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Improvisation On Any Instrument
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My continued mission as a teacher and performer is to encourage people of all ages to explore and develop their creativity and spirit through the arts. With the "Friends of the Arts" funding, we have brought my live music assemblies and workshops to tens of thousands of students over the last 25 years. My hope is that we have ignited the flame of creativity for students to be inspired to begin or further develop their life long curiosity and passion for the arts.
It is a must for young students to see and hear live music being performed. They must feel the energy that comes from live music and see and hear the power of a live band. In the digital age, students listen to music from their phones, Ipods and Ipads, YouTube, MTV, and videos. They are removed from the source of the music and my mission is to give them the feeling and vibrations of live music. There is no substitute of seeing real musicians playing live music.
I feel lucky to be completely immersed in jazz as a performer, composer, and teacher at this stage of life. Developing an art form requires a lifetime of continued devotion, dedication, and unwavering attention.
It is very important for the arts to continue to prosper and develop in this fast moving world that we live in.
I am astonished that I’ve become a musician and been able to live artfully and creatively over my adult life. It has been quite the wild journey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I may not have gotten wealthy but I sure have gotten rich.”
The time is sunset. The air is clear and fresh. The color is just beginning in the western sky. There is a finch up in the top of the tree singing its little heart out. I listen carefully to its song and the variation in its melody. The bird changes the way the phrase ends, now repeats the first phrase but the second part is different, now the end falls away in yet another adaptation. The finch starts singing again but the pitch is a half step up moving through an entirely new set of phrasing ideas. This is a jazz bird, riffing, improvising, and putting a musical finish on the day as the sky explodes in colorful splendor. Who is this finch singing too? Is this little creature inspired by the drama of the sunset? Does it HAVE to sing, as artists HAVE to create art, as musicians MUST play? Bravo to whichever creation theory is correct. Having little birds riff their song at the beginning and end of each day is truly a glorious creation.
I stand next to the finch’s tree and blow my saxophone. I am inspired by the sky, the views, and moment. I have no plan for the way the notes come out. I start with a single note. I can feel my brain waves shift from that rational left side to the creative right hemisphere. The flood of notes pours out of my horn, and in an endless stream of music. I must keep the rational within me from analyzing, judging, condemning and must get out of my own way in order to let the notes shape themselves, build upon themselves, so the instinctual creative juices can be freed to take the musical journey. There is no planning, no preconceived ideas, no road map from here to there, just trust, then true music can pour out of the soul and from the first note to the last it will truly be wondrous journey.
Fear is the biggest adversary, the foe of the creative. What will people think of me if I sound bad, what if I make a mistake, what if I fail. There is also a tyrant within us that wants to hold us back. It’s the criticizer and condemner that must be locked up in the deep recesses in order for the improviser to be free to extemporize so that the notes or words or painting or comedy can actualize to its highest level.
Sure there are good days and not so good days. Days when the music is dull and there’s nothing to say, can’t improvise your way out of the black hole, the brain not firing. You get frustrated, intimidated, overwhelmed by the vastness of what the music could be and you hope that in the next moment you can find the creative pocket. You must keep pushing on, finding your way out of the tight spot, and let the music write itself, mustn’t be taken hostage by daunting insecurities. Must be like the finch and riff.
Let us recognize that the great improvisers of all art forms know their craft well. Seasoned musicians are connected to the music and are not encumbered by the technical problems of their instrument. They have worked the glitches out through practice.
Improvisation is also derived from our culture, personal experience, and the generation that we are born into. Audiences can also affect the music with their attentiveness, and a powerful chemistry can materialize when the right musicians come together to play. I enjoy our cultures daily improvisation called noise. Listen to the cacophony of traffic it’s crescendos, diminuendos, rests, movements, rumble of an exhaust, the shrill of brakes, the tri-tones of sirens, and the improv of the river late at night when the culture rests.
I am ever more infatuated and marveled by the power music has to create emotions, feelings, and joy. I have found that I am in my truest state of awareness/being when I play music and improvise.
I wish that instead of war with guns and bombs, leaders disagreeing would send in troops equipped with finely crafted musical instruments. Soldier would improvise and show their stuff. The final battle would be an explosive jam session utilizing all styles and modes of music. After the last note has faded, the soldiers would all gather for a potluck and talk about how great the riffs were. Now wouldn’t the world be safer and the people happier.
Arts Perspective Magazine • Summer 2008 Edition