The Mind of the Jazz Musician

Jazz musicians are highly trained professionals, just as in any other skilled professional field. Whilst on stage, it may appear to the causal observer that we are relaxed, and perhaps barely even exerting ourselves. But what you are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. This effortless composure is the culmination of years of dedication and hard work, to make the mere impossible seem second nature. Our bodies are relaxed, but our minds are laser focused—choosing, from a seemingly endless combination of notes, the perfect melody nestled within a complex syncopated rhythm. What you’re witnessing is the pinnacle of balance of focus and concentration that…blah blah blah…folks: this is the crap we tell all you people so you’ll come to our gigs and be impressed. (Is it working?) But it’s about time you knew the sober truth.

Every time you see a musician on stage with their eyes closed, they’re definitely not thinking about the song they are playing. They are most likely either a) falling asleep, b) thinking about what to spend their gig money on, or c) asleep. Ironically, the last thing on our minds is what we’re doing. (Don’t tell the guys I told you. I’ll get in big trouble.)

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And if you break it down further, each musician has their own specific inner dialogue/commentary, and…you guessed it…I’m here to tell you all about it. Next time you’re at a gig, you can finally watch us and know what’s actually going on in our minds when we’re up there performing. So here we go with the Professor’s guide to what musicians are really thinking on stage:

TRUMPET PLAYER: man, the band leader counted off this tempo all wrong…phff, my chops feel bad from yesterday’s gig…I’d better pace myself a little…I think I need a few more drinks just to get through this. I hope the clarinet player doesn’t realize I took his drink tickets. But he’ll probably be too worried about his reeds to notice…

TROMBONE PLAYER: Wow, the trumpet player’s sounding rough tonight. If he didn’t try and play so loud, maybe he’d split less notes…hmm…I think we’re playing here once a month. Maybe I can ask my manager if I can leave my horn here…I hope this gig doesn’t run over…I don’t want to be late for my second job. Those pizzas won’t deliver themselves…

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CLARINETIST: Dammit, this reed sucks…please don’t squeak, please don’t squeak…dammit!…please don’t squeak again, please don’t…dammit!…hmm, I seem to remember getting free drinks at this gig?…

SINGER: ….I hope people like my Instagram photo for this gig…I think I look pretty hot in it…I should find the manager in the break and see if I can get my own band to play here…Ugh…I get so bored when the band solos…it goes on forever…hmm…I like my new outfit…I think it compliments my figure well…I hope the band is not staring at my ass…

BASS PLAYER: Stop staring at the singer’s ass…

DRUMMER: 1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4…did I put enough money in the parking meter? 1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4…

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Inside the Musicians BrainPIANIST: Are we getting fed on this gig? Man, I should have eaten something. I’m starving…ugh, this venue’s piano is a piece of crap. Half the black keys don’t even work! I hope they don’t call a song in Ab or I’m screwed….and I can hardly hear myself. I wish they would use a mic on the piano. All I can hear is the bloody banjo…

BANJO PLAYER: man, I wish I could play guitar.

So there you have it, folks. And next time you’re at one of my gigs and you see me up there with my eyes closed and a half smile on my face, take a moment and appreciate how the power of the music has carried me away to a place of happiness and serenity, and that nothing matters in the world except being embraced in this beautiful moment of musical creation. But for God’s sake don’t wake me up.

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