Nobody Can Smoke Dope Like a Jazz Musician

Allow me a self centered moment here…I never imagined I’d be writing about jazz, even just a blurb or pick here and there, so this was all quite an experience for me. Turning your solos, your rhythm section subtleties, your ideas and charts and interpretations, your hard work and passion and history into effective prose, and doing so in maybe a sentence or three…man, that has been a education. Especially for someone who, to be honest, doesn’t really know a damn thing about music. But somewhere deep down in the brain, far back in our evolution, language and music merge, and witnessing your playing and interplay in person has taught me a lot about language, stuff I would never had considered had I not been compelled to describe it week after week. In fact, a solo Kenny Burrell played at the Union Hall really opened up the possibilities of fluid accents in prose (outside the sentence structure…it’s complicated and dull, don’t ask), something I was beginning to hear in Lester Young but Kenny clinched it. There were all kinds of other moments, too…some Josh Nelson comps, dropped in just right; some Ralph Penland backing, like a frame in which accents bop about, echoing…and made me rethink Monk a little; the great Billy Paul dropping in hints of marching bands flitting by in acccents; Francisco Aguabella’s textured claves, rounding those diamond hard Cuban rhythms into supple jazz then letting Benn Clatworthy roar through like a sheets of sound powersaw, tearing a shredding each groove into fragments that Francisco kneaded back into shape; Gerald Wilson’s ka, flitting, darting, dancing across the Central Avenue Stage in the summer trilight; and all those hundreds of solos and thousands of phrases by Carl Saunders and Benn Clatworthy and Herman Riley and Chris Colangelo and Theo Saunders and Nedra (and Kristin K and Jennifer L) and Otmaro and Charles Owens (at the World Stage, blowing like a madman for the hangers on)  and Richard Grant (by himself, alone, in a darkened World Stage) and Milcho Leviev (alone, by himself, in a church, playing Gershwin the way Milcho’s crazy god meant it to be heard) and Tim Pleasant connecting the dots in taps and tipples and just the hint of a tinged cymbal, Oscar Brashear blowing free lines; Dwight Trible singing like a horn, like a horn section, like a people praying; Elliott Caine & band just wailing at a blues joint, our englishman John Altman blowing Lucky Thompson throught that ridiculous little horn….I could keep listing names here but…well, that’s enough. You know who you are. And you get the idea. Jazz opens up language, live jazz especially. Watching you all invent music on the spot, watching your ideas spun into phrases intop extended logical tunes, then dissolve again as yiou drop out for the next guy, that’s the creative process at work, at it’s most ephemeral. The brain turning dexterity and sound and structure into music. Man…. What can I say? Can that be done in writing? Does it apply? Ask me years from now, I guess. It has certainly changed how I write. A little piece I did on Herman Riley once was inspired by the way he played a ballad. Taking that essence, that kernel, and writing about Herman in words that reflected how he played that ballad. Hard work, really hard work. But I would never have seen the possibilities there had I not had a weekly deadline describing jazz musicians and their music all over town.

Another lesson I learned was that nobody can smoke dope like a jazz musician. Nobody. It’s hopeless to even try.

Written by Brick Wahl. Photo by Ron Sombil via Flickr.

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One Response to Nobody Can Smoke Dope Like a Jazz Musician

  1. Pingback: Selected Pieces | Brick Wahl

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