compose on the road.

Vivaldi traveled greatly. He traveled regularly with two younger women. As an ordained priest to do this it did raise some eyebrows. He traveled with sisters, one was often the leading lady of his operas and other vocal works, her sister was an assistant, as Vivaldi explained to help with his illness, Asthma. Vivaldi always claimed it was only a working relationship. There has been no proof that it was not true.

Jimi Hendrix went to London to make his fame. Haydn and Handel also did this. Before this trip, Hendrix was basically a sideman for other R and B performers in the USA. He was then discovered by the English Rock Stars of the day. These “nice” rock stars included members of the Beetles, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton.

Now, back to the topic question at the beginning of these ramblings. If you watch the video interview of Jimi Hendrix with Dick Cavett you will see a humble, funny man with a smile on his face. Hendrix had no history of being mean to others. Interviews with bandmates and others like B.B. King show him to be kind and respectable to others. There are other videos and recordings of interviews with Hendrix that show him being self-critical and very humble. Vivaldi and Mozart letters to employers have signed things like; “your humble servant” etc. Hendrix did not see himself as the world’s greatest guitarist. Vivaldi was probably the greatest violin player of his day and Mozart a great keyboard player. There are no personal rants of their greatness. The Mozart movie and play Amadeus is mostly fiction with just a few facts thrown in.

On the personal side; I have had a chance to meet, work with and perform a few big names in music. Yo Yo Ma and Placido Domingo where extremely professional and a pleasure to work with. Johnnie Cash, dressed in all black, held the door for me and said “Hello”. I once had a great conversation with the pianist Alexis Weissenberg about his performance of the Chopin Piano concerto and baseball. He was a Yankees fan I was a Tigers fan at the time. He told me as a student in New York he would sometimes skip out from practicing to see a Yankees game.

There are certainly bad boy/bad girl rock stars and we all know of the prima donna opera singer. When I imagine an interview with Mozart or Vivaldi I think of a real person, someone who had musical mentors and heroes, someone who had family and friends and a sense of humor.

Hendrix interview

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