Transitions: Musician To Artist, or Finding Your Own Voice
Mistakes were part of the learning curve. There were times while I was going through this process that I sounded absolutely awful and I thought the approach I was striving towards would never happen. What I didn't realize was that, although I knew what I wanted to play, I hadn't gotten my technique to where I needed it to be in order to play everything I could hear. I am not talking about speed, but a musical technique. That brain muscle that hears the odd intervals, the jumps and skips that makes improvisation different and yet musical. I also worked on singing my solos. The tonal (inside) I found easy, but the outside was difficult. Scatting and playing at the same time helped a lot. Scatting against the changes without playing tremendously developed my ears.
There were times I would put on a John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy record and play along. I didn't want to copy the solos, but what I wanted was to get the spirit, energy and inflection of what they were doing, but using my own notes and technique. This was a big help.
The next step was to use what I learned when playing with other musicians. In the early-to-late sixties there were plenty of jam sessions, rehearsal bands and new music groups for me to play with. In this way I was able to try out and master what I was working on.
From the time I was fourteen years old, I always had a rehearsal or working guitar trio. In the sixties and seventies as I was developing and coming into my own as a player, there were many times I was fired for playing too far out. I didn't play as far out then as I do now, but as I have found, it isn't the public that dismisses you, it's the club owners. I could never understand that if you are bringing in an audience and you are making money, why fire a band because you don't like the music yourself?
I started listening again about fifteen years ago, but not as a musician who absorbs everything like a sponge, but more like a fan and for the sheer enjoyment of it.
After speaking with Jack Wilkins, Dave Liebman, Rick Stone, Steve Kuhn and Sabir Mateen, I realized that I could talk to a hundred great artists and every one of them would tell me something different. There is no one road or any guarantee. It is a never-ending road. It takes a lot of work, time and energy and dedication to get there.