The art of not being perfect
This year I started attending jazz jams with much better musicians than me. What I noticed is that people don’t care if you play wrong notes or make mistakes. What they care about is your stage awareness and your (music) communications skills with other musicians and with the audience. But what I feel they care most about is how sincere you are as musician. It is important to learn to be humble and listen to what is happening around you thus building a “musical intuition”.
I also noticed that rhytymn plays a much more important role than harmony when you communicate with other people via music. That is especially true when playing with people you don’t know. Just a small rhythmic interaction can bring so much joy to everyone around you. And also having the patience and respect to stay out of the way of other people and make them sound good when they solo. Then hopefully you will get the same treatment when you solo. There is a sense of communal altruism that is very mesmerising if all things go as they should.
Because of the connections I have made during these jam sessions I now have the opportunity to play with really talented people and am not afraid to do so even if I am far from their level. I learned that the “performing you” and the “practicing you” are two separate individuals. You can still have a good performance and have an impression on somebody while objectively making lots of mistakes and having lots of things to improve on. But you have to leave that for the “practicing you” to do later on. Separating these two individuals was a life changer for me. Now I feel I can just jump into music project without caring how great the other players are. If they want to play with me I am honoured and I just play as sincerely and as good as I can at the time.
I wish I did those things while studying jazz piano. I wish I played, jammed and performed more. I always felt I am not good enough (still do). I needed to learn all the scales, all the voicings , all the motivic patterns. Bought many books by Bert Ligon and Mark Levine and probably dozens of Aebersold play-along books? I had list of jazz pianists with over 500 hours of jazz piano music. I read about upcoming artists and listened a lot. But I wasn’t applying any of that to anything practical. I always felt everybody else is better than me and I didn’t belong in the conservatory. I didn’t do things that I should have done. I didn’t perform and didn’t learn melodies. Two major mistakes I think I made back then.
Now I realised that both learning and performing can be done in tandem and I am not afraid of making mistakes. I try to just be me. I do record myself and scorn myself at home and try to not repeat mistakes but I try to do it behind closed doors. I strive to enjoy myself in the moment and learned to jump into “scary” situations more often. I realised these are skills that must be practiced as well. I taught myself to stay humble but comfortable. I think knowing I am not a professional helps a great deal – I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So a small tip for all upcoming musicians – play more, take risks , record yourself more and learn the art of stage presence. It is the essence of giving the audience and musicians something valuable not only aurally but also emotionally. Remember that people pay large amounts of money to see famous jazz artists not only because of their mastery of the genre. They want to witness musical communication of the highest caliber possible. The bond between the physical and the spiritual being so close to being broken. The mystery that is art and how it touches each person in a different way.
To mark my point I leave you with one of my favourite jazz pianist’s live performance at Montreal Jazz Festival 2004. This is Oliver Jones playing “Falling In Love With Love”. Notice the interaction and respect these musicians have both for each other and the audience:
Live at Montreal Jazz Festival 2004
Oliver Jones (p)
Dave Young (b)
Norm Marshall Villeneuve (d)
(c) 2018 Sibil Yanev