... Tons of experience and preparation, all in the service of making something new, in the moment, every time.
I am putting a lot of thought at the moment into my relationship with jazz. I've done next to no playing in the last 5 years, as my creative spirit and my current role as a very full time choral director) has taken me elsewhere. But i still feel like a jazz musician in my core. So, I ask myself, in what sense do I use a jazz approach in the music I currently make?
Today, i was reading the front page of Mike Walker's website, which I incidentally think is really amazing and useful. I wish stuff like this had been around when I was teaching jazz full time. The comment about Mike, without doubt one of the UK's top jazz educators and musicians, put into words something I learnt playing jazz that I believe very passionately about all music and indeed life. Steve Rodby says of Mike:
"… his teaching is just like his playing: tons of experience and preparation, all in the service of making something new, in the moment, every time."
Then it clicked. For me, all the preparation in the world is no use at all if the performance is not 'new, in the moment, every time.' Music, improvised or not, is an 'in the moment' medium. Even classical or pop musicians, who do not see themselves as improvising, are taking thousands of interactive decisions in the moment during their performances: about tempo, tone, balance, sound, feel, emotion, and so on. Every live performance is necessarily different in that sense, and an ensemble in any style needs to be flexible enough to take new decisions in the moment - to adapt to a new acoustic, a new audience, and new vibe, if a performance is to work. Flexibility, risk-taking and passion are what make a performance work for me.
On the flip side, all of that flexibility comes from incredibly careful preparation. If we see all musical performance as containing 'something fixed and something free', then an unprepared musician, who is not utterly comfortable with the fixed, is much less likely to be able to deal with the free.
I know I drive people crazy at times, by setting up moments of freedom in shows, where something may happen, but I am not going to prescribe what it is before we get there. In those moments, we should, however, be especially well prepared, so that when a musical decision that fits the moment comes upon us, we can seize it whole-heartedly, and take it where the spirit moves us. Only then will we really connect with an audience.