All great trumpet players are equipped with confidence. Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and other great players had to cultivate it within themselves to be successful; their careers were riding on their ability to play without hesitation. One thing that many student players struggle with is self-confidence in their playing ability. I should know, as I was classified as one of those players during my sophomore year of high school.
I enrolled into a jazz improvisation class for the year. At first I thought the class would be playing big band pieces, where soloing was at a minimum. I soon realized that this was not the case; the entire class structure was strictly improvisation. I was pushed out of my comfort zone. No longer could I be the type of player who thrived only while playing within a group, never seeking the spotlight or speaking for himself. I was an introvert in class and out with friends, and all that was coming to a crashing end.
At the beginning of the year, everyone had a basic idea on how to improvise. We all played off a generic blues scale; it sounded alright when we went through the pieces. However, Mr. Ash had different plans for us. As the semester continued, he challenged us to move from the basic blues to permutations, transcribing solos, scales in thirds, and popular licks. I could no longer just play the blues, I had to adapt to bebop and hard bop. I practiced day in and day out for this class, listening to the greats like Miles Davis and Chet Baker; one of my favorites being Chet’s take on Summertime in B. Transcribing a solo every few weeks became a habit.
My playing was not the only thing improving with my practicing and soloing. My attitude and personality blossomed like it never had before; I started to be more involved in class activities, communicate more effectively with my classmates and become more efficient overall. Through my playing, I became a more defined and refined person.
The day of the final jazz performance was when I actually realized how much I had grown. It was 7:00 pm when the concert started. The improvisation class performed first; we opened with Bb Blues, the standard key for our group. As everyone was running through their solos, I found myself constructing my own solo, one that would showcase my best playing and performance abilities. Three people before my turn and I had an idea of what I was going to play. Then two, then one and then the spotlight was on me. I played my heart out that night, making sure I said everything that I wanted to say musically. I did, as great musicians say, leave it all on the stage. I finished my solo and felt the pride one feels with great accomplishment. I couldn’t stop smiling, overjoyed with what I had just performed. In that exact moment, I understood how much I had grown from a quiet, reserved boy into the assertive, self-confident young man that I am today. Some onstage played softly that night. But not me. I played loudly, never to be quieted again.
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