Defining "The Pocket
In music, the pocket isn't a place where the musician holds something it's an intangible place that holds the musician. While this sounds a bit odd, the closest thing that I can think of to describe it is a spiritual experience that goes beyond playing the right notes, great timing, or being in tune. The experience of playing in the pocket is more like becoming a faucet through which the music flows. Being in the pocket is not just about "locking together or "syncing up as a band. It goes beyond this to the place where the musician allows the music to take control.
Most listeners can tell when a band is in the pocket because there's a little more electricity in the playing. Being in a room with a band that's in the pocket is like taking an exhilarating ride. These are the most memorable concerts that I've attended or played. When it was time to go I didn't want to leave, no matter how tired I felt I just wanted to stay with the music. These performances also give me far more satisfaction, even if I've had others that were more technically proficient.
The pocket doesn't vanish, but a musician can move in or out of it multiple times during a performance. So the experience may last for a song, an entire set, or for just a few bars of music. In addition, I've been in situations where only part of the band was in the pocket and the rest of the musicians weren't. While these performances can still be outstanding, they lack that little piece of magic that being in the pocket brings. The pocket is particularly important for jazz musicians because so much of what we play is improvised. Whether we're in the studio recording or playing live, jazz musicians take a number of risks by improvising together. Jazz has more magic, more life, and more verve when the band is together in the pocket.
Pockets are Everywhere
One of my quirks as a musician is that I learn things through music and then later figure out life because of it. The pocket is no exception. I'm convinced that everything has a pocket. The pocket is a way of experiencing life so that you are in it to the fullest extent. Being in the pocket of life is about not isolating yourself. It's also about listening to others, about not putting your own desires first, and about understanding that you're part of something bigger. It's not about what you can create or achieve, it's about being part of the creative process.
How does a musician get there from here?
Getting into the pocket is about connecting with the music. If you're not in the pocket and you want to get there, the first thing you need to do is to stop primarily listening to yourself. If you're playing a gig and have a monitor, turn it down (this, by the way, is one of the reasons I often prefer acoustic settings). If what you hear is mostly you, then you're not listening to your band members closely enough. But don't just listen to your band, listen to the music. Listen to the patterns, chord structures, and changes. Listen to the lyrics and internalize the message of the music. Remember that this is not about you · it's about the music.
What it Means
Being in the pocket is sort of like being in a relationship. In this case, the relationship is with the music. In this business it's easy to get distracted. Being in the pocket is remembering that it's all about the music. It's not the record company, the sales, or even the artist that's most important. It's about the music and learning to connect with it.
Discuss Pocket Philosophy on the AAJ Bulletin Board.