So if you could give one piece of advice moving forward to players who are looking to get better or to improve what would that be?
My advice to players is very simple. You have to listen. You have to listen to everyone, from the current great players to the great old players, and everyone in between. Also, listen to all genres of music. I'm not a jazz elitist, though jazz is my favorite. I probably listen to 80% jazz and 20% everything else. I love music that is well done, regardless of the genre. To me it's all about communication.
Try to internalize the feeling you get when you feel that you really connect with a solo you've just heard. Try to recreate that feeling when you are playing. When you're listening to Lester Young play, it's like he's talking to you. Try to listen beyond the technical aspects of the music. As a kid, I couldn't get past Charlie Parker's amazing technique. At that time it just sounded fast to me. Now I listen to it and the technique is the last thing on my mind. The content of what he's playing is so spectacular and brilliant that that is what I notice now. I would say just keep listening, and tune into your feelings as you listen.
When you are playing with a band, you should be interacting with the group. If there's one thing to keep in mind while you're playing it's that the act of playing is like a two (or sometimes three or four) way conversation. You have to be able to talk and listen simultaneously. I think a lot of horn players, who grew up practicing mostly with play-alongs, end up playing over a real rhythm section just like they do at home with the CD player. I don't think that you should ever just play over the rhythm section, even a rhythm section on a play-along CD. I've found that it's possible to play interactively, even with a play-along. You can do this by listening carefully and creating your solo based on the comping patterns of the pianist, and the interplay of the whole rhythm section. Leave space in your solo for the pianist to do a fill, and then let your next phrase have something to do with the rhythm that the pianist on the CD just comped. Obviously, the recorded rhythm section isn't going to respond to what you play, but you'd be surprised how much more involved you can get with the recording with this type of approach. This is a great way to train yourself to listen, leave space, and integrate other players' ideas into your solo. After practicing with this approach, when you find yourself in a situation with a live rhythm section, you'll be amazed at how responsive they'll be when they hear that you're actually playing with them and not just playing over them.
I have a lot of funny analogies that I come up with to try and help my students. Here's one that I call my lobster theory. Did you ever notice that if you go into a seafood restaurant, there's usually a tank of live lobsters? They don't prepare the lobsters in the morning and let them sit there all day. They have to be alive until they get thrown into the pot. That's how jazz is. The ideas and the things that you are going to play in your solo are like those lobsters. You should only use an idea in your solo if it presents itself to you just at that moment that you're creating the solo. There needs to be a continual fresh flow of ideas from which you pick and choose your phrases as you're soloing.
Let's go back to my earlier language analogy. Right now, as I speak, I'm not diagramming this sentence as I'm saying it. I don't have to think of the parts of speech, yet I can convey my ideas. Earlier, we were talking about transparency of technique? It's the same in language. The technical aspects like parts of speech, spelling and grammar are internalized at such a deep level that I don't have to think about the technical aspects, and can just express my thoughts. You want to be able to think and play like that with your instrument.
Just as you speak the English language with a certain vocabulary, and you can express your thoughts, opinions, and feelings of the moment while they are happening to you in real time, that's all you're trying to do with jazz. That's why you need all of this training and technique. You're taking something that is a foreign object - a saxophone or whatever your instrument is - and trying to use it the same way that you would use your voice to convey ideas with language. So, that's my advice to players looking to improve - listen and communicate.
Ed, thank you so much for giving me the chance to share my ideas with you. I'm looking forward to speaking with you again very soon.