Jazz Guitar Thoughts by Chris Standring

Observe Yourself

It is always interesting to me why from time to time a player plays really well on a given day and on another does not. Or put another way, "Why do I sometimes suck but not other times?"

For me personally, I am at the top of my game when I am playing all the time. I know that if we can technically pull off musical phrases that we hear in our heads we ideally need to be in tip-top shape. Our chops need to be 'on' simply because in order for music to freely flow, we cannot be hindered by external distractions, and technical difficulties are a major external distraction.

But there are always other distractions, things that can get in the way of that 'zen-flow' thing. An airplane flying outside your window can subconciously have an effect on your playing. A gardner mowing a lawn. A screaming kid.

Once I started playing jazz festivals, a whole new set of distractions appeared, and of the most challenging kind. Summertime is big for these festivals and on any given festival stage there can be a number of bands taking turns to perform their shows. Because of the strict time constraints, each band gets a time slot and a 'line-check'. This is promoter speak for a mini sound check and can be cut to as little as 10 minutes from time to time. This inevitably means sound on stage may not be as ideal as it might be. Perhaps the piano player who is the other side of the stage is not coming out of your monitor and the MC has just introduced you to 10,000 jazz fans in the audience. It's time to go!

A bit of a distraction perhaps? I'd say. In fact my whole expectation for these live shows has gone to a different place over the years. The chances are, the sound will not be great. Provided I can hear me on stage, I'll do all I need to to get through the show and put on a good performance. Everything else is gravy. Does this make for good 'zen-flow', you know, where you get lost in your playing and it's just all heavenly? Not really. But these situations are not condusive to that. Give me a small jazz club anytime, then I can get lost in the music. Festivals are business. It's just the way it is.

So yeh, distractions, they come a plenty and in all shapes and sizes. One must be ready to deflect them but these days my approach is a little different. I embrace them. Why? because they are simply everywhere and the days of me torturing myself because things were not perfect are over. I just don't want to put myself through that anymore. I still have a full head of hair and frankly I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible! Life is not about torturing ourselves but jazz musicians have such high expectations of themselves. Real life is about dealing with things despite all those little inconvieniences.

Recently I have become interested in 'observing' my guitar playing. Sounds odd I know, but I'm quite serious. I like to play and observe myself do it. If I play a line I don't like, its ok, onward. If a cool phrase comes out I might say "That was interesting, develop that", all whilst the music is going on. It's almost like my fingers are channelling ideas and I am the audience observing it all happen.

If a distraction takes place, one can be much more matter of fact about it, you're a third party member after all, it's nothing to get personal about. That leafblower will be gone in a moment. No biggie.

And I might add, this really helps put me in the 'zen-flow' state after all, where I can focus, channel ideas and run with them. It's really quite liberating. I challenge you to try it. It's just a mental switch. Become an observor of your own playing. Just try not to talk about yourself in the third person. :) Let me know how it works for you.

Back to Articles Index

Read all about the great jazz guitarists here:

Bill Frisell Charlie Christian Django Reinhardt George Benson George Van Eps Grant Green Jim Hall John Mclaughlin Joe Pass John Scofield Kenny Burrell Larry Carlton Lee Ritenour Pat Martino Pat Metheny Tal Farlow Wes Montgomery