One night a few months into my career as a professional jazz musician, we were playing some tune.  I was killing it.  I was so into what I was doing that I was having a euphoria baby right there on the stage.


Then one of the musicians shouted at me on the bandstand in front of everyone.  He completely shut me down.  Although I was hurt and mad for a long time, I came to understand years later why he did it.


There’s a difference between grooving on what you’re doing, and creating a groove with a band.  Someone should have explained it to me, but it’s one of those things some veterans take for granted.  So I’ll explain it to you.


Grooving on what you’re doing is a lot like making love to someone without paying any attention to them at all.  They could be completely indifferent to you, bored, thinking about someone else, and you wouldn’t notice or care.  You’d just keep stimulating yourself until it was obvious you were both done.


Is it pleasant?  Sure.  Well, for you, anyway.


But making love with someone is very different.  Transcendentally different.  The two of you share, surprise one another, go somewhere together that neither of you could have gone alone.


Being in a music ensemble that’s grooving is like that.  Sometimes it’s better.  It’s certainly different than when you’re just out there amazing yourself at how great you are, or how great you feel.


There’s a quiet listening among the group, an intensity of focus.  Everyone’s looking for the same groove and when everyone finds it, they hold on like they’re riding a bus from the outside.  It’s like a miracle, like magic.


The audience can feel it too.  They’ll hold on, mesmerized.  I’m biased, but I think when this happens in jazz it’s even better than classical, rock, or anything else, because the odds of an ensemble of improvising musicians all finding that groove is so less likely than an symphony orchestra or a rock band, that it makes clear the depth to which they must be committed and concentrating.


You know what can kill it?  Some idiot that isn’t aware that their euphoria has nothing to do with anyone else’s.  I’ll even take a kid who’s tentative because he or she doesn’t want to screw up the band over some moron (like me) who is just “soooooo happening right now” that they can’t even tell what they’re destroying.


Making music is like making love.  And if you can learn to make music well, you can learn to be a better lover, a better listener, a better person.  And if you can’t, at least you might be able to learn to shut up until you can.


News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books

We're getting a lot of positive reviews about Decades, the first album from the Front Porch Session Players.  I've also been featured in an in-depth article in Authority Magazine about finding your audience.  As always, I care about what you think and want to hear from you in comments, or on our Forum.

Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books.  Author, educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life.  To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit


Adam Cole July 16, 2018 @05:57 pm

Because I hear significant differences between orchestras, and between performances of the same orchestra, I tend to think you are experiencing this all the time and simply take it for granted. I don't think temporarily blocking out the ensemble negates all the listening and balancing you are doing, as long as you snap back into it when your job is done. In addition, a good conductor tends to act as a "lightning rod" for the orchestra, taking on the job of thinking about that groove so the players can do their jobs.

Darcy B Hamlin July 16, 2018 @07:17 am

Wow, this is so interesting to read. As you mentioned, I'm not sure I can relate as a classical orchestral musician. Of course I need to listen to other musicians and play in tune/time with them and balance accordingly, but sometimes I find I have to block out everyone else in order to get the intense focus I need to play a particularly difficult passage. Interesting post, even though it's not in my wheelhouse! ;)

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