Richie Beirach’s comment on my post, On time, practicing, and listening

Never at a loss for words or for offering a learned opinion, Richie and I had a short conversation this morning about my recent post. The following is a transcription of his side of that conversation.

That was a great article, as usual. Very persuasive and helpful points. Let me offer some thoughts of my own for people that will provide them with my perspective on these three topics as an experienced player. I know you wrote this post for players with a variety of skill levels, many of whom are not so advanced. And I know you’re trying to help some of them become advanced. I want to give them a glimpse of their musical objective.

I am at a point in my life where I know about this stuff and have taught it, and have a perspective from the standpoint of a professional artist.

Let me answer your excellent question, “What do you hear?”

While playing, I am only listening to what the other players are playing and to what I’m going to play a nanosecond before I play it. I’m not just playing and hoping for the best.

Because of my lifetime of work, I have no technical challenges. There is nothing between my thoughts & emotions and my next musical idea.

For most of the players you’re helping, they probably don’t lack good time. It’s that they have other mitigating problems that are getting in the way of grabbing the time, like their instrumental technique or actually hearing what they want to play. They may have trouble keeping up with the flow of creative ideas, the chords, the form, etc.

Jazz musicians must be able to play their instrument and hear what they’re playing while listening to the rest of the band. This is an unbelievable amount of shit for someone to spontaneously deal with.

It’s a lot of pressure and takes years of work to fully command.

When I’m playing with a band, say Quest with Lieb and Billy Hart, or with Jack DeJohnette and George Mraz, I am not thinking at all about technique. I’m not thinking about the how. For me, the how is done. It’s already been accomplished.

My fingers know how. My brain knows how. My ear knows how. I’m thinking, only of what I’m going to play. The content. Not the how. No questions like, what’s the next chord? or what’s coming up in the form? None of that gets in the way once you have your instrument and the music completely absorbed into your subconscious.

The goal is to have the knowledge of chords and tunes and form living completely within your subconscious and the time totally embedded into your being. Those elements of the music live in your subconscious. The how becomes as automatic as walking.

All of my creative time is spent on two things. 1. What I’m hearing and what I want to play, and 2. what the other people are playing for me to use in my own playing and that I can support with my comping.

Play what you hear is a complicated statement. It’s not as simple as one might think.

You want to play within a certain defined jazz vocabulary that is comprehensible. But to be an accomplished jazz player requires having your own vocabulary and having it at your fingertips. Literally.

So, when I read your post this morning that asks, what do I hear, I ask myself, what do I hear in my own playing?

I like my own playing. I like some of it more than others. Some of it, I think is excellent and some of it could be better. But it is all built around the same thing.

It’s about expressing my personal musical vocabulary. The time of the music takes care of itself. The goal of all the practicing that we do is to get the time within our bodies and deep into our DNA.

It must be like an unconscious source of breathing. What's controlling your breathing while you sleep and keeping you from dying?

That process is subconscious and lives deep in very back of your brain. That’s where your time must live.

That’s easier said than done, as I’m sure many of your readers would attest. Because you're playing your instrument, and you have the chords going by, you’re traveling through the form, you must know the melody, and keep up with the flow of time, and listen to everybody else in the band.

Oh my God! No wonder great musical ability takes thousands of hours. But I’m here to tell you that if you do the work every day, and do it well, and listen to yourself - the good and the bad - you can get where you want to go musically.

Regarding the work, this is an everyday thing. You won’t see immediate results. Think about working out at a gym for the first time. You work out two hours on Monday then you go back Tuesday. You go again Wednesday. Do you see massive progress in weight loss or strength within those three days? No.

But go for five days a week for a couple of months and you’ll start feeling it. You’ll see results.

It's similar to practicing your instrument. Perhaps you start practicing an hour each day. After a while, you still aren’t hearing the quick improvement you’d hoped for. What do you do?

Do you give up? That’s why people cancel their gym membership. Their initial work wasn’t worth the result they were experiencing. People stop practicing because they don’t get that immediate result they hoped for or still aren’t playing at the level of their friends and colleagues.

We live in an immediate gratification world. But what I’m explaining is old-school shit. When another player or teacher says, “You know, this takes time.” they mean it takes years. Playing jazz at a high level is a marathon.

Practice hard, be consistent, and listen. You can get there.

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