AAJ: Why the wait between your schooling and the air force and more to put out this record?
RS: Maybe it wasn't a conscious decision. I went through a period of time in New York where I didn't play as much. It wasn't a conscious decision to focus on something else, I just happened to get into other things. Marshall Arts, Nature Studies and a fresh relationship really took my mind off of the "me" mentality and also from focusing on what I wanted to do. I just didn't feel good enough to be a jazz musician doing my own thing in New York.
There was this standard of an almost perfectionist level that got in my way, and still does...all the time. I don't want anyone to hear me sound bad ever. Even now.
AAJ: Do you think that holds back a lot of artists, especially young artists?
RS: No. When I was younger I had this fearlessness. A reckless abandon. I would jump into positions I wouldn't do now. I wasn't afraid of things. Somehow I grew afraid of and I guess I need to figure out what happened along the way.
But when you go to school you have a support group of all the people you're playing with on a daily basis. You can put a band together and say, let's go get gigs and everyone's collectively in it together. So if you fail, everyone's cool with it...and half the time no one shows up to the gig. At least you're not worried then. But when I left that comfort and went to New York I became like that dog that curls up in the corner after it gets yelled at enough times. I trained myself early on to fear certain musical situations.
AAJ: What do you do, as an artist, to overcome that fear?
RS: If I want to call it fear I can, but if I want to call it a standard...or a personal standard that I've set on myself, I feel it's fine and safe. It's safe for an artist to say, "I've got something I'm working on and I don't want anyone to see it until the painting is finished." That's fair. But really, I guess it's a fear of the critic. But the older I get, the more years I spend saying this is how music is. It's not just music, it's a way of life. It's a guidance. How you approach music is how you approach life. It 's a religious principle and becomes who you are. It's about being less concerned with what other people have to say and realizing that this is just part of the fun of the dynamics of relating to other people. It's how other people feel about you and feeling good about what they say. You can do what you want with what they say. Maybe they're right, maybe what they're saying is true but then you have the choice of letting it influence you or change you. But I have to be first, resolute in my own feelings. I have to know what I truly believe in and that this isn't going to change me. I'm going to stay true to myself. Even ten years later, I have to have something representative of me, all original, all my own doing, from being able to pull my own strings and know that the power of doing so was something I made happen.
Ricky Sweum, Pulling Your Own Strings (Origin, 2009)
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