Taking Jazz Improvisation To The Next Level

Miss Brigid And Her Mixed Nuts at the Paynesville Music Festival, Feb 2016Miss Brigid And Her Mixed Nuts at the Paynesville Music Festival, Feb 2016“Jonathan, you’re out of time. You’ll never learn to play in time”. I still remember those words ringing in my ears as I learned to play piano in high school. So I took up Percussion. To improve my sense of time.

I tried so hard. I practiced with a metronome. At the piano. Scales. Arpeggios. Broken chords. And on a practice pad. Single stokes, double strokes, paradiddles, and measured rolls. For hours, days, weeks, months. Just so I could prove to myself (and more importantly others) that I could play in time. Whilst covering up the fact that I believed that would never be able to play in time.

Some years later, I am playing in a jazz band . And the singer tells me that my solos sound all the same. That I need to practice. And those words from my piano teacher all those years ago came ringing back into my ears.

It’s not that I couldn’t play jazz. I have a great feel and passion for jazz. But subconsciously I was so preoccupied in making sure that I never “got out of time” that I was stifling my creativity. And not realising that I was doing just that. Even when others suggested I just “let go”, I just couldn’t venture into uncharted waters. Because I might go “out of time” and people would realise that I am not as good as I think that I am.

That was in 2014.

Fast forward to Paynesville Music Festival, February 2016. I am playing to an enthusiastic audience in the same band. With the same singer. But this time, I realised that the conversation “I will never play in time” was like a millstone around my neck, I decided to dump that conversation and leave it in the bottom of the Gippsland Lakes.

I let it all go. I let go of my concern about playing in time. I let go of worrying about what people would think of me if I played out of time. I let go of worrying that I might throw the band out of time. And I just played, with no concern except just to entertain the audience.

I got into the groove. And found myself listening to the band in a new way. The crowd were tapping along, singing the songs, clapping after my solos. And magic was happening.

The crowd were raving about how entertaining we are. One person videoed an earlier performance, which accumulated over 500 views on Facebook in 48 hours alone.

The feedback I got was “Wow! There were some times there that what you were playing was as good as anything I have ever come across.” I didn’t need to worry about “free falling”. The rhythm section were just there as my safety net. This allowed me to just PLAY.

The scope for improvisation has opened up like the wonderment staring up in the night sky. Every song now becomes an adventure. An opportunity to tell a story. To take people on a journey. Playing out of time can now PART of the journey. Playing “wrong notes” is part of the adventure.