What’s Better: Practice or Performance?

Something I learned when researching The Practice of Practice is that many of the best musicians don’t make a distinction between “practice” and “performance,” and if they do, most strive to have more performance in their playing. This was driven home most by Rex Martin, who got the words from Chicago Symphony’s legendary principal trumpeter Bud Herseth (55 years with CSO), who said, “We have to be careful about practice, because we start to practice practicing. We need to practice performance.”

Here’s the same words of wisdom, but from jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw, in a 1983 Downbeat interview:

LR: Your sound on trumpet is big, with considerable flexibility. Do you still practice various exercises, particularly the more difficult ones, or do you find that your practicing is done when you perform on-stage with your band?

WS: The latter is more suited to me. I’ve seen some musicians who practice all day, but when they get on the bandstand, they can’t play a thing. Practice is essential definitely, in developing any particular craft, but I find that it’s best for me to play with my band as much as possible. Even when we’re off, I try to rehearse this band at least twice a week, to keep in good shape. If the need arises where I’m unable to execute a phrase on-stage, I’ll go home and practice it, but I don’t want to practice to the point where I sound mechanical. Playing with my band is like roadwork – it keeps me in shape. My thing is being able to take what I’ve learned through observing and practicing, and apply it to my role as performer and bandleader.

Check out Woody Shaw below. Click the video and let the playlist play. Nice way to while away the day:


and as a bonus, check out one of the members of WS’s quintet, trombonist Steve Turre, who also plays….wait for it….conch shells. Check him out playing the Miles Davis tune All Blues:

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