Monday, June 25, 2012
Most musicians spend hours practicing licks and learning songs without truly understanding that being technically proficient is only a part of being a successful musician. Along with technique, we need to develop a high intellectual understanding of what we do. It's all about understanding the concept. This is so vital and can sometimes seem elusive because the concept changes based on the type of music you are playing, the artist you are playing with, the venue, the people you are sharing the stage with and so forth and so on. The key to concept is constant listening and studying. I was told long ago that in order to truly play any song with the correct emotional approach or concept, you must first know something about the person that wrote or composed it. For example, when I first started playing music by Duke Ellington, I approached it from a general jazz angle. I mean I was just reading the notes on the page and playing my best swing feel but it wasn't until I read Duke's biography that I understood how to play his music. Once I knew who he was and what inspired him to create such beautiful music, then I knew how to play it and communicate it with all of the class, elegance and nobility that was Duke Ellington the man. This goes for any kind of music we play. I also believe that it's important to understand the story that a song is telling. Once you know the intended purpose of the melody or lyric, then you know exactly what to play and what not to play. I know this may sound like a lot or it may sound too analytical but the best musicians can execute this process in milliseconds. It's all about surrendering to the art and craft. We must always be tuned into the music we are playing and the people we are playing this music with. Everything matters including the personalities of the musicians you are playing with. Duke Ellington took this to the extreme by composing written solos to fit the skill level and personality of his musicians. He was so spot on that the written solos sounded improvised because he really knew the guys he was writing for. So as we move forward and play more shows and learn more music, let's try to connect with the concept of what it takes to truly communicate this art. It's all about self sacrifice and surrendering your ego to serve the music. Enjoy the journey.
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