Sometimes it pays to wear the uncomfortable new shoes


Comfortable shoes feel good. We know what to expect when we put them on…comfort. 

We don’t always know what to expect with a new pair of shoes. They may pinch, bind or hurt.

Choosing between comfortable shoes and new one, I’ll side with comfort. Most people are probably the same if they are honest with themselves.

Forrest Gump offered an observation of comfortable shoes: “Those must be comfortable shoes. I bet you can walk all day in shoes like that and not feel a thing. I wish I had shoes like that.”

Recently, I read an article titled “Charlie Watts: I’ve recorded drums in the lavatory” from The Telegraph in England. It focused on the Rolling Stones’ stoic drummer past with the band and his current musical project. The eye-catching headline alluded to Charlie Watts once drumming in a lavatory to get the right sound ‘Street Fighting Man.’ Not unusual for drummers to do something different for the right sound. I once read a story where Buddy Holly’s drummer J.I. Allison used a cardboard box for “Not Fade Away.”

This, however, wasn’t what caught my attention. It was this…Watts prefers jazz. I knew he was a jazz drummer, but somehow reading this fact was different this time.

Jazz. That got me to thinking about my experience with it….a chance to try a pair of new “shoes” again.

I’ve tried to like jazz. I played in my high school jazz band. There wasn’t a place in the band for a flutist. It did need, however, a baritone saxophonist. Wish I could say these “shoes” didn’t pinch. I didn’t excel on the “bari sax.” Its commanding musical presence made me feel self-conscience playing it. For example, I could never master a prominent solo in Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” I’d practiced at home and no problems. During rehearsals the “shoes” pinched.

I never thought much about jazz after the school year ended. I set those uncomfortable shoes aside and forgot about them.

Fast forward 29 years. I’m embracing the new “jazz shoes.” The complexity, improvisation and energy of jazz enthrall me. I’m writing this while listening to The Brian Setzer Orchestra‘s “Jump Jive An’ Wail” and love the vitality and passion of the musicians.

The other night, I watched part one of Ken Burns’ “Jazz.” One of the commentators offered a description of jazz I’d never thought about, about what jazz signifies:

“Jazz is the quintessential American music. And the important thing that you have to begin with is that it can only happen in America. It’s not an African music, obviously. It’s not a European music, obviously. It’s something that comes right out of this soil, out of influences that come from all different kinds of cultures. And all of those come together in jazz.” — Gary Giddins, Village Voice jazz critic.

I’m glad I’ve set the comfortable shoes aside. These “new shoes” are leading me to do more than listening to jazz but experiencing it first hand by learning to play the soprano sax. Getting the fingerings down, but it sometimes still sounds like I’m strangling ducks. Brinkley, my dog, doesn’t seem to be a fan, but he puts up with it. I even managed to struggle through playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” The beauty was missing, but the essence was there.

New shoes always take time to break in, but with time they become the well-worn comfortable pair we like.

Are you ready to set aside your comfortable shoes?