The Art and Science of Jazz



Sign in to view read count
Since it is so difficult to define or even recognize, talent, or the lack of it, has created more than its share of anxiety in aspiring musicians. Perhaps the greatest problem centers around the fact that talent is a fact in retrospect. Only after it has been developed does it become obvious that it exists. So how does one know that talent is within him? Is intuition or hope the only recourse? Though there is no way to prove the existence of talent or at least the degree of talent before the fact, there are some general indicators.

A) Unusual Determination in the Face of Difficulties and Setbacks

Discouragement and frustration are so common that they bring many to the point of abandoning music altogether. Though the emotions may press upon one to quit, the will of certain individuals strives forward. "Something" renews the energy and the enthusiasm. That "something" is quite possibly an early sign of talent.

Many people feel that if they were talented they would not feel frustration. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be discouraged is human and being talented or not being talented does not excuse anyone from being human.

B) Consistent Search to Know

If there is potential to develop, the individual feels a desire to learn, to expand—to be able to do today what he could not do yesterday. To "learn," as we refer to it, is not restricted to the intellect. It encompasses the entire life experience. As one matures, one begins to expand into different directions, different levels of depth. This growth is and should be exciting. However, never assume that it will be constantly encouraging. Growth is a slow and subtle process and must be characterized by the inevitable evolution of time. As long as the individual continues to reject complacency, he is probably moving in the right direction.

C) Awareness of the relationship involving current obligations, accomplishments and ultimate goals

It is most important that aspiring musicians develop a realistic and objective analysis of their goals considering their circumstances. An individual aspiring to be a virtuoso musician needs time and energy to develop that virtuosity. If this individual holds down two or three jobs, has a family and assorted other obligations that drain his time and energy, he must put his goals into appropriate perspective. This perspective involves the extent of his goals and a realistic timetable within which to accomplish them. He would obviously lead himself into utter frustration if he expected virtuosity with fifteen minutes a day available for practice. Though an individual is to a certain degree in control of his situation, circumstances play a significant role in his realistic expectations for himself. If the desire to achieve the goal is sufficiently powerful, the circumstances which are prohibiting this achievement must be adjusted.

D) Surge

This is an emotionally based feeling which manifests itself physically. The phenomenon is related to the familiar "butterfly stomach." It is a feeling which combines excitement with anticipation. This surge is an internal upward type of feeling which is characterized by an undercurrent of energy and vitality. Peaks in this feeling are experienced when the creative side of the musician presses to be recognized. This response is a very specific one and should not be confused with more common physical responses such as chills, etc. These are valid emotional responses but they are often superficial and do occur in people without extraordinary artistic creativity. The surge that I speak of in this section is a creative one. It is a desire to share, to give. It develops from the intuitive need to show others your concept of beauty in the hope that they will share it and then project it on to others.

E) Commitment to goals

If the end is clear in your mind and you proceed to develop the means needed to attain that end, talent may be present.

F) Proper sense of ego

The Greek golden mean of moderation, harmony and balance assists the musician in developing the necessary self control for serious musical progress. Since excessive reactions are so common in those who are pursuing music, the concepts of avoiding extremes, developing patience, control and perspective are helpful in the search for musical progress.

It is important to remember that different individuals display different signs of talent. Some display many indicators, others display only one. Without question, the most common indicators are a strong desire to play, a willingness to sacrifice time and energy to develop one's potential and a determination to keep trying. Age and maturity are important variables in recognizing talent indicators.

Every individual is unique. Talent must reflect individuality. This unveiling of the unique individual reflects varying degrees of depth, perception and maturity. The uniqueness of an individual does not primarily center on physical ability. The physical ability to play is a mechanic and can be acquired by most with sufficient work and determination. Physical aptitude should never be equated with the possession of "talent." The physical is an essential means to the ultimate goal of revealing the self through music but it is by no means the only factor. Talent strives forward and upward on two fronts: the technical (physical), and the musical (creative). Missing or limited development of either interferes with the development of the musician's totality. The fusion of the physical and creative aspects of music reflects the ultimate possibilities of development for a particular individual.

Within each person seems to be a genetic reservoir which contains the entire range of possibilities for that individual. The question is how much of this reservoir will be developed! Supposed talent without development is not talent. It is rather potential—potential existing within the reservoir. The next two sentences have become a cliche— but they are still heard consistently. "He had so much talent. It's a shame he didn't do anything with it." This interpretation of "talent" is based more on aptitude—a level of physical coordination or quickness to learn. Talent must encompass an element of accomplishment. Circumstances, personal relationships and specific types of personalities are just a few of the variables. The variables are very influential since the potential of different individuals lies at different levels. A potential might be close to the surface, anxious to be developed. In another individual, it may lie deep and dormant resisting attempts to surface and develop. Regardless of the circumstances, an essential element of talent is that degree of determination and commitment necessary to transform potential into reality.

Since talent remains a question mark in the developmental phases, doubts are understandable. The time required to develop instrumental proficiency, knowledge, maturity and the freedom to express oneself is slow and often tedious. It is necessary to allow this time to evolve before talent can even be considered. There is one very common fear. What if after physical and intellectual abilities are developed there is no talent or what if it is not great enough? The matter is at best highly subjective. Who decides upon talent? One fact emerges clearly—that which exists within you is uniquely yours. Thus, you strive forward to develop your potential. As it develops, call it talent. If it is not important for you to label it—merely accept it. There is no need to identify or categorize it. No one is responsible for the potential within him.The individual is responsible for the development of his own potential and then only if he accepts the challenge and the importance of developing it.

I have discussed briefly the relationship between potential and talent. A similar relationship exists between two other levels, i.e. talent and gift. I have suggested that talent is a fact in retrospect. What about the "gifted" person? Remember that potential, talent and gift are terms used to assist in the identification of stages within the developmental process. They are not objectively defined nor are they universally agreed upon. They are merely beneficial to us in the context of this chapter. Do all musicians painfully struggle through a common time period in which these stages develop? There is no common time period. Certain individuals have shown their talent and/or gift very early with apparently little work. The time table is not at all under consideration—nor is the degree of "suffering." Some individuals live fuller lives in two years than others do in twenty. It is not at all unreasonable that certain unique individuals would develop their potential in a shorter time span than others. That is a characteristic of their own uniqueness.

Since the question of one's musical development is a matter of one's lifetime, evidence of a talent or a gift need not be obvious in the early years. Too many are discouraged from pursuing music seriously because they lack "talent." The fact of the matter is that, in many cases, they did not allow sufficient time to pass in order to make a fair and objective evaluation. Objectivity about oneself in such emotional matters and decisions is extraordinarily difficult. The loneliness of trying to make a personal decision about pursuing music seriously is a major obstacle.

Discuss the problem with someone who can assist you—someone you trust. It could be a close friend. It could be your teacher. Regardless of who it is, a very special relationship must exist between you and this individual. Though you always make the ultimate decisions, it is helpful to listen to yourself discuss problems with another. It is easier for him to be objective than it is for you. If the individual has experience and expertise in the field of music, so much the better. If not, the experience can still be beneficial.

For many people, it is hard to believe that a musician once successful ever had to struggle with this problem of talent. Some musicians did not—more did!

Prejudice and fear about a career in music are familiar to anyone serious about music. Fears concerning security, income and self respect are quite common. Perhaps the deepest most insidious fear is a personal fear of failure. Failure is not only measured tangibly as in income or status. Failure can be internal and personal. The fear that one is incapable of attaining success because of some shortcoming is a real difficulty to many. What shortcoming? Perhaps coordination—perhaps creativity—perhaps—sensitivity—perhaps...anything! Naturally, part of the problem is that there is no immediate solution. At least not when the problem is at its greatest.

As we have seen, achievement is fundamentally the only proof of the ability to achieve. So what happens in the meantime? You practice and work and think and try. And if things are going poorly, you work harder—you must strive harder to achieve. It often hurts—to struggle against what seems to be hopeless odds. It sometimes seems hopeless. If the pain of the struggle ever permanently destroys your desire to develop yourself—you were not "talented"!

Post a comment

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



Jazz article: Where in the Brain Does Creativity Come from? Evidence from Jazz Musicians
Jazz article: Thelonious Monk Inside Out: A Fresh Perspective On His Music
Jazz article: Access for People with Disabilities at Jazz Venues:  What is really missing
Jazz article: The Healing Power of Music:  Can Jazz Repair a Damaged Brain? The case of trumpeter Louis Smith


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.