When first hitting the scene, the now legendary Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was described as mediocre at best. His music seemed undisciplined, out of control, and fraught with mistakes. Like most musicians, Parker practiced regularly but was struggling to achieve major improvements in his playing.
How, then, did Charlie Parker become the master that we celebrate today? The change happened during a 10-month period, when Parker essentially dropped out of the scene and worked deeply on his craft. He isolated himself from all family, friends, and work, renting a rundown cottage in the remote woods. Days blurred into each other during this intense period of 15+ hours per day practice sessions.
While Parker’s quarantine wasn’t forced upon him the way that COVID-19 has required our current isolation, this period of deep focus and practice elevated him from ordinary to mastery.
During this period of transformation, Parker practiced relentlessly in an old woodshed in an open field. “Chopping wood” is now synonymous with doing the hard work of disciplined training. Today, jazz cats around the world refer to “hitting the woodshed” as a metaphor for study, practice and personal growth.
Artists often retreat to their studio, while famous authors may seek inspiration in nature. In each case, the creator removes themselves from the daily grind in order to advance their craft and expand their art.
Regardless of your industry or profession, the one upside of Coronavirus is that it can serve as an impetus for transformation. Most of us spend our days heads down in transactional work, checking off to-do items but rarely taking time to explore the possibilities. With the newfound time of sheltering-in-place, we can embrace our own version of the woodshed, allowing us to discover new patterns and drive meaningful progress.
So, the question becomes, will we choose to make our forced period of isolation one of history-making growth? Each of us gets to choose how we spend our days during the pandemic, so why not make the best of them?
Let’s seize the opportunity to hit the woodshed. To explore possibilities. To hone our craft. To look inward and outward. To break apart traditions and rebuild something fresh.
Charlie Parker transformed himself from a so-so saxophone player into one of the most influential jazz musicians of the last 100 years during his self-imposed quarantine. Just think what you can do if you make the most of our current situation. Perhaps you’ll look back at the COVID-19 lockdown as the most important transformation of your career. Just like Charlie Parker, let’s use our isolation as the path to greatness.