Today I met a man who asked me a question no one has ever asked me. Of course, once I heard the question, I wasn't sure if I was qualified to actually answer it, but then again, since I have had the opportunity to either meet with or study with the greats, I decided to answer him based on my own experiences and with what I have learned over the last 30 years.
He was an older gentleman who played an alto saxophone at his local church. He was not a professional, but plays every Sunday, and he simply loves doing it and wants to go beyond the music of the Church. He loves Jazz and Blues and would like to play that music and expressed the desire to be "great" playing it. I realized that his desire to be "great" did not arise from his ego, but from a desire to really play. I can relate because I would also like to be "great", because that means I can give full expression to the music I hear in my head. Nothing wrong with that.
The answer was simple. It was the answer that came to me when I also expressed to the Universe the desire to be "great". I want to be able to play what comes into my head, what I feel. Real music is an expression of what one feels. If you don't feel it, it won't come out regardless of what instrument you play. When you connect with the music, you can express yourself better.
My reply was that if you want to be great, you have to do two things. First, you have to make up your mind that this is what you want to do. It's not about the money, though if you can make money that is good. Nothing wrong with money. Personally, I would rather have it than not. However, the most important aspect is a combination of practice and dedication.
You have to sit down with your instrument and just practice. To be truthful, repetition, though boring, yields results when practicing. Eventually the repetition becomes automatic, and your response will also be automatic. The combination of the physical practice and just listening to what you are doing will yield big results.
Play every day. It's that simple. I don't care if you practice 5 hours or 15 minutes. If you practice with concentration and focus, you will get results. However, do not expect instant results. It just doesn't happen. There are very few geniuses like Mozart in the world. The majority of players have had to work on it. So what! Work on it!
The final answer is, just sit down and practice and have patience. If you have an idea of who or what you want to sound like, then listen and emulate. If not, then keep listening and learn.