It has been my privilege to work with a number of master musicians over the years. The lesson I learned from all of them is to follow their example, aspire to excellence, and pay it forward.
Now that I'm having some modest success of my own, I try to encourage young talent they way I was encouraged. As James Williams used to say, jazz is about passing the torch, from one generation to the next.
One of my favorite players on the scene currently is Ingrid Jensen. Ingrid is inspiring because she's expanding the vocabulary for trumpet and flugelhorn, extending the innovations of Kenny Wheeler and Woody Shaw in a very personal and compelling way.
Incidentally, Art Farmer was also a fan of Ingrid. He predicted that she will ultimately be recognized as a major artist of historical significance.
I try to phrase like a singer, so I listen to a lot of vocalists, especially Ella Fitzgerald. And because I favor a melodic, lyrical approach to improvisation, most of the jazz instrumentalists I listen to are also from that tradition -- people like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Ben Webster.
It's a remarkable gift, to meet your hero, the world's acknowledged master on your instrument, and for him to ultimately become your teacher and friend. Miraculously, it happened to me, and I will be forever grateful.
Mentor-protege relationships in jazz are so important. It's wonderful that colleges, conservatories and other institutions are now embracing jazz education, but I feel strongly that our master musicians need to maintain the lineage of the oral tradition.
There are some things you just can't learn in school.