Sunday, May 11, 2003

A jazz musician's advice to the young

Fred Hersch is often asked to speak to music students, but his schedule makes it difficult. So, here's some of his advice for young jazz musicians.

Focus on the music, not the record deal.

"To those of you who are contemplating a future as a professional musician, the bar is very high. And if you want to do it, man, chase your dream.

"Whatever you learn, you really need to learn in a deep way. And not to play at it and not to be concerned at too young an age whether or not you're going to get a record deal. Because that's not what it's about. It's about, 'What are you going to say?' "

Master the basics.

"I basically define music as 'sound in rhythm.' It's like saying bread is 'yeast, flour and water.' Yet how many different kinds of bread can you make out of those three basic ingredients?

"The building blocks of music are the same, whether you're composing, whether you're playing European classical music or jazz or hip-hop. The building blocks are in large measure the same, and the people that are really able to sustain fulfilling and interesting and productive and rewarding careers are the people who learn those things really well."

Avoid formulas; follow your ear.

"Music is like cooking. There are two kinds of cooks. There are recipe chefs, who buy the ingredients and follow the recipe. And then there are real cooks, who can look at your refrigerator and your spice rack, and because they understand the principles, they can create a meal. Don't follow a recipe, follow your ear. And don't be afraid to be personal. I think that's the one thing I would tell them the most. There are a lot of very accomplished young jazz musicians, but not that many personal ones."

Be true to yourself, and forget the critics.

"It's important to just stick with what you think is right, I'm not equating myself with Monk or Ornette Coleman, but they paid some dues - Chet Baker paid some dues - because they sounded like themselves. People who go their own way are criticized."

Larry Nager

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