Recently, a excellent drummer friend of mine got some advice from a jazz master who lives in the Triangle Area. To roughly paraphrase the advice: “Tony Williams used to practice in front of the television in order to be able to stay focused while distracted.”
Immediately I was alarmed, because what the jazz world DOES NOT need is another drummer playing their “Tony Williams S**t” while ignoring everything else happening on the bandstand!
With all due respect to the jazz master who offered the advice, my personal feeling is that it is terrible. Jazz musicians should listen to and integrate everything with total clarity. Yes, perhaps there may be unwanted distractions, but they can be accepted and discarded on a case-by-case basis (e.g., ball games on TV at the gig.)
It’s perfectly fine to say “That was a tough gig, because people were being loud and watching the basketball game.” or “It was a drag because the audience wasn’t listening”, because to me those types of comments indicate musicians who listen and who care deeply about what they are doing.
In my opinion, a musician who patently ignores what is going on around him is doing so at the peril of the music.
To investigate further, I did a google search on “Tony Williams practice television” and came across this article. Here’s an excerpt:
“Tony Williams practiced every day and did almost nothing besides that. He’d get up in the morning and move to the drums in his pajamas. He’d play on a practice pad while watching television..”
I think this article gives us a different interpretation. Rather than using TV as a practice tool, Tony Williams was simply combining his daily routine with practicing. He was probably watching the morning news while warming up on the practice pad rather than training himself to ignore his environment.