I recently went to jam session for the first time in over a year. In an effort to face my own fears, I’m going to share them with you… in detail. 🙂
The jam session was on a Sunday afternoon. I think I stressed thru most of Friday and Saturday, trying to find a tune that I knew well enough, determined to get up there and play something from memory. Saturday night was full of dreams of all the “horrible” things that could go wrong as my mind ran thru dozens of scenarios. Because I had never been to this jam session before, I didn’t really know what to expect and that fueled the anxiety. Even though I know that the best thing for my playing right now is getting the experience of playing memorized tunes with an unknown amount of people who may not necessarily approach the tune the same way my playalong does ( 🙂 ), it can be very hard for me to get up the courage to go.
Luckily, I had a friend waiting there for me. I couldn’t back out and that was a good thing. It’s like going to the gym – you’re not going to be the ass-hole that leaves your friend hanging, you’re going to get over yourself and your insecurities and go. But the 45 minutes drive to the jam was full of doubts and I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t confess that I considered turning around more than once.
The irony of the who thing is that I have spent YEARS telling my students that it’s totally ok to screw up, that it doesn’t matter, to just go for it… and I truly believe that. I always encourage people to take risks and reward them for making an effort, even if they fall flat on their face. Why don’t I give myself the same encouragement? I expect things of myself that I would never expect of anyone else and I know how silly it is. I’ve had to really work on allowing myself the freedom to screw up. As a teacher, I would always ask my students – “what the worst that can happen?”. This was usually as a quasi joke, meant to remind the student that if they played a wrong note the sky was not going to fall on top of them or if they got lost in the changes the whole audience wasn’t going to get up and leave in the middle of the tune laughing hysterically at them. But, I can appreciate that sometimes it’s pretty easy to imagine the worst that can happen, and next thing you know you’ve hit the pause button and you’re now immobile, completely stuck, unable to move forward.
I’ve been there. More times than I’d like to admit. Often, I’m just like that little kid on the high dive, looking down at the water, shaking…. and then being pushed off the edge of the board. Cruel, but effective. In jazz improvisation, it’s all about just jumping in with both feet, doing the best you can not to drown, and enjoy the ride as much as possible. There’s such a thrill… but it can be hard to take that first leap, especially when you feel like you’re taking that first leap over and over again.
I was reading a website on jazz education (which I can’t find right now, unfortunately) and it talked about creating the “worst case scenario” as a tool to face the thing you fear the most, and hopefully realize that it’s not as terrible as you imagine. So here’s my worst case scenario or WCS: that I will get up in front of a group of my peers, whom I respect and admire, completely forget the tune I’m playing, get lost, panic and fumble through it (rather than stop, breath and listen and jump back in when I know what’s going on) and just generally make a fool of myself and never ever get called for a gig again.
What funny about my WCS, is that it makes some pretty hefty assumptions – first of all, that everyone in the entire place has stopped talking and is intently listening to every note I’m playing (and that they have the ears to know that I’m lost anyway). Second, that they are forming some sort of opinion of my playing that will make a lasting impression that will never go away. Third, that my peers that I adore and respect aren’t working through their own insecurities and are only focusing on me… Fourth, you get the point. It’s silly and I know it.
So, now the jam session. I had prepared Alone Together – one of my favorite tunes in the entire world, but I haven’t played it with actual people in quite a while. I got to the session around the end of the first set and they had already played the tune. I asked if we could do it anyway. I got up there, having not warmed up that day, still recovering from being sick with bronchitis, count off the tune and nothing comes out of my horn. Ok, take 2. We finally start. Melody is good and I jump in on the first solo. And suddenly everything goes blank and I’m lost. I go to the D Major chord too early. Then I think I was late. I’m totally panicking and it sounds awful. (to me). I finally relax enough to listen and the drummer gives me a very clear set up into the 8 bars. (thank you!) I stop on time. I’m mortified. As the fog of humiliation starts to lift, I started to laugh inside. My worst case scenario had happened… and you know what, I survived. No one laughed at me. No one told me to put my horns away and never play again. I got nothing but love, support, “good job” and “thank you for sitting in” from my peers.
I went on to play Four and that went much better, but even more important I faced my fear and made it through. I made a pact with my friend to learn 2 more tunes and play again the following week. Solitude and Beautiful Love. I figure it can’t be any worse than that version of Alone Together. Worst Case Scenario? I’m so over you! 🙂
By the way, here’s another blog post of a similar topic that I did about a year ago.