Playing with Your Brother/Sister: Considerations of playing with someone on your instrument


 Jazz is replete with examples of same instrumentalists playing together. Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Phil Woods with Gene Quill, etc. Though my list would probably be top heavy on saxophonists it exists to one degree or another on most instruments. What would seem to be a recipe for disaster, meaning a potential clash of egos has often resulted in great music being played. Given that any performer has a strong sense of him or herself and naturally wants to be the center of attraction when one is soloing, it would seem that the idea of two tenor players or two guitarists playing together in anything more than a spontaneous and short performance wouldn’t work. But the commonalities far outstrip the differences and jazz musicians are in general, very generous in spirit. They also love to be in an atmosphere where there is the need to raise one’s game because of the challenge of witnessing another musician playing great ideas on the same instrument.

Granted that the musicians desire to communicate, the idea of common ground is obvious because only another musician playing the same instrument would understand the intricacies and subtleties that one must deal with. So instead of a competitor, what you have is a brother who understands as you do what things “feel like”.

Then of course there is the inspirational factor. The fact that you can see and hear someone playing things that you may not have thought of in the same musical context before one’s own eyes can be incredibly inspiring. I know that when I play with the Saxophone Summit-Joe Lovano and Mike Brecker, there is a feeling of familiarity and joy when two of us are on the side of the bandstand listening to the third guy play. We will look at each other and say something like this: “Wow-how did he do that…or what a great version of a Sonny Rollins lick was just played, etc.” This is a very warm feeling because familiarity and recognition naturally makes things feel comfortable in any real life situation.

The level of communication and camaraderie is surely intensified when musicians perform together on the same instrument. And for the listener, there is a natural excitement evident in hearing this wonderful musical situation.