The Most Expensive Music Career of All Time

And other links, larks, and lackadaisical opinions

Housekeeping update: Paid subscribers will be receiving a few special features in the coming weeks. First, I’ll be sharing a survey of the 50 best Brazilian albums of all time—which will arrive in three installments. Paid subscribers will also get an update on my favorite recent recordings later in the month. And at the end of next month, they will receive my guide to the 100 best albums of 2021 (all styles, all genres).

I want to reaffirm my thanks to all subscribers. I launched The Honest Broker in April, and we are approaching the six-month anniversary. I’ve shared 57 Substack posts during that period, and have been in more direct contact with readers than ever before in my writing career. My hope is that this platform continues to evolve into a genuine online community, and I may try out some more interactive concepts in the future to gauge the potential for that. I’m especially gratified for your support even when I take chances, or veer off into topics outside of music and arts. But be prepared—there are more surprises to come.

Below is my periodic roundup of links, tracks, curios, opinions, and idle amusements. The first installment of my ultimate Brazilian playlist will probably be shared with paid subscribers this coming weekend.


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Let’s start with some music. Here’s a new transcription of Hampton Hawes’s “Blues the Most” from his debut album in 1955.


What’s the most expensive music career of all time. Let me submit the case of Peter Buffett, son of legendary investor Warren Buffett. His father had given him some shares in Berkshire Hathaway, and at age 19 Peter wanted to raise money so he could prepare at leisure for a music career. To cover expenses, he sold his entire stock holdings for $123,000—shares that would now be worth $275 million.

In the world of finance, they call that opportunity cost, and in the case of Peter Buffett’s music vocation it was more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

“It was understood that I should expect nothing more,” he later wrote in his memoir Life is What You Make It.

And what kind of music does a quarter of billion dollars plus get you. Here’s an example.


A new study shows that when a listeners pay close attention to a story, their heartbeats synchronize. At certain junctures in the story, the whole group’s pulse rate speeds up or slows down in tandem. I’m absolutely certain this is true of music too. As in the old cliché, our hearts beat as a one, and simply because of a story or song.


Meanwhile, Spotify is studying listeners’ brain activity, in order to optimize its advertising.

On a related note, guitarist Pat Metheny discusses music with two neuroscientists.


Here’s an inquiry into which singers have the largest vocabularies. Can you guess who the outlier is?

I’d like to see a similar analysis of popular song lyricists from the 1930s and 1940s.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far away. . .


Concert artists share tips on how to memorize music.


A look back at a 1972 drum machine that was so cool, it was used as a prop in science fiction films.


The Jankó keyboard, designed in 1882, enabled easier span of large of intervals and standardized fingering for all scales.


"Statistics indicate people cough during concerts twice as much as they do in normal life." They also cough more during slow movements, during complicated passages, or works unfamiliar to the audience. Coughing in groups appears to be a kind of mimetic behavior pattern. So it seems that Keith Jarret was correct after all.


Here’s the sheet music cover for “Dangerous Blues,” a song from 1921. This came out just just seven years after the first commercial airplane flight—so it must have seemed obvious to connect risky music with risky travel.

The satyr playing the sax is an especially nice touch.

By the way, Louis Armstrong is often credited with inventing scat singing in 1926, but at the very top of that 1921 sheet music cover, you can read the invocation: “Ta De Da Da De Dum.” Draw your own conclusions.


If you have time, check out this video of the first two hours ever broadcast on MTV. I was never much of a fan, but even I got a little nostalgic watching this. That said, the disproportionate focus on British artists surprised me. On the other hand, if you’re looking for R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk, or any kind of African-American music, you will be sadly disappointed.

I still dream of a more sophisticated cable channel for the mass market with a video-driven format, but focused on jazz, classical music, dance, art films, documentaries, live concert feeds, etc. If I were monarch, I would require that all cable providers offer at least two channels of this sort to all subscribers as part of the basic package—a new kind of C-Span, so to speak, with the C standing for Culture.


A real estate agent has hired a jazz musician to write a soundtrack for a $1.5 million house—in order to find a buyer. The whole thing cost around $3,000.


A Belgian filmmaker has been researching the recent success of Korean musicians in international competitions. Thierry Loreau, who has now made two documentaries on music education in Korea, wants to counter the view that this is the result of “tiger parenting”—in which youngsters face enormous pressure to master skills and excel in competitive situations. He remarks:

"If you compare the two systems, the European and Korean systems are the opposite. In Europe, until you're 18 years old, you develop your personality and then you go to university and you really work. In Korea, you have to play (from a young age) and are filled with information. But after 18, they are free of pressures from Korean teachers and family. I don't know if it's the best (education method), but it works," he said.

"It is very difficult to say, but there is no money for culture in Europe and (classical music) education is going down. Only 50 percent of the classes can still be open. In Korea, I think young musicians are truly supported by the government and politics. Korea has the best schools. Everything is new. Kim Dae-jin, dean of the Korea National University of Arts, said he gave classes to Mun Ji-young from when she was 14 to 16 for free, and he never asked for money."


In the next day, we will learn who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. For a guide to contenders, read Alex Shephard’s article—but note that Shephard is often a contrary indicator (for example, he assured readers in 2016 that Bob Dylan had no chance of winning the award). And for those who view artistic matters in financial terms, here are the latest betting odds.