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'Perception' vs 'reality' in improvising... what's the difference? Is there one?

Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
edited November 2020 in Welcome Posts: 1,612

My guitar buddy George and I had a little jam session out in the garage today, with social distancing and a 1300w heater....but sadly, its starting to look like the end of jam season in Canada is coming real soon...

Anyway, we got to talking about the difference in perception between what you hear when you listen to yourself play.... and what you hear when you listen to somebody else play...

George started it by talking about how when he plays, he still hears the former rock/blues guitarist that he used to be...

.... but I don't hear that at all when I hear him!

And I got to talking about how I never feel like I'm a "real" gypsy guitar player when I play... (not only that, but I'm actually trying to sound more like "myself" and less like "a gypsy"... but George says, no, dammit, you do sound very gypsy-ish.... a surprise to me!)


I remember reading somewhere about Django listening to some of his early HCQ sides, and being childishly surprised and ecstatic about what he heard.

So therefore I am going to go out on a limb and conjecture that whatever Django heard as he was listening to himself play was, in some mysterious way, very different from what Django heard when he listened to a recording of himself... and probably, very different from what WE hear when we hear Django...who knows?

Maybe sometimes Django even listened to recordings of himself and thought... "Oh, man, why did I do THAT?"


A similar example--- John Lennon....

... widely regarded as one of rock's greatest singers... surprisingly.... hated his own voice...

I suppose that 99% of us hate our speaking voice when we hear a recording of ourselves, don't we?

But w.t.f.... John Lennon, too?

Come on! You gotta be kidding me!


So, anyway, what do you think?

Have you ever experienced this odd disconnect between 'perception' and 'reality'...?

Or am I crazier than I thought?


Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
Bill Da Costa WilliamsadrianbillyshakesBucobbwood_98djazzy


  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 286

    I think you have to learn how to listen to your own voice, since there are physiological reasons it sounds different to you than it does from the outside. Whether you learn to like what you hear is a different matter. (When I hear recordings of my singing, every weak or wavering note is embarrassingly obvious.)

    Playing is a bit different--though I suspect that hearing a playback, paying attention to the performance without the distraction of performing at the same time, lets you hear more precisely what's played. I only play rhythm, but I hear speedups and places where I should have simplified the chords, for example. In the hot moment, it sounded OK.

  • crookedpinkycrookedpinky Glasgow✭✭✭✭ Alex Bishop D Hole, Altamira MF01, Godefroy Maruejouls
    Posts: 799

    I'm always amazed when somebody compliments me on my playing, although that doesn't or hasn't happened that often. What amazes me more is when I find an old recording which usually surprises me much like Django hearing himself. I think for me I am more conscious of my failings and lack of originality than others are. Maybe that explains the difference between what we each hear when we play.

    always learning
  • adrianadrian AmsterdamVirtuoso
    Posts: 495

    That's a great question, and coincidentally I've been pondering a similar thing recently.

    When you consider the in-the-moment experience of a musician playing live with a band: There's a distinct difference between musicians who think/care about "the whole sound being produced by the band," vs. musicians whose mental energy is focused primarily on their own playing.

    Given the physical and mental difficulty of gypsy-jazz improvisation, I imagine most people are in the second category. (I certainly am!) Improvising, and not messing up while doing so, is a hard enough task that it demands your entire attention — meaning you're mostly in your own world, thinking about your licks/tone/ideas, not thinking about the holistic sound of the band.

    This results in the kinds of experiences that people are sharing in this thread. "Wow, I had no idea I sounded like that," etc.

    It might be the case that it's physically/mentally impossible to focus on the holistic band sound while improvising. It might be the case that focusing on the holistic band sound is the ultimate accomplishment of a mature musician. Or it might be the case that jazz (as opposed to classical music) is fundamentally not about creating a band sound — it's about shining a spotlight on individual musicians.

    A philosophical question: When one listens to a Django recording, is one listening to the sound of the band as a holistic thing, or is one listening primarily to Django?

    I don't have any insights/answers other than having unearthed some (in my opinion) interesting questions to ponder. Just being aware of this has been a positive step forward for me as a musician.


    Wim GlennBucoBonesjonpowlnomadgtrrudolfochristdjazzy
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,206

    I think the story of Django’s reaction to his playing refers to him listening to the playbacks at the recording session rather than years later. He was sometimes incredibly pleased with and very surprised at his performance, jumping around in delight, amazed by what he had done. Delaunay, Rostaing and Leveque said similar things about Django’s animated reaction to listening to his own playing.

    Rather spitefully, Alexis Korner once said “His (Django’s) playing was, it seems, a revelation to him”.

    By the way, I think Alexis Korner was one of the first people, if not the first, to use the term “Gypsy Jazz”.

  • Thanks for this topic.

    I believe the old adage that we are our own worst critics is true. If we are uncomfortable or shaky or even thinking about the changes, it's going to sound like that to us because we have our own insecurities about where we are. I remember talking to a "name" player at on of their gigs and was surprised at how human they were about their own stuff. My point in saying this is that for most players, I think these thoughts of self doubt are present. It's the rare Adonis that looks in a mirror and says "damn, I'm handsome."

    I know this isn't the point of what Will was saying initially, but listening to everything and reacting to that is a lot of fun. The majority of this style of music has well defined roles so the soloist or soloists are going to have that extra spotlight on them. There's also pressure to carry the load, especially in this style, where there are expectations in what the sound is.

    It's very funny playing with straight ahead players because they'll tell me to not make things so static. It's kind of hard to think that way when you feel that you have this responsibility to what you have been told the style is. Rhythm guitar plays this specific way; soloists play this other specific way; etc. When I do try to engage in the conversation (or at least listen a bit more), there's less of me thinking about myself or my own playing. There's this collective piece of conversation that we are making and it becomes more fun.

    In the limited time I've had to jam or play gigs this summer, I feel like I've been given an opportunity to be with my friends and my colleagues. I find that I care less about what I'm doing and more about what is happening at the collective level. Basically, I find myself listening more and engaging in the collective conversation a bit more, rather than thinking here's my chance to put in this awesome thing i've been working on.

  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,065

    The first thing I noticed listening to recordings is if my timing wasn't always accurate and swinging. It really detracts when that happens and it pointed out to me that timing of the notes is as important (more??) than the actual notes themselves.

    Wim Glennrudolfochrist
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,612

    Rather spitefully, Alexis Korner once said “His (Django’s) playing was, it seems, a revelation to him”.

    Okay, yes, this was obviously sarcastic remark, but maybe it does actually tell us something...???

    Let’s imagine for a minute that Django’s playing came directly from his subconscious, although of course that’s not literally the case.

    Then his conscious mind could quite rightfully be amazed, in the same way that our dreams, which come from the subconscious, can amaze or surprise us when we think about them with our conscious mind...

    Am I onto something, or not...?

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    edited November 2020 Posts: 1,186

    Playing back an audio recording in high quality may have been exciting new technology at the time!

    Guess I would feel an amazement, like when you first held an iPhone- you could be excited about snapping a pic of your shoe, and it doesn't necessarily mean you're incredibly pleased with the masterful composition of this photograph of your shoe. Just that it was pretty cool that the tech works so well, or even worked at all.

  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 641

    Yes, that was my take on Django's excitement. It has been a long time since I read Delaunay but I thought that story was more about the excitement and the novelty of the recording process rather than the musicianship therein. I will dig it out and read it again though..........

  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    edited November 2020 Posts: 641

    Well that is a point I often think about. For myself I have always listened to the HCQF rather than just Django. Yes of course he is the 'star' but the quintet had a sound of its own that really made those records. And yes while I also like Django's later work too, it is noticeable that it is Django playing with other musicians rather than a band operating as one complete unit. A band can be a collection of musicians doing their best to work arrangements together and taking turns at soloing, or it can be an entity in itself where the sum is greater than the parts. The Beatles had it, Herman's Hermits (for example) didn't.

    Or another example which may explain it to people of a 'certain age', myself included; I was a big fan of the Grateful Dead back in the day and they had a knack of playing together so that when the magic worked it really worked and they transcended that level where the band is greater than the sum of its parts. That was on a good night, often they did not get there and then it was just a group of half a dozen soloists. I suspect many jazz bands and soloists have had both of those experiences on some level.

    Even today, while I can enjoy listening to many of the young players in the GJ genre I find they are all (with very few exceptions) still at the soloist-plus-backing-band stage and do not achieve that unity.

    The reason I say this is that the remarks above all ring true for most of us and I suspect none of us have had the chance to play with others in a combination that transcends the individuals to create its own being. Most of us mere mortals will only ever be at the "doing our best to play our bit and hope it fits with the others" stage.

    So yes, it is also possible that Django was hearing the band rather than himself alone in real time and it was only on playback that he heard what HE had played.

    Of course none of that applies to Django's solo pieces. Playing solo one is only hearing one's self anyway, although even then maybe not what others hear.

    Just my ten cents.

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