It's tough to know how good you are.
Some may think It can be measured numerically by the metronome: "If I can play 16th notes at 130, I'm good."
Maybe it's how many tunes or voicings you know. Maybe it's how fast you can play, how many gigs you get, or how much money you make.
For me, it's easy: how far can you travel and how deep can you go with whatever you play?
I'd much rather hear a musician play one minor blues and take me around the world than someone who can play 500 tunes and not go anywhere. Now, I'm not knocking having knowledge of numerous tunes, having virtuoso technique, and being a master of musical theory and voicings, etc. All of these skills set the stage for the magic -- but they aren't the magic by themselves.
The magic happens when someone tells you their personal musical story with maximum traction and torque, restraint and aggression, soul, and 360 degrees of perspective in their musical message. These trump all other considerations.
About twenty years ago, I was at a jam session and heard the typical self-proclaimed badass sax player proving his virility with explosive chops. After he proved with his unending verbiage that he had little to say, a very slight soprano player took a solo. He played few notes, but all of them counted. The “look at me" approach in the first soloist, contrasting with the "I'm searching for beauty" approach in the second soloist, was profound. He sounded more like he was performing a religious service (meant in the best way), rather than at a sporting event.
It seems that finding beauty is much rarer than hearing flurries of notes. I certainly love a burning solo that takes me somewhere (such as, Freddie Hubbard on the Core). But if it doesn’t, all we’re left with is a public rehearsal, not a dramatic and poetic presentation.
Playing beautifully takes substantially more guts than reiterating licks that you have been practicing for years on speed dial. You have a lot more at stake when you are showing how much you love something.
Do you love music? Do you love the audience? Do you love beauty? Do you love to make beautiful music for an audience?
If the answer is yes to these questions, then where’s the evidence? What do you do to show it? If you have good proactive answers to these questions, you should expect an intimate relationship between you, beauty and the audience.
These might be better questions to consider when asking, "how good of a musician am I?"
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