September 22, 2014 by Don Russo
There are so many dynamics that shape a musician such as: practice, playing, writing, etc. Perhaps the thing that was most critical to my personal development was my failures. I learned from and was motivated by failures more than anything I’ve ever done with music. So, I would like to share a few failures with you that made me a better musician. Hopefully, you too can learn a little something from my failures. Maybe you can embrace the failures that are certain to come in your musical journey and learn how to churn them into positive energy.
Getting Stomped by “Donna Lee”
If you have ever followed jazz, you are aware of Charlie Parker. You are also probably aware that his heads are very challenging melodies to play. I just started working on a tune called “Donna Lee.” It was the toughest head I learned up to that point in my playing. One night, I headed over to an open jazz jam here in Columbia, SC. I sat in to play and the band counted off the tune at a murderous tempo. I hung in there for the melody, as then it came time for the solo…and I got crazy lost. The bass player was annoyingly yelling out chord changes to me.
Finally, I stopped playing at what I thought was the end of the form, but quickly realized I wasn’t sure of anything. So, the bass player and drummer crushed their solos. Then, they looked at me to start the head again. Thank God the bass player clued me in on where to come in again. We finished the song, and I haven’t played with those players since…hopefully, they will let that one slide from their memories…HAHA. I threw myself into a fire and “Donna Lee” roasted me.
I learned a lot about my playing, however. I realized I didn’t know the form as well as I once thought. I needed to practice the tune at various tempos and I needed to understand the overall format of jazz improv. So, naturally I went home and shedded that tune like crazy. Had I not had my butt kicked, I never would have pushed myself so hard. So, throw yourself into the fire. It can inspire you to get better if you have the right attitude.
Check out Part 2: Comping…What’s That?