Owning What You Do

Getting Past “Jazz”

A friend of mine posted something about working on the changes to “Giant Steps” the other day, and all I could think of was, “man better him than me…”

There was a long time that I lived under this weird misconception that I had to like jazz. That if I just listened a little deeper and learned a little bit more that there would come a moment that “stella by starlight” was going to speak to me.

And so I listened to a lot of jazz and spent some time on II V’s and other related jazz theory items and I came to some realizations.

  • Informed Aesthetics are defined Aesthetics.  I credit Susan Allen at CalArts for really making me think about my aesthetics in a deeper way.  It’s not enough to simply be dismissive about things.  When students tell me that something “sucks”, I force them to explain to me 1.  What sucks means and how this sucks and 2.  what about it they don’t like 3.  what about it could be better?  Sometimes they can really articulate something substantial, but a lot of times it’s a knee jerk reaction and diving into what is aesthetically displeasing about that yields some deeper insights.
  • Related to that examination, I tend to follow musicians more than genres.  I don’t like a lot of shred guitar but I’ll stand behind Yngwie’s work with Alactrazz (or the first Rising Force record) until the end of time.  I don’t know that “autumn leaves” will ever be a song I want to listen to but I can always find a reason to seek out recordings or performances by players like Ornette, Trane, Bird, Monk, Frisell or a couple dozen other musicians that are lumped in that category.
  • A lot of the music that moves me is melodic and rhythmic rather than harmonic.  I find myself going back to the melodies of favorite works from traditional Arabic music or traditional music of Japan, Korea, Turkey or Iran.  I’m sure that it’s been done, but I have yet to hear one of those songs performed with ii V I’s superimposed over them that made them any “better”.

You might play what you practice but you perform what you know.

At Berklee, there was a lot of pressure to become a Jazz guitarist, and I felt like a failure for a long time because it seemed beyond me.  Eventually, I realized that the issue wasn’t that Jazz was some pursuit that was intellectually beyond me, it was that I had no interest in Real Book tunes so there was no fire inspiring me to learn the vocabulary or put the time in to developing those areas.

While classical music was interesting to me, I realized that I am never going to out perform the recorded works of Bach interpretations from the guys who lived breathed and ate that music 24 hours a day.

I doubt that I’ll ever have the passion necessary to be a traditional jazz guitarist any more than to be a traditional classical guitarist – but realized that there was a lot from both disciplines that I could integrate into what I’m doing.

As guitarists, we talk a lot about skill sets (both physical and mental) but we don’t talk a lot about passion and at the end of the day that’s the thing that really matters the most.  People don’t buy into your performance based on the number of notes that you play, they buy into how it makes them feel.  If you’re not passionate about it, they never will be either.

What are you doing to achieve your goals?

If you’re having trouble reaching your musical (or other) goals – take a moment and examine what you’re actually doing to achieve them. 

If you feel like you’ve hit a rut in your playing, take a hard look at what you’re actually doing to get out of it and readjust if necessary.  For example:

  • Did you just buy a book or did you actually read it?
  • Did you really sit down and work on your picking or did you just play the same thing that you always play?

Like I’ve said before, It’s easy to confuse doing something with getting something done, but if you don’t feel like you’re making progress taking a close look at what you’re doing an excellent place to start.

(A teacher can also help you get get on track to get where you need to go.  If you need help in this area, feel free to email me for in person lessons or Skype lesson information!)

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

3 thoughts on “Owning What You Do

  1. Agree with Enrico, this sort of conversation should take place even before school, although it’s important for the school to make sure that students graduate with an understanding of different genres and how they contribute to the creative tools available later in the career. I took a “Physics for Poets” class just to meet the core requirements in college, and surprisingly the math that I learned in that class have become really useful in understanding pitch/frequency and the effects of resonance. Understanding electronics enables me to do work on my guitar that would otherwise cost a lot of money at a tech shop.

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