It started off great. I was relaxed and feeling the music. My ideas were fresh. My execution, sharp. My trumpet tone was warm, but with just enough fire to light things up when necessary. The other musicians in my trio were in the groove like usual. Despite having tired chops from a hard gig the night before, I felt like it was going to be a good night.
A few minutes earlier, the drummer had mentioned that Matt was in the area and might stop by to sit in. That was fine with me, Matt was an outstanding player and a great guy. The only problem was that, mentally, I wasn’t sure I was ready for Matt to hear me play. Self-doubt can be a real pain in the ass.
Forty minutes into the first set, my slightly swollen lips were reminding me that I shouldn’t have been so foolish to have played so hard the day before. But still, it was a good night, the crowd was a bit larger than usual and they were enjoying the jazz.
I saw Matt pass by the front windows behind the stage area and make his way into the club.
As he took a seat at the front table, I allowed my sometimes present, mild lack of confidence to explode like a hand grenade in the dumpster. My tired lip muscles became exhausted. My clear-thinking, creative mind crawled up under a blanket and hid. Then it transported me back many years, to a time when I couldn’t play well, didn’t understand music, couldn’t create, & failed to execute. I had come along way since then, but it’s amazing how fast things can crumble. Self doubt can be a real crippler.
For the most part, at age 53, I’ve given up worrying about what others think of me, and I don’t usually seek their approval. I’ve also learned that no matter what you’re doing, the best results flow when you aren’t trying too hard, aren’t trying to impress anybody, aren’t overthinking, aren’t tensed up, and aren’t self-doubting. The key is to relax, and allow your subconscious to help you do what you are consciously attempting.
I had become very good at this over the years. But that night, for whatever reason, I let Matt get into my head. I played like garbage.
It wasn’t Matt’s fault. It was my own. Self-doubt will take you out if you let it.
After an embarrassing finish to the set (where my band mates were electric and I was falling all over myself) we took a break. Matt had his horn with him in the car, and we asked him to please get it and sit in with us. Things like this are what make jazz so fun and exciting to play.
Matt joined us on the bandstand and was outstanding. His ear was quick as lightning on songs he wasn’t totally familiar with, and he played them as if he had known them for years. On the songs he was familiar with, he put on a jazz master class.
I had recovered a little bit from my first set foolishness, but not much. It was like I had stuck my head out from under that blanket of self-doubt just far enough to have smacked it on the table I was hiding under.
The worst part is that the whole scene was preventable. I had become lazy in my practicing. My trumpet chops were physically not where they should be, neither was my mind or my fingers. When you don’t take care of the business of preparation, it’s much harder to connect with the relaxed, unself-conscious, subconsciousness that creates flow and enables creativity and great playing.
When we fail to prepare, we open ourselves up to the demons of self-doubt. Sometimes they pounce at the opportunity for power.
It was a lesson that took me years to learn, and only a minute to forget.
Self-doubt will take you out if you let it.
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