As both an artist and educator with decades of successful professional experience in both aspects of practicing music as a career, it seems a healthy degree of stoicism is needed to grow into your own creative craftsmanship.
The best informed compliment someone can pay an aspiring jazz artist is to say that nobody sounds like them.
Meaning? You can hear their understanding of the lineage of the music in their playing, but simultaneously you can predominantly hear their own ideas and understanding of dealing with harmony and melodies in context as well.
I say “aspiring” because we all are perpetually and continuously aspiring artists and teachers.
Therefore, a primary goal in transcribing solos and practicing the imitation of great musicians is not to remain stuck playing “like” the master artist you’re studying at the time.
That practice isn’t genuine in jazz culture anyway. This is because our thesis is not the same as a musician learning classical repertory interpretations regardless of how thin that line is in our times. Jazz is a cultural phenomenon and expression as much as it is an art form.
When I hear any person seemingly playing beyond their genuine depth of life experience I appreciate the dues they are paying toward establishing their own voice.
My only advice would be to not get stuck copying people. It typically happens to all of us at some point during our development. I know people who stay in this zone and are fine doing it forever. But most jazz artists go on developing to realize their own thing.
Imitation is only a means to finding your own voice or leaf on a branch of the “jazz tree.” It’s like taking a master class or highly specific course or imitation of a native speaker while learning a language.
I still try to always remember the entirety of this often referenced quote:
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”- Oscar Wilde.
Be brave enough to be yourself in all things, but especially in the arts. Be brave enough to be the most excellent you that is possible. Nobody else can ever do that. That’s the spirit of jazz…
Musings In Cb: “IMITATION IS ALWAYS A REFERENCE IN JAZZ”
PHOTO by Corinna Gray Photography (2023)
Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs based in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.