So you want to be a jazz guitarist? The dream sounds so simple, but in real world terms- it is not as easy as you think. There are many challenges on the road towards making it in this business. Here are 5 tips that may help (or at least amuse) you:
Firstly, there is no quick fix to becoming a great jazz guitarist or musician – it takes years of shedding on your axe, practicing, analyzing, theorizing, conceptualizing – and lots of playing and listening. So you must be dedicated and have an inherent knack for OCD-like practice routines. Or alternatively you must be a savant / musical genius prodigy.
Secondly, most jazz musicians I know (myself included) travel a lot in order to play jazz regularly, or if they’re lucky enough to have residencies / regular local work, they also teach, do non-jazz based gigs or do other non-music based work to supplement their jazz addictions. On top of this, jazz gigs generally pay bugger all. Luckily ‘success’ in jazz circles is most definitely not measured in monetary terms – if it were, Kenny G would be the most successful ‘jazz’ musician ever (and that’s using the genre-defining term ‘jazz’ very loosely). So should you choose this monk-like life of study and meagre gig offerings be prepared to be poor, travel heaps, or do many other things that distract you from this studious path in order to live well – (you know, eat actual food, not live at home till you’re
45 etc). Or you can sell out, which could mean compromising, in some way, what you set out to do in the first place. Yes, there really are only those two options; be poor or sell out – it’s just a case of choosing which one it happens to be on any given day…
Thirdly, many people like music. You will probably find most people like or even love some kind of music, in respects to artists and music ‘types’ or styles / genres. Unfortunately, jazz music is fairly marginal in popularity, when compared to say, crappy, over-produced, banal, vapid, top 40 pop effluence – I believe this is mainly because Jazz music generally requires a little more attention than your average Justin Beanhead melody to ‘get’. So, be prepared to make music that may not appeal to a great deal of people. You may not sell a million albums. Or even a thousand. In fact 250 is GREAT! That also doesn’t mean you won’t get a million hits on your YouTube jazz guitar video – but it
might be best to put ‘melons’, ‘baps’ and ‘knockers’ in your tags, just to bump up the views a bit…
Fourthly (that even sounded weird writing it…), it is a wise idea to develop a thick skin. No not that callous on your finger pads that comes from 19 hours a day practice learning Kurt’s ridiculous arpeggiotic lines, I meant metaphorically… This is because many people will doubt, laugh, nay-say, tease, and in extreme cases possibly even beat the love of jazz out of you – they will belittle what you are doing and what you stand for. They won’t see the many thousands of hours you have put into carefully acquiring the specialized muscular training needed to improvise over ‘Countdown’effortlessly at 320bpm in 7/8, or care or even understand, should you take the time to explain it to
them (with diagrams and a carefully made instructional video). The critic’s harsh (and usually totally uninformed, pointless & brainless) critique will rebound harmlessly away, with your new improved thicker-jazz-skin*!
*Not an actual product
Fifthly (say that fifty times fast), play your heart out! Every gig, every note. Or else, why are you there? The answer to this question is NEVER ‘just to make money’. The answer is ALWAYS ‘because I chose to be here’. Well, son, if you chose it – then LIVE it. Play your heart out. 100% of the time you
are on the stage*.
*Unless there are: musicians of the same instrumental type in the audience – in which case just start
wildly shredding, as fast as you can if you are mid solo.**
***If comping whilst other muso’s eyes are possibly on you, insert ‘out’ sounding, hip, extremely dense and unnecessary cluster chords, at disjointed rhythmic points behind the soloist***.
****If no one interacts with you during your solo, pack a big sad and internally wonder how you came to be playing with such heartless brutes.
*****Glare at the drummer if he decides to write or read a phone-text during a song (which proves just how talented he is, and also how easy it is to write a complicated text AND simultaneously do this whole jazz-drumming-music lark – and do it well. Damn he IS good.). Or at least consider sending him a serious email about just how much that behavior totally undermines everything you stand for in music, but that you’re staying with the group because you hope that you can all learn from each other. And NOT because the drummer owns the PA, makes the bookings, pays everyone and picks you and your gear up for every gig. But seriously.
My 5 tips to making is as a jazz guitarist
Be dedicated to yourself, to the music, to practice, to listening, to the musicians.
Be prepared to be poor at some point, or maybe many points in your career – being humble and poor will teach you BEST how to recognize and appreciate the opportunities when they come knocking.
Be prepared to not make music that EVERYONE will like – you cannot please everyone, and you would not want to, if you’ve seen and heard what some people like! Make your music with integrity and honesty – sell out as an absolute last resort if you have to (to live or to learn) but try in all cases to carry your ideals at the fore of what you do.
Have a thick skin and take criticism, constructive or not, learn from it, be able to wear it and take a heckle, and understand that not everyone can understand your music or get your message, and nor should they have to – just be ready to stand by your ideals when it matters and in all other cases, if you’ve played your music well, with integrity and honesty, realize that it’s probably not YOU that has the problem.
Play your heart out yeah baby! Thoughts and comments appreciated.
Discover how to become a jazz guitarist at www.jazzguitarlegend.com
PS: The jazz stuff on the video starts at 20mins!
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