Jamey Aebersold gave an illuminating demonstration this past summer on the importance of being able to skillfully play your instrument.
He assembled students in the auditorium at University of Louisville. He then plucked one “lucky contestant/musician/newbie” to join him on stage. (The repeat campers knew what was coming and sat the back of the room). Jamey would then hand them a microphone and instruct them to sing/scat/hauler a jazz solo along with the jazz chords he would randomly play on the piano.
Everyone could scat. Some sang very well, others just so-so. But the consensus amongst the “singers” was that they could scat better than they could play. Hmmm. “So, the problem wasn’t in your head”, he said, “it’s in your hands”. He continued, “now go home, take lessons, practice like crazy and the jazz will be easier. You can hear the music; you just can’t execute.” (My paraphrasing)
Jamey's second reveal, a thin repertoire is symptomatic of larger issues.
One morning he asks the musicians, “How many of you can play 50 jazz standards from memory?” I enthusiastically raised my hand. Looking around the 250+ room there were very few hands joining me.
"How many can play 25, 10, any?" (The overwhelming answer was zero.)
Jamie’s 1st conclusion, it’s hard to play freely when your head is in a book.
Jamie’s 2nd conclusion, trust yourselves to play without a book/sheet/app in front of you by starting with simple tunes like:
I can help you get started playing by ear. Please call me,
Revised September 2022
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.