May 28th, 2018
There is a Zen koan which asks; "how do you step forward from atop a 100 foot pole?". This koan always makes me think about jazz and particularly my beloved teacher Harry Whitaker. Harry never prepared for a gig - didn't pass out charts with complex arrangements. He always hired a group that he knew could empathize with him directly - mind to mind. He'd click his fingers on a tempo and GO! The tunes he played would be familiar - blues, Woody n' You, but the tune didn't matter. That was just his framework, it was the spontaneous moment that Harry embraced - the place where anything's possible. He was free. This kind of spontaneous, no-thought jazz is a rare style these days. It's rare that I hear a band that comes into Smalls and just blows, but there are a few. I never want to be the one who says one style is more significant than another but in my heart, I just want to shimmy up the top of that pole then look out at the vista before me and then...jump into the unknown! You never know, you may wind up flat on the sidewalk, a real mess. Or, to your surprise, you may discover that you can fly. Then you can soar with the great dragons, catching the vapors and riding them with grace and confidence. True jazz mastery. It's hard work to get to the top of that pole, no doubt. It may take years and years of climbing and let's say you actually get there - you made it to the top. Well, now what? I hear many musicians who have climbed that pole quite well but then got stuck up at the top and now cling desperate and terrified. I want to be like my man Harry, smile like the Cheshire Cat, close my eyes and just lay back - what happens happens and that's jazz.