Music is meant to be heard live. There is no substitute for the visceral experience of sitting in an audience and soaking up a great live performance. Not only hearing the music, but feeling the physical vibrations of those melodies, chords and rhythms. Seeing the interaction between musicians as they collectively create music in the moment and experiencing the excitement of the audience.
This is what improvisation is all about.
As a performer, experiencing a great live performance is like a shot of adrenaline for your musical motivation. When you witness music at its highest level, you can’t help feeling like you need to rush into the practice room. Your inspiration is immediately renewed and you suddenly have a new focus for your musical direction.
Any way you look at it, there is no substitute for the atmosphere of an intimate live music venue. You can rub shoulders with the greats and be in an environment where people not only love jazz, but are often serious about pursuing it themselves.
All of this live music sounds great, but what if you don’t live in New York City, the jazz capital of the world? What if you don’t even have a venue for live jazz within a 100 mile radius of your home? Are you just out of luck when it comes to experiencing this music?
Of course not! It’s 2013 and the world is a much more connected place. Thanks to the web, there are some key resources to utilize that will bring the music to you, no matter where you are.
Archived Live Performance
If you can’t hear a live performance, the next best thing is to check out a recording of that live performance. While a recording may not give you the thrill of being in an audience you do gain a different advantage.
After attending a show you definitely get inspired, but when you get into the practice room the next day are you going to study the specifics of the music with inspiration alone? Good luck with that! You need to deal with actual melodies, chord progressions and rhythms. With a live recording you don’t have to rely on a hazy memory of those tunes and solos, you can listen to the set over and over again any time you want. You can study those exact melodies and chords, transcribe some language, and imitate the sound and articulation of your favorite players.
As a serious improviser, there are a few online listening resources that you should be taking advantage of in your daily study.
Smalls Jazz Club Audio Archive
One of the best places to hear live jazz in New York is Smalls in Greenwhich Village. Smalls has created an audio archive of every performance at the club and most of these are available for listening online (for free!). You can spend hours browsing through and listening to these live performances of the top names playing in New York. This archive is an invaluable resource for any aspiring improviser and if you treat these recordings seriously and study them intently, you’ll have a direct connection to the best improvisers in the world.
On a side note it looks like Smalls will also be presenting a weekly live broadcast for free as well, so stay tuned for more info.
Public radio has been a long time supporter of the arts, especially jazz. There are two notable programs on NPR for checking out some live performances online:
Probably the most famous jazz club in Manhattan, the Village Vanguard stage has seen the likes of John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins and countless other masters of the music. NPR produces a monthly live broadcast from the club and archives these shows on its website. If you can’t make it to the Vanguard every month, this is the next best thing.
Marian McPartland started her radio show Piano Jazz in 1978. The show ran for thirty three years under her direction and many of these shows are archived on NPR’s website. Each show is part performance, part musical discussion, and part history lesson. Take a listen to a few of these shows and you’ll feel like you’re sitting in the room with these jazz masters.
Aside from hearing a great performance, another benefit of checking out a show in an intimate setting is being able to interact with your musical heroes. The period of time after the show ends is a great opportunity to start up a conversation, ask for a lesson, or even to inquire about a musical question that you’ve been struggling with.
Oftentimes your perception of a great improviser is completely different from the way they actually are in person. You might be surprised to find out that the big name player that you meet in a club turns out to be a musician just like you, working everyday to be the best improviser they can be.
If you don’t have any musical heavyweights coming to your area anytime soon, one way you can get inside a musician’s head is to find some interviews online, preferably videos or recordings where you can hear their voice.
To start check out this article, 50 Jazz Interviews to Get You Inspired, where we’ve compiled some of the best interviews we’ve found online. Also, take another listen to Piano Jazz – besides the great playing, the interview portion will give you some great insight into the artistic process of these musical masters.
From 2007 – 2012 Jason Crane produced a weekly podcast called The Jazz Session. During this time he interviewed over a hundred of the best improvisers out there today and in doing so produced a wonderful resource for anyone trying to learn this music. If you’re searching for interviews, this would be a good place to stop to hear some intelligent and insightful conversation with musicians that are practicing their art at the highest level.
Based in Newark, NJ, the radio station WBGO produces some great original content including live performances and interviews with a number of amazing musicians that perform in the New York area. Take a listen to the live shows recorded at Berklee and the 92nd St. Y or the in-studio performances and interviews.
Finally, take a look at these 50 Jazz Education clips. If you have a question that you want to ask a musical master, it’s probably answered in one of these videos.
Whether you check out a live broadcast, a recorded show, or listen to an interview you are connecting with the music in an important way. As the saying goes, genius may be 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, but that 1% of inspiration and motivation is so important. In terms of musical improvement, it can mean the difference between another boring day in the practice room and a day where breakthroughs are made.
There is no substitute for the thrill of seeing a great live performance, however with some of the resources we’ve highlighted above you can create a connection to the music that will inspire your practice and fuel your musical motivation. Take some time each day to checkout some of these recordings and interviews before you head into your practice room. Thanks the resources of the web, in this day and age your location doesn’t have to stop you from experiencing some of the best music in the world.