First thing you say to yourself as you walk onstage: “Don’t s#&t your pants.”
People who play jazz know it is the most difficult art form ever invented. And jazz players are the most cruel, critical a-holes out there. You can’t help it. You pick apart someone else’s solo just like you know they are doing to you.
Jazz people idolize the “masters” like crazy, too. Nobody will ever touch Coltrane, Dizzy, Miles, or Bird. Maybe there was something to the fact that they were on the cutting edge of the most coveted jazz genres, but people like Donald Harrison, Danilo Perez, and Terence Blanchard have done what I would call exciting things with jazz in the last twenty years. So have a huge number of other…cats. (I said it.) With the advent of cheaper recording and expendable time and income, everyone can make a record, and does anymore. The cream can’t rise to the top in a centrifuge.
As with many forms of expression, the financial factor and the fact that maybe a dead horse can only be beaten into dog food before it has no recourse but to turn into dog poo have turned what was art into competition. I have been guilty of it myself. I got offered two record deals and came very close to taking them. I could have made some money and a name for myself, but the idea of being associated with “smooth jazz” (the death of all that ever was artistic in any genre; aka, “yuppie f*@k music”) overrode the need for profit and fame. I turned them down. I don’t regret it. My bank account has at times, but I can pee in the morning and blood doesn’t come out.
Another thing I am guilty of, god this is embarrassing, is thinking white people aren’t as “authentic” in jazz as black people. I love shooting myself in the foot! It feels so good. I am white and female. Two strikes! (“Chicks can’t play. Didn’t you get the memo?!”) I have experienced the most painful rejection due to my color and nads in the jazz world, and do you know what? Nobody cares! I don’t have to play jazz to live, so my rejection doesn’t count. Yay for me! I get to feel like crap after being treated badly and no left-wing liberal is going to back me up without trying to do me from behind.
Do I hate black people for their part in my pain? Hell, no. I’m not stupid. On a cosmic level, it has been a privilege to have gotten a small glimpse of what black people experience in America. I realized a long time ago that I would never understand what it is like to have to deal with this sentiment every day like black people do, but it was an eye opener. It was white people as much as black people who throw that crap out there, anyway. Why hate? It’s lonely.
I am good at jazz, though, special even, and I can improvise faster and more artistically than most people I have met. (On both coasts.) If the conditions are right, I can make you cry, which is my ultimate goal---to make people feel something. But I don’t go out there much anymore.Is this some kind of tragedy? Probably not.Maybe the world doesn’t need me there. (Or here for that matter, but they won’t fire me.) It’s also possible that it has all been said in jazz and we are huffing fumes to keep the dream from disappearing.
Or not. If jazzers could get back to why they got into jazz in the first place, it might live again. It’s not about one-upsmanship, or money, or fame, or how much jazz history you can drop in a minute and jack off at your ability to memorize trivia. It’s about the excitement of the moment, the psychic conversation between people onstage, the deep connection with the audience, the drawing on the energy of our musical ancestors. It’s about the Love Supreme. (Okay, not my favorite Coltrane record, but a good way to make my point.)