Our fear and exhilaration one afternoon during last week's spring break provided an important moment for both my son and for me–and perhaps for something worth your consideration.
My 17-year old and I traveled to the northern Arizona mountains last week in anticipation of a well-deserved change of scenery and mindset. One of the activities we planned was to drive an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) through some beautiful off-road country.
After a short training session followed by a 15-minute drive over four-lane silky-smooth pavement, we eventually arrived at our first taste of dirt. Flat and scenic. Hey, this is easy!
But we soon encountered progressively rougher terrain, climbing over boulders that seemed more like driving on Mars than prepared trails here on planet earth.
Around hour three, we turned into an entrance labeled the Diamondback Trail. There were warnings about the difficulty but we thought, hey, we're here. Let's do this!
Ten minutes into that trail, the difficulty of the drive was obvious and elevating well past what we had thought was challenging at parts of the previous three hours. Again, think of driving the rover over the raw rocky Mars crust.
Assuring ourselves that we had seen the worst of this trail, we approached a ridge where several ATVs were collecting, some turning around. We approached the ledge of the ridge and looking down we saw what felt like a steep waterfall over which we were about to be pushed.
On the other side of the ravine was an equally steep ascent we would have to make that I was hoping our small high-profile vehicle had the muscle to climb.
As my son and I looked at each other knowing that our manhood would never allow us to turn back, we started our descent over perilously steep dirt and boulders.
We made it to the bottom, but now looking up, I pressed the accelerator as far down as it would go. Let's see the strength of this little engine that could ! As we approached the top of this steep ascent, two AVTs appeared on the ledge that were starting their descent and clearly going the wrong way.
I stopped and gave them a hand signal to back up to give us some space to pass on this narrow one-way path. It took them a second for what was probably their disbelief. But there was no way I was reversing all the way down and then up the other side!
They eventually inched their way back and made some room for me to squeeze by, as I climbed over the last of the boulders on this steep ledge.
What does all this have to do with you playing jazz?
Well, as I embarked on this little adventure embracing something with which I had neither skill nor vast experience, I was determined not to let fear get in my way. In fact, I caught myself grinning ear to ear as I was driving over this seemingly impossible terrain.
Think of those moments when you are called upon to stand up and improvise over unfamiliar changes - for you it could be anything from Blues to Giant Steps. Are you focused on failure or success? Are you focused on what you don't know or what you do know? Are you focused on what others will think of you or on your personal expression of music?
The next time you find yourself in a rehearsal, jam session, or recording, and are called on to play a solo in front of the world, stand up or move to center stage, press down fully on the accelerator, and enjoy your journey through the harmonic terrain. I promise that you won't fall to your death, and you just might climb out of it feeling proud of your courage and success.
I know I did!