August 4th 2008 by Eddie Lewis
The cool thing about taking part in conversations is that they help me solidify my thoughts. I begin with vague notions and ideas about a subject and it’s not until I try to discuss that subject with someone else that those ideas mature in my own mind. I had one of those kinds of conversations one time (in the early 1990s), with a friend of mine, heading back home on a bus from a gig we did in Ft. Worth. When we were done “arguing”, I knew that my ideas had departed from the norm and the realization of it began changing my life in graduated steps.
The argument was on the subject of originality. This friend of mine was simply reciting the popular belief that to be a great jazz musician, you must do something that no one else has ever done before. In that respect, if a musician wishes to become a “jazz great” then he or she should make strides to develop something original.
I strongly disagree with this popular belief. Yes, I used to think the same way. I used to think that, as an aspiring jazz musician, I needed to be completely original. I used to think that I had to pick up where other great jazz players had left off and move the style of jazz forward through my playing and compositions.
The problem was that the closer I got to that objective in my playing, the more insincere I felt about my music. The more I tried to make my music “original”, the less I felt that my music was really MY music. The more original my music became the less musical it sounded to me and the less it moved me on an emotional level.
As is my nature, I took a step back and took a REALLY good look at this whole originality thing. What I saw was entirely different from the age old popular belief. From this reflection, I learned that, although originality IS the criterion by which jazz greats are judged, it is NOT the proper guide post for me to use as an aspiring jazz player. Originality should not be the standard by which I judge my own progress as a player. Originality should NOT be the objective of my musical efforts. I believe that originality for the sake of originality is inherently unmusical and that it should be my objective, instead, to achieve a higher level of self expression. Jazz critics and historians may judge my music according to it’s originality in the future, but making an effort to BE original is not the way I plan on achieving that originality.
Instead, I believe that, by TRULY expressing myself through my music, it becomes inherently original. I say this because I also believe that no two people in this world are alike. No one in this world is exactly like me. Thus, no one in this world will “truly express himself” and sound like me when I am truly expressing myself. So, to me, the road to sincere originality is through self expression. Originality for originality’s sake is therefore insincere and unmusical.