I think it was John Ford who said that it wasn’t possible to do a good close-up in color. Whether John Ford said it is more debatable, I believe, than whether the statement is true. Black and white film seems to reveal the essence of things in a way that color cannot even approach. Especially jazz things. The color distracts us, activates our rods and cones and changes our focus in the same way a track switch is flipped sending the railroad to Detroit instead of Chicago. It creates detours in our mind, in our literal neuropathways, the cerebral highways and byways filled with all things familiar, our comfortable measurable thoughts of the way things are.
We aren’t used to thinking in terms of essence, or soul, or, in a very fine black and white photograph, the heart of the soul. This is why, when choosing videos, I much prefer black and white, which shows emotion more clearly, shows the searching, the sorrow and the joy, whereas color just seems to show sweat and blinkers us to the realities of the music.
And color makes us aware of color. Color is a blessing for the sociologist and a curse for the musician. Color makes us aware of race, one of those concepts pulled out of thin air, that somehow insinuated itself into our collective thoughts so thoroughly as to become an unchallenged fact of nature. The concept that made 17th century slavery fit into the minds of 17th century folks as easily as a Vaseline covered hand slides into a glove has gotten an intellectual free pass. Not even Newton’s ideas about gravity had it so easy. For the sociologist, the history of jazz is the history of race, and it gives them something to write about, like McDonald’s, billions of pages printed.
But for the musician, the heart of jazz cannot even be seen in color, nor in black and white. It can only be seen in complete darkness, in the journey to get close, no closer, to get inside the song, when the musician closes his or her eyes and puts the horn to their lips, when the guitarist and bassist close their eyes and put their heads down, when the gaze turns from the color of the external world to the darkness of the internal world, where the search for life and truth begin, to be converted into sounds, in this darkness is where we live, in this darkness we find who we really are. And then the music begins.