I am happy to share some of my thoughts, experiences and joys that stem from music, particularly jazz and improvised music. Weaving stories from the past with contemporary views and highlighting those who play, compose, and promote great music is my goal with this monthly column. Navigating the last fourteen months has been challenging. Working remotely, and usually removed from others, has become the new reality. For some, time and money saved not commuting, a lower carbon footprint, a more flexible schedule, and a better work/life balance are a few of the benefits of this pandemic. There is no doubt, however, that spontaneity and the communal nature of the public workplace environment is missed.

Ranee Lee - Montreal jazz musicians

Jazz singer Ranee Lee sees the pandemic as a test of endurance
Photo: Michael Slobodian

Now, imagine if that communal atmosphere is how you have always made your living: it is your life, work and play. It is your identity and gives your artistic voice context. For many artists, this is the current reality. There are those whose livelihood depends and thrives on improvised collaborations with others, and for them (of whom I am part), this has been a very trying yet reflective period. My question to myself and now to others is: how does one stay artistically active and vibrant, and without performance outlets, how does one move forward creatively?  This is a question that I have wrestled with over the past months.

In my own artistic path and those of my students, I draw many parallels to athletics: there is practice, and then there is the game. These are two very different settings. In the music world, the majority of practice time is spent alone. I think of it as a laboratory. The act of practicing takes on different meanings for different people, and for many it is interwoven into everyday life. The tools and musical language developed in the practice room are applied in performances through collaborating with others, be it in a club, concert hall, or a recording studio. To me, performing is parallel to a sporting match; no one knows what will happen in the moment – we improvise and react in real-time!

The closure of performance venues has resulted in many musicians having to seek alternate sources of motivation. I spoke with bassist Adrian Vedady, who is a good friend and a frequent collaborator. Adrian shared some of his thoughts: “At the beginning it was terrifying; I suddenly had an open schedule. So, I took advantage of it and used the time to practice. I worked on certain elements that I didn’t have the time or headspace to work on in the past. It was very rewarding. Having time to focus solely on my instrument was amazing. What I have come to realize is that my connection to music, when all professional engagements are removed, is just as deep and fulfilling as ever. Though I look forward to performing again, I am thankful for the pause that this past year has afforded me as an artist.”

Bassist Adrian Vedady - Montreal jazz musicians

Bassist Adrian Vedady used the pause for
intensive practice

Ranee Lee, an internationally-known singer, actor and author, is staying active in the musical community. She says that she has found the pandemic a “test of endurance,” and that she has been trying to “stay busy and vibrant through virtual performances and teaching at McGill University.” Creatively, she has been practicing and preparing for a new recording, which demonstrates her enthusiasm and ongoing dedication to the craft.

As in most areas of life, a positive attitude and strong work ethic pave the way to opportunities. Many local jazz musicians have continued to prepare for a time when live music returns, and until then, I remain optimistic and look forward to seeing music aficionados filling our city’s venues. Though these cultural aspects of our lives have been absent, I am confident that a city as vibrant as Montreal will embrace and appreciate this wonderful art form once again.

Jim Doxas is an award-winning jazz drummer who has performed with many of North America’s finest musicians, and has performed on more than 150 albums. He also lectures and teaches percussion at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and at Concordia University. To learn more about Jim and his music, please visit: www.jimdoxas.com

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