During one of many classes Delfeayo taught this year, he led students on both a technical and personal development track.
“By what measure will you consider yourselves successful?” Delfeayo asked each student before making them think further. “If I have mastered my instrument,” answered one student. “If you have mastered your instrument, but haven’t recorded, are you successful?” Delfeayo questioned. “I would be successful if I brought an aspect of myself to the music,” said another. “But what if you are in a studio recording and your job is to play what others have written?” “I’d be successful if I won an award” answered a third student. Countered Delfeayo, “my brother and another musician won a Grammy for a song that was never released. Is that successful? You have to know what success means to you.”
As Delfeayo proceeded to play a Thelonius Monk tune, he asked each student for an adjective to describe the song. They responded with a diverse range of emotions: “exciting, fluent, careful, well-executed, relaxed, active, confident.”
Then he played a Charlie Parker tune. “Bird thought he had limited technique. He makes it sound easy because he understands who he is. It is really important for you to understand who you are. That will make it easier for you to communicate and communication is key. Some musicians will like lots of notes, others less, some musicians are more lyrical. We are always in pursuit of personal awareness.”
“And we are in pursuit of knowledge. Do not take education lightly. Playing music, especially improvising, is problem-solving on the spot. John Coltrane recorded many of his songs multiple times, but he only recorded Giant Steps once. He used it to problem-solve, and once he had reached a solution, he moved on. In your studies you need to know the language every musician has contributed. Then figure out what you want to do. Just putting licks over scales is like puting together a speech of clichés.”
Then Delfeayo brought it home: “Exciting, fluent, careful, relaxed, active, confident – if you can cover all these bases in your solo, as Monk did, you are successful.”