An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

April 8, 2009 Jazz Blog 3 Comments

Benjamin Zander - music and passion

I recently watched the TEDTalks presentation, “Classical music with shining eyes” by Benjamin Zander. It was recorded in 2008 and I’d guess some of you have already seen it. For those who haven’t, I encourage you to set aside 20 minutes to give it a viewing (Click here to watch it). Even though the presentation talks mostly about classical music, there are many similarities to jazz. And moreover, the fundamental concepts apply to everything we do in our lives. If you do watch it, be sure to stick with it through the end. It just might change your life.

benjamin zander


Zander states that there are two main views in the world of classical music. One view is that classical music is dead and the other view is that classical music has a bright and untapped potential. Many people hold similar views about jazz music. But, while classical music truly is dead, jazz is doing just fine. Just kidding. In reality, both genres struggle to stay afloat in a world that seems singularly focused on popular music and passing fads. The good news is that there are plenty of devotees who are keeping both classical music and jazz alive. We attend the concerts, we buy the albums, and we practice and play the music. For us, the music will remain vital as long as we make it so. It isn’t even close to being dead.

Depending upon how you look at things, the limited popularity of jazz and classical music actually represents tremendous potential. After all, there are literally billions of people who have never really listened to classical or jazz music. Zander believes that all of these people can grow to love classical music, and I believe the same could happen with jazz. In many cases, people just need to know what to listen for. Zander demonstrates this by explaining, in simple terms, the melodic and harmonic devices used in Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor, Op. 28, No. 4.” When he finally performs the entire piece, the audience is thoroughly engaged and moved by the performance.


According to Zander, some of the people who don’t listen to classical music operate under the misconception that they’re tone deaf. This belief leads them to think that they lack the capacity to listen to and appreciate classical music. Of course, as Zander points out, none of these people are actually tone deaf (well, aside from truly deaf people I suppose). If they were tone deaf, they wouldn’t be able to recognize voices on the phone, they wouldn’t be able to tell where people are from by their accents, and they’d never know when people are asking a question. Since most, if not all, of the so-called tone deaf people can in fact do these things, then they certainly have the ability to hear nuances in classical music, and for that matter, jazz.


As musicians, our ability to connect with an audience is directly related to the passion we convey in our performance. Zander refers to this passion as “one-buttock playing.” As he demonstrates, a great pianist isn’t sitting still on the piano bench (both cheeks firmly planted), but rather they’re putting their entire body into their performance, leaning from side to side as they become one with the music. This elevates the music, engaging the audience both audibly and visually. This part of the discussion reminded me of the various jazz concerts I attend. There are nights when the musicians just sit or stand there, with blank expressions. Sometimes they'll even look visibly upset (perhaps if there's a small audience). Their performance almost always mirrors their appearance on these nights, as the musicians fail to entertain and engage their audience. On the other hand, when you can see the joy in their faces and bodies, the music practically jumps off the stage.

Of course, the notion of “one-buttock playing” isn’t limited to piano players or to music. It extends throughout every aspect of our lives. In music, work, and in our relationships, we always have the potential to share our passion and to inspire others. All we need to do is try.

Comment by bill

Keep at it. I like to read your comments, you have a great spirit.

Bless you

Comment by Aaron

Wow, that was a great talk! Thanks for pointing it out.

I think it's true, there is tremendous potential for folks out there who think they don't like it to enjoy jazz and classical (and all kinds of other) music. And I think simple, smart and entertaining teaching (like this video) is a big part of making that happen.

As it stands, people have this idea that music appreciation is complicated, it's only for stuffy 'experts' (and it's partly the experts that promote that idea!) But it really shouldn't be like that. Music is an art, and art should speak to people. If (jazz, classical, whatever) music isn't speaking to people because they can't hear what's interesting about it, the onus is on musicians (and music fans) to help people find reasons to appreciate it. Otherwise, what the heck are we doing?

Comment by Bill from MN

Being both a Jazz and Classical guy - equally ineffective at both ;), I really enjoyed this post. I am always excited to find knowledge that "crosses over" between interests and disciplines.

Just last week, I attended a high school band concert. The band performed an arrangement of "Pirates of the Caribbean." The program notes indicated the piece was written in 12/8 time, which I don't find particularly complicated. However, as the notes explained, because virtually all popular music over the last 30+ years has been written in relatively straight, simple 4/4 time, kids cannot relate to/perform/feel anything more complex than that. Had never thought about it, but the director was right. The more complex and varied rhythms of jazz and classical music put the "pop" music listener and performer at a disadvantage.

(As you have at least one other "Bill" as a poster, I will sign as)

Bill from MN

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