“Which One’s Better?”

Yesterday I was playing at a private party, with a sax player who had played in rock bands for many years. He had always been passionate about jazz, and about two years ago he began studying jazz in earnest.

He said that when he started playing jazz, his ultimate goal had been to play with a jazz trio and be able to perform at parties. He was able to realize that goal in just two years, much more quickly than he had anticipated!

We were talking to someone during a break, and I told him that I also had a gig later that night with a different sax player. The guy asked “Which one is better?” I was thinking: what an inappropriate question! And yet I’m pretty sure the question was asked completely innocently, and I dodged answering it by shrugging.

But I got to thinking- which saxophone player is better?

On one hand, you have a 55-year-old musician who only recently began to study jazz. He has worked very hard at it. He has learned more than 60 songs, and shows up to rehearsals and jam sessions on a regular basis in order to play and learn. Perhaps he would not win a saxophone speed contest, but perhaps he doesn’t give a crap about playing fast. In short, he came to jazz as a mature adult and now he has fun gigs and is having a blast! All in all, a very successful musician.

On the other hand, you have a 24-year-old musician who came to jazz saxophone at an early age. He worked very hard at it, and graduated from a prestigious jazz school. He is clearly a master of the bebop language, has monstrous chops and could play circles around many other jazz sax players. He is a very nice guy, always willing to share his vast knowledge of jazz. He has fun gigs and is having a blast. All in all, a very successful musician.

Neither sax player is a better person or musician.

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