The relevance of jazz

Every few weeks I hook up with some like-minded musicians to play jazz.

Over the years I have played all sorts of music; from punk and reggae to pop, classical and shows. But I keep coming back to jazz. For me, jazz is a great metaphor for life and there are many lessons I take from this music into my work.

First, jazz is all about teamwork; to achieve great jazz every member of the team must be working towards the same goal and they must understand – and deliver – their role in that team. Even if one player steps forward to take a solo, everybody else must make their contribution to supporting the soloist. Therefore the second lesson from jazz is about listening – being aware of what is happening around you – and reacting in the moment.

The third – and my favourite – lesson from jazz is the importance of improvisation. Great jazz is created in the moment. Sparking off of the musicians around you and creating something that is right for that moment; something that can be expressive and emotional; something that can surprise, delight or challenge an audience; something that may never be repeated.

With improvisation comes risk; so my next lesson from jazz is about living and coping with risk. We have to do it and accept that sometimes things just don’t work out so well. I have two ways of dealing with this: If I make a mistake, I can just repeat it twice as if it was a unique and insightful moment of improvisation. Alternatively, as a drummer, I can just glare at the bass player like its his fault, and then move on ?

So mistakes – or not – highlight another lesson from jazz; while we might play pieces that are based on defined chords and structures, the reality is that there are no rules about what you do – it just has to sound right and connect with your audience.

My final lesson from jazz goes, to some extent, against all the freedom and improvisation that I’ve described above…and it is this: to play jazz well you have to have a high level of proficiency on your instrument. You can’t fake this and there is no short-cut.

Jazz truly is the whole, greater than the sum of its parts and playing jazz with great musicians lifts my performance and is one of my great pleasures in music….and in life.