April is Jazz Appreciation month.  It is nice to have a month where the world can hear more about this music and the people who make it.  For me, jazz is my life.  This is to be celebrated year round. Living the “jazz life” hasn’t meant the old school Charlie Parker heroin addict kind of life.  It is much richer.

Friends:  Playing music has brought me many life-long friendships.  My good friends in school were the people I played music with.  As an adult, my gigs have become social events.  I play jazz with my friends and we often hang out together afterwards.   The music keeps us connected.  Even when we don’t see each other for a long time, we pick up where we left off with lots of laughter, jokes, and no vibe.

Adventure:  This music has taken me all over the world.  As a kid, I had no idea that this could be my life.  My family didn’t travel much.  The better I play, the more places I get to visit.  While I don’t really get to be the tourist so much when I’m out on the road for this music, I get to meet the people and hear their stories.  I get to hear what they like and who they saw in their home town.  I get to experience some amazing meals and some very forgettable ones.  Being on the road is never boring.  There is always something to be navigated or negotiated.  I love asking my heroes about their road stories.  Those are some of the best stories around.

The learning never ends:  This is a very exciting and very humbling part of the music.  There is so much new stuff for me to hear and learn and experience in jazz.  It is thrilling. At the same time, I need to keep working at being the best I can be every single day.  Sometimes the task feels a bit daunting, but most of the time I find it to be a healthy challenge.  Isn’t that what life is about, anyway?

Saxophonist Dave Liebman describes it all beautifully in his article:  Why Jazz Education?  He talks about education, but he’s also talking about how we live our lives in this world:

Playing jazz combines several qualities: instinct, honesty, confidence, experience, trust, imagination and a positive attitude. No matter what walk of life one enters in the future these are qualities that will serve any human being well.

Pay it forward:  I feel like the jazz continuum is one big ladder.  We’re constantly reaching up for excellence while simultaneously reaching down to lift others up.  Ray Brown told me once, “You’re one of mine.”  Ray Brown changed my life.  He gave me confidence when I didn’t know if I could make this all happen for myself.  Jazz history is full of stories where young players learn under the tutelage of the more experienced players.   Now it is my job to encourage others while I keep climbing.