A New Project– Identifying the true meaning of “Listening”

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.” —Duke Ellington

As the year winds down and summer quickly approaches, I have noticed how much I have neglected to listen. That is, listening to jazz with an undivided attention, a clear mind, open ears, and a sole purpose of furthering my understanding of jazz composition and improvisation. Now, in our generation, I feel like the word “listening” has taken on two different meanings—usually one of them being a misconception of what listening really is. Listening is more than digesting sounds or connecting melodies to its rhythmic structure. I think listening dives deeper into understanding the artists’ intent as well as uncovering the tools the artist uses to express themselves. As music becomes more available and more accessible, many people forget that listening has an intellectual component rather than an emotional connection. Art Blakey says, “It takes an intellectual ear to listen to jazz”. The word “intellectual” does not imply that we need to dissect a song and understand each piece, it simply means that we need to involve more than our emotions. For example, many times I see people listen with only their hearts and their soul. Yet, in order to completely comprehend something, one needs to involve their mind. That way, we can safeguard against either listening just to feel or listening just to learn.

Looking at what Duke Ellington said about what he looks for in a musician, I agree with him that listening is an important factor. It helps one become a better musician. For me, I feel like listening has brought me to where I am today. Practicing technique or memorizing licks is useless without having the ability to listen. Listening helps to add context to what you already know and it connects what you learn with what you play.

So, in hopes of further explaining what I perceive listening to be and the important of listening, I would like to choose one song each week for the next couple of months and write what I learned or got out of from that song. The reason why I decided to choose one song per week is because jazz requires a certain amount of attention and time to digest and understand.  A week will allow me to dig deeper and avoid misinterpretation and premature assumptions. Music is something that you can never stop learning from. No matter how many times you listen to it, you always approach it and interpret it differently. People fail to realize that music is something that you reflect upon rather than just putting it together in a playlist and listening to it while you work.


The first song that I plan on listening to is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Now, although this is an album composed of four distinct parts (Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm), I feel like Coltrane intended each song to express one piece of an overarching melody. Identifying “A Love Supreme” as an album made up of four independent songs rather than an album composed of one song with four different segments would ruin the overall effect and artistic beauty. So, I plan on listening to all four segments of A Love Supreme and, at the end of the week, writing down my experiences and things that I was able to extract from this unique four-part suite.

3 thoughts on “A New Project– Identifying the true meaning of “Listening”

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