Jazz Masters

South Pasadena Public Library, 1100 Oxley Street, South Pasadena, CA

Photo by Barry Schwartz

The annual induction of Jazz Masters took place a couple of weeks ago, an award given by the National Endowment for the Arts. The New York Times relayed some of the speech given by inductee 68-year-old saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton: “Even today, I refer to myself as a professional student of music,” he said. “I’m not interested in the finished product. I’m interested in the best job I can do at the moment.”

Later in the evening, another awardee, Keith Jarrett, expanded on what it means to engage in the endless process of educating yourself: “but you are still zero until you let go of what holds you back. My job, in my opinion, is to let it out, but I don’t believe that there are any rules.” And later: “I don’t believe there are masters, I believe there are students.”

Jazz, which is sometimes misunderstood to be mostly about improvisation, is totally dependent on a hidden world of intense critical thinking, never-ending sessions practicing scales, and listening as hard to what everyone else around you is playing as what you’re playing yourself.

There are hidden aspects buttressing every job – creative or not. It took me awhile (and lots of practice) to figure out there’s not much difference between having chops and being creative. You can’t have one without the other, at least over the long term of a career. Why else would anyone bother with the grind of all that work without the reward of being able to use technical skills in service of a fabulous – or at least coherent – result? Creators are interested in both the process and the result, as they should be; a decent reward in and of itself.

Producing good work is hard to do. Audiences, however, don’t really care what it takes to produce good work. The viewer or reader or listener is interested in the result. As they should be.

Dan Winters is an amazingly talented and fecund photographer (as far as I know, he’s not also a jazz musician, but I would not put it past him). I interviewed Dan for one of the chapters in The ASMP Guide To New Markets In Photography that came out in 2012. In a far-ranging chat, the interview ends with a sentence that transcends creativity, photography, and technique: “You know, you’re hired for your opinion.”

Something any jazz musician would understand.