Ego and self-consciousness are tough things to deal with sometimes.
Bear with me through this story and I’ll try to explain.
In Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1, George Weasley suffers a serious wound to the head; specifically, he gets a hole in his ear. When his twin brother Fred arrives, George says something about feeling “saint-like”. Seeing his brother’s look of confusion, he clarifies by saying, “I’m holy!”
Happily surprised at his brother’s good humor, Fred responds by saying, “The whole wide world of ear-related humor; and you go for ‘I’m holy?!’ ”
In a few days, my new album will be released. I like the recording and am excited to share it with people, but I’m also battling some self-consciousness and ego issues. Sort of like George Weasley, I had the whole world of jazz music to explore and play with, and I went for… the stuff I played on the new album!?
Why? Why did I play like that?
Do I not like what I played?
Yes, for the most part, I do like it (at least as much as my hyper, self-critical self will allow).
But just as Fred’s question to his injured brother implies- couldn’t I have done something better? More challenging? Couldn’t I have taken more chances? Played more difficult tunes or more adventurous solos?
Yes, I could have.
So- why didn’t I?
Bear with me again as I answer that question the way I typically answer questions- with a story.
Years ago I was determined to be the best trumpet player I could be. I wanted to play the most challenging material I could. As I was learning jazz, that attitude led me to be-bop and other music with fast tempos and crazy, rapidly changing chord progressions. That was a big challenge! And with practice, I got a lot better at playing in those ways. Not world class awesome or anything close to it, but I could hold my own and was (usually) fit to be heard in public, at least in my hometown.
But what I discovered after awhile was that I didn’t really love playing that way. I liked it, but it just didn’t seem like a natural fit for me.
I realized I was more into less. Fewer chords, fewer super-fast tempos, fewer notes in solos and melodic lines. Just less of everything I had been working on.
It took me awhile, but I finally realized that I didn’t have to play any certain way if I didn’t want to. There was no teacher in front of me demanding that I progress on to the next level of difficulty. I realized that I could just play the way I liked. More relaxed. Not worried about playing something technically excellent, but instead just trying to play something that sounded good and felt good to me at the time.
So that’s what I did on the new Jazz On King album. I played in the style I like best, on songs I thought were fun to play, and I played what I felt at the time we were recording. Like every jazz player, if I were to do it all again today, it would turn out differently- that’s part of the beauty of jazz.
So I guess I’m writing this post to justify myself to myself. Maybe I’m reinforcing myself against those who may say my album is weak, doesn’t hit hard, doesn’t show enough chops or harmonic adventure, doesn’t contain especially challenging songs.
All of those things may be true. But the one thing I can say for myself is that I played what came naturally on songs I enjoy playing. At the end of the day, I think that’s what jazz musicians are supposed to do.
I may have to just remind myself a few more times.