That's what a trumpet player told me about 40 years ago. He was right. A singer can sing and improvise without knowing what the key is. So can a horn-player. Guitar players too, I imagine. When my chops are in good shape, I can play the sax like I am singing through it. There is no thought of keys or notes, only singing. It's the inner voice. It stops saying words in my head and starts singing.
A great jazz sax man taught me to do it, in a kind of Zen master way. He told me that the first time I got "into the zone," it would scare me, and I would immediately pop right back out. He was right. The thing is to go back again and again. Eventually it will no longer frighten. One learns to be comfortable there, ecstatic even.
Sheet music is a useful tool. There is no reason to avoid it. Like Louis Prima says in the novelty song, "The Lip," "I'll tell you, hon, I read a little bit but not enough to hurt me none."
"Fully half the quotations found on the internet are either mis-attributed, or outright fabrications." - Abraham Lincoln
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