Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


A Ten-Minute Metaphor

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For me, college is roughly analogous to life. During the first year of entering the student body, the stark reality of campus protocol can turn all preconceived notions about the university experience on end with a jolt.

The first thing a student discovers is Newton’s law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That boring kid who dresses funny, won’t hang out, and misses all the important parties winds up with a smokin’ grade point average, fat scholarships and glowing references. The opposite also applies.

Somewhere along the way, new students learn exactly what type of commitment their profession takes and are forced to question whether they really want to do this for the rest of their lives or whether they’re just trying to fulfill someone else’s dream.

There are many paths through the middle years, with about every possible outcome, and though some students find ways of extending their campus life span, the reality is that there is an end. At the point of graduation, the toughest questions present themselves:

Was my time spent wisely? Did I memorize data merely to pass tests or did I actually take the time to learn some things? Did I off-load problems or did I solve them? How will I use my new pool of knowledge? Will I find a way to help my community or just tend my own fences?

Here’s a bigger question: Is the student beginning to get a life experience or is the life getting a student experience?

I’m encouraged that the universe always sees fit to offer up big clues to small riddles like these. I’m amused that the universe doesn’t just give out any real concrete answers.

Nowadays when jazz musicians enter a performance group, whatever its size or configuration, it’s likely that they’ve had access to a wealth of refined information. Technique becomes a given—these days everybody has chops! Yet everyone doesn’t sound good, and even the ones that sound good aren’t necessarily fun to listen to.

For a jazz musician, every performance is a life metaphor played out in eight to ten minutes. A performance is about choices—what is chosen to be played, what is not chosen, and why. The end result is a reflection of the performer. Is the musician playing to show off or does he want to capture the mood of the moment for the listener? What is he sharing with the others in the band? What is he taking from the experience to the next performance?

Time on the bandstand is fleeting, university time is finite, and life is short. We come to the bandstand, play out our life stories, then we leave the bandstand and go to the next gig. When it’s all done, we’re left only with a memory of the choices we made to inspire others to support our next performance. Let’s make our next gig the best one yet.

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