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By: Konner Scott

For about six months, I’ve been taking jazz piano lessons. A couple weeks ago, my teacher got on my case.

“You can play the notes, and you can play the chords, and you can play the rhythms… but that doesn’t mean you can PLAY jazz. You don’t listen to jazz, so you can’t play it!”

He was right. Despite my fascination with the genre and desire to learn it, it’s never been a huge part of my listening repertoire.

As a classical pianist, I listen to classical music all the time. I have it on in the background when I’m working. I’m actually listening to Debussy right now as I write this. I study my favorite performances of pieces I’m learning, and try to infuse my own playing with elements of those performances. But with jazz, I just play what I’m asked to play, note for note, and show up to my lessons ready to robotically regurgitate the pieces I’ve learned.

For every other style of music I’ve ever learned, it’s been crucial not just to listen to similar music, but to IMMERSE myself in it. I was in a hard rock band in high school; I had playlists upon playlists of similar music on my iPod. My friends and I would go see our favorite hard rock bands on tour. I went to Warped Tour probably four times over the course of my childhood. I studied the chord progressions, the songwriting choices, the instrumental techniques- I was obsessed with learning everything there was to know about hard rock music.

So, why should it be any different with jazz? The more I think about it, the more my teacher’s words resonate. I’ve started listening to jazz while I work and while I’m driving around. I’ve started noting the names of jazz pianists I like, and those whose performances don’t resonate as much with me. I’ve started looking up jazz clubs in the area and making note of when they feature performances that I’ll be able to attend. I have a book on the history of jazz sitting on my bedside table.

I figure that if I really want to learn how to play jazz, I first need to embody jazz- I need to BE jazz. Only then can the learning really begin.