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The Work of a Jazz Musician

Updated: 4 days ago



Imagine this.  You go to the office one morning after having worked on a project until well past midnight the night before.  You’ll be laboring in a relatively high-pressure situation where each and every task you perform will be monitored by a highly-paid technician who has connected you to a complex maze of very expensive electronic equipment.  Moreover, your work product for the morning will be recorded and analyzed down to its most minute detail by the people who hired you.  They may spend days at it.  If that’s not enough to make you nervous about the entire experience, those people will eventually take your work product from that morning and make it available for public scrutiny as well.  And get this --- some people will actually get paid to write about the work you completed that one morning, so that other people can better decide whether they want to expose themselves to it.  But there’s more.  When you arrived for work that fateful morning, tired from having worked so late the night before, the boss gives you only a general idea of what she wants you to do, then tells you to just make up the specifics as you go along, depending on how the other workers do their jobs!


Could you do your work under such conditions?  Could you do it so well that other people would want to buy a recording of your efforts and listen to it over and over again?  That’s what the best of the jazz musicians do.  Perform by night; record by day.  And we’re not talkin’ a five-day week here, either.  I’ve never heard a jazz musician tell a promoter or agent, “Sorry, I take Tuesdays off.” 


Then there’s the struggle it takes a good, working jazz musician to achieve the required  level of proficiency.  Years and years of practice.  A load of talent.  And significantly, a willingness to forego the security most people take for granted in our society.  Nightclub gigs and record deals don’t come with paid vacations, pension plans and medical insurance.


Yet despite all of these circumstances, great jazz is still being played and recorded.  An objective economist or workplace scholar would conclude that it just doesn’t make sense.  What manner of person would take such risks and endure such pressure for such small rewards?  The answer is deceptively simple.  Jazz musicians are true artists.  They do what they do for love of the music and the creative process.  Watch them work and you can see it.  Listen to a good jazz record and you can hear it.


So next time you put on some jazz, whether it’s one of those evenings where you hang on every note or one of those afternoons when the music is just contextual, give a mental nod to the folks who made it all possible --- the musicians.  They really deserve it.


Well, time to go.  We’re working on Don Stiernberg’s next release, and the studio beckons.  I just love to watch those cats work!


Steven Briggs

Barrington, Illinois

March, 2000

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