Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where I've Been and What I've Been Waiting For

Quite simply, I cannot fathom how music critics can stand to be music critics. There comes a point where continuous writing about problems, and Jazz has quite a few problems, becomes a form of nagging and therefore counterproductive. The problems of Jazz are obvious, that so few people listen to or even like Modern Jazz that a confused archaeologist might say that Jazz was part of the lost Mayan civilization. It is not only headed towards extinction but to obscure extinction. It is moving towards a smaller and smaller corner of American culture and seems to be kept alive by the Japanese (thank you, Japan, by the way).

The other thing that music critics do, especially Jazz critics, is to artificially create hype and praise for the latest graduates of Jazz programs--with the understanding that the only people who will buy the CDs or listen to the music are folks who are enrolled in other Jazz programs. The Jazz establishment has simply written off the public, the record companies have written off the music, and so there is virtually no one pointing out the very obvious difficulties.

Jazz is now marketed the same way that a boring church service is marketed, that you must go, it's your duty, if you don't support this public radio station the music will be lost, it's part of the American Heritage and if you don't listen and don't give money folks will forget about the music and it will be all your fault.

In Daniel Levitin's book, This is Your Brain on Music, he makes two very interesting points, among many simply interesting points. The first is that when listening to music, the brain corrects mistakes the musician might make. This means that all the practice you in the Jazz program at local or national University might be doing, got to get that harmonic minor scale right in all twelve keys, going to be graded on it tomorrow--you are wasting your time because even though the professor might notice a mistake, no one else will. Especially the listening public, if they listen at all since you are playing Jazz.

Second great point, music will not register in the mind of the listener unless it is played with feeling. In other words, if you play with feeling, the brain acts as your personal recording engineer and will fix everything. The problem, the book states, is that music curriculums have so much technical 'knowledge' to get through in order to maintain accreditation that they never get to the part about playing with emotion. Put simply, if you wish to play music and go to school for it, you are wasting your money--if you care about the listener. The news gets worse, and this point is not in the book, this is one of those facts that everyone seems to know. The more stuff you store in your head, the more blocked your emotions become--which means that all of the theory you are learning is keeping you from expressing emotion, connecting with the public, and basically providing a genuine human need of making and listening to music.

So what we are doing here, right here in the room that I am now sitting, that will become a small recording studio, is trying to make some music that runs on emotion, we are going to keep the theory to blues scales and major scales and that's it, and we are going to recognize an organ that is not delineated in Grey's Anatomy, the heart. Not the pump, but the soulful heart. Stretch out your arms, fingertip of the right side to fingertip of the left side, right across the chest, that's your heart, one big long organ. We are going to treat it like a horn player treats his horn, the music is going to come out of that, and we will see what happens. There are technological problems we've got to overcome, but we're going to do that.

The preliminary results are quite good. The player is young, her name is Amy Levin, and has been playing for only two years. She plays the vibes, has already had a very simple recording played on the local Jazz Classics show, and folks called in saying that the player could not possibly be a 15 year old girl, but it had to be Milt Jackson. No, it was a 15 year old girl. She will be 16 when she is up on Youtube. People who have bought her EP have told us--you know, it happened over time, but this is what I listen to in the car. These people are not Jazz fans per se. But we are simply providing food for this biological need for music.

This cop even called in, saying he had to call to express his enthusiasm for the songs, for this player, and he'd just let three speeders go by, but he had to call.

And that's what Jazz has done in the past, and it can do it again.