Sometimes, you have to play a long time to learn how to play like yourself.
— Miles Davis
Miles Davis changed music. He was also a failure many times over. But he found his greatest success, in the late 1950s and 60s, by finally learning to play like himself.
Jillian and I were sitting in an upstairs room at Domaine de Rhodes, the 16th-century hunting lodge that will in a few short weeks become the home-base of Antacara. As we labored over the details, the program, the purpose, the methods that we were creating, bundled up against the cold February winter inside those stone walls, I said something that surprised me:
“I feel like I have found a certain level of maturity now.”
It wasn’t the most insightful thing I ever said. It wasn’t even a new thought. But it was, maybe, the first time I had voiced it out loud, in such a matter-of-fact way. It took me by surprise that I said it so simply (I have a tendency to muddle with too many words), and to whom I said it: Jillian was becoming a friend and a co-creator, but we are hardly resting on years of deep friendship. She’s known no other version of myself than what I am now.
And yet, it was true. I am finally “playing like myself,” and that gives me sense of perspective and deep comfort that is relatively new to me.
Antacara is creating something new, and in so doing leaning hard on trust. Trust in others who have a hand in creating it, trusting that what we create will be something greater (and different, perhaps) than what we can even imagine at the moment. But most of all, trust that I am, I can, I will. I trust myself with a new-found perspective that only the experience and maturity I have now, at this juncture in my life, provides.
Antacara, as you have already heard, is about crossing your frontiers. Finding your way through the temporary and transitional, on a never-ending journey of learning, self-discovery and figuring out what it sounds like to truly play like yourself. It is time — if you are like me, past time — to ask, Who am I playing like? Life’s greatest frontier is learning how to play like yourself. Put another way in a different context, finding your voice.
Miles Davis began to discover what he sounded like, as himself, when he created Kind of Blue in 1959. He left behind the bebop style of fast, furious playing over complex and rapid chord changes for the space and openness of modal-based playing over slower, simple chords (with a big thanks to Bill Evans). Kind of Blue is THE album to start with if you are one of those people who “hate jazz.”
Do yourself the favor of playing Blue in Green when you have 5:30 of quiet time to yourself, at a volume just slightly louder than you might want to. Listen, carefully and actively. (You’re welcome.) It sounds so good to even the unprepared ear, and the next 5,000 times you hear it, because, finally, Miles was playing the music that sounded like himself:
Are you? That is, plain Miles-Davis-Cool.