In the day to day grind of making a living performing, musicians too often forget some of the more noble reasons they decided to be a musician in the first place. Even if the musicians working with you are outstanding, the very act of playing for unresponsive listeners can easily dull the higher aspirations. For most of us out here in the musical trenches it can be difficult to keep the inspiration flowing at 'cocktail enhancement/Jazz wallpaper' gigs. That does not mean that in cannot be done in these sort of situations, it just takes a bit more focus.
When I'm about to play a particularly musically demanding gig with players who are at or above my level I will mentally prepare for it the entire day, or even for several days. I become less talkative and my wife will usually notice a faraway look in my eye. The bigger the gig, the more mental preparation needed. I may even practice more before a big concert, god forbid! I really try to do my best to prepare myself to unleash all the mental, emotional and spiritual energies that I can possibly muster.
I grew up sitting in the front row of the great Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, where I watched many Jazz legends perform just a few feet away from me. I would vacuum up the club and get free tickets to every show. One of the things that always struck me was just how much these masters exerted themselves when they performed. They were often soaked with sweat and had to change shirts on the breaks. It seemed like they were having intense gut wrenching emotional upheavals onstage. They were working themselves up to a level of intensity that the average person only feels in life or death situations or in the last mile of a marathon. Inner cauldrons were boiling over onstage and the audience felt the radiation raw energy as they listened to the music.
As a teacher it's difficult for me to communicate to my students the importance of this type of intensity when playing Jazz. I can't just say," stop functioning in that ordinary mode of normal consciousness", or," this time try to have a religious experience this time and break the restricting bonds of your ego awareness". I often don't see these students making any attempt to make the leap to this higher level of intensity. If you're operating at the same level of emotional and mental intensity when you're reading the paper as when you're on the bandstand then something is dreadfully wrong. It's like beginning a triathlon with the same attitude as you have when you're about to take your dog for walk. Creative improvisation takes every ounce of energy that you can possibly muster!
If there's one thing that bothers me the most about many young players it's this, they may be highly proficient, but that 'extra gear' is just not here. I'm not interested in what someone came up with while in the wood shed while messing around with three-tonic digital patterns. I don't want to see you pick up your axe and start playing with the same flat affect that you always have. I want to see sweat dripping off you like a summer monsoon. I want to see your body tremble and your eyes roll back into your head. I want some gran mal seizures at the piano! Where are the bursting blood vessles? Where are the demonic groans?
Don't be polite, did you find god or not!?
This is life or death here people!
This thing isn't for you if you're not willing to unearth your darkest feelings in front of a room full of strangers. Didn't Trane teach us ANYTHING!?!?!