Jazz is smooth and cool. Jazz is rage. Jazz flows like water. Jazz never seems to begin or end. Jazz isn't methodical but Jazz isn't messy either. Jazz is a conversation, a give and take. Jazz is the connection and communication between musicians. Jazz is abandon.
Jazz is a constant theme in my life. My father is a jazz pianist and from an early age I have been surrounded by it. I would not describe myself as an avid jazz fan and I am not a Jazz musician myself. However, that is not to say that jazz does not play a vital and important role in my life.
Thursday I watched and listened to my dad play with three other musicians at Dizzy's Jazz at Lincoln Center. I have probably seen my father play live jazz over 150 times since I was a baby. I have had a very erratic life but with one constant; when my dad is playing, I am there listening. The gigs refresh and comfort me. Thursday, I watched two sets back to back until 11:30 and I tried to figure out what makes these events so special.
I arrive for the first set and sit at a table. I order a hamburger and size up the audience. The crowd so far consists of mostly graying jazz fans and a few young couples on first or second dates. It is easy to assume these young people are in the early stages of their relationship. The young men wish to appear sophisticated and awkwardly hold their girlfriends. Soon, the lights dim, and my father comes out as his coolest self. Even as he walks onstage, his gait changes. His body transforms with each step he takes closer to the piano. He suddenly looks more comfortable and more confident. Then three other musicians take the stage.
As the music washes over me, I feel less like I'm watching a concert but more like I'm witnessing an interaction in some other language. These musicians are not playing for me to enjoy. These guys play for each other, at each other and with each other. The quartet consists of piano, drums, bass and saxophone. The drums and bass are responsible for the rhythm and the groove. The piano and saxophone are responsible for the melody and the harmony. In a typical song, the bass line slides in and out of the drum beat and the drums just push and pester the bass while the bass stays steady. The rhythm section is like two kids on the schoolyard. The drums are the bully picking on the bass, but the bass always keeps its composure. While this rhythmic battle is going on, the saxophone and piano dance around the melody and poke at the original song's harmony until it breaks down into chaotic energy. Finally, when each musician has ripped apart and re-imagined every bit of the song, all four begin rebuilding the tune and putting the broken pieces back together.
All the while this is going on, the musicians have no inhibition. The rhythm and feeling of the music makes them grunt, twitch, tic, make ugly faces and lose themselves completely in the moment. The musicians are well trained and studied, and if necessary, would be able to play 'correctly.' However jazz music is not about being correct. The minute jazz musicians start improvising, convention and education fly out the window. Now in that moment, these musicians are finally free.
I have learned a lot from Jazz. I compare good acting to jazz music. The more you study and prepare as an actor, the more equipped you are to live in the moment. Just like the gifted musicians in my dad's quartet, it takes a courageous actor to be free.
I am a more open and free thinking person from the principles I have learned from jazz music. I hope to always have a little 'swing' in my step and 'jazz' in my heart. As my dad always says, "straight ahead and strive for tone... cats"