Escaping Yourself to Be You (Part 1)
We live in a culture where people go to the Caymans, play Nintendo, watch TV, take drugs, booze and engage in a host of other activities in order to escape negative aspects of their life. "Getting away" is a mantra that we hear regularly from fed-up folks, who can't stand their boss, mate, relatives or whatever. When they go on vacation they feel they are being released from prison. Some people who aren't just escaping from external things, but also from bewilderment, alienation, depression and low self-esteem, think that if they change their immediate state of mind or environment they will feel better. Escaping away from something dark and debilitating can never compare with moving towards something positive. In other words, the absence of a negative force is not a positive one; it's neutral.
Jazz musicians need to escape many of the same problems, but also encounter some different ones. They have to escape from the clutches of conformity and self-consciousness, which is mandatory in jazz. It is very easy for jazz players and civilians (non-musicians) to be wooed by the allure, the promise and scale of manipulative media in order to feel like they are more sexy, more powerful, rebellious, and not left outside. But losing or attenuating one's birthright because of the external influence is not part of the jazz personality.
Great jazz players know that all they have is themselves: pure, undiluted and uncorrupted. Doing what everyone else is doing is not an option in their world. They have never made any Faustian agreements about their music and treat their talents with great respect. The average jazz player's main focus is to conform to and imitate what great jazz musicians have played. They think that if they play Coltrane's ideas then maybe they will become hip or famous too. In the jazz community you don't get significant points for merely copying Coltrane's solo. Entry into the pantheon of great jazz is strictly reserved for those who play "who they are," not for those who second-guess what they think the audience wants to hear. The jazz masters all know that individuality can't be mass-produced.
(Part 2 & 3 to come)