I can’t forget the story that Bob Wilber tells in his memoir (MUSIC WAS NOT ENOUGH, published by Oxford University Press) of his time in the mid-Fifties Eddie Condon band. Bob recalls that he was then trying to construct every solo so that it was all perfect. One night Condon, somewhat intoxicated, leaned over to him on the bandstand and said, “Hey, kid! Make a mistake!”
Even when drunk, Condon was in touch with deep wisdoms.
I encounter so many people — more often women, not men — who keep a running tally of their flaws, failures, gaffes. They strive towards some imagined ideal of perfection and use it as a way to see themselves as lopsided, inadequate. They succeed 99% and then berate themselves for the missing 1.
In the world of jazz, our heroes were uniformly imperfect. Hear Louis and Bix crack notes; hear Hawkins and Bird squeak and squeal. Hear the tempo slow down or speed up on a hallowed record. Hear the rhythm section take four bars to get itself together. Hear the singer hit a note sharp or flat. Hear the band come in a beat too soon.
In live performances, we’ve all heard the band start and then stop to start again. Those who are paying attention may have heard one of the players be unsure of a particular chord change and someone in the band then says quietly, “A flat,” and things get on the right track for the next chorus.
It’s all “flawed,” but the flaws are human and thus endearing.
I remember being dismayed at my first forays into recording studios nearly ten years ago, hearing musicians I had always revered ask for “inserts” and “punches” to fix this note or that. You could argue that they were creating artifacts for posterity that had to be as close to flawless as possible, but the process sometimes felt more like the underground laboratory of a science-fiction novel than a creative enterprise.
If Louis could make a mistake and forgive himself; if the result could be a jazz classic, why can’t we allow ourselves some of the same freedom?
Let each one reading this post follow Condon’s advice — and see that our little worlds and the big one do not fall down because we consciously made a mistake. If we embrace our own imperfections, it seems we might be easier with the lapses of others. And the world would be perhaps a more untidy place, but certainly a more relaxed and affectionate one. Whether you are kind to yourself and then extend it to others, or the other way around . . . the result is tangible, sweet, and lasting. Try it for yourself!
And here are Bob Wilber (at 84) and Ehud Asherie. If they’re making mistakes, chasing that bunny, I can’t hear them:
May your happiness increase!