Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Beginning of a Moment

The very beginning of a moment is such a continually eluding thing to conceive. Music appears to 'travel' through time and is somehow preconceived by the intention of the musician. The flow of the beat-'space' (groove?) gives us the expectation that a succession of beats will be on time and from that impetus, a larger and still accurate conception of the beat-space can be felt and deduced through multiplication/reduction. One beat, One bar, One section, One chorus and beyond—all eventually can be strongly felt in 'ONE'. How can I say this:? by working with extreme slow tempos. Slow drag ballads are not heard so much and I remember playing a gig with Big Miller and someone from out of the province sat in on drums.

This man (he was a veteran player from Winnipeg) could really really lay down a slow drag ballad. He played brushes and was very at ease with it and was only slightly disturbed by my panicky vibe which didn't throw him but reminded me to buck up and try to get to his space. Big M. had noooo problem singing to that long but palpably strong broad beat. That was beat-space I'll tell you! and of course a lesson in humility for me—but essentially a most important event in my playing history. I'd never played with that kind of a beat—so hard to grab hold of but so at ease.  I felt a little like a ghost who was trying to touch (grab more like) the 'real' physical world realized in that broad playing of that ballad. Yeah it was peace and yet such a challenge to relax to it and most of all trust it !! I was obviously in the presence of a Master player and I hadn't played with someone with that particular kind of depth and subtle conviction. I guess I got through it but I felt then, like I had hardly started to play jazz. Maybe I haven't yet! Getting good at something requires you to do it. We all lament the lack of playing-paying gigs that are such a mainstay for the development of this musical art form.

During my UBC years in the BMUS program (a long time ago) I often practised dead-slow, at times with a metronome and, also, played many adagio/lento movements in Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, so I wasn't unfamiliar with those long slow beats. Practising slowly and accurately with dynamics, even tone, and nimble and precise fingers, playing all the notes of a chord precisely together are a part of the regimen of all serious players—in both classical and jazz. Does this help us with faster tempos? Karl Berger once stated to a class of MacEwanites, the now obvious fact that rhythm and meter are in a matrix or part of a matrix in which double time, half time etc. are laid out. Even if you're playing an uptempo jazz feel, behind that, is the subdivision or multiplication or meter (slow 'under'-beat) that helps one keep the form even though the main meter/rhythm element may be going at breakneck speed.

I've been checking out Charlie Parker recordings listening to the ease with which a tune like "Dizzy" Gillespie's tune, "Bebop" is handled by those players. It definitely has both elements: back breaking speed and a relaxed confidence that could be interpreted as being a broader beat. It's intense and in the moment but almost elusive. The first time I heard Charlie Parker was in 1957 in junior high. There was this interesting teacher (known as Mr. Kennedy) who formed a discussion/art/music club and he played Charlie Parker material for us even though he said he didn't know much about it—can you imagine that happening today except perhaps by a music teacher—this guy wasn't— he was just interested! Very cool, looking back on that. Around that time, I bought a 45 record of Charlie Parker "At the record store" (along with Elvis et al). One side was 'Kim' a 'Rhythm' tune and 'Cheryl' on the other side. I gotta say, I was mystified—Charlie Parker's playing was So fast to me, that I couldn't really make it out, in spite of listening to it many times. I'm not sure if I eventually understood it. It was ELUSIVELY fast !! It has taken all this time for things like that to 'slow down' a little.

Here's a somewhat relevant quote from the 'Gospel' of St. Thomas—attributed to Yeshua who said: "Blessed are those that abide in the beginning" which was preceded by "Where the beginning is, the end will also be." All this was about that, I trust.


  1. On that gig experience with Big Miller and the Man from Winnipeg, I was thinking of a metaphor to describe how I felt. Well I felt a little like a ghost who was trying to touch (grab more like) the 'real' physical world realized in that broad playing of that ballad. Somehow I did hold on though. It was of course, a big-time positive experience overall.

  2. I had to read this a number of times. The first couple I blew through it too fast and I missed everything. I finally read it slowly enough. I think I'll read it again even more slowly.

    This resonates: I felt a little like a ghost who was trying to touch (grab more like) the 'real' physical world realized in that broad playing of that ballad.