i played in a jazz trio back in college. saxophone, bass, drums - and i was totally outclassed. i was definitely the weak link in that group, and that was the first time i experienced becoming motivated by that inferiority. playing with the mustafas marked the first time that i ever really cared about learning tunes, thought much about improvising, and practiced my saxophone to actually get better. we played standard rep and a few originals. we were doing a casual somewhere and the bass player called out a blues. i couldn't remember how the melody went and was starting different tunes. he kept looking at me, shaking his head, barking out "wrong head, man", and turning around the opening to offer me another crack at it. i really wanted to punch that guy in the face, but learned two valuable lessons - you owe it to your bandmates to be prepared, and you can't bullshit your friends.
i played in an electro-acoustic quartet while i lived in minneapolis. about ouch! was a really fun band, doing all original music and plenty of free jazz. i ran my horn through a bunch of effects alongside a great guitarist, a talented drummer, and a remarkably creative electronics guy. we played a bunch around the twin cities and cut a record up in ann arbor. we toured the album a little bit, and played a hit at the candlestick maker in chicago. we crashed at the drummer's grandma's house, and she hooked us up with cozy crocheted blankets and yummy polish food. only four people came out to our show, but it ended up being one of our best ever. the final tune was a free thing, and the other three guys were killing it. man, i wanted to play so badly, but i just couldn't find the right spot to jump in and not screw up what they were doing. i sat out.
i think about these two moments often. i have to remind myself to work work work, study study study, prepare prepare prepare, and then make sure that what i'm doing actually serves the music properly.