Jazz and Balance


Do you like Jazz? I’m a fan. The town my parents are from hosts an annual Jazz festival at the University, and people come from all over to hear several days of music. I love the way that melodies meld, bend, twist around each other and then part for a moment, going their own way in variations on a theme. The way musicians in a Jazz band bring these variations back together amazes me…it seems as though they have one mind, taking individual turns with their melodies and then magically coming back to the theme as one.

Bill Strickland, in his book Make the Impossible Possible, relates good Jazz music to life. He speaks of the song we all have in our hearts, and tells us to sing it out loud. Whether your song is sung with voice, or written with pen, painted with a brush or woven in the complexities of the corporate world, if you sing it long and loud enough then the world is sure to hear it.

I’m a cautious person by nature, and I have to admit to struggling a little with this. I think it’s true that the secret to success is to believe in your dream and not be afraid to pursue it. I just have a hard time carrying that out, and I can’t help but recognize one silly little thought that keeps slipping into my mind….

Have you ever heard bad Jazz? It’s….well…..not good.

One thing that I think we forget when we sit back to enjoy a jazz trio is that these people are not all about improv. Yes, that’s a key point of Jazz music that distinguishes Jazz from other forms of music. It’s the genius of it, the soul of it, the reason we shake our heads in appreciation and jump to our feet in applause when it’s done well. But a part of the art is making it look as easy it does. It is seamless and beautiful in part because of the genius, but also because of the hundreds of hours spent in practice. The hundreds of honks and squeaks and wrong notes that come out in private rehearsal, to be ironed out the next time…again and again…until it’s smooth and presentable. A good Jazz group has spent enough time together (or at the very least enough time in similar situations) that they know the other musicians the way a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary knows each other. They seem to read each other’s minds, because they know each other’s habits and graces and foibles, and know exactly how to work with that. It shouldn’t take away from the amazement and appreciation we feel, but add to it….the determination and hard work that goes into this is every bit as important and impressive as the raw genius ever was.

So what’s my point here? I guess it’s just that while it’s important to aim high and to sing your song aloud, it’s also important to realize that in the process of making what you have to say and do work well, you’re going to run in to some harsh wrong notes here and there. You’re going to have to suffer through some bad Jazz to get to that satisfying moment when it all seems to come together. Here I am remembering my sixth grade Orchestra recital….and believe me, twenty five eleven-and-twelve year olds armed with stringed instruments, each playing their own song as loud and long as possible…isn’t pretty. The ones who kept playing despite that fact….well, they’re the ones who stayed musicians.

Personally, I need to be reminded of that again and again. A good, inspiring success story is wonderful…but a bad middle school orchestra concert is also valuable. True success is balancing genius with practice.

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2 thoughts on “Jazz and Balance

  1. I loved your discussion of jazz and the reminders of how it really works… and the application of that to our lives.The biggest thing I took away was the need to sing in community. Solos are good, but even they happen against a larger backdrop.

  2. Hi, Erica…I’m just now catching up with posts. Was out of town for a couple days visiting family–it’s spring break here.I read parts of the discussion over at l.l.’s regarding this chapter and was overwhelmed by the emotion there. Amazing what sparks.I was a bit like L.L. on this chapter: weary. Found myself skimming some. Strickland’s story is an amazing one. i love the jazz comparison. it is true. But so many days my main goal is to get the laundry done. i feel a bit like rolling my eyes at some of the idealism. Still, I recognize that I would not get anywhere with my dreams if I did not listen to the jazz once in a while. Finding a balance. That’s the challenge for me.Blessings to you and your beautiful family.Laura

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