on jazz drumming

Wayne Shorter's Advice

Read a lot


Now into his eighties Wayne Shorter is one of the living legends of jazz music. He is one of the great jazz composers as well as tenor saxophone players, so when he gives advice it is well worth listening to. He can be quite elliptical and hard to pin down but in this brief audio clip from the Monterey Jazz Festival some years back he is quite clear. And what’s his advice? Read a lot.

Have a listen:

This is good advice for any aspiring jazz drummer or jazz musician, and in fact I was reminded of it in a conversation with a young saxophone player who was spending rather a lot of time in the practice room. You can have all the technique in the world but if you don’t have a story to tell, if you can’t understand something about life and express it through your music, then you can’t connect with your audience. Music is a vehicle for self-expression so you have to have something to say - technique is just a means to this end.
Reading a lot is great advice. Many top performers in all walks of life read a lot - Bill Gates, Warren Buffet to name two. Reading books give you insight into areas of knowledge and lived experiences that you don’t or can’t have. A researcher who has spent years studying a subject and compress that information into a book you can read in a week or so, the same way an author can compress a whole lifetime in to one.
Wayne Shorter’s advice is broad - it is not prescriptive - read widely; he recommends reading both fiction and non-fiction - he himself has a penchant for manga, comic and science-fiction. Good non-fiction gives you knowledge of the world, good fiction gives you insight into other people’s experiences, both of which are valuable.
As you go you’ll find what interests you, but don’t be afraid of exploring new areas. Rolf Dobelli suggests, in the Art of the Good Life, reading a lot of anything while you are young but being more selective as you get older when you know what you like and can better judge quality. He even recommends reading good books twice to get deeper insights - I’ve yet to start doing that though.
If you don’t where to start there are plenty of good book lists around.
The Guardian has a few:
Here are a few of my recommendations:


  1. Anything by Shakespeare but Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet are some of the most well-known - for good reason.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  3. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  4. 1984 - George Orwell.
  5. Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien


  1. Origin Story - David Christian
  2. The Consolations of Philosophy  - Alain de Botton
  3. Factfulness - Hans Rosling 
  4. Brief Answers to Big Questions - Stephen Hawkins 
  5. Life 3.0 - Max Tegmark
If you want a really big list to work from try the so called Western Cannon, compiled by Harold Bloom: http://www.interleaves.org/~rteeter/grtbloom.html
Wow! Us musicians have a lot to do - we have to read and listen …. a lot!

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