Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reflecting on the semester

In the midst of finals, I wanted to share some lessons I took away from this semester along with some of the songs that have impacted me.

Freddie Hubbard

Reflecting on the semester

1. Don't wait to be great.

It's easy to come up with excuses: "I can't do that because I'm not old enough."  "Coltrane did that, and I'm not him." "Once I move to New York I'll get my stuff together." From the influence of many great teachers, I have seen that greatness starts right now, today, and is built slowly and consistently over time. 

Listen to Freddie Hubbard play, "Birdlike":

2. Be great at everything you do. No excuses. 

I have really noticed this semester that the people I look up to aren't just great at one thing - they excel at everything they do. This trait of putting 100 percent into everything you do has helped me be accountable for my own actions. 

Listen to Duke Ellington's "Danse of the Floredores":

3. Fundamentals are key.

This semester I was overwhelmed with lesson assignments consisting of purely fundamentals - saxophone long tones, overtones, scales, scale patterns. The most important thing I was given to practice? Eighth notes with a metronome. These assignments helped me realize that you can't run until you can walk, and that true mastery comes from the mastery of fundamentals.  

Listen to Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams play, "Curros":

4. The music has the answers. 

This semester I have been learning more music by ear. At one of my lessons my teacher told me that if I want to learn to improvise I have to listen deeply and figure things out on my own, because the music has the answers: How do I construct a solo? What dynamic should I play? How do I build a solo? How do I blend with other musicians? What articulations should I play? At first perplexed, I have realized that the answers to my questions are right in front of me, and oftentimes right inside of me. 

Listen to Dexter Gordon play, "You Stepped Out of a Dream":

5. You are your own teacher.

My entire life I have looked up to teachers as the people that, simply put, hold the answers to the universe. So, this semester I was quite surprised when my saxophone teacher looked at me and told me he wasn't my teacher. He remarked that I'm my own teacher and he's just a guidance - and at the end of the day I'm the one that has to figure everything out. This reversal of roles has led me to trust my instincts more. 

Listen to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers play, "Prince Albert":

6. Your self worth shouldn't be based on the validation of others.

We go through school taking tests and submitting assignments. It's easy to start believing that your intelligence is based on the validation of a good grade, or that your musical talent is based on making an audition. Yet, I have learned that self love should be unconditional. Period. In fact, one teacher even urged us students to celebrate whether we make or don't make an audition in order to dissociate happiness from external validation. 

Watch Miles Davis play, "So What":

7. Someone else's success doesn't undermine your own.

Music is not about jealousy or proving yourself - it's about uplift. And what I have seen from this semester is that just because someone else is great doesn't mean that makes me bad by de-facto. In fact, it's like lighting a candle - sharing a flame only lights the room brighter. 

Listen to Duke Ellington's "Sunset and the Mockingbird":

Final Thoughts: 
This semester has been a whirlwind of activity, and I'm glad that within the eye of the hurricane I can reflect on how I've grown personally and musically, and share that with others.  

Listen to John Coltrane play, "Lazy Bird":

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday! I also share jazz music and art there, so stay tuned! 

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Since September 2015, I have been the JazzBoston newsletter writer/ editor. Please sign up for the monthly newsletter to learn more about the Boston jazz scene. 

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