A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about analyzing a recording of your performance. She had recently auditioned with a theater company and told me about her practice of recording her auditions and reviewing them to craft a better future performance. Perhaps it is a chicken-and-egg debate, but I argued that self-analyzing only focuses on what you did wrong and, as a result, leads you to obsess on negativity. Instead, I suggested to focus on the whole experience, the elements that can never be recorded, and to follow the fun of performing in the moment.
I have a recording of one of my peak performances, a New Year's Eve gig in a cozy and familiar club. As I declared my first trombone solo of the night, something took control of my horn and it instantly resonated with light. I hit The Note and the rest of the phrase played itself. On the recording, you can hear the brilliance in my tone as it overcame me, but in a matter of two real-time seconds it was gone. And when I listen to it now, all I hear are the moments that follow the peak, the sounds of me trying to recreate it and the doubt of ever getting that close to it again. That is not how I want to remember it.
What I remember most about that moment was the feeling of that scene, the anticipation of the New Year, the electricity of the room, the undulating pool of dancing bodies, the spinning disco ball overhead, and the driving groove. I could have played any note in the moment and it would have been magic. The music played that night was alive.
But last night was a weird. I played at a local blues jam, elbowing my way through the room full of guitar ego and hearing other amazing horn players. I hadn't played my horn during the weekend and I was a bit worn out from a demanding rehearsal earlier in the evening. I knew that my chops were weak. When the house band eventually called me up, I played a few solos, nothing that I was proud of or care to remember, but what I took from it was the adventurous feeling of sinking or swimming, and with it comes a confident freedom of playing no wrong notes. I can tell you that it was the first time I have ever played over The Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post," and maybe the only time. Was it any good? Nope. Am I fretful of the wrong notes that I played? Nope. Do I regret making a fool of myself? Nope.
The trick to playing without hesitation, or fear of what might of been, is to play what that moment requires and not what you want to hear in retrospect. The message of The Soul Rebels' titular tune, "Unlock Your Mind" by George Henry Jackson and popularized by The Staple Singers, is to not worry about "ifs" and "buts". Corey Peyton's trombone solo is a fine example of this; it's not flashy, he doesn't overplay, and their reggae version only really needs the sound of a trombone. Heis not looking backwards or playing for history. It could have been a technically superior performance, but the music does not call for it. To be able play with such carefree ease and cool taste requires a liberated approach towards preserving worthy memories.
My friend was hired, she told me, because her audition was so committed to the moment that the directors fell over laughing with joy. I never asked if she had a recording the audition.
SPECIAL THANKS to Nick M for the comments!
Here is a YouTube video of The Soul Rebels performing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" while marching across a London bridge.
Recommended Reading: "Local Jazz" by James Lincoln Collier. Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Crititcism from 1919 to Now. Edited by Robert Gottlieb. New York: Vintage-Random, 1996.