Getting near your musical idols

In this internet day and age, we have so much available to us. We can turn on our computers and phones and instantly watch footage of Art Tatum, Bud Powell, or Keith Jarrett play piano. We can open Spotify or search YouTube and get instant access to more recorded music than Charlie Parker heard in his entire life. In fact, we could view and listen to musical performances for every one of our waking minutes and still not come close to exhausting our options.

But as great as that may be (and there’s a real possibility that it may not in fact be as great as it seems), none of this replaces the experience of hearing music live.

In person.

For one thing, instruments sound very different live. If possible, without amplification.

I first realized this when I was conducting a string orchestra playing the music of Frank Sinatra in a recording studio. Even though the Edison Recording Studio was one of the best in New York City, I was shocked when I walked into the control room and heard how different the sound of the violins were on the recording. They were completely different when heard acoustically!

I heard this same phenomenon several times when attending Keith Jarrett concerts. In person, he gets an astonishingly multi-layered sound to the piano that’s hard to describe in words. All I know is that this aspect of his playing doesn’t come across on recordings. It must be heard live, in person.

My message here is that we need to go out and hear our musical idols live. We’re missing something when we only watch videos and listen to recordings. And taking it further, we pick up something else from them in person. Something intangible but very real. Their attitude. Their dedication. Their intensity. Their demeanor. The way they look at the piano. The way the musicians relate to one another on stage. The way their body moves when they play.

And, if possible, we can talk to them. The way I spoke to Wayne Shorter for 10 minutes in the late 1980s when I went to his dressing room at the Blues Note in New York City. No, I wasn’t invited. I just went. And he was very nice and we talked one-on-one for about 10 minutes.

If we can get close to our musical idols, even for a minute or two, we’ll listen to them differently for ever.

We feel more of a connection with them. We’re a little closer to musical history, and it will come out in our playing. In fact, we ARE musical history, just as much as they are.

This is true. We are musical history. You and I. We’re continuing the tradition each and every time we sit down at the piano. Just like our idols.

When I was in college, I got to know the great bebop drummer Max Roach at a jazz workshop during the summers. I think about Max every time I play a tune associated with him and his groups. Here’s one of those tunes, along with a fun story about Mr. Roach:

Daahoud: Journey Through The Real Book #79

Go out and get near your musical idols. You’ll be a better musician when you do.

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