Last night I went to see recording artist Jacob Jeffries kill it singing with the ATL Collective at City Winery on Ponce. In addition to Jacob singing his amazing songs from his soon-to-be released album , he was a guest vocalist as they performed Billy Joel’s The Stranger from start to finish. Enjoying hearing some of my favorite songs made so fresh, I got to meditating on the occasional wisdom in Billy Joel’s lyrics.
My favorite line by him is from his song “Second Wind”: You're not the only one who's made mistakes, but they’re the only things that you can truly call your own. It seems like a strange thing. Learn from mistakes, okay, but call them your own?
And yet I started to come around to that idea this week as I was playing at my favorite jazz jam.
I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to be awesome in front of my patient friends, worrying about what they think. When I forget all that, when I concentrate more on my playing, and their playing, and our playing, the most wonderful music emerges.
I had a moment last Thursday where I decided that the band was fine without my perfection. I let loose the way I used to when I was first starting out. I made all kinds of mistakes and it didn’t matter because we were all having fun.
Then I thought about the Billy Joel lyrics and I realized what he meant.
As we get better at something we often end up striving to sound more and more like our idea of perfection. That often means trying to sound like someone else we admire. (Even though that person wasn’t perfect either, and they were also probably trying to sound like someone else!)
When we succeed with that kind of perfection attitude, we often sound not like ourselves but some compromise of ourselves. Even though inside we may feel like we’ve won, we’ve actually just succeeded in suppressing some of our humanity. But isn’t it better to keep our mistakes in the practice room?
Lots of people can mimic success. But no one can mimic our mistakes, in our music or our life. They are a unique part of our journey and particular makeup, and sometimes they’re even what our audience wants to hear.
That’s what I love about jazz the most: You can make mistakes and it doesn’t kill the music. In fact, as jazz musicians recover from their mistakes, or elaborate on them, they end up with something unique. Mistakes are the most important part of that.
When I hear early Mozart (age 10-14) I can tell the places where he wasn’t as polished or perfect as he become in his twenties and thirties. He was so good that his “mistakes” still work, and they add a charm to his early music that isn’t always there in the later stuff. The same is true with many artists and writers that I loved more when they were starting out than I do now.
Do you value other peoples’ mistakes? Do you value your own? Does this blog suggest a new way to do that?
Jacob Jeffries’ new album can be found at pledgemusic. com. Just search his name! It won’t be a mistake.
Adam Cole is an author, educator and performer who blogs weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and artistry. To view more of Adam's work, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net