I recently had the pleasure and privilege of attending a Berklee Effortless Mastery Institute clinic with guest artist and bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten. The Effortless Mastery Institute, or EMI, is led by artistic director Kenny Werner, a pianist and a seasoned professional in the jazz scene who has performed and written for many jazz orchestras, won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, and made more than 20 records as a bandleader. One of the main goals of the EMI is to help Berklee students reclaim their inner voice and their connection to music by teaching them how to overcome physical and mental obstacles that keep them from performing at their highest levels.

Previous EMI clinics have welcomed guest artists such as guitarist and alumnus Julian Lage ‘08 and faculty members such as Bob Lada and Doug Johnson. The Wooten clinic came without a specific plan or agenda. Wooten started off with a jam with Werner and a student drummer, moving between funk, free jazz, and swing. Wooten explained how the jam session is very comparable to a conversation; the players are meant to leave space for each other in order to have a proper dialogue.

Rejecting the notion of just being a teacher talking at the students, Wooten preferred that the clinic was more of a discussion and he encouraged attendees to voice their opinions, as he was really open-minded to hear all perspectives. As clinics such as those of the Effortless Mastery Institute offer a lot of conceptual ideas, it’s hard to retain everything by just listening and trying to remember it all. I find it useful to listen back to recordings and reflect on ideas on my own time, and meditate on how it can apply to my life. Being someone who learns a lot from conceptual ideas, I find that musicians such as Kenny Werner or Victor Wooten, along with their masterful playing, are followed by invaluable knowledge only appreciated through years of suffering and experience. Going to clinics such as those of the EMI are a gold mine of lessons:

“Often, learning becomes the baggage. You want to learn but the intensity and frequency with which they throw it all at you is designed to fail. Who can ever learn that stuff in a week before the next lesson? Sometimes I tell kids, ‘Don’t expect to get this together by the end of the semester; it may not be together when you graduate!’ I found some of these things develop quite nicely ten years after I got out of school. They get unrealistic timeframes because of the unrealistic nature of music school.” – Kenny Werner

“For me, it’s not like I’m trying to play ‘right,’ like ‘he played that chord so I have to play this.’ It’s just playing. Sometimes, it’s hard to get back to that. I think we started there when we were singing or playing air guitar as kids, and then we learn something and all of a sudden we have to be ‘right.’ That’s a struggle that a lot of us continue throughout our musical career.” – Victor Wooten

During the clinic, Wooten also explored rhythm in practice and using tools such as metronomes or drum-machines in a proper way to enhance musicality, as opposed to using them as crutches in order to develop technique.

I already had an enormous amount of respect for Victor Wooten’s incredible command of his instrument, and his time feel and musicality, but the clinic demonstrated his diversity of skills in listening, humility, and showing respect for other roles in a band situation. Most importantly, I gained insight on different methods of teaching oneself, how to be a good learner, and how to stay open-minded.

Justin Poon