Now Let’s Make Some Jazz

I just had an insight. Yesterday I sang 2 songs from the Jazz Std Rep for an audition.

(Aside: intention matters. When it’s for an audition and everybody knows it, you sing so they know what you can do—tone, range, intonation, agility/flexibility, expressiveness, dynamics, phrasing, inventiveness, and/or whatever other musical dimension you can demonstrate you’re aware of. It’s not about drawing the song out, or giving each player their solo, or other things that I’m used to doing when I’m doing it for real.)

Visualizing future conversations with some of the players involved, by brain came up with: “thanks for playing for my audition. Now, let’s make some jazz.

What difference—between what I did singing All Blues for an audition and singing that same tune on a Thursday night at a club—is my pre-conscious mind picking up on?

Part of it has to do with the collaborative nature of music-making. When we sing Mozart or Schubert, it’s common to act as if there’s really only 1 person making the musical decisions. (That’s never truly what’s going on, but we can make it look an awful lot like that.) And is it the singer? Or is the singer on some level deferring to Mozart or Schubert? Either way, the music becomes rehearsed, performance details become decided upon, and we know that a piece is ready for the concert stage when we have it just so.

There’s a place for this. When I compose a piece of music, there’s something I’m trying to say that finds its fullest expression when it is said in precisely the way I mean to say it. It is a very particular expression of self. I hope to reach others with something I find important about my individual human experience. But this is in stark contrast to what was in my heart when I thought “now let’s make some jazz.

Auditioning in the way I did yesterday—so that the auditors could hear what I was capable of—felt decidedly un-generous of me. How did the two other players’ individual Voices find expression, in that musical event? They got with the intention of the moment and played music that supported me and enabled the audition process. Cool. But it did not seem like a space was created for whatever it is that they may have had to say.

Jazz is a style, yes. A genre. A particular set of tonal, timbral, and rhythmic tropes that are identifiable to a broad base of listeners as belonging to a certain type of music. But it is also something else: an approach to making music that relies on each player’s individual contribution and vision. This is the facet of jazz that was important in my use of the word, in that moment.

When we make jazz, in this sense, the tune called is just a platform. What is the bassist’s take on this tune, and how do they want to play it tonight, with these particular other players? What’s the pianist’s? The drummer’s? The trumpeter’s? How open are they each to the ideas that the others play—how reactive, how responsive? In jazz, at its best, the performance details are co-decided, in performance. Each different kind of instrument has a different role to play, yes, and each player decides what to do with that instrument, that expectation, and that role. But within that context, where will these players, as they are today, in this combination, take this tune, this time?

It’s a journey of discovery. “Will we, fellow players, discover something truly great in our exploration of this music? Will you hear where I’m going; will I hear where you’re going? Will I follow; will you? Will you lead me to someplace where I can say something I’ve never known how to say before? Will I discover a way to say something that supports your vision better it has never been supported before? Will our individual magic combine to create something fantastic?”

You can do that, or your can be four magicians on the same stage, each doing your tricks. Maybe they’re very good tricks, and kudos to you for doing them well. But oh, what you leave on the table that way.

Bring this approach, this sense of discovery and co-creation, into every musical event you participate in, howsoever rehearsed. It will raise your game, and better music will result. You’ll enjoy yourself more, and audiences will experience better performances.

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