5-tool baseball players, so who are the 5-tool music artists?

The 5-Tool Music Monster Mashup

Who is the Bo Jackson, the Mickey Mantle, the Willie Mays of Music?

Music critics, audiophiles and connoisseurs of music in general should have plenty to say about this one. (Comments are open at the end of this post, so please weigh in.)

As teenagers in the seventies, many a conversation centered around tastes in music, usually accompanied by underage beverage and/or $5 nickel bags of cheep Mexican weed partaken in someone’s basement, the woods, or that lost art of “cruising” in a barely drivable wreck to no destination of any import, but always seemed to deliver an adventure of our own doing. Probably because there was never a plan, a goal or that mundane notion that wasn’t even part of our cultural lexicon. The dreaded itinerary. Indeed, how words alone can incarcerate the vibrance and innocence of youth is alarming to this writer.

My other pastime was baseball, but I usually had a different group of friends for that. And of course numerous golden age stories from my dad who painted a nostalgic picture for which I now find myself occupying that role.
It is these historic underpinnings, and our ability to mash it all up into relevance for today’s world that serves as the backdrop to this interview.

Question: Even in the Baseball Hall of Fame, most of the players typically excelled at one or two aspects of the game. If you hit 500+ home runs in your career you’re almost a shoo win for the Hall, even if you were mediocre in all other facets of the game. But every once in a while, a youngster comes along who possesses no physical or mental flaws. They’re referred to as 5-tool players, guys who can hit for average, hit for power, can run like no tomorrow, have excellent defensive prowess, and also are blessed with a cannon of an arm. Bo Jackson, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle fit aptly here. So my question is, how would you define a 5-tool music artist and who is deserving of that designation?
Jessup: Wow John, that’s an interesting designation to apply to the music world, and a very difficult one to define, as there are so many aspects to consider.
1. Multi-Instrumentalist:
For me, a 5-tool recording artist would first have to excel at his or her instrument, in the realm of a prodigy. But not just one instrument, he or she would have to be an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, playing at least 3 or 4 instruments well.
2. Vocalist:
Also in the area of performance, a 5-tool artist would have to sing like a bird, with an amazingly wide vocal range, control, and at least perfect relative pitch. Their vocal character would be compelling, inspiring, heartfelt and delightful to listen to.
3. Composer:
A 5-tool recording artist must also be an excellent composer of brilliant melodies, magnificent and unexpected chord changes and voicing, and be able to masterfully produce orchestral and other arrangements for their compositions.
4. Songwriter:
A 5-tool recording artist would also be a gifted poet, able to write compelling and deeply moving, meaningful song lyrics that resonate with the masses, writing of topics that have deep and lasting relevance to their listeners.
5. Producer:
A 5-tool recording artist would also have some technical mastery in the studio and have the ability to record and produce excellent recordings, playing all of the instruments themselves when that is appropriate for a song. They must have a great ear for mixing, with the patience and the ability to produce great sounding recordings, paying attention to fine detail.

Dan Fogelberg played all the instruments on his “Full Circle” album, including vocals, of course. He also wrote, composed and produced the album, making him a true 5-tool music artist.

This would be a rare individual indeed, and very hard to find. But they are out there, and I believe the ubiquitous availability of low cost, high quality DAWs and great plug-ins are making it easier for people to develop all of these skills, if they are so passionately inclined. Unfortunately, there are very few 5-tool artists that come to mind.

At the top of my list is Dan Fogelberg, as he accomplished all of these aspects of the 5-tool recording artist quite masterfully, including operating a full-on recording studio in his home, with a vintage A-Range Trident console and an MCI 24 track tape deck. More than any other artist, in his lifetime, Dan Fogelberg achieved and exemplified every aspect of my description for a 5-tool artist.

Looking across other musical genres, a few other artists come to mind who are also multitalented in this way, such as Nashville recording artist Vince Gill, jazz artists and brothers Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Prince, Paul McCartney and Babyface.

All 5-toolers: Babyface, Paul McCartney, Prince, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Vince Gill

All 5-toolers: Babyface, Paul McCartney, Prince, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Vince Gill

There is a young, relatively new artist I’ve been watching who also possesses most of these qualifications, and who engineers her own recordings magnificently. Her name is Tina Malia, originally from Hawaii.

tina malia

The relatively unknown Tina Malia, originally from Hawaii, also gets 5-tool honors.

Many other artists come close, but lack certain of the full range of skills, such as Glenn Frey and Don Henley of the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and possibly Sheryl Crow.

honorable mention: joni mitchell, glen frey, don henley and sheryl crow

Honorable mention goes to Joni Mitchell, Glen Frey, Don Henley and Sheryl Crow

Question: Now who would you designation as a specialist, someone deserving of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame who is by no means a 5-tool music artist? What I’m really getting at here is that excelling at one aspect of music can be so off the charts in its superiority that mere competence at all others (maybe not even that) doesn’t really matter all that much.
Jessup:  Certainly this is a much easier list to compile. There are so many outstanding players, vocalists, producers, writers and engineers out there who excel in their area of expertise. We could make a very long list, so I’ll try to keep it brief:

Guitar: Eddie Van Halen, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, John McLaughlin, David Gilmore, Michael Hedges, Tommy Emmanuel, Stanley Jordan, Pat Metheny, Phil Keaggy, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, Al Di Meola, Robben Ford, Lee Ritenour, Domenic Miller and Steve Khan.

Piano: Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Lyle Mays, Dave Grusin, David Benoit, Steve Pocaro, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Hornsby, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Jan Hammer, Bob James, Tom Schuman and Russell Ferrante.

Bass: Marcus Miller, Anthony Jackson, John Pattitucci, Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter, Chris Squire, Mark King (Level 42), Scott Ambush (Spyra Gyra), Victor Wooten, Nathen East, Leland Sklar, Verdine White, Tony Levin, Stanley Clarke, Carol Kaye, Greg Lake and Billy Sheehan.

Drums: Jeff Pocaro, Stewart Copeland, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Neal Peart, Tony Williams, Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich, Tris Imboden, John Bonham and Carl Palmer.

Vocals Female: Aretha Franklin, Sheryl Crow, Christina Aguilera, Joni Mitchell, Tina Malia, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff, Karen Carpenter, Chaka Khan, Patti La Belle, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack and Patti Austin.

Vocals Male: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Jon Anderson, Steve Winwood, Sting, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Gabriel, Michael McDonald, Michael Franks, Michael Jackson, Kenny Rankin, Luther Vandross, James Ingram, Gino Vannelli, Robert Plant, John Mayer, Glen Campbell, Greg Lake, Phillip Bailey, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Prince, Babyface, Kenny Loggins, Donald Fagen, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Christopher Cross, David Gates, The Bee Gees, Billy Joel, America.

Engineers: Barney Perkins, Geoff Emmerick, Humberto Gatica, Roger Nichols, Alan Parsons, Glyn Johns, Chet Himes, Joe Chiccarelli, Bruce Swedien, Marty Lewis, Phil Ramone, Frank Filipetti, Al Schmitt, Bob Clearmountain.

I could go on, but I think the point is made.
The topic for the next article will be on how democratization has impacted the music industry. Spoiler alert: It’s quite the mixed bag; some of it will surprise you.

About Tim Jessup

tim jessup

Tim Jessup is the mix engineer for Chicago, wearing many hats which include: co-producer, film sound designer, dubbing mixer, recording engineer, studio designer, and studio manager. He is a 40+ year veteran of the recording industry, having worked as a staff engineer for a number of iconic studios, such as Kendun Recorders in Burbank, Artisan Sound Recorders in Hollywood, Wally Heider Studios in Hollywood, Glaser Sound Studios in Nashville, Bearsville Sound Studios in New York, and Olympia Studios in Munich, Germany.

Tim has gone full circle in his career, from recording hits with Quincy Jones, James Ingram, Christopher Cross, DeBarge, The Gap Band, the Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight, Devo, The Doobie Brothers and Chicago, to ADR for movie sound tracks from Disney, Fox Animation, Buena Vista and Paramount, to sound design and original music composition for major advertising campaigns from BBD&O, McCann-Erickson, Leo Burnett, and Saachi & Saachi, video game sound design with animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman for Nintendo and Sony Playstation, to mixing front of house sound for Bobby Womack, Ashford and Simpson, and Domenic Miller (Sting).

In addition to his long studio career, Jessup is also a multi-instrumentalist and an arranger and has produced original music scores for film, advertising, and many recording artists. He is the recipient of more than 100 national awards, including the CLIO, numerous Telly and Addy Awards, The London International Award, and a Grammy nomination for Stanley Jordan’s album “State of Nature”. Jessup and director Peter Pardini recently won Best Picture for Chicago’s new documentary film, “Now More Than Ever, The History of Chicago”. For more information, go to Tim Jessup‘s website.

John Balla is an award winning digital marketer and technologist, journalist, writer, musician, and songwriter. He has consulted some of the largest software companies in the world, including Microsoft, IBM, XEROX PARC, and many others. A corporate dropout, John continues to consult tech startups and other entrepreneurial-minded companies on a variety of high-impact digital marketing strategies and initiatives. Unlike most strategic consultants, John actually executes on his recommendations, thus affording clients a seamless idea-to-results fulfillment cycle.

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