Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fred A -STARE into the UNKNOWN

I conducted a private lesson for a very talented international student today. This young man is the recipient of a national award from his native country (I won't reveal his identity or where he's from) which requires him to have a number of one-on-one sessions with a US-based artist of his choice. He contacted me via Skype. We chatted for a bit and I suggested that he send me a sampling of his playing, to which after hearing only a few minutes of a recording that featured him performing without accompaniment, I consented to meet with him for study.

He arrived in a timely fashion and was very polite. He immediately put together his instrument and as he warmed up, he flawlessly played some of the most fantastic technical melodic patterns that I have ever heard anyone play. I was absolutely impressed, and listened in admiration as he effortlessly glided around his saxophone with ease and precision. This went on for some time, and since his lesson was timed I reminded him that we should proceed with the information and procedures that I'd prepared for him - which is why he came to me in the first place.

Blank stare. Silence. No acknowledgement whatsoever. 

Not him, but pretty close.

He then resumed playing by himself and kept at it. No break. He simply ignored me and continued with a barrage of more incredibly difficult and lengthy patterns. I figured that he was going through a personal ritual and he needed to finish before we entered into the actual session, which I must admit, can be quite demanding. However, it became aware to me that something wasn't quite right. This guy eventually became oblivious to my presence and my repeated suggestions that we should get to the heart of the discussion.

His dazzling exhibition, in his own mind, WAS the lesson!

He was not open to any additional information, suggestions, evaluations, anything. In fact, he played by himself for practically 1.5 hours and did not stop to ask me one single question. After he finally did stop (which was a relief, to be honest), I suggested that we improvise with a play-along track and trade choruses on a familiar standard song. It was at this point that the truth was finally revealed...

It immediately became painfully clear that the guy excels at playing solo passages alone, but he had the worst time and concept of form that I have ever witnessed from someone who plays the instrument so well. It was obvious that he has put practically no time into the actual act of group interplay or session participation. The idea of keeping his place in the form or acknowledging the environment was completely foreign to him and the sad truth is that he didn't know that he didn't know. I'm at a loss of just who is responsible for this because he is not a beginner by a long shot, but I would make a guess that his teachers did not bring these issues to his attention. In fact, I feel that his education has been hijacked, because it will be overwhelmingly difficult for him to un-learn whatever it took that allowed him to believe playing solo patterns is acceptable or to embrace the methodology which is prerequisite for functioning effectively in an improvising environment. For all of his technical prowess, the young man has been debilitated by his education, or lack of a proper one.

At any rate, I will continue to meet with him and hopefully be able to illustrate to him that, despite his dexterity on the saxophone, he is well below the level of acceptance in the real world of contemporary improvised music. Perhaps I'll lend an update to this saga in months to come. I'm as curious as any to see the outcome.

Next lesson: Stop staring and STOP PLAYING!