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The Fundamentals of Music: Sleeping, Eating and Breathing Them Daily

The best musicians playing jazz took the time to learn the profoundly important fundamental things…such as how to swing. Or playing II V’s and way beyond. Or playing the blues so you can put some soul in what you play beyond a blues. Learning to play in time and melodic construction. Etc. The great musicians spent time dealing with developing these things. Sleeping, eating and breathing these elements. Everyday. Swing isn’t an intellectual exercise. It’s feel. That takes time to develop. You have to live with it for several years, and if you can’t swing how do you think whatever you play will feel? It starts there and it doesn’t have to be a 4/4 walking bass line to swing.

Serious time is spent playing and studying these things. Not just for a year or two. It won’t develop properly in that time frame. At least five to 10 years to put a time frame on it, but this all depends on what you’ve studied, researched and performed during these years. I’ve seen students practice everyday, but not progress because they don’t practice smartly. There’s a way to practice and a way not to. Like in radio, they say you’re a rookie for five years then you start to develop your style. Your foundation by that point should be solid. No different in playing jazz. Or music in general. Also who you’ve played with too is a part of it because there is much truth in that you’re as good as your sidemen. Like the When in Rome thingy. For better or worse.

Many of the students today in music programs want to learn to play in seven before four. Learn giant steps before they can play a blues. Play fast before they can play a ballad. To get to the leaves you need roots. This, in my view, is why so much music sounds so shallow. Musicians can be impatient and it takes much patience to develop in a meaningful way. Learning how to create a beautiful idea that is musical, takes time. Like learning how to appreciate a fine wine. You get there through trial and error.

Drummers dealing with licks and patterns and technically impressive things to get attention, for the wrong reasons I might add, with horrible time, dynamic ranges and such, create lifeless music. The technical things might look cool to those that think like that but the MUSIC will be forgotten in a week. Bass players with a thin pulse and weak bass lines and unsteady time don’t serve the music well. Piano players, guitar or horn players with no rhythm, line continuity and deep level harmonic knowledge to deal with II V’s creatively, or more advanced progressions while SWINGING at the same time, don’t elevate the music. It’s flat. Motionless. If you can’t swing and put some soul and passion in what you play, the music will lack vibrancy and energy.

Today, potentially so many peripheral things outside of actual playing can take front and center, pulling you away from the deep necessary study of the music. It’s a business too and those things can be draining to deal with if you don’t have management. Most self-produced artists don’t. The relentless traveling can burn you out if you’re able to get work. It can be fun, but it takes a LOT of energy and then the payoff in the end might not be enough to create a decent portfolio, which becomes more significant when you get older. The bottom line though, the quality of musicianship and music is where it all starts. If that’s not together, nothing else will fall into place or matter. – Jae


“I absolutely LOVE this program! It’s great to see our heroes close up and realize that they are people too…with wrinkles, bad hair, nervousness, etc.”

— N.C.