Sunday, March 4, 2012

The constancy and consistency of practice

The economic situation for musicians has been more difficult than usual. As I struggle to become part of the scene in New England, I hear stories and see evidence of the $50 jazz gig becoming the norm. Serious cats in NYC tell me of similar things in their world as well. In the light of this reality, it has been easy for me to become discouraged about the state of the “business” when it comes to playing creative, acoustic music. That is until I came across a great article by the saxophonist Tim Price. Tim’s thesis is that the daily work of a musician is not the performance as much as it is practicing. It’s become very easy to adopt an attitude of practicing for the next gig. This is a common model, especially for the busy musician with much on his or her plate. But, what happens when there is little on the plate. The voice may tell us that “I’ve got nothing coming up, what is the point of developing new material etc…?” As I reflect, I realize that I have been, and continue to be stuck in that mind set. I think that I have it backwards. Visual artists seem to have this figured out. They make art to make art, shows and sales almost seem to be bi-products of their work. It seems to me that it should be the same for me. If I wait to practice until I have “something to practice for” I fall into a slippery rabbit hole of artistic sloth. I’m not practicing because “nothing’s happening” and “nothing’s happening” because I’m not practicing. Tim writes: I practice everyday, and I practice for at least 2 hours before I do anything. I don't do it because I think that Mike Stern or Sting is going to call. < I wish they would > I do it because it's the one thing in life that has been a constant for me. So few things in life ever remain the same, if any.” This really sums it up for me. The job of a saxophonist is to practice saxophone. If we let performance opportunities dictate our artistic path and choices, we are veering away from the path that the masters like Trane and Newk have left for us.

I acknowledge that I have an advantage and a blessing of having a gig that allows me not to “want” for much. I equally feel that because of that I have even a greater responsibility to be true to the artistic duties of practice and self-improvement. Who am I to sit on my skills when so many artists are struggling daily and so many masters have paid SERIOUS dues for this music. Being a musician is not a typical “service-oriented” job. I would presume that it is on par with what someone called to service in a religious order feels.

I think I need to re-focus my goals on becoming a better musician and less on being “part of the scene”. I feel like I’ve had them mixed up lately. Being part of the scene will not make me a better musician, but being a better musician almost always makes it easier to be part of a scene.