Profiles | Wolfgang Muthspiel

He’s made over 30 albums and tours all over the world. Yet, although he’s grateful for this substantial career, he’s never had the feeling that he’s “made it.”

“Music is therapeutic. It shows you what works and what doesn’t. When you’re playing something and you’re really truly open to the moment, it will sound great – even if you make ‘mistakes.’”

Wolfgang Muthspiel has been awarded many prizes and accolades. He was listed as one of the “Top Ten Jazz Guitarists of the World” by Musicians Magazine. He’s made over 30 albums and tours all over the world. Yet, although he’s grateful for this substantial career, he’s never had the feeling that he’s “made it.”

But for him, this was a good thing, because he’s come to learn that “success” as a musician is not about any of that.

“Sometimes I can be so in the music that I get this feeling that the music is playing itself. If I could be there all the time, then I would say that I’ve made it,” the native Styrian said.

Muthspiel, 54, wasn’t always so humble. After making the pivotal decision to become a guitarist as a troubled teenager (“this decision saved my life”), he ascended the musical career trajectory in Austria with drive and ambition, winning competitions and being accepted to elite programs along the way. It was only after winning a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and moving to the US that he was forced to “rethink the whole game.”

“I realized that it was not about the game of being successful,” he recalled, “but rather the beautiful game of music itself.”

Seeing American guitarist Bill Frisell perform in a tiny jazz club in Boston was the first wake-up call toward understanding this.

“He was just in it, he wasn’t even thinking about the fact that there were only 30 people there,” Muthspiel remembered. “It was about this basic humility before the art, that the music itself is so much bigger than you are.”

After immersing himself in the New York jazz scene in the 1990s and building up the core group of musicians with whom he has been collaborating since, he feels he truly came to understand his craft: that it was “about community and not hierarchy.”

Most importantly, he learned how real jazz musicians recognize their own “gift.”

“In jazz, you come to a point where the sound of a single note has a lot of information and ‘vibe.’ When I hear myself play a simple chord on my acoustic guitar, I infuse that chord with my entire being – I just know it’s me.”

Janima Nam
Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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