Jazz, Basketball and Kung Fu
In jazz the studio recorded performance is normally sub-par to the live performance. Not to say that the recorded performance is bad, it’s just that the energy and spontaneity that exists in a live situation with audience members evokes a certain level of response from a musician. An analogy would be any sport like basketball or tennis. When you are in practice mode you can only reach a certain level of intensity, however put that same person in a stadium full of people and in a championship situation, and the level of play is going to be that much more acute.
That’s one of the many things I love about jazz music. The focus is on improvisation. Yes there are amazing arrangements and beautiful songs, but the focal point is the level of musicianship demonstrated by the performer during the solo section. That’s why DJs have not and will not ever take jobs away from jazz musicians, because the live performance is the central identity of the music.
In pop music as well as dance and classical, it is the arrangement and the song that are the focal point and that has its place, but because of this you don’t need a live band to perform the song. A recording pumped through a loud sound system will do the trick. Some artists lip sync on tour as it is.
It is important to understand the amount of time and dedication it takes to become a proficient jazz musician. It is similar to becoming a black belt in kung fu. You have to go through various levels of training, testing and tournaments and eventually you reach the level of a black belt.
For a jazz musician practice, performance and jam sessions are the training, testing and tournament grounds. Training with a master musician you develop your style and then hone it in performance. To really fortify your ability you go to jam sessions and test your skills against other players. These are the street fights that make you tougher and able to adapt quickly in any situation.
Unfortunately there aren’t any belts or levels of demarcation for jazz musicians, you just know where you are after listening to yourself in context to your previous performance. The audience and fellow musicians also give you feedback and that’s how you know you are growing as a player.
I encourage you to go listen to live jazz musicians and observe this process of growth and development first hand. It’s inspiring to see young musicians developing their sound and beginning their journey to becoming a master musician. Just like we follow athletes from high school to college and then to the pros we can see a musician’s development the same way. Who knows, you just might witness the birth of another star.