Striving for progression, not perfection
In March 2016, I saw Courtney Pine was playing at Colston Hall in Bristol as part of the cities' annual Jazz Festival. He was closing the festival and had the celebrated final gig of the weekend on the Sunday night. Courtney is a very inspirational saxophonist who has acclaimed huge feats in the UK jazz scene, the Americas and around the world.
I asked friends far and wide to see if anyone was interested - Bristol, Plymouth, Cornwall - no one was tempted by it's late Sunday night allure. So I went alone, blasted my favourite jazz tunes on the way up in the car, and got there just as the jazz trio downstairs started improvising around one of my favourite Charlie Parker tracks. I was in the right place.
The gig was awesome. I love when the saxophone can take the spotlight and really blow you away. Something about those patterns, the interval leaps, the colourful melodies and Caribbean jazz flavours. He was joined by some incredible musicians and had a trumpet and trombone with him in the horn section who were as wonderful as him.
He did a speech at the end about live music and how we need to keep it alive - a whole hall full of people, out of their seats, clapping above their heads in complete agreement. One of those magical feelings you get when you know live music will keep on inspiring huge crowds of people because of not just the music itself, but the transformational nature of seeing a gig with 250 other smiling people. Going home feeling like you've just joined humanity in their quest to make the world a better place by dancing and interacting and laughing with strangers, and taking that energy to be transmitted to everyone in your path on your Monday morning journey to work.
He said to the crowd that he'd be signing CDs and merch in the hallway outside after the gig. I did the usual post-gig rituals (filling up my water bottle and visiting the ladies room) and truth had it, he was there with a semi-long line of people waiting to see him. It's my one chance to have a chat with him, and considering I had my own agenda, I joined the end of the queue.
I was the last person in line and when I finally got to the table where he was sat, I shook his hand and said something along the lines of 'You're very inspirational, I play sax but nowhere near as good as you do, but maybe I will one day' and he said, 'Well don't you think I'm the same when I meet my favourite saxophonists?', 'I have loads of people who inspire me musically and when I meet them, I say the same thing as you did - but I'm not very good compared to you'. I laughed, it's true. I said one of my musical idols is Charlie Parker, and he said his was too. We joked that maybe we could be as good as him one day. He told me he often meets the greats at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and said if I haven't been, then I need to go. I asked him about playing there and we talked for a little while about how amazing it must be playing the stages there.
I walked away very inspired, and in a different way to usual. It was the first time I walked away feeling like my journey, much like Courtney's, is a progression and not perfection.
Striving for perfection offers many layers of disappointment. How will you ever be perfect in this imperfect world? In my eyes, perfect does not exist. 'Perfect' is a combination of striving for something unobtainable and reaching an end point - which will never happen. It seems completely unhealthy to idolise perfection.
Striving for progression is a whole different kettle of fish. Progression is the smaller steps - the visualisation of where you want to be next, within the realistic timeline of what you want to achieve. So for example when I next picked up my saxophone, I started with the smaller stuff. I practiced intervals and scales and imagined the goal of being able to play quicker and more fluidly. Rather than wanting to play that Charlie Parker piece straight away. Those fundamentals are what lead you to progression towards your goals.
And in life, I think this is a very clever way to approach situations and personal goals, because even one little step in the right direction is one step closer towards progressing to becoming the person you want to be.
Thanks Courtney for the wisdom, inspiration and for the music.