Better Influences

April 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

Music school was a very intense time. Most of us had routines that consisted of practicing or studying our instruments every waking hour. Even our parties were with other jazz school students and we’d jam or talk about our improv classes or ensembles.

The “breaks” I took from school were things like playing in an acoustic band or going to the beach with my roommates (also jazz school students) and arguing our favorite guitar solos. But my absolute favorite thing was Monday nights at Tobacco Road. That’s when Iko Iko held their open blues jam. My friend Mike played in the band and I’d hang out with him until 4am and play as much as they’d let me.

My favorite “break” from jazz school was a blues jam.

When it came time for my senior recital, I put a couple of blues tunes in the set list. I still remember my professor saying, “I had no idea you could play the blues like that” afterward. My extracurricular influence had found its way into my studies and been a standout aspect of my recital.

Fast forward to now and my outside influences aren’t what I wish they were. I haven’t played music purely for fun except for the occasional one off gig here and there. I don’t spend time discussing music in the deep ways I did back then. I don’t go down to the basement studio and just create for no reason. I don’t devour books and documentaries about my favorite artists anymore.

Why not? Well, life I guess. At some point my work as a musician became something I needed real breaks from – probably about the time we decided it was time for a change. So I started doing non-music related things with my free time. Late nights once consumed with listening to music were taken up by Netflix or other mindless activity. Not a bad thing for a while, but not a great way to sustain a creative soul. And once that becomes routine, it’s like eating Taco Bell. You know you don’t want to but once you start you’re in the drive thru three times a week.

I’ve been making a list of things I want to change in the things that influence me. Here are a few of the items on that list:

  • Read more. I’m not talking about the Bible; I do pretty well with daily scripture reading. But I want to read books about creativity and music, bios like Cash and Miles (two of my all-time favorite books), and books about theology. I’d do well to start with my “to read” list which has about 12 books on it right now.
  • Listen better. I listen to a huge variety of music. I mean huge. And I love it all. But lately it’s been all too easy to forget about more demanding listening – jazz and classical and deeper singer-songwriters – music that used to hit me in the face and force me to pay attention. Without that in my life, everything slips.
  • Play and practice more. My playing is not where I want it to be. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

I know that what influences me in my down time profoundly affects everything I do in every area of music, work, and life. So I don’t just want those things to be better, I need them to be.

I’m not alone in this, right? What have you let distract you from your passion? How are your outside influences working out? If the answer is “not that great,” what needs to change? Let me know in a comment.


  • Rich Guess

    I am totally with you on a couple of these, listening is an interesting point, it is so easy to listen to the songs you know and love. I am finding that spotify helps me explore more than I used to, challenging your self with new music can’t hurt. Play and practice more, practice is the key for me. Maybe listening to more challenging music would spawn more practice, I listen to recordings of myself in “the day”, I am not today where I used to be, I find that frustrating. Read more? Well, maybe I need to add a bullet of get more rest, because most often, when I try to read something, I crash.

    • Joe Mazza

      Yeah I am right there with you. I listen back to stuff and want to have my technique, etc. back. And I know that listening to challenging music helps me. Especially if it’s stuff I once could lay down pretty easily.

  • Heather Neiman

    Your post has really been related to me. I have painted for a long time for other people. I’m grateful for these opportunities and even more grateful I have gotten a lot of creative license with these projects. What I haven’t done very often is painted what I want-create out of my feelings and passions. Life has been to blame for some of that…raising 3 kids has been the major consumer of my time. But even more than that, has been my lack of confidence…which breeds a lack of creativeness. Enough is enough. God created me to create and the time is now. I am subscribing to art blogs, going to art fairs and exhibits, and best of all am framing art I have created and entering exhibits! I have found businesses willing to display my art for sale. I am done with saying “some day”. The day is today! Thank you for the beautiful music you play!!