Playing to Play

I meet up with a guitarist twice weekly to play jazz. No gigs, no money; no obligation other than to play the music as best as we can. The only requirement is that we show up on time ready to play. The “payment” is the satisfaction gained from perfecting the music over time, or rather as my friend puts it, “growing the music”. The focus is on playing the songs (mostly jazz standards) better each time we play.

We take what we are doing (but not ourselves!) seriously.

The investment is personal practice time learning the songs and perfecting the chosen arrangements, which usually come from recordings, supplemented by charts.

When I talk to drummers, and I tell them that I’m in two rehearsal bands, playing jazz, and not making any money, they almost invariably respond by saying “Cool!”

Why is that? My suspicion is because they know that I’m practicing the art for no reason but to do it. There is no money, no recording deal, no gigs, and no business negotiations or marketing, there is just the music.

We begin learning the instrument, and before we start playing for money, if we ever do, the spark comes from doing something that we want to do, for whatever reason. The exact reasons may be less than lofty (especially for drummers, who beat on things), but reasons, nevertheless. Having spent decades (literally) teaching private lessons and playing a wide variety of gigs so that I could pay (some of) the bills, reaching a moment where I consider only the music for its own sake is a bit of a change, and a welcome one, at that.

It has been even more decades since I looked forward to a rehearsal as much as I do now. Each time I get ready to play, I am excited, much like I was when I was when I first started learning the instrument… Being allowed to play challenging music that I like is truly a gift.

So, play the drums. Find the best place for you, the best sound for you, and the best music for you (including what’s in your head…), and just play it.

If we have no other desire than to play good (to us) music, do we need to be reimbursed?

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