In a piece on Tom Hanks in a recent issue of Film Comment, author Richard Schickel wrote something about the art of acting that reminded me of something a bandmate once said that he liked about my bass playing.
"You're a good listener," my friend said. That may or may not be true, and I'm certainly not as good a musical communicator as I'd like to be. But I take compliments when and where I can get them.
At any rate, here's what Schickel wrote: "Hanks has always exemplified that slightly tiresome cliche about effective screen acting -- that you have to be a great listener. What he adds to this idea is that he is, when need be, a great listener to himself."
I think that that's precisely what I hear when I hear great musicians, jazz and otherwise: They're clearly listening to, and responding to, their fellow musicians. And they're also listening to their own playing, constantly seeking ways to improve their ability to communicate musically, always fighting the impulse to play by rote, or to fall into the usual, reliable patterns.
The same holds true for other performers, and non-performing artists who collaborate with others.
This all may be obvious, but I thought it worth repeating.
I'd link to the Schickel article here, but it doesn't seem to be available online.