When you see a jazz musician up on stage, baring their heart and soul to their audience, you’re witnessing something bordering the miraculous. The true beauty of jazz improvisation lies in its spontaneous nature, created in the moment for your ears only, to be witnessed and then lost forever in the ether. The gravity of this experience is only given further weight with the irony that this magic spontaneity is only possible due to the hours and years of dedicated, purposed practice spent honing our craft.
But not only that…the hours, nay, days spent leading up to each performance is vital to enable a smooth execution. And each performer’s method of preparation is as unique as their musical style. You may have heard of such strange rituals carried out by many great artists or even athletes before a performance: meditation, bathing in ice, a lucky pair of underwear, you name it…such mysteries of preparation can often defy logical analysis, but for some metaphysical reason, allow us to reach within ourselves and do our thing. Just as religions require varying forms of ritual to move oneself closer to a higher power, so the artist ritualizes often nonsensical actions to help them step closer to their true inner nature.
Sometimes these rituals might seem trivial or even absent-minded; like, for example, leaving one’s dirty socks on the floor. To the ignorant (like my girlfriend, for example) these actions may seem inconsiderate or even selfish, but we of the performing arts know better. Unfortunately the uninitiated may never understand the complex mechanisms required for us artists to truly express ourselves. And, crazy as it may seem, “my habit” (her words, not mine) of drinking the milk straight from the carton is not laziness. It’s part of an inner personal process she’ll never understand, a journey that helps me deeply connect with my creative subconscious.
Same goes for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. She calls me a slob for not cleaning them. I’m not a slob, I’m an artist, dammit! I’ll bet Artie Shaw didn’t put up with this crap. Do you think any of his eight wives nagged him about doing the dishes? Of course not—he was too busy being Artie Shaw. And do you think Duke Ellington had time to do the vacuuming? Of course not! He was too busy writing his next big suite. I wish I could be writing a big suite. But noooo, it’s Tuesday, and I’ve got to take out the bloody garbage.
Of course its always me that’s the inconsiderate one, but do I ever complain when she leaves her wet towels on the bed? Or when she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the damn tube? Is this some sort of Machiavellian revenge for me leaving the toilet seat up? And here we go again—I’m in trouble for not cleaning the sink after shaving. Well, excuuuuse me!! I didn’t realize its real purpose was a repository for your goddam delicates that can remain soaking for days on end! I know our therapist said communication is the key…but therapists have no bloody idea how hard it is to find a good reed. And I’ll bet Freud never had to play the solo on Sing Sing Sing. (Maybe if he stuck a clarinet in his mouth instead of a pipe, I’d have more respect for our therapy sessions.)
So if you happen to live with, or be in a relationship with, a jazz musician, spare a thought for them, and the often mysterious processes required to allow them to do what they do. After all, we are artists. Sometimes we might behave strangely. Sometimes we might seem inconsiderate. Don’t take it personally. And sometimes we might forget to put back the throw pillows the “right way” after sitting on the couch. Why do we even need throw pillows, anyway? Because your mother thought it was a good idea??? Oh great, sure, bring your mother into this!!! Let’s just open that can of worms, SHALL WE!!??