How to Add Depth to Your Playing

This past weekend I got to interview none other than the musical genius swiss army knife known as Bob Mintzer.

I know, totally awesome and amazing, right?

One thing he said during the interview really stuck out to me was this:

To play in a contemporary way, you really must have the depth of having studied the players that the contemporary players studied so that you have this comprehensive vocabulary rather than the shallow vocabulary that results from ONLY studying the most modern players.

To me, “deep music” means music that’s original, profound, compelling, invigorating, and emotionally moving. Deep music has lots of nooks and crannies. With deep music, you can listen to the same recording over and over again and get something new out of each listen. It’s kind of like reading a great book or watching a classic film.

If you start at the depths jazz history , you’ll get Sidney Bechet. Move up a bit you’ll get Coleman Hawkins. Keep on climbing and you’ll run into Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Orenette Colmen, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, and so on and so on and so on.

And the longer the distance we travel upwards through this musical well, the more “deep” we have.

Fact is, to avoid becoming the poor man’s version of another great player, we’ve gotta dig into areas where our ears wouldn’t naturally go. We have to leave our comfort zone and step into the awkwardness that is the world of music from a time that we can’t even conceive of. A time where music was being influenced by events, trends, customs, language and an infinite number of other factors that are completely foreign to us.

There’s no such thing as music that’s 100 percent original – as though it drifted into our ears from the ether. It’s all just an extension of what came before it. And if you’ve deeply internalized the what’s come before the music you’re making now, you’ve got the keys to the kingdom at your feet.

Totally deep – huh?

photo by ky_olsen