Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Fearless Joy

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Some of my most profound life lessons come from my kids. As I was leaving my house one recent morning to drive everyone to the different places that they go, I encountered my five-year-old son Solomon who was already out playing on the front lawn. There he was just spinning around and around with his hands towards the sky, grinning from ear to ear. I’m guessing he was celebrating the sun’s emergence and the rebuke of the clouds that had been dominating our whole weekend. He caught just the right moment when the sun’s warmth had ignited the sweetness of damp grass and honeysuckle.

I stood there for a minute and wondered when was the last time that I’d publicly enjoyed anything with that much shameless abandon. A voice immediately entered my head and said, “That kind of thing is too weird for a guy your age!” Other narratives quickly ensued until the inner din of judgment overshadowed the thrill of the moment.

I realized that I was falling victim to the same trap that I warn my students to avoid: letting the inner voices drown out the moment.

When a student first comes into music, it’s all about rules, theory, scales and structure. Then there’s repertoire and technique! On top of all that we go hear concerts and recitals together and critique them. Even though all these fundamentals are essential to the development of a discerning and critically- thinking musician, unfortunately critical thinkers can be their own worst enemies.

When new students perform and all they can think about are rules, theory and critiques, they can freeze up and at best only come off sounding like very proficient robots. It’s important that they get to a point where they can turn off all that noise and live in the beauty that is present. I point out to students that the audience doesn’t want to hear about the work they put into the music. They only want to hear musing and playing.

We all are very similar to those music students. We learn all these fundamentals and techniques and later get socialized to a point where being present in the moment is difficult. When a bit of social anxiety sets in we often fall back on talk points and protocols and miss the opportunity to have genuine exchange. Inner voices, social scripts and cultural narratives can tempt us to overlook the beauty and value of a nuanced situation.

I’m not recommending that we all just randomly drop everything to go spin in circles like Solomon but here’s a kid with fearless joy who won’t waste one moment of inspiration. I tell my most advanced students that the greatest artists in jazz play like Solomon because they understand structure so well that they know how to find the creative inspiration that lies just beyond it. When inspired, they play outside of the boundaries, they think outside of the box, and they redefine the purpose of structure and convention as counterbalances for freedom.

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