View Poll Results: Time it takes to learn pro level Jazz improv?

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  • 1-2 years - just play what you can sing!

    1 2.70%
  • 2-5 years - learn a few concepts and get good mileage from them.

    3 8.11%
  • 5-10 years - longer and harder than law or medicine!

    11 29.73%
  • 10 years+ - It's harder than most people realise...

    22 59.46%
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  1. #1

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    Assuming a starting point with some level of technical competence involving styles other than jazz...

    If you consider yourself someone who has reached pro level at jazz improv, how long did it take?

    If you're not there yet, please say so, along with how long you expect it will take.

    This is not a competition to see who is better/faster/smarter, just an exploration of how we all feel about this question.
    Last edited by princeplanet; 05-01-2021 at 10:41 PM.

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  3. #2

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    I voted 10 years +

    The internet informs me... rounded figures
    30 million total estimate guitarists in world
    Jazz album sales comprise about 2 percent
    A few assumptions to estimate 2% of 30M
    600,000 actual jazz guitarists in the world?
    That's a lone Jazzer in every fifty guitarists
    So, Jazz guitar forum has 69,000 members
    Wikipedia has a list, has 450 Jazz guitarists

    Pro level Jazz guitarists include:

    - known commercial pro level Jazz guitarists (the Wiki list)
    - local or regional pro level Jazz guitarists, not well known
    - teachers (lots of good unknown pro level Jazz guitarists)
    - "students" coming up through stage, classroom, or both
    - amateurs and bedroom excellent pro level jazz guitarists

    So, the poll looks a little like a tricky question. On the one hand I think it would be found that almost all of the commercially successful pro level Jazz guitarists got started early in their teens and were making a splash by their twenties. If the poll is asking how long it takes for those that succeed, it might be about 10 years.

    However, if it is asking what the average expectation is for non pro levelers to get to playing pro level Jazz, I think 10 years is overly optimistic. That is to say, those for which it doesn't happen relatively early (the vast majority) will need more like 20+ years, if they have the opportunity to perform regularly.

  4. #3
    Please note, I'm not necessarily asking how long it takes to become an actual working pro Jazz guitarist, but someone who can at least hang at that level over a variety of tunes (some at short notice! ...).

  5. #4

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    10 years+ - It's harder than most people realise...!!!

  6. #5

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    I don’t know what pro level jazz guitarist means.

    But I was writing some bios for Pat Metheny, George Benson etc. Metheny starts at age 12 iirc and is playing professional gigs in Kansas City at 14.

    But I don’t think he did much school work. You can bank a lot of hours at age 12 if you are a slightly odd, obsessive kid. I should know lol; although not on guitar for me.

    So, it takes as long as it takes. However, simply throwing time at something does not guarantee success. Even though most/any of us may not have the raw talent of the Pat Me-tween-y (and older musicians are always looking to mentor promising young players) it is worth asking - what was Pat doing for those two years?

    Similar story for George.
    Last edited by christianm77; 05-02-2021 at 03:15 AM.

  7. #6

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    Andres Varady was playing at a pro level in his early teens.

    I'm not there after 56 years playing, depending on how "pro" you mean. I played my first gigs as a teenager, but I don't consider any of that truly pro level playing.

  8. #7
    Well I think it took Pat Metheny about 4 years from starting to gigging but most dont have his talent gift by a long shot. Some wish and work and never get it.But if I had to guess about a talented hard worker maybe 6 years ? Say age 12 to 20 is often pretty close for starting out to being welcome at open jazz jam sessions from what I have seen.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve burchfield View Post
    Well I think it took Pat Metheny about 4 years from starting to gigging but most dont have his talent gift by a long shot. Some wish and work and never get it.But if I had to guess about a talented hard worker maybe 6 years ? Say age 12 to 20 is often pretty close for starting out to being welcome at open jazz jam sessions from what I have seen.
    Jinx haha

    I’ve always seen jam sessions as being encouraging for very young players. I think it’s very much part of the tradition.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    Andres Varady was playing at a pro level in his early teens.

    I'm not there after 56 years playing, depending on how "pro" you mean. I played my first gigs as a teenager, but I don't consider any of that truly pro level playing.
    . And obviously Metheny at age 14 was not Metheny at age 19 or whenever he came into his own style. (Similar with Varady.)

    For one he was basically imitating Wes at that point. But that’s the start.... if you can imitate Wes after a few years of playing, not bad :-)

    I remember that a lot of guitarists were (lol) quite critical of Varady not being in the pocket back when he first surfaced.

    They were of course being dicks, but it shows that there are things forgivable in a extremely talented young player (that you know is going to learn this stuff by gigging, and the point is to put them in situations were they will learn all this stuff) that you wouldn’t necessarily tolerate in a adult player at that level.

  11. #10

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    So basically - if you do the right stuff (as Dutchbopper did) you can be playing jazz out there in a reasonable time, I think even as an adult

    However learning the ropes to be someone who might get called for a pro gig as an adult. Well, that can take a long while.

    A lot of it is experience, just being someone bookable. I’ve not done always great at this myself. Often you never hear feedback about yourself either.

    Booking gigs myself I’m going to want players I know and trust, and failing that someone with good word of mouth.

    Do they feel good to play with? Is this person going to turn up on time with gear that works? Do they know any tunes? Are they a fun person to hang with? That kind of thing.

    Mentoring btw is often as much about this stuff as it is about music. So young prodigy types get a briefing in this early. It doesn’t mean they listen; I know talented young musicians who got fired from gigs we’d all give our eye teeth for just for crap professional conduct.
    Last edited by christianm77; 05-02-2021 at 03:42 AM.

  12. #11

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    I put 5-10 - equivalent to studying for a big bad career. If a really talented musician puts in that amount of work, then they can get to the point of playing well live and being proficient in the studio. I think the jazz musicians who really wow us are in the way over 10 years ballpark tho. It's such a tough field. It's messed up lol.

  13. #12
    I think going to a competitive music center like Nashville,LA,Boston,London,Etc is an excellent way for young players to find out if they were just Big Ducks In A Little Pond or really have the talent and even Much More Important the SelfDisapline to make a pro career. I used to hear Talent Is A Cheap Trick when I first moved to LA 40 years ago and didnt understand what it meant at first? Well there are Lots of Very Talented people but to have the Extreme Self Disicipline not to fall into the traps of life.... well thats a very different story. Getting along with many different types of people is At The Top I think newcomers will find!!!

  14. #13

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    I said 10+ but I think it is difficult to say how long it actually took me. Because it wasn’t a continuous effort, along the way I spent a few years dabbling with saxophone instead of guitar, I got married and started a family (so hardly played for several years due to all those demands on my time), I changed jobs to a better-paid but more demanding job, which cut down my playing time, etc. When my son started classical guitar, he inspired me to do likewise, so I dropped jazz guitar for a few years and concentrated on reviving my classical guitar playing for a few years, before going back to jazz.

    Also bear in mind I never took it very seriously, for me it was just a fun thing to do, I never expected that one day I would become reasonably proficient at it! So I never had a particularly systematic method or anything, it was basically just ‘copy stuff off records and fool around with it’. And only when I felt like doing it, not every day.

    So in view of all that, I guess it was about 20 years before I felt I was proficient.

    I suspect that had I concentrated 100% on jazz guitar, with none of the above distractions, I might have reached the same level in 10 years, or maybe less.

  15. #14
    I dont think any of us know of any musicians more talented than Mozart, Charlie Parker,or Jaco but look at how young they all died. Although a lot easier said than done taking care of ones health and body should be their TOP PRIORITY unless maybe they want to join the 27 club. But even if some do just let em know I never saw a hearst pullin a U Haul !!! Shrouds dont have pockets for picks!!!

  16. #15

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    One benchmark I have is that a player who has a shot at making a living at it, should sound like a pro by age 19, at least on his own stuff. Some things will take experience, but the ability should be evident by then.

  17. #16

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    All your life.

  18. #17

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    It really depends, as for me I cheated and tuned guitar in major 3rds so even though I barely practiced/played jazz for 5-6 years I could still hold my own when jamming tunes (donna lee for example) with a prodigy who has played for 17+ years. If I seriously practiced I could see myself getting there in 1-2 years

  19. #18

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    I said 10+.

    I think thats true for most people. There's some folks with certain aptitudes and the obsessive gene that allows them to literally crave the hard work and practice that it takes can get there faster.

    I've been playing guitar 29 years...jazz as a real focus for about 16. I don't know what my playing qualifies me as, There's plenty of situations I can hang in, plenty I can't, but I can definitely say that if I had streamlined what I did when I started out, avoided some dead ends, and not only had more time to practice but really practiced when I had the time...I could have gotten to where I am now in a half to a third of the time.

    I think

  20. #19

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    However as Martin Taylor pointed out on a Facebook thread the only criterion for a musican being a professional is whether or not they can make a living at it. There’s many factors involved in this only some of which are within a player’s control.

    Reading Taylor’s autobiography reveals times when it was a real struggle for him. It’s not just about how well you play; and for many players (including Martin) it’s finding the right niche, as well as putting up with the endless BS you need to in order to be a performer.

    anyway, it’s not like someone does a ceremony, and there you are, a professional musician. I was quite naive and used to think you get to the right level and boom lol. It’s not quite so simple.

    Remember this - Metheny booked the gigs and drove the car in the early years of the PMG. What, do you think he was a bass player or something haha?

    So I think about that when I’m having a sulk about how hard it is lol. (And some times the gig of jazz guitarist seems to be professional taxi service, emailer and complaint magnet.)

    You never get that simple validation (in fact as you get better you get less as people take you seriously, or compliments seem to mean less); so a lot of discussion of ‘pro level’ etc can seem quite asinine to actual musicians, because pros also have insecurities and worries about their playing and pro players can be at different levels. I guess if you are working you know you can’t be that bad? But then, none of us have been working. It takes its toll psychologically.

    people can drift in and out of it.
    Last edited by christianm77; 05-02-2021 at 10:37 AM.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Jinx haha

    I’ve always seen jam sessions as being encouraging for very young players. I think it’s very much part of the tradition.
    ^^^^ This. The Cootie Harris Jazz Jams I participated in had a bunch of pro-level people but it was always emphasized that encouragement and involvement of younger players was a primary purpose of the jams (Arts Council funding and provision of space to do it may have been a factor). It wasn't just beers and cheer on Sunday for the older i.e. adult cats - it was an opportunity for the prodigies and the not-so- advanced younger players to get their feet wet playing in ensembles, before a live audience; to get some real-time performance experience, and maybe get some mentoring or at least strategic advice. I went there as a jazz newbie who was invited by Cootie himself to add a little Blues to the mix. I think I was one of the few who had not majored in music in college. I was embraced, none the less, by these fine people. And I saw many a youngster likewise welcomed and treated with respect. This is how it should be.

  22. #21

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    to learn pro level Jazz improv...?
    It's not only practicing at home, but also playing with various bands, recording CDs, festival concerts, etc.
    If you keep doing this for 10 years, you will learn a lot.
    It all depends on your talent.
    It is easy for some people and others can get tired.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74 View Post
    ^^^^ This. The Cootie Harris Jazz Jams I participated in had a bunch of pro-level people but it was always emphasized that encouragement and involvement of younger players was a primary purpose of the jams (Arts Council funding and provision of space to do it may have been a factor). It wasn't just beers and cheer on Sunday for the older i.e. adult cats - it was an opportunity for the prodigies and the not-so- advanced younger players to get their feet wet playing in ensembles, before a live audience; to get some real-time performance experience, and maybe get some mentoring or at least strategic advice. I went there as a jazz newbie who was invited by Cootie himself to add a little Blues to the mix. I think I was one of the few who had not majored in music in college. I was embraced, none the less, by these fine people. And I saw many a youngster likewise welcomed and treated with respect. This is how it should be.
    Amen

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by kris View Post
    to learn pro level Jazz improv...?
    It's not only practicing at home, but also playing with various bands, recording CDs, festival concerts, etc.
    If you keep doing this for 10 years, you will learn a lot.
    and not just music stuff!

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    So basically - if you do the right stuff (as Dutchbopper did) you can be playing jazz out there in a reasonable time, I think even as an adult

    However learning the ropes to be someone who might get called for a pro gig as an adult. Well, that can take a long while.

    A lot of it is experience, just being someone bookable. I’ve not done always great at this myself. Often you never hear feedback about yourself either.

    Booking gigs myself I’m going to want players I know and trust, and failing that someone with good word of mouth.

    Do they feel good to play with? Is this person going to turn up on time with gear that works? Do they know any tunes? Are they a fun person to hang with? That kind of thing.

    Mentoring btw is often as much about this stuff as it is about music. So young prodigy types get a briefing in this early. It doesn’t mean they listen; I know talented young musicians who got fired from gigs we’d all give our eye teeth for just for crap professional conduct.
    "Professional conduct" is a semester-equivalent subject that is as important as actual musical ability, if you ask me. Trustworthiness goes along way. Are you going to show up on time? By "on time" I mean sufficiently early to get your stuff set up and in tune and warmed up and ready to bring your A Game?. Not ten minutes to showtime or, Heaven forfend, actually late? Is you gear in working order, or must I supply you with a string or two and wait the 15 minutes it will take you to replace one string and tune it up? Once, maybe. Stuff happens. Twice? You. Are. Done. My Mantra:

    In Tune. In Time. On Time. Every Time.

  26. #25

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    After 42 years of studying guitar pretty obsessively, I am at best a middling jazz player when I'm on a good day and a fairly crappy one the rest of the time (although I am a pretty good blues player).

    Time on the instrument only goes so far; basic musical talent is necessary as well. I hear people who've been playing five years who have surpassed me. But it's still fun and that is the point for me. I don't have any illusions about being a top rank professional jazz musician.


    Many years ago an older jazz musician told me "progress in jazz is infinite, therefore we are all equally far from the goal."