Monday, January 28, 2013

The Best Note I've Ever Heard

Improvisers exercise the freedom of choice to the fullest extent. In truly open musical contexts we have to make decisions -- first simply whether play or not, and then what, how, when, and why. Recently I've been fortunate to hear some musicians who have been playing much longer than me; musicians that can teach us a thing or two about these choices, in particular the why part of it.

I must admit to questioning the reasons why we proceed in this music with business being the way it is. The record industry has all but collapsed. When I first started making records I honestly thought that I might see some money flow in from selling CDs. Not much, but perhaps enough to cover the cost of making the things. I'm not in this for the money, but I would like some financial justice in it. It's hard to justify spending thousands of dollars every year, just to play some gigs and document the music, if its not going to start generating some income. It's easy to get lost in these kind of thoughts, and they can interrupt the creative flow.

I spent a couple nights checking out the 2013 Winter Jazz Fest a few weeks ago. It was a great time -- saw a lot of friends, heard a lot of music. The standout set for me was The Fringe (George Garzone, John Lockwood, and Bob Gullatti). These guys have played a weekly gig together in Boston for over thirty years or something. Their music was a swirling, sometimes abstract, ebb and flow of energy. But the real beauty in it was the meaning behind it, which can't really be described, only felt. Garzone's sound has a meaning- perhaps different meaning for different listeners. The highlight of the set for me was a rendition of Soul Eyes. Toward the end, Garzone played a very high, very quiet, and very long note. That sound has been echoing in my head ever since. I've decided it was the best note I've ever heard. Some saxophone player might come along and tell me that he has the best breath control and technique of something or other. But that's not important. What's important is that this note said something. What is said is probably different to everyone who heard it, which is part of the beauty of music. Music expresses an unspecified message or feeling that can mean many different things to different listeners.

The Fringe at the Winter Jazz Fest 2013, NYC 
(sorry for the crappiness in quality of this photo)

The meaning behind Garzone's note reminded me why I am playing music. I play for the moments just like this very note of his. The important thing to remember is that every opportunity to play is valuable and should be cherished. Let it be up to each musician to decide how much to push for commercial success. While the record industry is what it is, the Internet also provides new ways of sharing your music that are often affordable, and possibly more satisfying.  So there's hope.

Just last weekend I heard the band Hush Point with John McNeil, Jeremy Udden, Aryeh Kobrinsky, and Vinnie Sperrazza. I was so blown away by McNeil's playing. Again it was full of meaning. I don't know John personally, but it is apparent that he has some health issues. He does not appear to be very comfortable. Yet his sound and choices were so beautiful and meaningful-probably more meaningful because he really valued the opportunity to play. Now he might of been feeling and thinking something completely different, I don't know. But again here lies the beauty of the subjectiveness of music. It might not matter what the artist's personal reason for playing is, or that I as a listener might interpret differently than the artist intended. What is valuable is that it inspires others to work, or to be happy, or to love.

Hush Point at Douglass St. Music Collective, Brooklyn Jan 26, 2013 
(this photo is pretty crappy quality too)

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