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Discussion Starter #1
Are there any interviews or books that talk about the great old sax players (You know who they are....) before they became amazing? What did they struggle with, and more importantly, how did they overcome it?
 

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I remember a very cool interview with Yo Yo Ma. He said that the thing he struggles with most is practicing. He called it "facing the dragon." To devote the time to work on your imperfections and tame your instrument, to humbly face your limitations and continuously work at getting better. I bet every great player of any instrument sees facing the dragon as one of his greatest challenges.
 

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I'm not great but I will say that I love practicing more than anything else. I've always been in love with and more attached to the process than the end result. I just love shedding. I love composing. I love rehearsing. For me, gigs, recording sessions, etc are all the incidental by-product of associating with other musicians. A good example of this is the intensity and depth that I study piano having never gigged on it and never played it in front of anyone. My approach to it is lots of research, studying videos, studying the body mechanics , the literature, etc just because I *have* to. I wake up in the morning/afternoon and I *have* to shed. I need the guitar around my neck, the keys under my fingers, the horn vibrating my chest. In fact, my lower lip has a certain lust for the feeling it has after my daily session of long tones. I just can't do without all of it.

Your post has made me give some thought as to what I struggle with. The things that come to mind are not always having enough time in the day to shed (this bothers me a lot when it happens), not having the time to devote to a composition when it's coming out of me, having a very clear vision of what I want to sound like as a player but not being there yet (at this point technique/control over the horn is the only thing that stands in my way), and.. well, that's all I can think of right now. The stuff related directly to my proficiency on the horn isn't really an emotionally frustrating struggle as it would seem because just pushing air through the horn makes me forget about it. It's not until I sit down and start daydreaming about what will eventually come out of the horn that I start to sweat a little bit. Picking up the horn cures it and ... well.. cures all of it.

Through the years I've read a lot about The Greats and I don't recall much about their musical struggles but I do remember reading a lot about what they were in to, as a listener and a 'student'. I wonder if their love or connection to music just pushed them to find ways to answer the musical and technical questions they faced, by whatever means. The same way we all do. I've never been convinced that there is any difference between the recognized greats and those in embryo (all of us). The greats just found their voice, their thing, if you will.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
It seems the only problems that great players seem to tell others about aren't really very big at all. Like Yo Yo Ma practicing, and John Coltrane thinking he needed to know his scales better.
 

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LazySaxman said:
It seems the only problems that great players seem to tell others about aren't really very big at all. Like Yo Yo Ma practicing, and John Coltrane thinking he needed to know his scales better.
To take one example, when Bird first played publicly he fared so poorly that Jo Jones (I think it was) threw as cymbal at his feet to chase him off the bandstand. Supposedly Bird took a summer job playing at a resort, practiced constantly for the summer, and came back a drastically improved player at the end of the summer.

I think it's fair to say that the "greats" struggled with a lot of the same things that everyone else struggles with. Perhaps they have more innate talent, or maybe they just work much harder than most of us. Coltrane was said to be a stickler for homing in on his weak points and working hard at them until he overcame them.

But a question for you. What were you trying to get at with your question? Whether they struggled like "the rest of us?" I feel certain that they did.
 

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I recently had a conversation with a fellow saxophonist, and part of the conversation centered around the idea that we should judge our playing but how much we ourselves work and improve, and not so much on how we compare to those around us. Even though I may not be as good as that player sitting in the chair next to me, I still can feel pretty darn good about what I accomplished in the practice room.

That led me to a certain train of thought...did the "greats" have that attitude? For some, wanting to be the absolute best is one heck of a motivator, and they get very good, but part of me thinks that people with that attitude usually don't end up as being the best. They just think they are. Did Trane really just want to improve in his music? Was his self journey his only motivation? Was fame a part of that too? Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, who knows.
 

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Darwin argued that evolution occurs through natural selection. Natural Selection means that a living being must live long enough to reproduce.

Both Bird and Trane reproduced. They were sucessful.

The music stuff is secondary...
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I'm interested in knowing how they overcame their problems, not just if they had problems. Did they figure out some radically different way to do it, and that's what made them famous? Or did they just do the same things we all do, but a lot more of it?
 

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They didn't, they all died.:cool:

No, I don't think they had any special hookup. They took what they had talent-wise and worked very hard, and thought, read, studied very hard. I think that's the secret.

What happens inside when you practice is difficult to document.


Folks like to point out the fact that Einstein was a patent clerk when he was developing the theory of relativity. They tend to leave out the fact that he had already done a dissertation and earned his PhD in Physics. The patent office thing was a job to make ends meet.
 

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And you also have to remember that some of them were playing almost every day, either at jam sessions or regular gigs... so they were far more than "studied". They knew that shedding the fundamentals (and then some) allowed them to more precisely direct their style in any direction. I am sure our idea of a struggle wasn't the same thing for them. To them, maybe it was just something they felt was responsible to work on. It seems like the greater struggle wasn't practicing, but not losing your own voice while being in the presence of someone like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, et al.

From hearing stories, so many jazz musicians were not at all taking the practice material for granted. They would be creative with it by working between the lines, not just memorizing patterns and whatnot; working in a way that allowed them to take something away from it. And because so many of their peers were doing the same thing, it was encouragement to keep practicing.
 

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I think that the idea that the 'greats' were playing most every night is important. They 'shedded, but the purpose of shedding was to use those ideas and pracitices in gigs. Playing with tracks is good practice, but a poor substitute for the 'real thing'.
 

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betelsax said:
I remember a very cool interview with Yo Yo Ma. He said that the thing he struggles with most is practicing. He called it "facing the dragon." To devote the time to work on your imperfections and tame your instrument, to humbly face your limitations and continuously work at getting better. I bet every great player of any instrument sees facing the dragon as one of his greatest challenges.
chasing the dragon? :shock:
 

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LazySaxman said:
I'm interested in knowing how they overcame their problems, not just if they had problems. Did they figure out some radically different way to do it, and that's what made them famous? Or did they just do the same things we all do, but a lot more of it?
That's a pretty interesting question. Definitely they did "a lot" of it - the intense practice regimens of Coltrane and others is well-documented. But I suspect they were also excellent "trouble-shooters," figuring out how to work through a problem when it was encountered.
 

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chitownjazz said:
That's a pretty interesting question. Definitely they did "a lot" of it - the intense practice regimens of Coltrane and others is well-documented. But I suspect they were also excellent "trouble-shooters," figuring out how to work through a problem when it was encountered.
My own belief, which I can hardly prove, is this: in most cases they struggled hard and assiduously with the fundamentals and with assimilating the tradition, like most players do. Then they found a way to make that tradition their own and to transcend it in a way that appears obvious once it has been achieved. They found a way to embody the tradition through themselves rather than as a "style". At that point they were expressing their essential selves or an aspect of themselves through music. That is greatness, IMHO
 

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What I find amazing is just how much mastery so many of them had on their craft and of the music. It is easy to forget just how challenging some (or much?) of the music was, yet they make it sound so easy. That is what I believe true mastery is- making the difficult seem effortless. No one wants to hear someone try to play the music, but to just play.

Another thing that is different now than 'back in the day' is the role of the bandleader. If it weren't for the courage of certain bandleaders, such as Miles, other artists that we are very familiar with today might not have gotten any attention.
 

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BlueNote said:
And you also have to remember that some of them were playing almost every day, either at jam sessions or regular gigs... .
This was definitely a large part of it. Of course, not everyone who played a lot rose to the heights of the greatest improvisors, but these guys would play a gig in the evening, then move on to a jam or sit in with another band, and play until the next morning. Then get a few hours sleep and do it all over again, day in and day out. The opportunity to play this much really doesn't exist anymore. After hours joints used to be present in every major city. Not now. So that's part of it; just playing almost constantly. Problems were largely worked out and solved on the bandstand.

I wasn't there, of course (I'm not that old) but I've heard stories. I took a class years ago from John Handy and he had some stories along these lines, especially about the after hours clubs.
 

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…I can’t resist: Didn’t practice today; don’t worry somebody will!




Trane used to practice (maybe just checking the stuff found the previous night!) even between sets! However obsessive this looks his willingness to transmit his music as much perfect as possible has been shared by many musicians.

Personally, every time I sit (or march) with the band I always feel like I haven’t practiced enough the difficult parts (maybe this shows some insecurity too, but I prefer to view it as respect for the audience and ultimately an issue to be resolved with ourselves, i.e., being sincere and authentic!); let’s call it “artistic responsibility”?

It was also known his love for testing new ideas and solutions playing live to an audience (he used to do this quite often at the Half Note). I think his obsession for practicing may be just viewed as is willingness to be a sincere person truly devoted to creat(iv)e music!
 

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I believe you are all nothing, looking for greatness in an idea. But you have to believe in something greater, for greatness is the power of believing in yourself. If you are willing to let go of fear then greatness will come without effort. Don't worry if you feel bad about your feelings of coming closer to your own self, in time you will be able to experience peace and joy when you give up the resistance to what I am saying. I know because I say this from experience. I know that all greatness is universal. This is the power from where we draw the ability to be human, and to see our own reflection in the pain and misery we experience in all things.
 
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