Still making the same mistakes and experiencing the same weak spots in your music-making that you thought you were finally getting nailed?!
I had to check on Google to find that “Spiral Learning” is of course, already A Thing, so although I most definitely didn’t just invent a term, I have first-hand experienced it:
Spiral Learning is when the Student (me) learns by periodically revisiting material and exercises. However, it often feels like you are just re-encountering the same musical pit-falls, like rushing the beat or playing certain pitches out of tune.
The truth of it is much more likely to be like that image of a spiral, it is NOT a circle; each time we revolve around to encounter the same challenge, we are in fact closer to getting it right and are closer to genuine assimilation with our musical goal.
With something as subjective as musical improvisation, one of our less skilful areas maybe related to self-acceptance and mental flow. What we play to others might sound just fine, but oh, how we agonise about ourselves!
I regularly record myself practising, it can be a tough lesson, a few days ago I filmed myself doing the same thing, you can see/hear it here
I was going for something melodic but knew that this Latin -Jazz piece needed a “muscular” approach, and that brief got in the way of the state of mental flow I was attempting to reach; it was interesting to watch this afterwards and see myself fall victim to my own mental knots!
I’d like to point out the difference between effort and struggle here. When we get into a feeling of disquiet and stress, it’s an invaluable skill to learn to drop that “struggle” energy and re-enter the joyful music-making mindset that you love. The very “effort” of turning away
from your self-judgement can be the very thing that makes all that procrastination worse! So we have to be wise in our understanding of the word effort, it should not feel at all like struggle. We could encourage ourselves to think of effort as energy and focus born of a true love of musical expression.
Know that you are on a spiral and not a circle! Know also that like so many worthwhile pursuits, it is not short-term entertainment but personal growth built over a life-time.
Slipping into the category of Generation X (rather than that of Baby-Boomer) by two years makes me feel kinda youthful when I reflect on it. Many of my musical colleagues are Generation X- types having been born before the 1980’s.
They are all teeming with life and creativity, we are contemporaries even if there are thirteen years or so between us.
I had this thought when reading that I had won one of the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Awards For Composers. Brilliant News indeed! I had first read of this foundation years earlier and the concern to support artists throughout their career and not exclusively focussing help on those at the beginning of their journey.
The truth is that the rocky road, once you are into mortgages, kids, and an established presence, bears more responsibility and gravity than during the early years, it does not discount you of ever needing support . Jokes abound when one works alongside artists finally doing well in some of the worlds finest venues, such as “nice job, – I’ll meet you again on the way down!”.
There is that earthy observance of transitory success, fortune and recognition, and like the rest of life, musicians find great ways of laughing about it, NOT that this joke has to be true, its just a way of keeping your equilibrium during the highs as well as the lows.
Most of us have seen lows recently that have tested our every atom of positivity. It has been so great, therefore, to see some of my friends getting serious attention recently, sharing in the excitement of Abel Selaocoe having his own prom for example. For me the performing and composition are like my two hands,
so when I’m asked which one I prefer, well, I need both basically! The performance “hand” is vibrantly social, the other filled with solitude, and for me thats where I can trip up and get over introvert, obsessive and need to have faith as the ideas slowly form with the upmost fragility.
This is why the composition award I have just been told about has got me writing this blog, as it is a very tangible sign that others have faith in you, through the highs AND the lows, I’m greatly encouraged to remember that.
Looking at these two pictures makes me wonder about the two halves of ones brain. I write only with my left hand, but in every other respect I am either right handed, or slightly ambidextrous. I wonder if my left handed side is my introverted, composerly side?
My way of dealing with that apocalyptic feeling we got that fateful March was to arrange a series of studio Encounters; 45 min On Demand video concerts of jazz musicians who don’t regularly work together but form a band for the afternoon. No one was working live so it was a contribution toward ensemble jazz that did not involve iphones as a way of recording the event! (The one we did with Abel Selaocoe used seven cameras and thirteen microphones).
I became involved in the Ivors Academy meetings hosted by Orphy Robinson OBE, which seeks to put jazz in the broader context, interfacing with others who have seen ( as we have now all seen) how revenue streams for artists, due to the streaming company business models, are geared only to the global pop elite.
My Encounters Series will hopefully continue but again, landing some business model with any kind of longevity makes playing Giant Steps in all keys look pretty easy! Please check out the series …..
So this award comes at a time when myself, like many artists, reemerge to blink in the light and try to pursue the best New Normal we dare dream of. I am filled with gratitude for this award, and what my two hands will be doing amongst other things is:
The performance hand
DUOLOGY – a new set with my oldest musical companion Jason Rebello. The two live gigs this summer are
( on both of those dates I’ll incude a piece on the SOPRANINO SAXOPHONE. Yup its really small!)
and there is also a quintet date at the 606 club on the 28th August where guitarist Ant Law joins me on front line even though he’s too young to be in the Generation X club!
The composing hand
The Forever Seed – a new and evolving orchestral work for strings with the amazing Thom Gould as soloist. It also involves the Cimbalom, heard of that instrument? Very cool. There’ll be word on this later but the main body of the work was recorded in the iconic studio one, Abbey Road.
Isn’t it true that on so many occasions, everything seems to be competing for our attention? On the internet every outstretched hand of friendship is only there because the other hand is ready to sign you up for something!
With music online and piped into public spaces 24/7, we hear a great deal more than we actually listen to. With so much talk about our mental health, with the ease of lockdown being so slow and not at all in some parts of the world, the quality of our attention can be said to be key to our well-being. In my experience that’s true when listening to or playing music. I find it takes a conscious effort to switch from merely passive hearing to active listening, requiring a narrowing of focus.
One thing that has really helped keep me listening over the last few months is the regular gatherings of musicians at my studio, some of whom are meeting for the first time. What they inspire in each other is invariably fun, engaging and honest. It started months ago with Winter Encounters, and now we are half way through Spring Encounters (with big thanks to the Arts Council for invaluable support).
Amongst the line-ups are all kinds of ages and backgrounds, and the hope is that the brevity of the meeting encourages something more precious because it has been fleeting. These are “unplugged” sessions, and although they are beautifully edited and mixed, at the core they are glorified jam sessions that can unexpectedly move you to tears or make you laugh.
I see different aspects emerge in my own playing as I endeavour to add something purposeful to the group. No element, it seems, remains unaffected by its counterparts, and if that were not the case it would mean we weren’t truly listening to each other’s music-making.
While Spring Encounters is about presenting music as a quality product during the pandemic, it is also a celebration of how to listen.
The first three sessions (featuring singers Norma Winstone, Liane Carroll and Ayanna Witter-Johnson) are all still available on ViewStub and of course through my website. Moving forward, the Spring Encounters catalogue continues to grow with Vimeo as its home.
An unexpected triple bill happens on Sunday 2nd May, when the planets align and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival stream the duet myself and Jason Rebello were requested to make here at the studio:
Our concert starts shortly after 7.30. The talks are all leading up to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and again, it seems, to hear the calls for action are not enough, we have to really listen!
And finally, by chance, another Spring Encounter is released at 9pm the same evening:
Your ticket will be valid for three months with this.
After the concert there is a live Q&A – with myself, Cleveland Watkiss, John Turville, Asaf Sirkis and Orlando LeFleming. That might be a good time to ask me directly about any of that music you may have caught earlier in the evening. All of this was not by design – talk about competing for attention!
Until we can all meet up again at our favourite venues, please join us for one or all of these things on Sunday 2nd May!
Tim Garland writes: For twenty-one years I was lucky enough to call Chick Corea both my mentor and my friend. His insatiable appetite for live music and, crucially, its communication, was infectious, inspiring those around him to produce their very best, most heartfelt music.
His incredibly full schedule was of course a result of his huge popularity. Some of the promoters we shared post-gig meals with would seem like his oldest friends, harking back to concerts from the late sixties on!
As a band leader Chick’s experience seemed unparalleled, and there are precious few who toured to the extent that he did.
In equal measure he was super-disciplined and playfully childlike.
His discipline showed up in his respect for the efficiency of those around him: During those inevitable “rise and shine”, early morning, hotel-lobby-to-airport calls, he would set a great example of good-natured punctuality. His hotel room was always equipped with a full-sized keyboard for regular practice before, and often after, a concert. Leaving a venue we’d sometimes have to wait as Chick would be up on stage again practising Mozart while the cleaners swept their brooms around the stage!
Early on, Chick was patient when there were things us newbies needed to learn and quickly forgiving of errors of judgement. He taught us how to communicate on larger stages and how to minimise barriers between yourself and the music, as well as the music and the audience.
On one of my first performances with him he beamed at me as I walked past the piano after taking a solo, and shouted over “That’s the shit Tim!” I was so pleased to have heard the word “the” in there!
As if a foil to Chick’s sense of discipline was his sense of playfulness. He was playful in his sense of mischief and endless inventiveness on stage. I can’t think of one concert when he wouldn’t have played some phrase that would produce a kind of joyful laughter from his sidemen, something so hip and fresh, so individual and so locked-in with the groove. I remember after my first gig with him at The Stables, Wavendon (when it WAS still actually a converted stable!), we were discussing how it felt to be “locked-in” rhythmically, his groove was so visceral, crisp and decisive that it pulled you into its orbit. In his company, one was made aware of how to place notes and phrases, how to be truly playing as part of the band and never simply over it.
On our many long bus rides he’d be talking to one or other of the band. The subject matter was always fascinating, Chick’s attitude and ear always open and questioning. He was eager to share his experience and to learn new things. He was still stretching his wings and growing along with the rest of us.
Chick had a passion for the drums being a drummer himself, his talks with Marcus [Gilmore] would bear the impression of two music students sharing experiences and digging what they love. Forget the 45 years that lay between them, it certainly had no place in that conversation! He gave exceptional regard to his drummers, they were “the High Priests” of the music, and he sometimes referred to the piano keyboard, for obvious reasons, as an extended drum kit.
With me Chick might talk about orchestration, composition, and approaches to getting the very best out of everyone on stage. He also gave exceptional respect to composers, and my great buddy, the composer Billy Childs who first introduced me to Chick was quick to remind me of how he often spoke of us in the same sentence. What a blessing.
In these personal moments with Chick I was deeply honoured to hear so many stories of musical heroes first hand, like when Miles’ band members all swapped instruments on stage before he came out. “You guys are crazy” was the raspy reaction he gave when they played him on! Chick’s playfulness was there back then and it stayed. He got fed up at one point during a tour of Europe; playing in these lavish halls threatened to make the listening experience stuffy and over-polite, so he tried to break out by having us all actually set up our gear at the beginning of the gig in front of the audience, cases everywhere, whilst he sat at the piano improvising his way into the first piece of the set!
Sometimes he’d surprise an unsuspecting band member, suddenly inviting them to introduce the next song, or he might just leave the piano, pick up a percussion instrument and start an impromptu rhythmic party. He got the audience involved too, inviting them to sing, to come up on stage, to call out suggestions…… no wonder thousands of music-lovers felt they knew him beyond just his music.
His five decades of musical creation and risk-taking that did not diminish with age, has led to fans from 75 to 25 united in grief at his parting. I remember occasions at Vigil band rehearsals when Chick would walk in clutching sheet music for brand new compositions, throwing it up on our stands with such maverick enthusiasm.
To think of the scope of the music that came from him, could there be any jazz composer that hasn’t assimilated a part of Chick into the very marrow of their bones? And such diversity! Think of well-known pieces like Litha, La Fiesta or Humpty Dumpty, the knotty mischief of his orchestral pieces such as The Continents or the episodic romping fusion themes of the Return To Forever band!
Chick’s eclecticism was truly unparalleled and in this I am reminded by my buddy Kris Campbell, our road warrior tour manager and unsung backstage hero, that “Everyone has their own book they can write about Chick”.
As often the only one travelling in from Europe on a tour or project, my jet lag was the reverse of the others’. One time I was nodding off in the hotel after a long-haul flight and at about 2am local time Chick calls up and says “I’m having a steak downstairs, they kept the kitchen open, see you in 5?!” – and one had to weigh up issues of personal health regarding sleep, against hanging out in deep conversation with the Chickster, talking about Henri Dutilleux or Art Tatum or how there was not enough good humour in contemporary music!
Humour was central, he’d often quote the comedians he’d grown up watching, as well as Monty Python, and old jokes of Ronnie Scott’s. But I remember a time when I tried to get him into Alan Partridge (a blast of self-deprecating Brit humour!) – THAT went down like a lead balloon!! Why so? Chick had limited time to identify with the humour of self-pity or self-destructive behaviour. His central modus operandi was appreciation. He was totally attuned to lifting everyone’s feeling of self-worth through his attentive appreciation. Just look at the amount of people sharing their selfies with him, and at how often he’s pointing at THEM, the fans, acknowledging THEIR importance, encouraging us all to feel inspired in our own endeavours.
Chick not only believed in us as his fellow artists, but genuinely relished the input we could offer and with that came the possibility that we might take a risk of our own that he didn’t actually dig, and you’d realise later that his interest was centred chiefly around the band, and that within risk-taking there had to be dialogue. Music for him was Communication.
His investment in the talents of others meant he never ran out of things to say as a musician with such a long career. I remember sitting next to him on a flight to Tokyo and mentioning, “this is my fourth time now”, his reply being that he’d been at least twice a year since 1966 (the year I was born)!
In Chick’s later years he was still incredibly resilient. During a potentially violent uprising in Argentina, we were forced to leave our hotel in the dead of night driving off in a rickety bus headed for our next venue fourteen hours away. There were rumours of buses being forcibly boarded by strikers in Buenos Aires. We took a heavily bumpy ride through the outbacks of the country. Chick bore the lack of comfort with such resilience that I didn’t dare make any complaint myself.
He always asked after Amanda, my wife, and my kids Rosa and Joe and we, of course, got to know Gayle. The last time I played at the Blue Note, Gayle took Mandy for a surreal 1am Chinese foot-massage just over the road “while the boys did their thing” sort of thing!
How very New York and how very Gayle!
Chick, you have left a gaping hole that we are all left staring into. We never imagined a world without Chick Corea in it, without him sending songs with Gayle singing as Christmas gifts, or releasing project after project (I was merely in about four but that was life-changing enough) or sharing his life’s wisdom. Thank you for lifting the spirits of millions of us and reminding us of what is possible. Thank you for showing such fearlessness in a world so wracked with fear, and my humble thanks for believing in me, a lad from Kent who was as hooked on music as you and who was privileged to share just a fraction of your experience. You have been the most inspirational man I am ever likely to meet and our global musical family both within and beyond the world of jazz has been stunned into silence. Yet I can hear your voice saying that you have merely Returned to Forever, and there you are just pointing at our instruments saying, “C’mon man! let’s hear what you’re working on NOW!”
Dates had been booked, with Norma Winstone and Kit Downes due to come over to my studio mid November. Then a second lockdown was announced, and Norma was soon to reply to my panic message “Lets DO IT!”.
So within twenty-four hours they were here, initiating the first of what I hope will turn out to be a series of “Encounters At Oak Gable Studio”.
Plans to hone a set with a song of mine and some other new material were put to one side, as the necessity of creating something on the spot took over.
Keeping the format to trios, distancing is no problem. We had no monitors, no headphones, and agreed there’d be no overdubs. This would be a concert, it’s just that the audience were yet to arrive.
What resulted was more moving than I could have imagined; melodies that I have known for thirty years or more, were now being sung a few steps away directly to me or so it felt, with that quiet authority that Norma possesses.
It felt like doing “In Tune” that radio 3 live music slot where you and Sean Rafferty are stuck in a basement, no audience in sight, yet mysteriously the world is dialling in.
Kit is a fantastic accompanist and followed Norma’s delicate phrasing as if they’d just been on tour together. It is also worth mentioning the loving debt we owe John Taylor, whose influence runs so deep in many of us, whether we be pianists or composers.
After feeling so starved of ensemble playing, this quickly assembled date was a deep joy, and perhaps had an added sense of renewed love for the ability to truly create together. Our choice of well loved tunes only seemed to add to this emotional gravity in the studio that afternoon.
Another swiftly arranged pre-lockdown session happened the next day when Kit returned, this time with Rob Luft. His stereo soundscapes helped create a particularly nocturnal set suitable for the Christmas holiday performance slot that it’s being planned for.
Even more evident in this session, was the fact that this is an Encounter, rather than a Band: People with similar sensibilities, putting themselves on the line and relishing the freshness of committing something to record, in some cases never having played it before.
Several more sessions are planned. All being well there will be “Spring Encounters” and the other seasons will follow. My heartfelt hope is that they all will embody the same passion, interconnectedness and, well, love, that these first two have.
The ability to finesse the audio, and of course to have the whole thing beautifully filmed, means these online concerts are not live, but the plan is to follow the 45 min concert with a live Q&A , where you can shoot over your questions to those you’ve just seen and heard bare their souls, and they can talk right back to you from their boudoirs via Zoom!
My son Joe Garland is a big part of the tech success of this, having already created the new-look www.timgarland.com site. Check it out.
Please take a look as there are quite a few videos, audio clips of what I get up to at Oak Gable Studio, Masterchord, and Abbey Road, and importantly, details of performance dates and ticket info.
If we are lucky enough, life may have given us an opportunity to use some newfound time to develop our musicality, and I believe the way to deepen this is to develop our power of concentration. That part of us that seeks purposefulness and satisfaction through creating, is often frustrated and malnourished. This isn’t always because of lack of time in which to attune ourselves to a creative headspace- it is often because we remain underdeveloped in our staying power when there IS an opportunity.
It’s quite possible we are too hard on ourselves when improvement is not quickly apparent, and we may only rarely sink deep enough into the music to have a proper “delve” or experience any authentic union with the instrument. We are ALL busy people!
If you are in a situation where that extra time with an instrument might become possible, and you want to ENJOY it, try my “Third Hour Of The Third Day” rule:
Don’t expect any particular improvement until the third consecutive day of practise, and not until the third hour.
So you have committed to three hours a day for three days. That’s the stuff of full time college students and not older folks with mortgages and kids, right? Well, try and fashion a challenge as close to this as you can, the important part being that you are playing for a good deal of time WITHOUT any expectation of improvement. You are just playing, “playing” like a child plays.
Eventually get your phone out and record yourself maybe, a little bit of self created tension. You may cringe a bit at hearing yourself if you’re not used to it, but you’ll no doubt appreciate SOME improvement, so make sure to heartily enjoy and acknowledge the feelings and don’t dwell on the criticism. Involve the whole body, in my case as a blower of a fairly large instrument I need to keep up a good energy, but not so it is strained. I don’t expect very much when I first start out and am just grateful for the time alone with the instrument, actually it is almost a “self-compassion” where non-judgment presides. My time now, I tell myself, is to connect with the highest part of myself and all worldly problems for this time, have to be put aside. You could even say that for this time, you are not “of the world” anyway, perhaps you are “of the earth”. As such you do not need Facebook or chocolate or whatever, you just need concentration in the task at hand.
A couple of days ago I realised I needed to record a solo on a new album. The challenge I set myself was to be content with a recorded solo that had absolutely no editing in it, as if it were a live gig. The piece “Ambleside Nights” is pretty tricky actually. At the beginning of the third day I filmed a couple of the solos and I’ve made one available online, just for your interest.
I like the fact that I was able to surprise myself a couple of times in the solo, as well as follow a fragment of melody which helped glue it together. I also liked the fact that although I wasn’t able to interact with the live band the way I really like to (in the same room at the same time!) nothing jars. Plenty of things I’d played up til then seemed so sporadic and un-flowing, I REALLY had to employ some compassionate non-judgement.
Improvisation is the endless art of perfecting imperfection. If you can’t practise without both concentration and a playful, patient mind, you might not enjoy it, and right now an extra few hours might be the gift something in you is longing for.Let’s ensure that music remains a source of joy for us, and that the rewards of truly applying yourself are not all at the end of a rainbow but can be in the journey itself, an enriching of life when the troubled mind can take a back seat and music can do the driving.
“There’s nothing quite like Tim Garland’s music…Everything fits with such perfection…His soundscapes certainly present us with atmospheres and images subtler than any picture…..some superb jazz soloists, notably Garland himself”
Dave Gelly THE GUARDIAN 4 STARS
“..it’s clear that this is no ordinary chamber jazz….Taking his inspiration from the scenic magic of England’s Lake District, saxophonist and composer Tim Garland has translated the natural beauty of the landscape into an equally breathtaking suite”.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ 5 STARS
“A mini-masterpiece” EVENING STANDARD
‘impressively cinematic soundscape….
The wide-ranging score draws on modernist dissonance and adds folk balladry and the slow-burns of fusion jazz.’
4 STARS FINANCIAL TIMES
Try thinking of the music you listen to in one of two ways:
Either the experience will be primarily a journey, or primarily a place.
Music that relies on a strong sense of narrative, would be the former type.
Turn on a recording half way through, if it is a piece that relies heavily upon narrative you’ll potentially feel the lack of something, just as you would if you were to start a film half an hour in.
The narrative content of a piece of music demands our attention, it relies on us engaging with the linear story being told.
Whether it be the structure of a Beethoven sonata, a (seemingly) less structured Coltrane solo (from a later album) or the unfolding of the slow movement of the Ravel piano concerto, you can appreciate the momentum and engagement of great narrative music. Likewise a great improvisation over a standard tune; to really hear just how the soloist is manipulating and superimposing over the tune’s structure, it helps to have heard that tune, its exposition, and to have enough attention invested in what’s going on to remember some of its contours.
Music as a place:
To write music as a place is to meditate upon a picture in one’s mind, or to use an actual photo perhaps, and somehow distil the essence, or emotional “meta-data” that resonates within you as you translate your feelings to music.
It cannot actually be static as it is still, of course, in time, but It is a gradual deepening or focussing of the emotion, that represents the development of the piece, even if it is characterised by a lot of repetition.
Listen to Steve Reich’s Desert Music, or one of the very vampy recordings by Keith Jarrett, including his best selling Köln Concert. From early plainchant to Louis Andriesson and his “De Tijd” (“Time”), any music which summons a sense of place, over it’s sense of journey, can be appreciated as deeply immersive.
It is also more possible to listen in on a piece like this after it has started. Often the emphasis on texture, production or repetition will be so prominent, as to pull you right in from whatever point you start to listen.
These examples are a starting point only, but it is worth pointing out that the influence of movie music has had a greater impact upon our appreciation of place music, and has not done so much for our ability to get engrossed in longer, through-developed music, whatever its genre.
I have long been totally in love with “modern” harmony, which I sometimes refer to as The Beauty In The Dissonance. Music with a lot of harmony or active foreground melodic lines, really does require your foreground attention and a certain amount of willingness for the twists and turns of the genre to become familiar. There is no singular place this music is describing, it is more a journey between places. It doesn’t make good background music, and can be difficult to appreciate without putting your phone down for the whole duration, counting out millions of potential listeners so it would seem.
I am not saying that music-as-a-place is in any way inferior. These two approaches are, more truthfully, entirely intertwined. I am only criticising an unwillingness to develop attention, and that goes far beyond the subject of music.
Check out Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus In Memorium Benjamin Britten”, this summons an amazing sense of place. It is not concerned with the journey as I’ve been defining it, but it most certainly deserves one’s whole-hearted, sustained attention.
The Place v. Journey approach has been on my mind a lot as I am on the eve of releasing my new album Weather Walker, which blends these two approaches in equal measure more than anything I’ve tried before.
I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity during this project to record the English Session Orchestra string section in studio one at Abbey Road, plus eight soloists in studio 3, to create my own series of “pictures” of the Lake District.
It is within these places, that the narrative element is added by the magic of pianists Jason Rebello and Pablo Held, and bassist Yuri Goloubev. These plus my own playing of course, on soprano and tenor saxes, (overdubbed as I was conducting the orchestra) create the balance of narrative to place.
So does the characterisation of music in this way add up to anything more than a mental game, given that you can’t really have one element without the other being present anyway?
It is the balance of these two approaches, forever changing, that keeps creative music endlessly varied. Whether you are notating your feelings into compositions, or improvising direct to an audience, observations which help you maintain an overall view of your art, are much more than a mental game.
In Weather Walker, you could imagine the string orchestra as the landscape, and the soloists as those that witness the wonder of it. Their spontaneous performances inject the human narrative, the emotional response and the sense of journey, which is at once personal to them as players, but created to be shared.
I was told some years ago by a senior record label that unless you could sum up what your recording was in one short sentence, it wouldn’t sell. The question, “Who ARE you?!”had to be answered in the briefest of ways.
The search for new sub-genre, quick-handle terms has been a constant throughout my career. Often the incoming artist gets pinned to a more famous name – “The new Bill Evans, the new Michael Brecker, the new Miles” – so the audience has a quick handle on their style.
As audiences, we all need references. I’ve been toying with the following idea:
The whole development of our artistic culture has rested on promoting something new until it is something familiar. The whole culture of developing artists is to turn something familiar into something new.
It seems to stand up. I don’t know of an artist who didn’t start with familiar base material, no matter what they have gone on to do. Conversely, the promotion of the same artist will often rely on referencing back to these same familiar origins, increasingly in the language of a quick hash tag.
The word “New” will be used in any event. This isn’t cynicism, this is just how we roll.
One artist I’ve wanted to talk about is drummer Paul Motian, whose trio team with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell rocked my world throughout the 1980’s. Here was a band which most definitely made strong references to familiar music of the past whilst being breathtakingly original. I’d write more but Liam Noble has done it so beautifully in his blog already – please check out ‘Brother Face’:
Motian was hard to “package” quickly. I was grateful for that.
With its ‘built in rebellion button,’ the creative jazz scene does not lend itself to the creation of a unified voice which speaks up for its importance as a genre today.
Sometimes I get the feeling that it is rather doughnut shaped, with a hole in the middle where that central, nurturing, reliable hub should be.
Within education, funding and jazz media we already have some great people nurturing the bigger picture.Our music so often speaks of us all being branches of the same tree; maybe we should dare tend to its trunk a little more.
I’ve been totally loving two musicians’ work this week, which is what started me on this whole train of thought. Both I have followed from the beginning of their careers.
Kit Downes and his release Obsidian: I LOVE it. Church organ improv, texturally fascinating, daring and beautiful.The sense of place it brings to bear is at times profound. The reworking of the Berio folk song arrangement was a joy to hear. Thank you Kit.
Many would also have heard Kit play in an urban / club setting too. This is just one side of the artist (Check out Enemy). We can do the stand up venues AND the sit down ones, despite these quick-handle boxes we are put in. Such labels float on the top of deep rivers.
In a similar way, Shabaka is now trail-blazing an amazingly high-energy dance club based music, totally plugged in to a broader philosophy and message – but I heard him (sitting down) in church too. Check out this link, with Shabaka on bass clarinet joined by Leaf Cutter John, and Cara Stacey. Brilliant.
Who wants to try and sum up their work as an artist in one short sentence?
We can, however, do our best to define each project we do, as best we can for a public swamped with content.
It is no secret that support for our music and its venues is precious and meagre, certainly here in the UK (just look at the funding opera gets by comparison, for example).
I’d encourage even the most idealist, separatist, anarchic young creatives not to distance themselves from our broader community. Beyond our need to press our rebellion buttons and go it alone, is a deeper unity that will actually determine our survival.
“The longest journey begins with a single step” You’ve probably heard this quote that originated from Lao Tzu whose name (I think) means “Old Man” in English.
Developing yourself as a musician should mean keeping a dynamic balance between the big picture and the seemingly little things you do, the micro and the macro.
Think of it like this:
Every time we do half an hour’s practise, we are laying down another piece of track for our “train” to run on, so to speak. What is the ultimate direction of your train? Is what you are laying down right now, pointed in the right direction? Lao Tzu was a wise geezer.
Musically, whilst focusing on particulars such as our sound, or sense of time for example, it will help to have also developed a clear long term aim. Why are so many of us slow to put our Big Picture into concise language?
Are we afraid to share the question of what it means to be creative, or of being judged as an un-spontaneous intellectual or a new-age dreamer, or are we just a bit lazy?
Creative souls such as jazz musicians tend to follow their impulses and do not tend to go in for things that are already clearly defined. Writing down a list of personal aims for your future may well feel like over-defining things, against your nature.
How many people know that the origin of the word define means to “bring to an end” ? Musicians know that “fine” will mean the end of the piece, I guess that’s a clue.
To define is to create a boundary, it is to make apparent that point where one thing becomes another: your garden, his garden. The lick you invented, the lick he says you stole from him etc.
Something becomes defined, say, a musical genre, through having a repeated experience of it. As soon as it becomes readily recognisable, familiar, we can stick a label on it, (and probably try and sell it).
Creatives are doomed to be at odds with this to some extent. They will take great pleasure in choosing a piece of existing material, say a still-life model or a piece of music, breaking it up and recomposing it so that the original definition is bravely challenged.
I was at Ronnie Scotts a few weeks back and saw TRIO HLK open up for Chris Potter’s gig. Travelling by tube I passed an advert for a new Tate Modern Picasso exhibition, with the wonderfully distorted picture of the seated girl (The Dream).
I connected the two experiences half way through the trio’s set. Creativity is to redefine. There can be beauty, humour and something rejuvenating in having the defined things in our experience twisted about, in fact we need this in our lives.
I have just finished my latest album, and needed a name, and artwork. From the furry edges of creative play had to come something very defined, I shiver to use the word “product” but that is essentially what “Weather Walker” is of course.
So how do we join together our need to stay loose, adaptable and spontaneous with the disciplined visualisation of a predetermined plan?
Lao Tzu also spoke of the “cloud of unknowing” where trust is necessary. Fog patches come and go and are actually a vital ingredient and a sign that you are moving forward.
If your train track stretched from America’s west coast all the way to New York, you wouldn’t spend the whole journey looking around exclaiming, “well that’s not New York, and that’s not New York!”. It is understood that the experience of the journey itself with it’s changing landscape, is what makes your destination the prize that it is.
Put into practise, that would mean that the next time you set half an hour aside to work, it is as worthy a “life moment” as the goal, the final point, itself.
The very way we are processing information these days is short-term, rapacious, impatient and often unconnected to the body, like a brain on two restless sticks.
To be in that “final point” as you settle into practise means to sacrifice the Urge To Splurge. (Please read my earlier rant on smartphones).
Here is the pay-off: You will come to know whether your train is running on the very best track for you much more clearly this way. So to get the Big Picture, increase the quality of the Little One.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.