Today I want to discuss what we can learn about conquering stage fright (performance anxiety, call it what you will) from jazz musician Darryl Jones.
One of the first LPs I ever owned (remember LPs?) was Sting’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles. My parents gave it to me for my birthday in 1986 or 1987. I absolutely loved it, and played it a lot. The thing that made it so different, so exciting, was the jazz influence. Sting had managed to get hold of some very well-respected and influential jazz musicians to play in his band, including Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones and Branford Marsalis.
Now, as part of my current general revisiting of things past, I went in search of the documentary Bring on the Night that director Michael Apted made about the beginning of Sting’s solo career.
It is a fascinating film, and a great piece to watch if you want to see a document on the way creative process is both sheltered and commercialised by artist management. To my mind, however, the most fascinating element occurred towards the end of the film, as the band prepared for their first live gig. Apted asked the members of the band in turn if they were nervous.
Now, let me back up a bit and explain the background. Sting had just left The Police, one of the most successful bands of the 1980s. He was creating a rock/jazz fusion album that most people at the time thought would be a disaster. The jazz musicians were not only doing a different style of music, but flying in the face of general opinion that they were ruining their careers. And they were all about to go on stage for the first time; a new band, to play a set list where half the songs would be completely new to the audience.
If you were a member of Sting’s band and Michael Apted asked you if you were nervous, what would you say?
Would you be nervous? Would you be scared? Would it affect the way you played?
You see, many people would have very definite answers to these questions. They would feel nervous, and they would view that as a negative thing. And the combination of the physical sensation and their negative interpretation of it would then affect their performance, causing them to play less brilliantly than they would wish.
But is this what the Jazz Man says?
This is what bassist Darryl Jones said in reply:
Darryl Jones: “yeah, always. I mean, I think that’s a good space, to have some nervous energy. So many times that first night is the best night because of that nervous energy.”
So often the thing that separates the truly great performers from the rest of us is their attitude towards nerevousness. We feel the butterflies in our tummy, and conclude that it’s a bad thing. Darryl Jones feel the butterflies, and knows that he’s “in a good space” and ready to go out and have fun.
So, today’s lesson about conquering stage fright from the world of jazz:
We can change our attitude toward nerves.
FM Alexander said something similar when he commented that “a changed point of view is the royal road to reformation.” * If we change our point of view, we can help ourselves and turn something we have labelled negative into something that can help us.
Do you have a performance or a presentation coming up? What would happen if you took the butterflies as a good sign?
** FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.44.