Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? Can I come visit at an unearthly hour and find a spotless place? Do you always do the dishes right after dinner, or do you often walk into a complete mess in the morning?
What does this have to do with jazz singing, I just hear you asking…
The thing is, most of us – jazz singers – are messy at heart. It’s a source of creativity, and science backs us up on this.
So picture me recording my album in the studio. I’m supported by a wonderful quartet of fantastic musicians. It’s a dark, cold night in October, and this is the last song before we head back to Amsterdam: the bluesy ballad Willow Weep For Me.
We record 2 takes and listen to the tracks. Aaaaargh, I hear me singing an ugly note. As this recording is simultaneous, I can’t simply repair.
We must do another take. And we listen afterward. Noooooo, my timing sucks.
Let’s do it all over. Again. And listen. Whaaaat! No, this variation is sooo terrible, I can’t have it on my record.
I’m almost in tears. And decide to quit singing altogether. What was I thinking? I just proved I can’t sing. Okay, one, final, last take of this #*%! song.
As I walk into the recording room, I decide to let go of everything. The child in me is on. Wailing. Going on and on about that weeping willow tree. What should I care, I’m going to quit singing, remember? I’m angry, disappointed and relieved at the same time.
We finish. And listen. I’m stunned. I never heard myself sing better than this before. I broke free. Free of what I think is right. Free of the mantra’s ‘Don’t Sing A False Note’, ‘Prove Yourself An Inventive And Impressive Jazz Singer’, ‘‘Always sing beautifully’. Be Perfect’.
Be Perfect. Trying to be perfectly in tune, in time, in sync, the perfect performer. I found it to be a jailhouse. And I think I found the escape route. Okay, I still can’t bear singing out of tune, but all the rest from now on will be lovingly created in the moment and in full trust that I can do this.
It’s an ongoing journey, but what I learned from that day is that fear and perfectionism lead to cautious singing and there’s no fun in that! Study at home. Then let yourself go on stage and in the recording studio.
So here’s a plea to be messy, to embrace your imperfections and idiosyncrasies, because they make YOU. And that’s so much more interesting. At least to me. So you have one fan already, next to your mom!