For jazz lifer Solon, improv takes practice

Musicians who don’t practice don’t stay musicians for very long.

Now I’m no musician. I own a few out-of-tune stringed things that spend more time in the corner than in human hands, which should tell you I don’t know much. But I do know that Frank Zappa would have admitted that he never got anywhere near the level of perfection he strived for. Charlie Parker (sober) would have said the same thing. I’d argue all musicians would echo this sentiment, and if they don’t, they’re nothing more than an ego trip awaiting a well-deserved bankruptcy.

It’s not like these people hit the creative peak of their talent years ago, and now they’re just cashing in. Mastering their art form is a constant chase, and the bulk of that pursuit is practice. Local jazz musician Jeff Solon is somebody who enjoys the pursuit, as he plays four to five nights a week between May and September. Then he spends the off-season teaching others.

“I’m trying to play jazz. I feel it’s all new. Every day is a new day, and will I be able to play one good solo in my lifetime? Maybe a few, but it’s so fleeting,” Solon said last week at the KDUR studios. “I continually work at home – practice, practice, practice and work out and think and rethink things – rethink my series so that the solos will come out differently and the expression will come out differently. That’s the beauty of being able to get to play for so many years. It’s a constant development.”

He’s been a jazz fan all his life.

“Even as a young kid, I’d listen to the AM radio and dial in late at night. Somewhere I’d pick up these little jazz songs,” Solon said. “It was that Bluenote era, the cool era – that quartet/quintet sound. I had no idea who they were, but I loved that music, always.”

Solon’s current schedule puts him at Cyprus Cafe every Tuesday with keyboardist Ryan McCurry, bass player Chad MacCluskey and Alison Dance on vocals. Wednesdays at Cyprus, he performs with Kevin McCarthy. On Fridays, at Animas River Café, he again plays with McCarthy, and they’re joined occasionally by bass player Elizabeth Riordan.

Solon is well-connected within the pool of musicians around town who are eager to play at a phone call’s notice.

“Other people will sit in, and probably some drummers will sit in, so the duo of me and Kevin becomes a trio, and then that can become a quartet,” he said. “It all builds and morphs.”

When Solon’s not performing or practicing, he’s teaching. During the fall and winter semesters, he teaches jazz studies at Fort Lewis College and privately through Katzin Music in addition to chasing down grants to fund programs at Durango School District 9-R schools.

It really remains about chasing down that perfect solo.

“I’ll never achieve what I hear in my head, for sure, and I think any good musician will tell you that, too, whatever genre they’re playing,” Solon said. “If they’re really working on it and they’re really creative about it, it’s a constant push. Absolutely.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.