Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Today I’m Gonna Get That Cookie!

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I live in a beautiful world these days. I can see the tenets of jazz culture in practically everything I do. Whether I’m hanging out, talking with friends, or driving down the street in heavy traffic, it feels like I’m performing in a jazz ensemble. It’s in my DNA now. Learning, teaching, and everyday life are operating from the same reflexes: listening, hearing, feeling, responding, seeing, thinking, creating, and sometimes deconstructing, according to my state of mind.

From my perspective, a jazz ensemble can be a great forum to develop those reflexes. Likewise, so can a soccer team or a construction crew. In jazz, at any given moment anyone can be the leader or the supporter. When I teach, I start out as the leader yet often realize that I’m being taught something new by the way my student manipulates the subject matter. I had to learn to be open to that. I’ve struck a lot of gold that way.

Some of the higher callings of life are to listen, learn and create a way to give back to the world. I’m fortunate to have teaching as a way to give back because it has allowed me to learn things about how to play music that I didn’t get through conventional education and performance.

I attended the Essentially Ellington festival in New York last May. Sixteen or seventeen bands from all over North America come and compete for prizes and national recognition. I struck up many conversations with the band directors there. Categorically, they all had the same story to relate—their kids were going off to college and returning to complain to them that their college professors can’t teach.

I mentioned to one of the guys in passing that many of the university profs come to teaching from the world of professional performance so naturally many approaches will be different from what the students get in high school. That can make it hard for them to connect with the information.

The same obstacles that challenge me in teaching also challenge the learning process of many new students. When I enter a classroom with a preconceived notion, it severely hampers my creativity. Similarly, when students already have an idea of how something “must” be taught, they often dismiss vital information because they don’t recognize the value of the new concepts. They may even decide they aren’t being taught anything because they haven’t heard the concepts that they were expecting to hear. I’ve seen repeatedly that students who come in with no preconception or expectation grasp new things more quickly.

Newt Gingrich says there’s always “a cookie”—a prize, a lesson to be learned in every situation. By losing all expectation yet remaining inquisitive, whether teaching, learning or performing a simple task, we remain open to more possibilities.

Every day there’s a special lesson to be learned when you’re open-minded. When you wake up each day, tell yourself, “Today I’m gonna get that cookie!”

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