You may have read in past blogs about the importance I like to stress on learning musical ideas from your heroes. Again, music is a language, and, just like a language, we have to learn not only the vocabulary, but also the subtleties and nuances through absorbing what we hear around us. The problem, however, lies in when practicing musicians decide that’s the end of the road.
One of my favorite stories about this is one that I’ve heard a few times about Miles Davis, who is honestly, always a good source of stories of both lessons and humor. Miles had recently hired on Dexter Gordon into his band. This was a big deal. Gordon at the time was a sort of rock star in the jazz world, and Miles, always wanting to have the best people playing for him, wanted to see what he had. Miles fired him on the first night.
The first night that Gordon was set to play on stage, Miles happened to walk by the green room and heard him warming up. Miles then heard Gordon use some of the same licks he had heard while walking by also used by Dexter up on stage, and decided to cut him. Miles said he was paying Dexter to improvise and play jazz music, not to practice (Knowing Miles, I’m sure there were some vulgar words thrown in as well).
You see, it’s extremely important to absorb as many musical ideas as you possibly can to make yourself well versed in the language, but at the end of the day, you should be trying to push music forward by finding your own sound. I call people who just play other people’s licks and ideas “curators” because rather than making art themselves, they’re just displaying other peoples’ work.
I think this can also be true in situations where you do in fact make up your own musical ideas, but just tend to repeat them and play almost on autopilot, which is where I bet Dexter was on that fateful night, at least allegedly.
Also, keep in mind that this obviously is only going to apply to forms of music based on improvisation such as blues and jazz. People at a classical recital may be a bit upset if you decided to take too many liberties on a Bach Prelude. They're different disciplines.
It is great to pay tribute to the people that you admire, but I don’t think the best way to do that is by copying them. Be inspired by them, learn how they speak the language of music, but then play with and mold it into your own sound. When you think about, this is exactly what made the artists you love so much special. Don’t be a curator, be an artist.
Any questions or something you’d like to add? Be sure to leave a comment below! You can also keep up with more ideas and tips by subscribing to our blog here, or following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest!
Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School