Jazz Improvisation 11: Listening

There are two things you don’t want to hear about your playing.  The first is ‘He just plays notes’, and the second is ‘He doesn’t listen’.  We looked at first one earlier on.  The second complaint is an equally important one.

Improvising is a group affair.  A great solo will fall flat on its face without proper support, and that support is dependent on every player LISTENING. The number of players out there who simply don’t listen is astounding.  And it’s a problem, because all it takes is one person in the group not paying attention to spoil it for everyone else.

Listening is critical.  That’s why nature supplied us with one mouth and two ears.  Playing something before you listen is like yelling “Go Cowboys!” at a basketball game.  You sound like an idiot.  Playing before you listen makes you that kid who keeps the ball to himself and tries to score without any help from the rest of the team.  Nobody liked that kid and he always wondered why he got picked last.

Playing before you listen makes you that loudmouth who never stops talking and nobody else can get a word in edgewise.

OK then.  Point made.  The first rule of playing is ‘Don’t speak until you have something to say,’ or, as the old saying goes, ‘If in doubt, lay out.”  The key to being a good listener is to take that split second (there it is again) to hear what is going on around you and ask yourself, ‘How can I contribute.’  The rewards are immediate.  The rest of your band mates (all listeners hopefully) respond, and the results end up being logarithmic.  The music is taken immediately to another level.