May 2017
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Jazz is Better

Jazz is freedom—freedom of expression

In my last post I discussed how jazz is worse when you’re a perfectionist. The other side of that coin is how jazz is better.

I’m a control freak (why is it called that? Reading it, I don’t like the word “freak” there) and I don’t like being told what to do. This is why certain musical situations do not work for me. “That’s not how the song goes.” A lot of times, bands hire keyboard players to cover all the parts the rest of them cannot. I know very talented keyboard players who put a lot of work into recreating the sounds of the original records. It’s quite an achievement and I give them credit for that.

However, that’s not my thing. I like to be able to play what I’m feeling or hearing at the moment. If today I feel like the song calls for an organ, I’d rather play that. Or for a jazz piano gig, maybe I want to take a tune at a different tempo, with a different left hand or bass part, or comp it a different way. Maybe I want to play (“sing”) the melody a bit differently today.

Today, I heard Dick Hyman say that jazz is a gift black Americans gave the rest of us. I think that’s true. Jazz is about freedom, freedom of expression. In so being, it’s truly an American art form.

Thinking about this in the context of my last post, I’m looking to focus on this aspect of playing music. I’m trying to let go of the perfectionism and getting it done with a bow on it, and relish in the freedom of expression the music provides.

Tue, 2017 05 16 at 10:00 AM |Permalink for this entry

Math, Music, and Perfectionism

When I was a kid, I was pretty much brought up to do math and science (the reasons are another story). That can be very appealing because, for the most part, your answers can be right or wrong. Sure, for longer problems you can get partial credit, but overall, you’re right or wrong. If you’re wrong, you can find out exactly why and and get it right the next time.

In music, it’s almost the opposite. While there are some schools of thought that will say a person is playing a piece correctly or incorrectly, the fact is two people can play a piece “correctly” yet one can be judged to have played it better than the other. I think this is very common in classical music, but I have seen it in pop music styles as well (think of the beginning of the movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg for instance).

In jazz, it is even “worse.” * One can always play a tune differently, better, or with a new technique. I have a friend who says, “the great thing about music is that there’s always something new to learn. The drag about music is that there’s always something new to learn.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is great to have many different ways to play a song and decide depending upon how you want to interpret it that time. But the never ending quest, the fact that you can always play it differently, that it is completely subjective whether you are doing it right or wrong can be very difficult for someone used to the perfection of math and science, who likes to get something done, get it right, and move on. And who is somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale.

* Jazz isn’t really worse, I’m just referring to the problem this post is discussing.

Mon, 2017 05 15 at 10:19 AM |Permalink for this entry