I was cleaning out these old music magazines from the studio and I came across this ancient interview with Coleman Hawkins, widely considered one of the greatest jazz players ever. The interview is reprinted here from the late ’40s. I noticed whenever I had read this the first time (must have been like when I was in college) I underlined this section where he was talking about improvisation. I am a huge fan of improvisation, in fact I have almost no attention span for music that doesn’t involve improv. Coleman Hawkins says this “If you want to be a great improviser, play the melody over and over until you can hear it in your head even when you’re playing something else… you can have all the jazz vocabulary in the world but there is no substitute for really knowing the melody.”
I remember reading this and I have recalled it about a million times to myself over the years. I had just forgotten where it had come from. I got to thinking how incredibly on the mark this is and how the concept applies to just about any profession or activity. A lawyer employs improvisation constantly, say in a trial for example. But the best lawyers are the guys that know their case (the melody) so well that they can hear it in their head even when they’re improvising. A good presenter will field questions and be able to improvise and answer on the spot but always with an ability to circle back or draw from the theme. I think the same can be said for most worthwhile professions. That’s a thing I love so much about music – that it’s both reflective and definitive of life simultaneously. While it’s a great analogy of life, it is also, to me, so much more eloquent.