This post is simply about a few things I’ve been thinking about recently. Maybe the ideas are loosely linked together under the umbrella of the idea of musical mastery.
I love the Shunryu Suzuki quote, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” That’s the reason I love music, and especially jazz, and in particular the jazz organ. Every new thing you learn opens a door revealing a whole bunch of stuff you need to practice. I watched a Dr. Lonnie Smith video yesterday, and slowed it down and finally figured out one of the fast things he does which kind of reminds me of Coltrane. When I finally saw it, I thought “Ok, now that’s several years worth of practicing I need to do for that one thing.” Likewise when I went to the Bobby Floyd workshop, and saw him do one-handed block chords. I constantly feel like I need to go back to square one and start over.
On a related note, I’m very skeptical of people who consider themselves ‘experts’ at jazz, and take it upon themselves to berate and belittle other hard-working musicians. Certainly a jazz master can easily recognize another musician who is working hard to learn their craft, even if they are not as far along on their journey.
Finally, I’ve been thinking a lot about what jazz mastery actually means. To me, it means focusing on music on a higher and higher level. By higher level, I don’t mean ‘Faster, more complicated, more angular’, I mean it as if you are viewing the earth from further and further in the air.
At the lowest level, technical problems dominate. Your thoughts are focused on basic things like what notes are in a certain key, or perhaps your hands are not yet coordinated enough to play the necessary notes.
As you gain technical proficiency, you begin to pick up or create bits of vocabulary and practice them until they become natural.
Then, you focus on phrases.
As you gain technical proficiency, perhaps now you begin to realize that timing and rhythm are more important than notes.
Then all those things fade into the distance and you recognize that the sound of you playing your instrument is the most important thing. Then you notice that the sound of the other two instruments in your trio are more important than anything else.
Then you realize that you are listening to the personalities of three humans on stage.
In the past, I’ve actually been able to reduce the whole thing in my head to just AM radio static, and visually like a bunch of oil pastels smudged together. I believe this is the level equivalent to Miles Davis, where he could create music without paying any regard to details but instead defining an overall direction.
Ok I’m not comparing myself to Miles. My mental exercise only tries to understand what it would take to make music at a high level.