My Journey into Jazz
My name is Jim. I’ve wanted to play jazz since I was 12 years old.
I started playing the trombone in the 5th grade at age 10. At that time, I had an uncle who was a jazz enthusiast. Actually, I didn’t find out until decades later (and after he had passed away) that he wasn’t “officially” my uncle… he and my aunt had never married.
But no matter. He was my uncle as far as I’m concerned. He was very good to me, and was a very important person in my life. It was he who turned me on to jazz. I would go to his house from time to time and listen to his jazz recordings. (He wasn’t a musician – he just liked jazz).
As a beginning music student, my entire experience with musicianship was reading the notes on the page. When I would hear jazz musicians improvise, to me it seemed like MAGIC!
I would think… “Without printed music in front of them, how do they know what notes to play? How do they know what keys to press, which valves to press down, what slide positions to move to? How is it even possible to play without music you can read?“
Yes, it seemed like something magical. And it was then that I decided I wanted to learn to play jazz. So I organized a Dixieland band with some of my classmates. We bought some written-out arrangements, but didn’t actually do much (if any) improvisation. But on my own, I would “dabble” in improvisation, and got to where I could do some really simple improv.
I believe it was about the time I started high school, or shortly before, that I started listening to symphonic music, and was really loving it. And as a sophomore I decided on a career in music, with the goal of eventually playing in a symphony orchestra.
So after high school I attended a local music conservatory, and eventually landed a job in a good orchestra, where I played for 31 years. But during all that time, I continued to advance a little as a jazz improviser. I had some opportunities to freelance, play in some local bands, and even jam with some like-minded friends.
After I left the orchestra, I took a long break from playing. But when I began playing again, I decided my entire focus would be on jazz improvisation. So I practiced daily, focusing exclusively on jazz related studies.
Eventually I was invited into a local big band, then another, and then another. When invited into a fourth, I had to politely decline… I was just too busy to take on full-time membership in another band!
So today I’m a “regular” in 3 local big bands, a frequent sub in 2 more, and have organized a jazz sextet (2 horns and 4 piece rhythm). Jamming’ with this latter group is the most fun I’ve ever had playing the trombone.
So I now play jazz almost exclusively. Oh, I’ll still take an occasional “legit” gig – church gig, brass quintet sub for a special event, etc…. IF it pays well. But mostly I focus only on jazz and jazz improvisation, and plan to do so until the end of my days.
So why am I doing this blog?
Because I would love to help would-be jazz musicians to achieve their goals. And while I’m by no means the best, or the most knowledgeable jazz musician in the world, I believe I do have some insights that can be of benefit to beginners, and perhaps even to some intermediate level students of jazz.
But to be honest, my motivation isn’t entirely altruistic… I do have a motive that one might deem “selfish,” at least in a sense.
You see, at age 70, I know I’m not going to be around forever… and I’m OK with that. But I would like to think that when I, and my generation, have passed, jazz will live on!
I don’t think jazz will ever be “popular” in the sense that rock, pop, or country-western are. But I believe that it can, and hopefully will, always have a following. And if that’s to happen, it will have to be through the efforts of today’s student musicians, and those of their educators.
I’m counting on YOU!
So I’m going to offer what insights I can, to help along those who aspire to become jazz musicians, and those current jazz musicians who are committed to improving their craft.
If you’re a beginner who thinks – like I once did – that the ability to improvise is the result of some kind of “magic” or innate personal “gift” that only a few possess, you’ll find that nothing could be further from the truth!
ANYONE can learn jazz improvisation, once they understand how to approach it. Everyone has the ability… it just takes some understanding of how to go about learning it, and most of all… practice, practice, and more PRACTICE!
So I hope you enjoy reading my blog, and are able to get something useful from it. And PLEASE… don’t just read, but also PARTICIPATE by leaving your comments, and sharing your own insights. By doing so, we can all play a role in passing on an appreciation of jazz – the only truly, and uniquely American art form – to future generations.
All the best.