Daring Lessons in Creativity and Life Balance from Great Artists
Updated: Feb 3, 2019
Life is not linear.
Some of the world’s greatest discoveries in science or its achievements in literature resulted from the scientists or writers taking a winding or indirect course.
Life is more like a meandering journey, and no one seems to embody that notion more than jazz music artists. Jazz, more than any other category of music, supports the notion of life being a circuitous journey packed with uncertainty by virtue of its reliance on improvisation. There is something captivating about jazz musicians; they are creative and slightly elusive souls. Their improvisations add an aura of mystery to the picture.
Comfort in the Unknown
Contrary to popular belief, jazz musicians do not simply make things up on the spot. Their improvised performances are a mix of plenty of preparation, spontaneous creativity, and intuitive risk taking.
As a result, they are comfortable with experimentation and uncertainty in their performance - experimentation and uncertainty that most of us fear in our day-to-day lives. Wynton Marsalis said that “In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any old’ thing up. In Jazz there’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.”
How can we replicate a jazz musician’s comfort in the unknown?
The key is in letting go of the notion of how things “should” be or how they “must” remain forever.
Thinking Big Picture
To start with, just like a musician’s practice session, a situation in life that does not go well and causes you to feel uncertain, sad, insecure, or angry is not the end of the world. Instead, it is a chance to examine your judgments and beliefs about the situation and the people involved in it.
It is a rehearsal for future situations; more gigs will certainly follow. You have your whole life to play your music.
Inner Creativity and Breaking the Rules
Furthermore, great jazz musicians are excellent specifically because they break the rules and don’t play the same music all the time.
They constantly challenge themselves to find new ways of playing. To great jazz musicians, the rules of harmony are only a framework and not a very rigid one. The manners in which they use of these rules shape how they sound and also define their individuality and creativity.
Take John Coltrane or Miles Davis for instance. They were treating jazz as a spiritual experience. Both Coltrane and Davis rejected stylistic correctness in favor of their own inner creativity. They were continuously broadening their intuitive self and maximizing their potential by rejecting any limiting beliefs that could block the natural flow of their music.
John Coltrane or Miles Davis were outstanding because they refused to be blocked by their thoughts and be corrupted by their ego. When you pay attention to their performances you can feel that the music jets through them like lightning in the sky; they seem to have actually surrendered to a larger, higher force. When you hear that kind of music it puts you in harmony with life.
Harmonizing and Balancing Our Knotty Lives
Great artists do not allow fear and hesitation to limit their craft; instead, they rely on their previous experiences to help them create fresh and amazing music in each performance. They embrace the complexities of the notes they are playing realizing that the absence of those complexities could lead them to make safer choices and thus weaken their edge.
In order to channel their inner creativity great musicians avoid trends and steer clear of convention.
Many people desire, wish and plan for easy lives, which often leads them to make conventional choices, as well as follow a predetermined road.
However, accepting the complicated and occasionally knotty lives all of us inevitably have enables us to learn from past experiences, substituting what works for what does not, as well as balancing and harmonizing our lives in the long term.
Taking Action Despite Moods
Lots of people have a tendency to wait until they get in a better mood to start doing what they have to do.
Jazz musicians are no exception to this rule, but great musicians don’t wait for a perfect opportunity or an ideal chance. They don’t wait to generate the ideal mood to get things done. Bad moods are not permitted to stifle playing. They play despite the kind of mood they are in at the moment. They start with exactly what’s already available and use everything as an opportunity to improve as an artist.
Life is Not Linear
Accepting life as the winding road that it is needs embracing uncertainty and removing your beliefs in how things “should” or “must” be forever. It requires improvising, balancing and harmonizing they way great jazz musicians do. When I hear great jazz music, it tunes me as well as it puts me in harmony with life. This is the magic or secret behind jazz music and, at least to me, a lesson for life.