And then the piano begins.
A cacophony of rhythm, they stand side by side, changing time signatures with ultimate ease, creating cords of fifths and sevenths, filling the stage, filling the room.
Filling my ears, as my body starts to dance.
Hello Jazz. We’ve met before.
Last weekend I stood entranced at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Manhattan, witnessing the musical genius of Dizzy Gillespie’s All Stars.
The place was packed, and I stood shoulder to shoulder at the bar gazing over heads into the colorful lights gleaming off the brass. As notes echoed in the rich space, I was overcome with amazement at the group’s cohesiveness, and that it was tied together with a single frame:
I love the structure of live jazz. The performers begin with a discernible melody, and then take turns on their solos, going into variation. There is a constant beat kept usually by the drums, and each solo is timed according to a nod, an understanding.
Somehow the musicians are connected silently, at least without speech.
Their language is the music, and the rhythm. Dizzy’s All Stars is made up of some of the finest in the business, and it showed. What’s more, it was felt, as the place was standing room only, and after each number, cheers rang over jubilant applause.
As I took in my own visceral reaction and the energy of the packed jazz club, the question arose,
Why does this work?
What can we learn from jazz?
We have all taken time with our craft, taken our voice lessons, our acting classes, learned how to photograph and paint. We have spent endless hours to cultivate our ability, honing our talents and working on technique.
It was clear this jazz band consisted of all consummate musicians, but what made them performers?
Their ability to improv.
What happens in the gap between technique and performance? There is a letting go. In order for our creative expression to truly flow, we have to ALLOW. These musicians weren’t thinking about their technique, they were completely tuned into the moment. They had the structure of the melody, and then added the magic ingredient:
Remember this word?
Remember the child-like fascination you had when you first opened your mouth, or picked up a pencil, or grabbed those building blocks? Everything was a discovery, everything was new. There was no history to base the line of your Magic Marker, just the joy of filling in the swirling line or coloring the blank page.
We can all get caught in perfectionism and judge our art from what has come before, but what if THIS moment was all you knew as you created? These musicians were playing classic standards, but their solos had never been heard before.
In fact, the whole evening had never been heard before, or played. Their precise mix of scats, rhythms, and phrasing was a one-time experience for all involved, those on stage, and those in the audience.
The truth is, when we create, it is new.
So, how can you incorporate play into your art?
* Let go of the past. Your creation is today and while you are a product of all that has led to this moment, your art will be best served by who you are right now.
* Trust your technique. You have spent time and energy on your craft. Release the critic, and allow the space for play. Your audience isn’t coming to you for your technique. They are coming to you because you touch something in them. They see themselves in you, so put your energies on communication as opposed to internal sabotaging dialogue. The artist needs the audience as much as the audience needs the artist.
* Drop into your body and release the ego. Take the time to center before you create. Ground by closing your eyes, and feeling your seat. Take 5 minutes and put your mind at the base of your spine. If you feel it starting to rise back up to your laundry list of to-do’s or nerves around your art, notice, and then drop back down. Your ego thinks it’s keeping you safe by swirling thought after thought, but the creative process happens on a far more embodied level. Drop in, and give yourself the space so you can actually hear your inspiration.
* Try something entirely new. Go outside your artistic boundaries and test the edges. We can get hung up on what has always worked, and put ourselves and our creativity in a box. Growth comes from that place of, “what’s next?” Approach this with curiosity. Come back to that child who was given their first box of Crayola crayons, and view the page as truly blank. There is possibility in not knowing.
So, what is new for you today?
Hello Jazz, and welcome back.