One of the first questions every young jazz musician will get is, “What are you listening to?” People, elders, and musicians want to know, what is in your ears because they can get an idea of your sound, personality, and your musical trajectory from what you’re listening to.
A musical “Blindfold Test,“ is a thing where someone will play a random album, or song and ask who’s playing. You are supposed to name everybody on every instrument, and if you’re special, you’ll be able to name what date and where the album was recorded. The man who is the best at it is, Kenny Washington, the “Jazz Maniac.”
However, the first blindfold test I got was by my cousin, Kevin Sibley. He turned on an Oscar Peterson record of “Honeysuckle Rose,” and blew my mind. I had never quite heard the piano played with that level of speed and proficiency, which I later found out was sheer virtuosity.
The second blindfold test happened after I had been playing some gigs around Jacksonville, FL with a great bassist, Claude Bass. He is so incredibly knowledgeable, and every time I would play with Claude, he would give me a record to check out. I would come back and he would say. “Good man, that’s great, so how about this record…” Then, he’d send me on my way…
The third musician to test my skills was, and is, one of the most soulful pianist and jazz organist in Jacksonville, FL, Scott Giddens. He was the first person to introduce me to Coltrane. He said, “Man you should check out this record, “Coltrane and Hartman,” and he began to imitate Johnny Hartman’s beautiful baritone voice.
The fourth person who had me on an extended “blindfold test” for over twelve years, and that was Mulgrew Miller. The first record he suggested was, “Walkin,” by Miles Davis. Then he suggested, Cedar Walton’s “Live at Boomers,” and told me just to listen to the ride cymbal. Then he played Roy Haynes with Chick Corea, “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” and told me just to listen to the bass drum.
Eric Reed was the king of blindfold tests with me as a young musician; we would be riding in a car on the way to a show, and he would quiz me on every song that would come on WBGO radio station. Eric was much more demanding and he had a right to be. He takes the music incredibly seriously and if you are mentored by him, you better do the same.
Jazz is such an amazing art form because I feel with each record, you are learning new devices and strategies to the music. There are things given to you in records that can’t be retrieved any other way. I love that about this music, and adore the book, story, and life lessons that are in records.
So, what are you listening to? Rock, Jazz, Hip, R&B, Gospel?
What you listen to, determines what comes from you and that will determine the arc and reach of your impact to audiences.