[Dixielandjazz] Self Taught Jazz Musicians

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 11 10:38:24 PDT 2003

Russ touched upon some interesting theories viz a viz right and left
brain musicians, and self taught vs. classically trained musos. I love
the self taught portion as I am a largely self taught musician.

Probably no one is completely self taught. As background, in my case, I
had a total of about 10 private lessons, from Tony Scott, Kenny Davern
and Hank D'Amico in the 1950s. I also had 6 months of group "section"
lessons from my high school band "reeds teacher".  We had 18 clarinets
in the band. Other than that, I am self taught, via "ears", practicing
all the chord permutations I could find in books, and all the scales I
could find in books about European, and other forms of music.

I then went to school at gigs, open mic sessions, cutting contests, and
listening to every jazz band that played in NYC at the time I was paying
my dues. Occasionally I would ask a player how, or why he did that:
(Omer Simeon, Buddy DeFranco, Davern, Scott, Bird, Hawkins, Monk etc)
but the actual formal training on the horn was minimal. So I can't read
well, I can't play in a symphony, etc. But I can play a broad spectrum
of the jazz language with a style that is my own and readily
identifiable by listeners.

The point is to merge my observations as a player who did it that way,
with others who have done the same. There are more "largely self taught"
players out there then many of us might think. And surprisingly, they
seem to be the ones who shaped "Jazz" for at least the first 60 years.
(Not that I am in that category, far from it)

The SHORT LIST includes:

Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie
Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker.

An interesting and very incomplete list. No doubt the historians on the
list could add dozens of names. But a look at the above prompts me to
ask whether or not being largely self taught is a hindrance. Is it
possible that being self taught actually helped those giants of the
music listed above? Perhaps they were helped by not being limited by
"conventional" music wisdom. Was it that they did not know about the
"rules" that bind the "trained" musos that enabled them to change the
way jazz was played?

Can too much training place restraints on our minds. Does it force us to
ask Why?, instead of "Why not."

Boy would I like to talk to Louis, Bix or Bird about that.

Steve Barbone

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