Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fear and Confidence-The Jazz Tight Rope by Steve Provizer

If you're an improviser who completely lacks confidence, you'll never get out of the practice room, but if you have no fear, you won't find The Edge. Most of us struggle to find a balance between the two.

Some people have no fear in a studio, but freeze up in front of audiences. More commonly, people fear the trappings of the recording studio (much more true before technology allowed infinite edits). In both cases, the caution that seeps in can make you retreat into your bag of creaky riffs.

On the other hand, a complete dearth of fear can cause problems. A photographic memory and all the technique in the world can induce complacency and drain the life out of a performance.

I'm sure we've all heard this, or felt it. It's a phenomenon that often comes wrapped in a bundle of 32nd notes, in a long visit to stratospheric registers, or as rapid virtuosic register shifts. Despite all this musical artillery, something seems to be missing. The example that sticks out for me-because it was the biggest disappointment-was a Freddie Hubbard gig I heard at Boston's Jazz Workshop in the 70's. Freddie could play the crap out of the trumpet, but as I listened to a cascade of notes, played by a man whose early recordings I'd worn out, I was unmoved. He just didn't seem to be giving anything up, emotionally. Despite the financial sacrifice I'd made to get in, I didn't stay for the second set.

God knows it's tempting say you'd sell your soul for more chops. But, as in the Myth of Fame I talked about, the point is that we have to find our own points of calibration. This personal excavation is damned hard to do-and if there's any reason why artists should occasionally be cut some slack for selfishness and other loathsome behavior, this might be it.


Steve Provizer said...

Harvey wrote:
"It's why Wynton Marsalis is so much better a classical musician than he is a jazzman, a curtailed imagination..."

Matt Lavelle said...

W could be the greatest classical trumpet player of all time,..I still say he is actually a closet out cat!

Chris said...

Hmmmm...this is an interesting post and timely for me. I've been thinking about similar things. For me the big question is really about repeating myself too much...and relying on virtuoso tricks and things. I'm often wondering about my own sincerity as a musician. I guess for me the chops thing isn't about fear but at it's worst it's about grandstanding. It's like I want to make sure I get the same applause as the other guy. At it's best though is about the sheer joy in the dance of the fingers. I'm gonna write a blog about it one of these days.

Chris said...

Matt....not so closet actually. I heard Wynton play a set with Scott Robinson and Roswell Rudd doing all Ornette tunes...he ALMOST got it...if he could loosen up and get the stick out his you know what he might actually be able to play out stuff.

Steve Provizer said...

Chris-glad it rang a bell. Unfortunately, for myself, when I'm playing "inside," I feel as though it's out of my hands-that all the elements are vying for control-the whole thing is just too "conscious." Playing "free," on the other had, I can just let the godhead do its thing. A lot of that has to do with caring less about how the audience responds.

Chris said...

I'm glad you can do the Godhead thing....I can sometimes....but if I'm honest I'm a bit of an audience whore....I'm working on it though....that to me is.part of the inner work of.a performer....know your crutches and try to blast em away.

Mary Anybody said...

Thank you for that post. It's an extremely important subject for me personally. I've heard about mental trainers (in Switzerland we call it that, but I guess it's not the correct expression :) ) with athletes as clients who start to take on musicians, also. It sounds pretty obvious: why not, instead of being terrified if the right thing is gonna come out, if "it" is gonna happen, be able to put oneself in a state of confidence before a concert, and control it more? What do you think?

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Jeesh Mary, I didn't know telepathy waves extend all the way across oceans but this morning I've been pondering a facet of the problem.

You see, I live on the other side of a wall from a small art space with 20 or so performances a month.

I've increasingly noticed how horribly unmindful musicians are of their surroundings. They are idiots about basic commonsense things like leaving the main entry door open to a point where the place now has a mouse or two.

I have come to realize that performing arts are culturally permitted forms of exhibitionism.

Exhibitionism projects aspects of the psyche outward... all output with limited input beyond attention to what the other ensemble members are up to to make music.

Most are pent up and oblivious when they arrive and set their stuff up as the weight of performance bears down on them. I've learned to not try to engage them in conversation at this time.

There are exceptions. Matthew Shipp and Jim Hobbs have this ability to just jump into fully engaged performance instantly without this burden of worry. It's pretty funny.

The audience are the voyeurs. Since watching music is next to useless to me, I rarely sit through these things and listen up in my room to cd's where I can focus on sound.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

I recommend reading Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse to get a sense of my drivel.

His notion was that all creativity derives from Eros and is a 'sublimation' of impulses that might otherwise get us into trouble. His full term was 'non repressive sublimation' which he contrasted with 'repressive de-sublimation'.

By that he meant the commodification of sexuality to sell cars and cigarettes, etc.

Steve Provizer said...

In continuance of this conversation, please see my new blog post.