Sunday, July 13, 2008

Science Near and Dear to the Musician

Outside of my last, rather silly post, done in about 2 minutes—I’m not making excuses. Well, actually I am, here’s something more serious, elaborating on the theme of playing music from the heart. Here are two recent scientific findings that I think are relevant to jazz musicians, findings about marijuana and about keeping time:

1. Your skin produces a natural form of marijuana. This is from Live Science, July 11, 2008.
2. Your mind controls time, not just the counting of it, but moving both forward and backward in time. This is from Discover Magazine, July 12, 2008.

The first finding states that our skin produces quite a few psychoactive substances, that is, we don’t just think with our minds, we think will our whole body. We don’t have a mind and a body, but rather we have a Mindbody. No news there, other than science is just getting around to finding what we’ve known for a long time. The problem, of course, is that the way we organize knowledge is like a key that only fits in certain locks. The traditional western style of forming knowledge is tailored to fit into the mind only, and that means that musically, we are not unlocking the power of the rest of our being, the skin, the heart. And of course, as we think about jazz, about jazz music in such cerebral terms, the feeling is lost, since we’ve ignored the part of our being, the skin, that literally does both thinking and feeling. The way out of this problem, which has more than a little effect on our pocketbooks, is to reformulate how we think of music, how we teach music, so that every bit of our being is engaged. There’s no one way to do this, rather every musician will have to find their way. After all, we each found our own way to erect the barriers to our hearts, only we can unlock the steel doors.

The second finding is interesting, again it’s something of which we are already aware, but taken with the first finding—it simply means that we can control, create, different feelings with music—and if we can create feelings that are healthy, this will be much better than playing empty mind music. Feelings of joy, love, even pain and sadness would fall into the category of real entertainment—not art. Art has become a cerebral activity, the thing that only the mind can appreciate. However, if we’re not turning on the skin, then what we’re playing is a real turn off. And the public, which used to adore jazz, will accordingly, has been accordingly, turned off.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If You Don't Play with Feeling, You're Screwed

It's science. So it's true.

Now where do people go to learn jazz, and come out of the program playing without feeling? Hmmmm. That's a tough one. Actually, it's a style of teaching, it's an approach that robs the music of feeling. What might that approach be?

I asked my friend Lydian who played so quotidian, and she said she had no idea. Then I asked my friend Dorian who said he was sorry and I'd have to ask somebody else. Then I asked my friend Locrian who said he was broke again and asked me for five bucks for beer. Then I asked old Aeolian who whined I'm on that roll again, about feeling and emotions and tears. So I went to Ionian who said look what I own again, some new equipment he just read about. By now I'm discouraged cause I don't have the courage to go the poker game at night. So I summon some bravery and visit the gamery and then take a look at the room. Well who's sitting at the table but five guys name Lydian--perfect mixolydians, one, who tomorrow will be a groom. Go away, they all said, we like our music to be dead, and I implored them to play from the heart. They said the heart's good but they don't know where it should--be....and besides it's so much easier to say the public becomes queasier when they hear just how hip we all are.

So I walked into the street where the cars made a beat and their windshields reflected the moon and the stars. Some patterns made swirls and I guess this is verse that mentions the girls, and the band played on.

But nobody cared.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Toronto Chet Baker Fountain Strikes Again

In their never ending quest to make sure no one gets to see Chet Baker film or video footage, and to make sure no one can hear Chet Baker play or sing, once again the Chet Baker Archives that occasionally pop up on Youtube are being purged--with the note that the Chet Baker foundation is stopping such things from being seen.

Add this to the long list of actions by jazz organizations and musicians who do things against their best interest.

Evidently there must have been a spike in record sales that alerted this fine organization that something is wrong somewhere--and Youtube must be the place.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I know that I had good history teachers, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood why a person should study history. You study history so that you can cheat, at least it feels like cheating, it feels that easy. That is, if you can know the future, then making decisions, complicated decisions, decisions fraught with uncertainty, isn’t all that difficult if the decisions are much less complicated and much less uncertain. Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. So, although I cannot tell you who will win the Super Bowl next year, I can tell you that there isn’t any mystery to history.

History comes at us in waves—from behind, so all of that gibberish about looking forward into the future should be rephrased into ‘wise statements and knowledge gleaned from studying the past’. Because if you can catch one of these historical waves and surf it, you’ll be just fine, certainly more fine than getting caught in the undertow. And as a result, life can be all or nothing at all.

We are at one of those wave moments right now. The waters of time are just starting to churn. So, let’s look back into the future and try to see what’s going on.

I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and my parents had me late in their lives—so my parents are the age of my peers’ grandparents. That means that my parents lived through the Great Depression, and it also means that they thought, for most of their lives, that I was nuts. Why was I nuts? I was nuts because I paid attention to what other people owned. I was nuts because I compared my toys to their toys, and I was concerned that I was using the right shampoo, that we had the right kind of car, that my parents weren’t as cool as others. I was, in short, just like everyone else in my generation. We were the first generation born and bred to be consumers, we lived to be the first one on our blocks to own, or the one’s to go tell Mom and Dad to buy.

All of this came naturally to us. There wasn’t one single moment of coercion forming what we considered to be our common sense. Of course we want the best one available and will accept no imitations. The newest model? Put me down for three. Because of our insatiable desire to buy love in a can, the US economy boomed along with us babies.

And that wave is about done. It is about done for the same reasons that there is no longer an aristocracy—and I don’t mean rich folks. I mean Dukes and Lords and Barons and Counts. There aren’t any more vassals and serfs, done, over, kaput. Industrial revolutions have a way of going through society like a tsunami, or a really cool wave, depending upon your decisions as the churning begins.

My generation looked to buy anything that sparkled or had marshmallows. We talked about the new models of cars, new toys, new anything—that’s how we socialized, that’s how we tied ourselves to one and other. My Dad’s generation didn’t do it that way. They didn’t even think the same thoughts—and their way, to them, was just as natural as our ways were to us. What they talked about—how they socialized, how they formed their society—they were all looking for an angle. Remember that phrase? Every conversation I had with that generation came back to the same things—looking for an angle, finding a gimmick. In other words, they were all poor, and they ‘kept their eyes open and their mouths shut’, looking for the crack, the opportunity to move up in society, to gather the wealth that now pays for their stays in assisted living and nursing homes. Their friends became friends not by what they owned, but by whether they shared the same angle. It was a completely different way of socializing—it was a completely different society.

Now we have factories sitting on the top of our desks, and we can communicate instantly with anyone anywhere in the world. This is a new industrial revolution, and once again, society will change completely. So why don’t we, as jazz people, pick up the surf board. Record companies no longer want us—but it doesn’t matter because we can make our own recordings. We can distribute them ourselves and reach just as many people as Warner Bros. could reach on a good day. Today, anyone with any artistic inclination can become their own studio mogul. But—and here’s the kicker, this is it, right here, right now—we have to relate to each other differently. We have to become as nuts to the Baby Boomers as I was to the Greatest Generation. We have to think and relate to each other in completely different patterns. That’s because we not only have the factory in our home, but we carry the outlet store in our telephone, in our pocket. You don’t go to the store, the store comes to you with each person that you meet.

Right Now, let’s call it the Factory in Our Pocket Generation, after hello, things are going to change, because it's another Industrial Revolution: What do you have? How can I connect you to what you are looking for? Can we trade links? We should help folks find the websites they need, buy the small wares that we produce—we should do after every hello what could only be done in board rooms and country clubs. And so when we build a website or write a blog, we should trade links, we should look to make a small transaction of five or ten bucks, buying or selling, or helping someone else find the music or book that they would love. This is the new society, this is our sociological future, and this is how we can revive this almost corpse of jazz.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I get these floaters. Not the optic kind, not the swimming kind. I get these thoughts that seem to stay afloat in my mind, like corks, and they will swish back and forth until they come together like beads of mercury to form a question. Never an answer or a conclusion, always a question. So here are my floaters.

I’ve been having a hard time with recording lately, getting a sound so truly crappy that I considered, again, just stopping my playing and selling my equipment. Back in St. Louis, years ago, Steve Kirby told me that the tape recorder doesn’t lie. And if you’ve ever met Steve Kirby, you believe whatever he says. Steve used to tape everything he played. He could do a CD with several hours of tuning up, and that’s it. Yeah Miles, your tune “Tune Up” just lacks the realism of Steve actually tuning up. Anyway, I no longer believe that that tape recorder doesn’t lie, although I believe that Steve believes that it doesn’t. My reasoning—big damn studios with lots of very expensive equipment and highly skilled engineers who spend hours trying to do what our ears do so naturally. So my little broken down cassette player—it’s a liar.

The next floater is big screen plasma TVs. We don’t own one, and have no plans to do so. But you can’t help but watch them when you go shopping and stroll by the section. You what I saw? I didn’t see More Action. I saw pores, skin pores. I saw the skin’s recording of the chicken pox and the teenage years, I saw who needed to shave as opposed to who was cultivating ‘that look’. And those hot chicks? Uh, not that hot. Too much information, I thought.

Another floater is the fact that I love old movies.

Combined with the floater that the jazz that sells the most was, by today’s standards, poorly recorded.

And then the question crystallized. I think that our minds do quite a bit of filtering. It doesn’t seem like it, but I think that our minds discard scads of information—because in real life, we don’t notice those details that I couldn’t help but notice on the plasma television. When you meet a person you don’t notice any of the little things that they are afraid you’re going to notice. You’re trying to know their soul, who they are and it really doesn’t matter about how impatient they were as teenagers, or what is now growing out of places where nothing grew before. You just don’t notice. And truthfully, I could give a rat’s ass how white your teeth are.

What this means for jazz is that state of the art, the art, isn’t state of the art. In other words, the music seemed better when it wasn’t recorded so well—it certainly sold more. I’m wondering, are we now providing too much information—digitally, regarding what is played, and how a group melds. Was the microphone in the middle of the living room working in tandem with the minds’ natural process? And like the new Pore TVs, are recent recordings working against the mind’s comfort zone, is it now a physiologically unpleasant experience to listen to a jazz recording, no matter how great the players are?

I’m just wondering.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008