Saxophonist Tedd Baker: Practicing is a different story with a family

Doug: Tedd, I enjoyed hearing you play at the Blue Note Grill jazz jam! When we spoke for a minute, you were describing your practice routine. As a dad, I especially enjoyed the fact that you prefaced it with “Before I had kids….”! I think that a lot of people who listen to a musician at your level probably have no idea how much work you had to do to get there. Could you describe a typical daily practice routine, perhaps including what you would typically work on and why?

Tedd Baker: “Before I had kids….” yup, that phrase really changes a multitude of things in life…especially practice!! Doug, I really dig your practice routine. Early and uninterrupted!(ed. note: I practice every morning from 4:30 to 7:30am) During that conversation, we talked about a time in my life that I felt I had a strong regimen and a ton of growth. Back then, I started practicing as soon as I woke up. Then I would eat breakfast, handle some business- then back to the shed. Then get cleaned up and dressed for the day- then back to the shed. My intent and my aim was clear: by lunch I wanted to be ready and able to hit. Then I would go teach or do a rehearsal or gig. At night if I didn’t have a gig, I would try to sit in somewhere (usually Wally’s in Boston), or practice again. Each time I practiced I would try to learn new tunes, review tunes to keep them in memory, work on technique, some classical etudes, transcribe as many solos as possible, play along with albums on tunes I was working on, and try to come up with new approaches to licks, harmony. I kept trying to play new material as much as possible…to try new things out and sink or swim. This has carried through to today.

However, now is a different story with a family. I try to keep the same routine whenever possible. I have attained a certain level in my playing and writing, yet I can clearly see how much further I can go and sometimes it can be frustrating, but most of the time its a motivator!! Its cliche but very true- the further you go, the more you realize you’ve just begun (the rabbit hole scenario). I am thankful for whatever talent I have been blessed with and for being inspired by so many greats and so many of my peers. It is truly humbling and inspiring together. Many of my peers have really taken off, and I know they had hardcore routines- such as Nick Russo, Warren Wolf, Walter Smith, Miguel Zenon, Jeb Patton, Aaron Goldberg, Jason Palmer, and sooo many others. On the other hand, I have also heard people practice all day and not really improve. The main thing is to be the best you can be! This takes work, some planning, and for me…lots of prayer!! I learned in NY (from Todd Williams, Michael Mossman, and Sir Roland Hanna) to manage my time better. Now with a family those concepts have really hit home.

When I practice there may be tunes I need to know for a specific performance, so those tunes take priority. I hammer those a little a day until they are down. If the performance is like the next day and I just found out what the music is, I knock them down as fast as possible. Then I get to my routine. Pretty much everything I practice is timed now. Here’s a current routine in about 2hrs: 10-15 warm up, 15 min on a new tune; 15 min technique; 15 min classical; 10 min review a tune or transcription; 10 min for another, and another, and another; 15 min long tunes/ harmonics/ tuning etc. I keep a mental note of what I had done previously and I hit something else. I have to make time to transcribe, compose, arrange outside of this. Another real important part of a daily routine is actively listening to and dissecting as much music as possible.

Doug, like we talked about at the Blue Note Grille, once you start practicing and getting in there- time flies by!

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