Controlling Your Emotions
This process I’m describing is not an erratic or dramatic occurrence when you’re in it, although when you hear it back, it sounds dramatic. But when you’re truly in the musical moment, there is a sense of calm. Everything comes from a sense of calm. Nothing good musically will come out of fear or anxiety while you are playing.
Calm comes from the secure knowledge of your own musicianship, your experience, and the knowledge that you’ve been there before. It also requires the confidence that the level of the musicians with whom you are playing is as high or higher than yours.
You must also be willing to take risks. One risk might be the risk of destroying the take. So what? Do another take. That’s not a risk like a soldier poking his head above the wall risking getting it blown off! These small artistic risks in a recording are ones you must be comfortable taking in exchange for the potential of great musical rewards.
Similarly, the fear of failure is something you must overcome. There are two kinds of failure: 1. A significant failure where you mess up time or intonation or structure, i.e. you got lost within the form, or 2. A momentary lapse which can still be usable if you don’t panic.
Think of it as just a minor detour along the way.
Many of the great masters have told me that when you make a musical mistake, a real artist knows how take advantage of that mistake by turning it into a musical opportunity for something fresh.
Miles once said sarcastically, “Yeah, I made a mistake. I played it three times and now it has became one of my best licks.”
A real mistake is when you mess up the time, intonation, or form. Maybe you are rushing or dragging and that kills the feel. In that case, you can fix it. Either stop the take or keep going if you know you can edit it out later.
You can’t fear those kinds of mistakes. When I’m playing jazz, I’m listening for the new and the fresh. The unpredictable is what defines jazz for me. Without a willingness to risk mistakes, you won’t find the musical magic within the possibilities of your playing.
When you listen to classical music you’re not listening for a surprise. We all know that music. We know how Bach should sound or how Mozart should be played. The joy from that music comes from hearing what the composer intended as played through the performer’s vision. But jazz is not about the composer. It is about creating a musical statement reflecting the essence of the soloist.
I can’t tell you how good it feels while you are recording with great musicians when something happens that you never considered. Perhaps you thought of it, but the idea was a long way off and seemed like a bridge too far. But then it happened.
Musical magic is rare, but it not completely illusive. When Jack, George, and I recorded Elm, those moments in The Snow Leopard were the best of the recording. But they were not our only great moments in that session.