Why would anyone bother playing jazz?
This is a question that inevitably comes up, maybe continuously, in the life of a jazz musician. We don't get paid enough for all the work we put in, we have a hard time getting audience; even if our work is praised, admired, and recognized by our peers and knowledgeable critics it doesn't guarantee we'll have a gig next week, or any week after that.
So why do it? Why bother putting in so much work for such bad hours and bad pay? Why put yourself out there so vulnerably after decades of learning and training, just to have some crank who knows nothing about music plug their ears at a bar, or a restaurant owner say he wants to throttle you (just because he feels like kicking someone that night and he knows he won't have to deal with you tomorrow or ever again), or a drunk heckle you, or a gig fall through because of any number of things....why bother?
Well, the question has been asked and answered many ways. But beyond every argument of culture, beauty, aesthetics, and musical theory, there lies, I think, this fundamental reality:
The jazz musician is in some ways a profound demonstration, even a type of living proof, that the human person is a unity of body, soul, and spirit. All three are active in the performance of jazz, and virtuosity of some sort is demanded of them when the music is accomplished at the highest level. In a society that is constantly tempted to deny or degrade one of those three elements (body, soul, or spirit), it is predictable that the jazz musician would be devalued. Paradoxically, that doesn't make us less necessary, but more.
Beyond this, I can only say that there is a more mysterious layer to it all. What keeps us going? Is it the moment in a dive bar when everything stops and even the bus boys are listening, then suddenly burst into applause at the end of a gut wrenching blues solo? Is it the shared experience that turns bitter men into brothers on stage by the end of a gig? Is it a need to feel that unity in ourselves? Yes to all of it. But also, in the words of Sidney Bechet, we keep playing simply because we can. I guess that puts demands on us too, and a responsibility we can't shirk.