Pandemic Presents An Opportunity For Artists To Assess Career Goals

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Sean Jones is a trumpeter, bandleader, composer, educator and activist.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

Who would have imagined a year ago that we’d be in a virtual quarantine due to a virus that’s spreading worldwide? I know I wouldn’t have. Plans for tours, projects, personal growth, etc. were all put on hold, delayed or completely scrapped, and we all found ourselves slowly losing work, places of employment and, in some cases, the will to even practice our crafts for a time, as there wasn’t a place to do it. We’ve all been shaken to our core due to the uncertainty of the future, prompting the anxiety of the present.

That said, I feel that this moment in history is an opportunity—an opportunity to look back by way of the lens of the present as we plan for the future.

Being still is very difficult in a culture that is predominantly about movement. The pressure to create new content and to be as current as possible seemed to be the norm up until we were all forced to pivot to the difficulties of a virtual world. That said, I feel that we were given a gift. We were all forced to be still. We were forced to be in the moment and literally reflect on what has worked, what doesn’t work in our current predicament and how to move ahead in a new reality that is constantly evolving. This is why I feel that it is imperative that we reflect, assess and project, as we are all in a state of stillness.

“In order to move forward, you must look back.” To paraphrase the words of Dr. Cornel West, we must reflect on the past in order to have a clearer view of the future. Now is a great time to take a look at your career or body of work, and look at what you’ve done well and what you can improve upon. Personally, I’ve taken a good look at my body of work to see what’s missing. What haven’t I done and have always wanted to do? Or what haven’t I done because I’ve been afraid of how the outcome would be received?

These are important questions to ask as we all strive for growth and evolution. And for those who are just getting started, it might be a good time to reflect on the “why?” Why did I get into this field in the first place? Reflect on the first sounds that inspired you to want to perform this music. Think about the joy you first had when you figured out a new progression, conquered a technical challenge or wrote your first song. It’s always a good idea to take a step back and remember what got us to this present moment.

Some of the most difficult moments in our lives happen when we look in the mirror. The mirror gives you the truest reflection of who you are currently. As we look into the mirror, we have two choices. We accept the truth of what is there. Or we create a mask in an attempt to disguise our truth. If we really want to improve ourselves, we must be honest with where we are. For the past several months, I’ve had many mirror moments, and believe me, they were very painful at times. I myself realized that I was wearing several masks in my personal and professional life, inhibiting my own personal growth.

Now that I can’t run from myself, I’m forced to deal with myself. We all are. I’m making the choice to peel away the masks and be my authentic artistic self and to prepare in mind, body and soul for the future. So, is there something in your career or personal life that’s keeping you from being the real you? Now might be the best time to eliminate that from your life or at least make a vow to improve on it.

The future is a reality. It’s not something that you can pick and choose. It is coming whether we are prepared for it or not. Planning, dreaming and setting goals are some of the first steps in preparing for the future. My good friend Tia Fuller, at the start of her career, would make post-it notes and place them all over her apartment with technical goals on the saxophone, financial goals and personal spiritual goals. Fast-forward 20 years, and she has met and exceeded every single goal that I was aware of. This is a true testament to the importance of setting goals and creating a plan for these goals.

I suggest projecting a general time for yourself to complete your goals, and then work backwards from the goals to solidify a plan that will get you there. This takes focused thought, attention to detail and discipline. In the words of the late, legendary educator Joe Clark, “Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.” It is with this determined enthusiasm that one can prepare the road map for the journey ahead. As the future is surely certain, it is also certain that the music will be there as well, and we will all need to turn our dreams and visions into reality.

With that, I look to John Coltrane. The album A Love Supreme forever changed my ideas and purpose for playing music. I have a personal analysis of this work of art, as I do with many of the sources of inspiration that I’ve collected over the years. In short, the album is in a few parts. Part one is “Acknowledgement,” the awareness and recognition of your current state of existence—your purpose. Part two is “Resolution,” the active decision to alter or continue the perusal of that purpose. Part three is “Pursuance,” the relentless pursuit of that purpose. And finally, part four, “Psalm,” is the song you sing when you can look back at where you’ve come from and how you got there. It’s the prayer that is the current moment.

This analysis has gotten me through the darkest moments of my life, including the darkness of our current reality. We will get through this as long as we have the hindsight to reflect on what got us here, the poise to stand in the present, and the courage and will to forge ahead into the future. This is A Love Supreme—a love that I’ve known my entire life. A love that will unite and heal the world through this music—born on the soil of the land known as the United States—that we call jazz. DB

Trumpeter, bandleader, composer, educator and activist Sean Jones occupied the lead trumpet chair for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra from 2004 until 2010, and he was a member of the SFJAZZ Collective from 2015 until 2018. As a leader, Jones has released eight recordings on the Mack Avenue label, the latest being Sean Jones: Live From The Jazz Bistro (2017). Jones has recorded/played with Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Nancy Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Gerald Wilson and Marcus Miller. He has also performed with the Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Youngstown Symphony Orchestras, as well as Soulful Symphony in Baltimore, and in a chamber group at the Salt Bay Chamber Festival. An internationally recognized educator, Jones was recently named the Richard and Elizabeth Case Chair of Jazz at John Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Before coming to Peabody, Sean served as the Chair of the Brass Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He currently sits on the Board of the Jazz Education Network. Visit him online at sean-jones.com.



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