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Dustin LindenSmith

father | musician | writer

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leaning in

Our jazz quartet set up our gear yesterday around 5 PM for a sound check and short rehearsal. It was the regular group with Bob Gaudreau on drums, Chris Elson on Fender Rhodes and Korg M1, Adam Fine on bass, and myself on tenor sax and another Korg M1. We had dinner at the restaurant (I had a good Thai peanut spinach salad and a delicious seafood stew) and then we started our first set just after 9. Since it's a restaurant gig, the first set is mandated to be a quiet one. As people wrap up dinner and move on to drinks and dessert later in the evening, we stretch out a bit more.

My wife and her mom came in after the second tune or so, and they sat down at a nearby table, listened attentively for another tune or so, and then fell into conversation. Not long after that, we played I Should Care, a standard jazz ballad that we do as a sort of 70s-inspired radio rock ballad (it grooves though, honest). And it was during my solo in that tune that a truly beautiful thing happened.

Suddenly I could play everything I was hearing in my head. (Ask any jazz musician who's not already a consummate professional and they'll know what you mean here. It's a serious challenge to translate all the melodic lines you hear in your head to your instrument.) Utterly unconscious of the actual chord changes, I stared at a spot on the table in front of me and played these wild, weaving lines through the tune that I've never played before, and have never been able to play before. It felt a lot like I was dreaming myself playing the solo, and once, for a brief moment in the middle of it, I became lucid to the dream and almost lost hold of it, but then I quickly dipped back into it and kept playing. It was a Zen jazz moment: I was in a zone where I was aware of nothing and everything all at the same time, and when the chorus drew to a close, the last phrase of my solo ended perfectly with it. It was all perfect.

A perfect solo is like a soap bubble; it doesn't take much to burst it. A moment of inattention (or over-attention) can pull you into an intellectual wrangling with the chord progression, and then all of a sudden you find yourself playing some corny riff by rote that you've played a thousand times before and the solo is ruined. The key to this perfect solo was a cognitive suspension of all the theory and technique I had; one that created a direct connection between the perfect music that's always playing in my head and the breath, fingers and keys that manifest my sound. For the entire length of that solo, I was aware only of beautiful music flowing through me without my willful control.

In a lucid dream, one can't focus too much attention on the situation without waking up and returning to reality. Playing this solo was just like that. I had to just stand back, watch, and observe while my body, breath and hands performed the music that I was hearing. That direct connection, if overly scrutinized, also bursts itself like the soap bubble. Last night it did not burst for the entire length of the solo. The experience was at once tender; resonant; sublime.

I returned to reality in the moments after I stepped back from the mike. And except for the smile on Chris's face when he looked over at me, I realized that my solo had gone unnoticed by absolutely everyone in the restaurant. There was a loud buzz of voices from everywhere in the room and no eyes were on the band. When I looked over at the table where my wife and mother-in-law were sitting, their heads were together in deep conversation, also oblivious to the band. It was like a home run hit in a stadium with no fans. I could only share the experience with the three other guys sitting next to me in the band.

Not that it was insufficient, though: the pleasure arising from the experience lingered in me for several minutes. A pleasant sensation I like to call The Tingly Feeling (a warm, vibrating energy) hovered around the back of my neck as I sat down and relaxed. I wiped my sweating head with my towel, and listened to Chris's piano solo. I stood up and played the head out at the end of his solo, and then we all grinned at each other when the song was over.

The perfect song, the perfect performance: unrecorded, unnoticed, and gone forever. Of course, the best ones are usually like that, though. Only the ones feeling the experience at the time will appreciate its significance afterwards. It was the kind of experience that gives you hope as an artist, though. That's for damn sure.

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jdquintette February 4th, 2006
Ever read Kenny Werner's "Effortless Mastery"?

iamom February 6th, 2006
Yeah, and I loved it. I picked it up after attending a master class with him. I'd never heard of his philosophical approach to music until I saw that clinic, but a lot of what he said that day still resonates with me today; I remember quite a lot of it, actually, even though it was almost a year ago that I saw the clinic. He made quite an impression on me.

What do you think about it? And the book, of course?

gwendy February 4th, 2006
So cool.

whonowz February 4th, 2006
Beautiful...thank you for sharing this.

lordsluk February 5th, 2006
korg m1's are a great little synth!

marcl February 7th, 2006
Very cool man, I wish I had been there to see it, reminds me of a quote...
"It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself."

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