I just listened to a radio interview in which Branford Marsalis was telling a story where Buddy Tate heard Branford play a jazz ballad, and then asked him who he was listening to. Branford responded that he was listening to Ben Webster, but that it wasn’t really happening yet. Branford wasn’t happy about his sound, etc. Buddy then told him: “The only way to play this music well is to sound like crap until you don’t sound like crap any more.” Branford went on to talk about practicing and how he doesn’t like to practice, but he keeps on doing it.
Keep playing, keep practicing, and keep listening to the masters. Get up in front of people and be willing to sound “like crap.” Branford said that listening to music is one of the things that many musicians don’t do enough. There is a language to be learned whether you’re playing jazz, R&B or classical. Learn the language, and keep playing.