Posted below is a photo from a New York Times open panel discussion hosted by Ben Ratliff which featured Danilo Perez, Master Roy Haynes, Michael Brecker and myself. After a short briefing backstage, we met onstage to answer questions from Ben as well as the audience. I found the storie sand anecdotes from Mr. Haynes to be exceptionally historically compelling. Mush of what he offered can not be accurately found (if at all) in any biography or music history book. He clearly illustrated why it is imperitave that younger players seek the truths directly from the sources and contributors themselves - without filler content or embellishment.
However, situations such as this can be challenging, depending on the participant's state of mind, attention span or the level of fatigue that they may be fighting. As active, traveling artists we often have to summon inordinate amounts of energy to stay attentive during panels and interviews. Methods may vary, and those efforts are not always detectable to outside parties. Here, Mike and I are trying not to laugh out loud in front of the audience and are recovering from one of my many under-the-breath wisecracks - that were probably responses to questions that were not necessarily directed to us. I enjoyed trying to make him lose his composure, while he snickered with a straight face. That evening, he didn't crack. Perhaps because Roy Haynes was on the set. It didn't prevent me from trying though. Mike was a very interesting guy, and I always admired his work ethic and the way that he crafted his exceptionally recognizable identity in music. I met him during my early New York days when I toured with trumpeter Jon Faddis and he was always generous with information and very inspiring. He used to leave lines and melodic phrases on my (cassette tape based) answering machine that I would play over and over.
Now if I can only locate those old tapes..... I have no idea where they are.
Sometimes when I would see him through the years, when no one was around I would speak to him in a fake robot voice. I did this and would tease and call him "Roboticus" because I kiddingly joked that his playing sounded contrived and completely devoid of spontaniety. I accused him of over-practicing and dehumanizing everything, to which he always got a kick out of me doing so. This wasn't true, of course, and speaking to him that way was only a thinly-veiled attempt to goad him into proving me wrong on the spot. If we were backstage, in the dressing room or if he had his horn, he would laugh and answer my robotic voice with one of his mind-blowing signature blazing lines - played super fast. He was only giving me a musical response to my jokes. But I wasn't laughing at that point.
Needless to say, I would stop speaking in that robot voice immediately. lol.
I conducted a private lesson for a very talented international student today. This young man is the recipient of a national award from his native country (I won't reveal his identity or where he's from) which requires him to have a number of one-on-one sessions with a US-based artist of his choice. He contacted me via Skype. We chatted for a bit and I suggested that he send me a sampling of his playing, to which after hearing only a few minutes of a recording that featured him performing without accompaniment, I consented to meet with him for study.
He arrived in a timely fashion and was very polite. He immediately put together his instrument and as he warmed up, he flawlessly played some of the most fantastic technical melodic patterns that I have ever heard anyone play. I was absolutely impressed, and listened in admiration as he effortlessly glided around his saxophone with ease and precision. This went on for some time, and since his lesson was timed I reminded him that we should proceed with the information and procedures that I'd prepared for him - which is why he came to me in the first place.
Blank stare. Silence. No acknowledgement whatsoever.
Not him, but pretty close.
He then resumed playing by himself and kept at it. No break. He simply ignored me and continued with a barrage of more incredibly difficult and lengthy patterns. I figured that he was going through a personal ritual and he needed to finish before we entered into the actual session, which I must admit, can be quite demanding. However, it became aware to me that something wasn't quite right. This guy eventually became oblivious to my presence and my repeated suggestions that we should get to the heart of the discussion.
His dazzling exhibition, in his own mind, WAS the lesson!
He was not open to any additional information, suggestions, evaluations, anything. In fact, he played by himself for practically 1.5 hours and did not stop to ask me one single question. After he finally did stop (which was a relief, to be honest), I suggested that we improvise with a play-along track and trade choruses on a familiar standard song. It was at this point that the truth was finally revealed...
It immediately became painfully clear that the guy excels at playing solo passages alone, but he had the worst time and concept of form that I have ever witnessed from someone who plays the instrument so well. It was obvious that he has put practically no time into the actual act of group interplay or session participation. The idea of keeping his place in the form or acknowledging the environment was completely foreign to him and the sad truth is that he didn't know that he didn't know. I'm at a loss of just who is responsible for this because he is not a beginner by a long shot, but I would make a guess that his teachers did not bring these issues to his attention. In fact, I feel that his education has been hijacked, because it will be overwhelmingly difficult for him to un-learn whatever it took that allowed him to believe playing solo patterns is acceptable or to embrace the methodology which is prerequisite for functioning effectively in an improvising environment. For all of his technical prowess, the young man has been debilitated by his education, or lack of a proper one.
At any rate, I will continue to meet with him and hopefully be able to illustrate to him that, despite his dexterity on the saxophone, he is well below the level of acceptance in the real world of contemporary improvised music. Perhaps I'll lend an update to this saga in months to come. I'm as curious as any to see the outcome.
To anyone who reads the Ozblog postings and may have a word or two of commentary to offer, it's very simple:
1. All you have to do is to click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the current post
2. And save YOUR comment via your gmail, wordpress, etc account.
3. All comments are welcome. Even those that may oppose my viewpoints. I
don't always have to be right, and I definitely don't purport to being
an authority on much of anything. I generally write stuff that everyone "thinks" but is afraid to say
publicly. I've always thought that there was nothing to lose by being honest, and I'm just putting issues on the table in an effort to (hopefully)
encourage some spirited, but respectful, discussion - even with those
who disagree. Nothing will change otherwise.
I (reluctantly) attended an after concert jam session recently. It has not been my practice to participate in such festivities for many years because for some reason, whenever I step up to take a solo at sessions, things have a habit of falling apart on the bandstand shortly after I begin to play. For a long time, I didn't understand why but it happened so often that I began to instinctively recognize the indicators: Pianists will start to comp with far too many percussive and dense chords, bassists break up the beat unnecessarily and drummers shamelessly obscure everything with excessive volume, rushing, metric modulation, hemiolas and all out non-stop soloing. These violations are much more evident when very young players are involved - especially recent graduates from university level music programs. (Of course there are exceptions) Unfortunately, unseasoned players sometimes use these sessions as unofficial audition situations, and take it upon themselves to "go for it, every time" at all costs. The result is often amateurish, unlistenable chaos and the most common excuse is usually "I'm sorry, I thought that's what you wanted...."
However, at the aforementioned session, the issue was completely different. After I was called to play, (even though I had no intentions to do so) I was completely blindsided by several younger players who suddenly took out their instruments and stampeded to jockey for a place on the large stage. They hadn't been summoned nor invited by the host nor any members of the band but in as much as I enjoy hearing musicians play and express themselves, it was perfectly fine with me. I chuckled and welcomed them.
After a very loose and sloppy melody statement was made by one of the young players (who clearly didn't REALLY know the melody OR form) I stepped up to take one of my classically short solos (Charlie Parker length.) It was at that point, one of the young saxophonists all but bogarted his way to the microphone and blasted his way into the first chorus. As I realize that music is not a competitor sport, I laughed and marveled at his bravado and enthusiasm and let him "have it." After his solo that went on for far too long, another player did the exact same thing. He cut off someone else and elbowed his way to the microphone. This scenario went on with maybe 2 more players afterward.
Finally, when it came time for me to play, and after they had exhausted every possible avenue of expression and tested the patience of the audience by playing marathon-length solos, I waved off the opportunity and let the pianist play instead because the song had gone on for entirely too long. At that point, I felt that there was no reason to contributing to the cacophony. There had been at least five or six solos played already.
OBSERVATION: The behavior that was exhibited that evening is part of a phenomenon ushered in by a current generation of players who have not been taught or conditioned to show respect for those that have endured much more in the music. (re: elders) Their only aim and cause is to put on an exhibition of what they can do, despite the fact that much of it is not original or in the spirit of storytelling and embracing the spirit of artistic camaraderie. The attitude is one of pure selfishness and a lack of awareness of the staples and ethics of the craft. There is no way possible that I would have EVER bum rushed Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Charles McPherson, Bunky Green, etc. or ANY elder at a session or otherwise. Not only would it have been foolhardy to do so in a musical sense but it would have been a showing of utter disrespect. I would have, with full humility, waited my turn, made a quick statement of maybe ONE chorus and then withdrawn back into the shadows to be seen and not heard. I would have done that simply out of reverence and acknowledgement of the social hierarchy and laws of the bandstand. It's called, "Knowing Your Place."
Teachers, please teach your students to adhere to the principles of grace and decorum in all musical situations.