“Listening Makes Perfection”

“PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT” is a common cliché phrase that many people believe is the ultimate solution to reaching perfection. I, however, believe this statement to be ambiguous and too general. Of course practice can breed good results and often perfection! In jazz, if you practice a certain lick or play your scales five hundred times, you are bound to grow better as a musician over time. As a musician myself, I understand that practicing something over and over helps build mental memory and dexterity. Although, sometimes the phrase “practice makes perfect” is not the answer to solving musical problems. For instance, if you are trying to work on improvising or becoming more creative, is it possible to practice it over and over again until you reach perfection? I am sure there are ways to reaching perfection but I feel that improvising or being creative is not something that you can practice. When looking at this dilemma, I think that a better solution would be to say that “listening makes perfection”. When you listen to jazz, you are studying another person’s ideas, creativity, and style which helps in building a rich vocabulary and a deep understanding/appreciation for jazz.  Jazz is a universal language that includes a distinct vocabulary. You cannot play jazz if you cannot understand jazz. For example, you cannot speak English if you do not know how to understand English. Listening to jazz also helps you to develop your own style of playing and discover who you are as a musician. Having a distinct sound is what makes you unique, it defines who you are, how you feel, and your perspective on jazz. I feel that this is vital for all musicians as it sets apart the great musicians from the mediocre musicians.

Duke ellingtonOver the past few months, I have been studying and playing the music of Duke Ellington. Ellington has been looked at as a jazz icon and a jazz legend. He is famously known for his contributions to the big band scene with his distinct compositions and unique band sound. Duke Ellington’s music is looked at  as being the building blocks for jazz because it teaches people the fundamentals like how to swing, how to play the blues, or how to improvise. It is said that his music can be applied to all styles of jazz whether it is traditional or modern jazz. Wynton Marsalis states that “Duke’s work was an entirely original blend of New Orleans jazz, blues, spirituals, American folk music, and various European forms–a complex brew that was uniquely itself”. Although, to truly understand and capture all that Ellington has to offer, you need to listen to his music. Being able to memorize notes on a paper or read written lines is not capturing the true essence of Duke Ellington’s style. A piece of paper cannot describe exactly how Ellington played or how he approached his music. This is why listening is so important for jazz musicians.

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

-Duke Ellington

How do you listen? What do you listen for?

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