Musicians On How To Cultivate Creativity Amid The Pandemic


If Ethan Iverson’s able to draw on an interest in TV themes, there’s potentially a way for anyone stuck at home to access new creative flights. Here are thoughts—lightly edited—on the subject from a range of notable jazz players, all working toward self-care and bettering their own practices.

“I generally don’t put up videos of myself on social media, unless they’re in support of a new album. However, writing and sharing new short compositions, albeit infrequently, is stirring up the motivation I lost by not performing or rehearsing with a group. It’s the closest thing I’ve found so far that gets my creative muscle working, because I’m still doing what a musician does: present music. Live streaming and teaching via Skype have also facilitated a connection to community that’s helped me to stay creative.” guitarist Rez Abbasi

“I’m a perfectionist. I can spend hours and hours working on sound; everything I practice is about control. I decided that for this quarantine, I wanted to practice playing without control. So, I haven’t done my long tones and all the technical things, but rather I chose the most fucked-up reed I have in the house and needed to feel like I don’t have control. That’s changed a lot of things, creatively speaking. ... Basically, what I’m doing, I have a practice room and go there in the morning and just practice creativity. What is in my heart? What do I have to say without being perfect?” —saxophonist Melissa Aldana

“When the hall is empty, your inner voice can flourish into unstoppable melodies that will be uncovered when the right time comes. A quiet time is an opportunity to display those unheard thoughts, those unheard ideas that will flourish when the right time [will] allow them. … Listening to music—especially from Debussy, Ravel and Bartók—opens a window of different colors that I want to use in my own compositions and improvising ideas.” —pianist Carolina Calvache

“Staying creative for me means including spontaneity in my daily routines. We’re such creatures of habit. Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves to switch things up—take a walk down a different path than usual. Pick up a different instrument than you normally play (I’ve been messing around with a ukulele here and there). Eat your meals in different parts of the house. Just try to stay self-aware and avoid functioning on autopilot.” —pianist Gerald Clayton

“For some reason, talking ‘shop’ with other pianists is providing me some solace. We had one conversation last week with Benoît Delbecq, Fred Hersch, Sylvie Courvoisier and Alexander Hawkins, and we shared scores and recordings, ideas about technique and music that inspires us. In my daily practice, I have focused on the shared materials and revisited some classical pieces that I haven’t played in a while. I’m jumping all over the place—pieces by Scarlatti, Messiaen, Barber, Feldman, Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Chopin.

“Teaching is another creative outlet, and lately I have recommended that students perform a duo with one of the Berio Sequenzas. I ask them not to listen beforehand and record their performance with the recording. We listen back as a group, and it’s incredible what the students come up with and the conversation that stems from this kind of practice.” pianist Kris Davis

“Lately, I’ve found creative inspiration while cooking. Cooking is keeping me inspired and creative. Trying new things, cooking with new ingredients and checking out all my cookbooks. I love music too much right now to listen like I used to. Listening makes me want to play, and then I’m sad all over again. So, for now my creative juices are being used and found while cooking.” pianist Orrin Evans

“Personally, I’ve been focusing on writing new music to perform once things get back on track. It’s rare to have the available time to work on a large amount of music all at once. I have four or five things going at the moment and they are all contrasting. So, when I need a break from one, I just move to the next.

“I’ve also been working on things that in the past were simply whims and have no expectation of ever being performed. Writing for odd instrumentations or strange stylistic formats have me thinking in different ways, which will no doubt affect how I approach music from here on. This is also a great time to revisit old recordings from your archives. Just hearing some of the music that initially inspired an ‘earlier you’ can reignite those original creative flames.” trombonist John Fedchock

“I think it’s more imperative than ever for artists to create within the new constraints that we have, rather than focusing on the past or the future. Constraints can create some of the most interesting results. You can look at it as a positive or a negative, but it is reality nonetheless, so I want to see what I can force myself to create.” trombonist Nick Finzer

“I always find that an emotional and crazy—or even severe—situation makes me more creative. I composed the suite Fukushima through the emotional experience from that [2011] incident, and I have already composed the suite of this pandemic. For some reason, these severe things cause me to have a special emotional reaction, which is actually good for my creativity. I feel the struggles of so many people, and it’s coming out in my music.” pianist Satoko Fujii

“I believe that sometimes, in our modern social-media world, we feel like we need to be putting ourselves constantly out there and producing content to stay relevant. Which is true. That being said, I think the artist shouldn’t be afraid to also take a step back and use this quarantined time to take a look inward and reflect on things. I feel like ‘art’ is sometimes substituted with uninspired ‘content.’ Without our performances and gigs, all of a sudden, we’re forced to slow down and learn to be with ourselves. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t post content, but I think that artists should learn how to disengage and ‘Sonny Rollins-it’ a bit. Go to your figurative bridge and you’ll find renewed creativity in your introspection.” —guitarist Ricardo Grilli

“It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and uninspired by what’s happening in our world right now. Self-isolation can be especially challenging. For me, having a routine is important. Especially now. Practicing and/or composing every day really helps generate and perpetuate the creative process. I also have the time to read books or listen to new and older music without constant distraction. I find this can be very inspiring as well.” —guitarist Tom Guarna

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