Timing is very important in music. It’s much more important than the harmonic content or the tone quality of a particular instrument.
I’ve seen pianists with a great time feel sit down at an cheap or out-of-tune piano and make it sound beautiful. I remember Brother Yusuf Salim coming to gigs back in the day with a cheap Casio keyboard. His performances always sounded excellent because of his time feel, which was confident and full of personality and jazz history. It’s been probably 15 years since I saw him, and he’s since passed away. I can’t remember any of the notes he played, but I remember that time feel as if it was yesterday.
If you’ve ever seen Ron Carter play a student’s bass at a college master class, you will immediately recognize his playing. His tone is certainly a part of the equation, but even on the worst sounding basses his unique time feel is evident.
I transcribed a very fast Cannonball solo from the album Cannonball & Coltrane. I believe it was from ‘Limehouse Blues’. After writing out the notes, there were several places where he was playing notes that seemed wrong on paper- but his time feel is so strong that anything he plays sounds right. Same with Miles, Herbie, etc.
You can work on your timing by practicing with a metronome or playing along with classic jazz recordings. I also think it’s very important to take a short video of yourself each day. Watch the video and be honest with yourself (but not mean!). What can be improved about your time feel?