I just returned from playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival, where I performed with Joe Locke’s Quartet, featuring pianist Jim Ridl and drummer Samvel Sarkisyan. Guesting with the group was vocalist Paul Jost and saxophonist Tommy Smith. I play electric and upright bass on Joe’s forthcoming release, Subtle Disguise.
It’s always incredible to work with Joe. He’s not only the premier vibraphonist in the world. He is the apotheosis of the NYC jazz artist. He’s been on the scene here for more than 30 years and has dedicated his life to this music. His playing is the state of the art of jazz improvisation; he’s a devout student of harmony, continually studying new possibilities for approaching soloing over changes. Play him a Cmi7th chord, and you’ll get myriad possibilities for what to play over it. In essence, a living master of this music, and a constant source of inspiration. He is one of the few who has dedicated himself to the pursuit of jazz mastery and who also has a thriving career.
I view dedication to jazz mastery as first and foremost, a practice; a quest of incredible courage and determination. In many ways, it’s akin to dedicating oneself to becoming a Zen or yoga master. Because the depth of the work isn’t valued in our society, it can be a lonely path, most attuned for one who is comfortable being a solitary walker.
Like the Zen practitioner, one has to approach it as an aspirational practice that is a value as a thing in itself. This is where things get tricky, since the solitary walk of the yoga or Zen practitioner isn’t, from my understanding, tied to the notion of building a career. For most jazz artists/practitioners, however, the end goal is developing the international performance career. I have yet to meet a musician here in the jazz mecca of NYC who feels that her work is a dedication to a practice, to a yoga of jazz, an end in itself, not for the goal of building a career (and let’s not forget, as high an art form as it is, pursuing a career in jazz is still pursuing a career in show business; dedicating oneself to the work never guarantees a career. There are just too many factors one can’t control, namely, the desirability of one’s “product” in the music marketplace)
This is a conundrum we all must face as jazz musicians. We navigate a world in which we are trying to monetize a practice that, for mastery, must be approached as an end in itself.
To learn more about how to improve your groove, contact Lorin Cohen for NYC bass lessons or Skype bass lessons.