Transitions: Musician To Artist, or Finding Your Own Voice
Professional and amateur musicians come in all hats and sizes. There are classical, blues, jazz, country, rock musicians and musicians that specialize in all kinds of music. There are musicians from every corner of the world. If your definition of a musician is someone who:
1. Is a master of his/her instrument;
2. Can play in any key;
3. Can read music well;
4. Can transpose music;
5. Has a good understanding of harmony and theory;
6. Has an extensive repertoire
I would say you are right in a traditional kind of way. Except that's the way it use to be. Nowadays, most instrumentalist function at a different level or point of view than the musicians of yesteryear. Although there are more music schools and universities graduating students than ever before, there are thousands of players that are not educated and are considered musicians.
1. There is so much music out there, many people learn to play by ear;
2. I believe some of it is because of the growth of rock and roll, and pop music. The business of making money by record companies and bands and the consumption of this music by the public and the Internet and YouTube.;
3. The rise of singer-songwriters;
4. There are countries that musical talent is passed down from generation to generation. Music is learned by rote, not by formal education;
5. There are many books that can teach you how to play your designated instrument without a teacher;
6. Many people around the world cannot afford music lessons.
When I was a young up-and-coming musician. I could not play in an orchestra where the best jobs were, and if I wanted a degree from a decent music university I would have to switch to bass. My next choice was to be a studio player. Even though I was to be able to read well, transpose, and play in all genres, in the sixties, it was like getting into the electricians union. (Only Americans will understand this).
Most classical musicians are very skilled and can read anything. They are great musicians, but not all of them are artists. Many of the blues and county musicians are not readers, but they are great players and artists.
When I was a teenager I would hear a guitarist play rock 'n' roll or a blues lick. My first thought was, "But can he really play?" Everything, to me was related to jazz. If you couldn't play jazz, you couldn't play. I know it was a bit restrictive and naive, but that's how I thought then. Nowadays the critique is if you are a jazz player, you can only play if you are a good bebop, modern or swing player. There are many musicians out there who are trained jazz musicians but would rather play free-form or avant-garde jazz. This doesn't take away from their musicianship; personally, I think it adds to their playing. If you listen to early John Coltrane and follow his playing through his career, you can see how he progressed from playing rhythm and blues (walking the bar) to bebop to an avant-garde jazz. At the beginning of his avant-garde period he was ridiculed, but eventually won over the critics and his fans. Coltrane alone made avant-garde jazz popular. Which brings us to the topic of this months' article.
How does one make that transition from musician to jazz artist or in other words, how do you find your own voice?
Guitar great Jack Wilkins says, "I think it's not always healthy to concern yourself with being an 'artist.' It's a popular expression today but what often happens is a player stops thinking of the music at hand and gets too egotistical in their playing. The great movie director John Ford always said he was just a journeyman. That's not an insult, as he made some of the greatest movies ever. Play the music to your best and let the critics decide if you're an artist." Jack is absolutely right, I've known Jack over forty years and in my estimation there is no denying that Jack is a great artist.
Piano master Steve Kuhn says, "it's a continuing process" that is still ongoing and is a constant.
The first time I heard someone refer to me as an artist, I was taken aback. I never thought of myself as artist, but just a player, I still think of myself as a player on a path and my only concern is to create the best music I can and contribute to this music we call jazz, but there is a point where you graduate from musician to master. Master, artist, journeyman; these are all semantics. What's important is how you get there.
NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman says, "I found my own voice when I switched from tenor to soprano sax." Sometimes that's all it takes. Teacher of the jazz greats, Dennis Sandole, urged Trane to switch to soprano. Dennis thought that the soprano was a better fit for what Trane wanted to do.