Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Theological Mind Jazz


I mentioned in the comments a couple of days a go that I stumbled upon this great little film on You Tube called The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. For those of you who are jazz fans, it's a must see, but even for you squares and moldy figs who aren't hip to the scene, it's a fascinating excursion into the mind of one of the great musical geniuses in history. For Evans was not just a musician, but a teacher and philosopher, and he obviously thought quite deeply about the creative process. Furthermore, unlike most philosophers, he was able to articulate his thoughts in a very straight forward and accessible manner.

In fact, this parallels his musical technique, which somehow combines a maximum of depth and accessibility. Unlike most jazz musicians, he enjoyed a level of commercial success because most anyone could appreciate his music. For one thing, he had a very unintimidating, "pretty" sound, so if one is not particularly musically sophisticated, Evans might just remind you of the pianist at the Norstrom in heaven. As Evans put it, "Especially, I want my work -- and the trios if possible -- to sing." That it does. He is the most lyrical of pianists.

But despite the outer accessibility, there is enough harmonic, melodic, contrapuntal and rhythmic complexity to keep a musicologist busy for a lifetime -- like a beautifully designed automobile that is even more beautifully engineered. At any given moment, there is so much "interior detail" going on -- musical problems, resolutions, flights of fancy, conversations with the other instrumentalists (usually in a trio format -- bass and drums), introspection, sadness, exuberance.

Another reader mentioned that his favorite pianist was Thelonious Monk. That's a fine choice, except that no one else can play like Thelonious Monk. His technique was so distinctive that if you try to imitate him, you'll just sound like a caricature. Interestingly, Evans' musical conception is so capacious that he was easily able to incorporate Monk without ever sounding like him. Monk just became another "color" in his musical palette. It reminds me of how Stevie Ray Vaughan was able to incorporate Hendrix into his technique. If you merely impersonate Hendrix, then it just sounds like bad Hendrix. It's not art, but mimicry.

I relate on a very personal level to much of what Evans says in the film. In my book I use a lot of musical analogies, because there is something about music that reflects the deep temporal structure of existence. I think this explains the near universal love of music. While music may not be "natural religion," in that it provides no moral code, no grace, no salvation, and no object of worship, it does in many ways represent "natural metaphysics" or "natural ontology."

In other words, music reveals things about the nature of reality, so that if one dwells deeply within music, one can gain universal insights into existence. Certainly this was the view of Wagner, who may not have been the greatest philosopher of music but was apparently the greatest philosopher with music. I'm not saying that I can appreciate his music, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn and I did read this fascinating book (which also inspired Future Leader's name).

Evans made so many provocative little observations in the film that I'm trying to remember them all. One of them was that honest jazz involves making one minute of music in one minute of time. I'd never thought of it this way, but that is exactly what makes it so alive. I just googled some unsourced quotes, and in one of them, Evans says that jazz is "performing without any really set basis for the lines and the content as such -- emotionally or, specifically, musically. And if you sit down and contemplate what you’re going to do, and take five hours to write five minutes of music, then it’s composed music. Therefore I would put it in the classical or serious, whatever you want to call it, written-music category. So there’s composed music and there’s jazz. And to me anybody that makes music using the process that we are using in Jazz, is playing Jazz."

In hearing these words, I instantly transposed them into the key of blogging, because that is exactly what I'm trying to do here: provide you Coons with 60 minutes or 90 minutes of intellection -- or "soul jazz," as it were -- in 60 or 90 minutes. My book, on the other hand, is a composition -- several years of intellection for several days of reading. (That's not completely accurate, since most of the book was written in little bursts of inspiration, but you get the point.)

People sometimes ask me, "Bob, when is the next failed book coming out?," but at this rate, I'm not sure there will ever be one, the reason being that "jamming" on the blog is so much more compelling than composing by myself in my lonely Coon den. I don't know if I'd want to -- or even could -- revert to composition again. Notice that Jesus -- there you go again, comparing yourself to Jesus -- did the same thing. Quite conspicuously, he did not sit down, spend a few years thinking about reality, and write a book. Interestingly, for a religion that is supposedly based on "the Book," Jesus is a poor example, for the Gospels provide no evidence that he ever touched one, with the possible exception of peeking at the Torah when the pharisees were out getting a sandwich at Cantor's deli.

Thus, when Jesus speaks -- for example, in the Sermon on the Mount -- he is giving you ten minutes of theology in ten minutes time. But in so doing -- in abiding in the spontaneity of the now -- he is also giving the listener eternity in ten minutes, which I think is the key point. Everything he knows -- and more importantly, is -- is compressed into the vehicle of that eternal moment.

This is exactly what an improviser such as Bill Evans is attempting to do in the moment, and it is exactly what I try to do with the blog. Now obviously, in order to do this, it only takes half a lifetime of discipline, preparation, and apprenticeship. Otherwise, your spontaneous musings will be as deep and interesting as Maureen Dowd or Andrew Sullivan or Markos Moulitsas or Bill Maher.

Evans says "I believe in things that are developed through hard work. I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually a much deeper and more beautiful thing than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning. I say this because it's a good message to give to young talents who feel as I used to." As Evans suggests in the film, too many budding musicians want to tackle major musical problems and develop a "style" -- which is the last phase -- before they have thoroughly understood and assimilated minor ones. True style can only come after that has been accomplished.

Once again, I immediately transposed this into my world. One of the downsides of democracy is that "everyone has an opinion." Even worse, everyone is a "philosopher," or a "theologian," or a "political scientist," or "environmentalist," or "psychologist." Frankly, most psychologists are not psychologists, let alone people who have never studied it in depth. Deepak Chopra is not a theologian any more than Daniel Dennett is a philosopher or Bill Maher is a political scientist, but because of the lowerarchical narcissism of the age, the question of their credentials does not even arise.

Evans makes a couple of key points along these lines. First, he talks about how the cathedral, so to speak, of his musical conception was built brick by brick, layer by layer. Only when he stably internalized one level of the hierarchy did he move on to the next. Interestingly, this exactly parallels Polanyi's conception of epistemology, as each discovery is internalized by the body and becomes a "platform" to probe more deeply into the unknown. In other words, in the process of discovery, the "known" eventually becomes an implicit background that we don't even think about any more, just as a blind person no longer feels a cane in his hand, but instantaneously transduces this into an "image" of the space around him.

In the film, Steve Allen -- who can't help himself from being a bit of a pretentious load -- makes a valid point when he compares it to the operation of a car. At first, you have to think about everything consciously -- steering, changing gears, applying the breaks, etc. -- but eventually this all becomes background. You might say that the car literally becomes an extension of the body. Whatever your mind wants to do with the car is instantly translated into the appropriate action without even consciously thinking about it.

It is the same way with philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. In a previous post I discussed my frustrating experience of attending a three-day "golf camp" paid for by my generous in-laws who were selfishly hoping that Mrs. G. and I would eventually be their golf partners. Although I am a natural athlete, my athleticism counted for bupkis. If anything, Dear Leader's renowned physical prowess just made him more impatient. At one point we were practicing chipping onto the green, and I was essentially flailing away, punishing the innocent turf below. The pro said, "here. Take the ball in your hand. Now just toss it underhand to where you want it to go. See? Easy. Now just do the same thing with the club."

In other words, the problem was that I was trying to hit the ball with the club instead of with my body and mind -- instead of using the club as a mere extension of the Gagdad soul. When I shoot hoops, I do this automatically. I don't think about anything except for the basket, and "swish!, Lakers win the championship in double overtime!" But in a mere three days, I couldn't internalize the golf club as an extension of my psychic substance.

I'm imagining what it would be like to have a piano as an extension of your body, so that musical thoughts at whatever level of sophistication could be instantaneously transmitted through your fingertps without even thinking about it. But in the case of Evans, it's more than just musical ideas. Rather, again, he is able to put everything he is into the music. The piano is such an extension of his soul, that it becomes an outer reflection of his interior world:

"Technique is the ability to translate your ideas into sound through your instrument. This is a comprehensive technique... a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it. What has to happen is that you develop a comprehensive technique and then say, 'Forget that. I’m just going to be expressive through the piano....' To the person who uses music as a medium for the expression of ideas, feelings, images, or what have you; anything which facilitates this expression is properly his instrument."

Elsewhere Evans said, "First of all, I never strive for identity. That's something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way, and somehow I guess the individual comes through eventually." That's exactly how I feel with my own writing. Especially because of the discipline of blogging, it's gotten to the point that I'm pretty sure my identity comes through in everything I write. Of course, it's hard for me to say, since I am an "insider" to my own identity, and cannot experience it from the outside. However, it very much feels as if blogging has come to involve this spiraling reciprocal process of externalization and internalization of my soul.

In other words, if you want to "practice" -- which is to say, deepen yourself -- you will need a piano, or some other such instrument. As you externalize your musical interior, you gradually assimilate what you have exteriorized, and vice versa.

Evans makes a key point about the need for structure to "play against." Although jazz involves radical improvisation, it will be devoid of meaning -- not to say, dramatic tension -- if it is not in reference to a stable framework that is always being "referenced" in the background. Keith Jarrett, who was deeply influenced by Bill Evans, takes this to even greater extremes, starting with a standard and veering into 20 or 30 minute improvisational flights of fancy that never detach completely from the musical structure.

Evans makes the point that this kind of improvisation used to be common to "classical" music, but was lost by the 19th century, only to be resurrected by jazz musicians. Not only were people such as Bach or Mozart apparently wonderful improvisers, but by all accounts, Mozart was capable of making "45 minutes of symphony in 45 minutes!"

Once again, I couldn't help but wonder how this relates to theology, and to what we do here in Coonland. For, what if the inspired prophets and writers of the Gospels were more like Bill Evans than John Tesh or Dino? What if they could only have accomplished what they did by using their entire bodymind as a spontaneous vehicle for higher forces to express themselves through -- as opposed to "taking dication" like Mohammed? What if we're supposed to groove and jam on the Bible, not memorize and rewordgitate it in the manner of the Mohammedans?

One thing that I hope sets me apart from my New Age competitors is that I do not engage in theological "free jazz." Rather, although there is no doubt that I improvise, I always do so over the mystic chords of tradition. No matter how far afield I might go, I am always anchored to the structure that has been revealed to us by the Master Composer. Meaning is what takes place in the dynamic tension between structure and process -- not by slavish devotion to the structure, but by using it as a launch pad back into the vertical realm from which it arose in the first place.

My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise... a part of yourself you never knew existed. --Bill Evans

"Jazz's Perfect Afternoon":


Of course, for absolute modern jazz beginners, this is the best place to start (Evans had a major hand in its conception):

44 Comments:

Anonymous GLASR said...

;~)!

3/06/2007 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

I see I need to practice my drumming more. I have no talent and no rhythm I need a lot of practice, yet sometimes it is like pulling teeth I'm just not moved. Anyway, Bob your post is a good justification of why musical education is necessary. I get the feeling there is something deeper here, but I can't get to it. Something about the Word being symmetric and musical, but yet it is beyond music. It is like music isn't the end but points to something else. Or maybe it serves as a catalyst for something else. Ehh... I know I know nothing...

3/06/2007 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Bob, I can tell you from experience (though not nearly as much as Bill's) that this is the beauty of Jazz. People who hate jazz do so because they can only 'hear' the surface, which for the most part just consists of syncopations, atonalish chords, runs, and some manner of randomness. Jazz cannot be heard but must be listened to; Because of the 'internal structure' acting as a foil, you must always have it in mind. This is why Jazz often plays with other styles and structures; it uses them as Jazzin' material.

People hear the surface and think, "Those guys are geniuses!" instead of thinking, "Wow, that took a lot of work." (second is more accurate, and you appreciate what you see more.)

Bill seems to have for the most part transcended (in the mental sense) all individual kinds of music; and seen it for closer to what it is; which is in my description, A single, continual song that goes on whether we ask for a few notes or not.

When I was younger, I could never 'hum a tune' like a popular piece of music or rock song, but I always could make something up on the spot. Never impressed anyone.

It took me a long time to understand the importance of the technique (something I work on all the time.)

When I play classical, I try to pick up vibes and themes from the music, things I can use for my own. Theory helps dissect things and put them back together in other forms as well; Theory is so fundamentally important and yet it cannot be adhered to in a legalistic sense.

In fact, I have recently become unconcerned with playing classical 'note perfect' -- which is something that I will only be able to do when the time is right.

By the way, if anyone can find a good explanation of how to really play a sarabande, I would love to hear it or see it-- it is a form of music that still evades me.

3/06/2007 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

RE ‘style’ Evans said something to the effect that – you don’t want style – that’s not what you’re after – what you want is pure, (unaffected by all forms of parasites) – the you that is distinctly 'you' to come out. All you.

That’s what I felt toward the end of my art school education. That people would like what I had to say if it came directly from say the heart and if I didn’t at all care what anybody thought of it – whether they thought good of it or bad of it.

Evan’s said something to this effect – that he could go work on this in a closet somewhere and if he got it right, the rest would follow.

Brilliant post today, Dr.

3/06/2007 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

“like a beautifully designed automobile that is even more beautifully engineered”

Oh I loved this, Dr.
(I mentioned before that I work at an engineering company)
There really is something beautiful about engineering– but something separate or beyond the visual. To be able to solve a problem with engineering – a big problem but almost more importantly the small but just as critical problem – like say the buttresses on the outside of a cathedral. The accomplishment that transcends the visual but is also reflected in the visual. My sculpture professor in art school created only abstract sculpture. I was not a big fan of the category before I met him. I ended up minoring in it afterward. Anyway, he worked in stone and steel and often how would talk about how he enjoyed showing the bolts and nuts that held the things together. He wouldn’t try to hid them. He said there was something he liked about their pure’ functionality’. They did exactly what they were designed to do and nothing more. It wasn’t that they lacked beauty but they were ‘pure’ at one particular thing in a sense. How it reflects something timeless, unchanging, a reflection of the cosmos and the way things are and will always be. The material embodiment or projection of mathematics…

3/06/2007 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Ricky: Good abstract art requires a kind of spiritual sincerity that belies its end product: Style.

3/06/2007 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

Applying mathematics or engineering to solve something – creating something that didn’t exist – or even especially makeing art - in a way seemed to me a way of saying thank you to God. Thank you for showing me the brilliance of you.

3/06/2007 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

River,
Before art school I used to think abstract art was what the untalented (poor skills) were driven too. I think most folks first impression (no pun) is this. But I was fortunate to have ‘seen’ some really great abstract sculpture that this clicked for me. I came to understand it was the only way to capture or express the esoteric concepts that likewise pure jazz tried to do. It’s simply became for me the only way to do it was in abstract art. Realism was limiting and a distraction. But you need to know that your skills are not also limiting – so just like jazz you need to get the fundamentals down too – so that they are not a distraction from what you’re trying to ‘say’. Example, someone looking at your sculpture thinking, ‘is his stone carving skill bad – or did he really mean for it to look that way’. To me you would ideally want your work to look like human hands never touched it – as if it just appeared.

3/06/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

Ricky,
I have to agree with you. Listening to Bill Evans going through the sequence - taking the basic melody, then adding a layer of harmonies, then a third time adding and enriching even more, I could hear the process of creating artwork (or any creative process, including writing and "faithing"). In painting, the analogy would be starting from a simple line drawing, then adding layers of shading and color to achieve something far more than you started with, yet still based on that original structure. In his playing, had I not heard the original melody I would not have known what to look for in the end result, but because he went through the process the way he did I could hear that the original melodic structure was always there. It was like taking a walk through a flower garden as a small child; there's a clear pathway, but though you keep the pathway in sight you can't help running through the flowers, chasing the butterflies, smelling the warm sweet grass, listening to the sounds of birds and insects, and generally drinking it all in; so much more to experience than just sticking to the worn pathway (or staying inside the lines).

Thanks for the link, Bob - a great way to get the neurons jumping today.

3/06/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

Ricky, as to the abstract art, I've seen both ends of the spectrum. I think good abstract art, for example Paul Jenkins' watercolors, comes from years of practice and traditional study, until like Bill Evans the basic process almost becomes second nature. Then the abstraction is often a form of play, with beautiful results.

Then there's the other stuff. I went to art school too, and I knew a lot of students who turned to abstract art for two reasons: 1. Learning the basics was too hard, and 2: We had professors who were themselve abstract artists, and didn't really encourage their students to crawl before they could run, so to speak. The end result was seniors whose projects were often an entire series of the same image, very big, over and over again with little actual variation, and usually an even greater amount of self-doubt and anxiety than your average artist (and that's saying a lot).

3/06/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

What if we're supposed to groove and jam on the Bible, not memorize and rewordgitate it in the manner of the Mohammedans?

Yes! And talking like that will get you thrown out of so many Sunday School classes!

Later, of course, other members of the class seek you out, looking for the coonskin cap you unsuccessfully tried to hide. Then, you both happily discuss jazz and theology and the Cosmos and the deep, deep, love of God --over a good pint.

Hmmmm... time to divide mystical insights into Majors, Minors, Sharps and Flats. May we never diminish Truth and always augment our gnowledge. Let them who have ears to hear, hear the Sevenths and sing them out!

***

Oh wait! It's lunchtime, no time the think, just jot down random thoughts, a la Glasr, heh!, but two nights ago, I happened upon a John Denver documentary, (yeah, yeah).

The moment I caught was him singing, "Perhaps Love" with Placido Domingo. I'd never heard it before, but JD actually intoned the song so beautifully that I stopped to listen. Then it was related that Placido D had given Denver a revelation about expression in vocals, and Denver's audience picked up on and responded to it enthusiastically.

All those years of Denver singing, and saying how much music meant to him, and how much he longed to share it, it still took a towering, disciplined musician to show him how to make it truly transcend.

How can they know, unless they hear? How can they hear, unless it is preached?

The Gospel According to Jazz. There's a book title for your next effort, Bob.

3/06/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

One of my all time favorite abstract sculptors is Isamu Noguchi. Love his stone work.
It’s pretty abstract stuff. But to me always reminds me of things I’ve seen and ‘liked’ but don’t know why – on any scale. From something as small as the way a bud curves to meet a leaf on a stem or just an individual ocean wave - or even part of a wave. I think all people notice these things and say to themselves – ‘gee that was cool’ – and move on. But those are the things I’m talking about.

Below are some samples of his work. Whatever you feel about them, remember there are no wrong answers. I used to have a problem with that about abstract art. Sometimes there’re not about anything more than a concept as ‘insignificant’ as the beauty in a curve of a leaf.

http://www.noguchi.org/archive/detail.php?cat=667

http://www.noguchi.org/archive/detail.php?cat=634

http://www.noguchi.org/archive/detail.php?cat=689

http://www.noguchi.org/archive/detail.php?cat=1001

3/06/2007 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

sffjfeJulie,
I agree with you about the spectrum of abstract art.
I was fortunate to have met some people and seen some art in the company of certain people - and it began to make sense.
It also helped to see how these people's skills were about as good as you could get when also doing realism - so I began to wonder why they chose abstraction over it.

3/06/2007 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul G said...

Ricky, I can definitely agree with you there. Since I was just a little whipper-snapper I have always marveled at the beauty of the well-engineered. I cut my teeth on Lego Technic sets, read this book more times than I can remember, and generally enjoyed taking things apart and making them do whatever I wanted. It is still fascinating to me that even something as superficially cold and quantitative as programming, engineering, or mathematics can still be honestly described as "beautiful" when done right.

More thoughts brewing... Thanks for the depth-charge today, everyone!

3/06/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

Those are some gorgeous examples, Ricky.

I was fortunate enough to go to art school across the street from the Butler Institute of American Art. Occasionally, teachers would take us across the street to view current exhibits. One of these was an exhibit of watercolors by Paul Jenkins ( http://www.pauljenkins.net/works/pain.html ). Seeing these up close, the colors seemed to sing from the paper. Discussing the images, our teacher asked what we thought. My first response was "eye candy," meaning it was the visual equivalent of a Jolly Rancher - the colors were so vivid they surpassed mere visual color, evoking flavors, scents and sounds (in my mind, at least). Another student, clad in emo colors, groused about how it was too bright. It made him angry and uncomfortable; an interesting response, to say the least.

3/06/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Erasmus said...

Great post, Bob. I share your passion for music and enthusiasm for Evans, an incredible musical genius..but I notice you don't mention that he was a heroin addict - tortured soul and all that. How would you you fit that dementia into the coonskin recap of his life and work?

3/06/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"What if we're supposed to groove and jam on the Bible, not memorize and rewordgitate it in the manner of the Mohammedans?"

That is exactly it, it's got to be dived into, examined, thought about, that's how you make it a part of you ... jamming to it evokes it well, soaking up the rhythm of it, the melody, the mood and tone of it, and playing it back through the instrument of your life... I like that.

And all of what Joan of Argghh! said.

wv:kgpowxex... wordverif is starting to jam too....

3/06/2007 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

Juliec,
The Jenkins work is breath taking. I’ve never seen it before. Thanks so much for sending that link.
What’s interesting too about abstract art is how it can be seen it in parts of realistic painting. I’m often drawn to tiny parts of realistic paintings – and go ‘wow, look at this little thing he/she has going on here’. And you know the artist on some level had to be thinking the same thing when they painted it. Because it’s all an abstraction…or reflection of something else.

3/06/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hey, most of my favorite musicians were heroin addicts -- Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Jackie McLean, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Rollins, Hank Mobley, Ray Charles, Dion DiMucci.... either that or speed/coke addicts -- Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Ray... Occupational hazard, I guess....

3/06/2007 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob,
All their dials are set to '11'.
:-)

3/06/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

Ricky,
I'm glad you liked it. I've always tried to keep his colors in mind when I paint with watercolors. At this point, I find it very hard to do anything that doesn't come across as realistic, from a structural standpoint (even when I start with a cartoon in mind, it rarely stays that way), but because I saw that fairly early in my art education, I am more comfortable playing around with color.

I just realized what artist Bill Evans reminded me of (though Evans deosn't build to the point of insanity) Louis Wane, the schizophrenic who painted cats. (link here) He started off painting cats in whimsical situations, but in a realistic way for the most part. Late in life he developed schizophrenia, and as it set in his paintings underwent a metamorphosis, fascinating at first - they were still clearly cats, but they became more and more fractalized. Eventually though the original structure was lost completely, and the paintings became complete, incomprehensible abstractions

3/06/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous cosanostradamus said...

The film so clearly illustrates the difference between the "approximation" of an art form (style) and dedication to the real and true (substance). It's no surprise that it took him 15 years of hard work and professional playing of the standards before he felt the first deep creative urges of his own "jazz". However, thousands of artists spend many years developing their form but only the rare few sacrifice themselves to absolute honesty, with no shortcuts or expectations of fame or fortune like Bill, Thelonius, or Keith.

It's that honesty that makes him accessible to a wide range of music lovers because inside all the beautiful complexity, the simple individual framework can still be identified. It's absolutely unique and built on solid rock.

Which describes how I feel about Bob's daily improvs, as well. Although I know I'm just grokking the tip of the iceberg, I can "see" the framework way down below, which makes it accessible to a simple kit like me.

wv: zradgags (z'radical gags)

3/06/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

"Occupational hazard"

That isn't a very satisfying answer (I realize it wasn't meant to be).

I've always wondered about the connection between drug abuse and insanity and the creative/artistic individual. What does this really say about such people? Substance abuse--at least in severe forms--is commonly understood to repesent a reaction to extreme inner pain and/or emptiness. I've met numerous people over the years who were abusers of various substances, and not one of them did it for fun or inspiration after the first early honeymoon period with their drug of choice.

Even more troubling to me is the fact that drugs like heroin, LSD, etc. seem to serve as a means from cutting us off from the True and the Beautiful. How then the paradox of a man like Evans who seems at times to literally embody Beauty?

3/06/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Well, this isn't meant to be an excuse, but everyone is human. Bill wrestled with that demon like so many others. What is thankful is that it did not destroy his music.

3/06/2007 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous One Who Submits said...

As a Muslim I find it an odd usage to call people "Mohammedans". This makes Mohammad, the person, the central aspect rather than message, which is Islam or Submission.

It is a small matter of course, and perhaps you used the term with no intention to obfuscate or offend, but it is significant to properly understand and communicate as such.

That many or most Muslims pay such literal attention to the Koran is no more or less a criticism of Islam than the correlating Christians who think of the Bible in the same way is for Christianity.

True Submission will eventually shed the fetters of books and text of any sort.

3/06/2007 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sorry -- I was just trying to be offensive.

3/06/2007 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The message of Islam is not voluntary submission. It is forced subjugation. Please go peddle your dark ideology elsewhere.

3/06/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous joseph said...

OWS,
The comparison between Islam and Christianity fails, as Christian literalists are funny; Muslim literalists are dangerous.
This is why, for example, very very funny Danish cartoons are responded to with murder in the Islamic world.

Anon,
Forced subjugation does not accurately account for Islam's high conversion rate. No one is forcing them, they are submitting willingly.

3/06/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

Joseph said:
“Forced subjugation does not accurately account for Islam's high conversion rate. No one is forcing them, they are submitting willingly.”

If it’s not forced subjugation, for the umpteenth time, can someone please explain the reason for the high conversion rate!? – while I still have hair…

3/06/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph,

I guess that depends on your definition of willingly.

I wouldn't describe conversions based on the converts' weakness or fear to as willing.

3/06/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

evans' modal jazz
contrapuntal left-hand high
i feel kind of blue

3/06/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Woo hoo! That was positively inspiraling!!! Thank you so much for that link. That sure was some O to k transmission. I also really like the part where Bill said the essence of a teacher is to get the student excited about the subject and explore it on their own. Principles are separate from style. Need a foundation to build upon. Be in the moment at the step you are presently on. Really good stuff...

3/06/2007 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Hmm, as for Islam, I would say that there are different levels of conversion. There is
1. Automatic - you don't know of any alternative but to be a muslim (born it, or to immature to understand alternatives)
2. Forced - You value your life more than not being muslim.
3. Pressured - Weak willed, physically weak, or otherwise vulnerable people can be shoehorned into conversion,
4. 'Fallen' - Said religion is used to fill a vacuum in a materialistic way; like using it as therapy. Islam in this case may have a cathartic aspect that creates these fallen conversions in westerners.
5. Sought - That is, a genuine conversion based on exposure and a change of heart to the truth. (At least some aspect of it.)

So
1. Born a muslim
2. Was a Christian in a Muslim conquered area
3. Was a different religion but pressured by Muslim friends
4. J. Walker Lindh
5. ?

I think Mohammedian is quite accurate; for as a Christian I see the necessity for a Christ; In Islam it would appear that Mohammed takes this place. For he is both the messenger and message of Islam (for many.) They listen to his words and model by his life...

wv: qtqbye?

3/06/2007 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

Ricky,

Having read a bit here and there, I can give you a few reasons why people willingly become Muslims.

In Europe, the reason has much to do with the fact that Christianity is looked down upon; many speak of Christianity in the same breath as the Inquisition, and in fact there were some European states, earlier in the 20th century, which actively discouraged any religion, especially Christianity, in favor of socialism. For obvious reasons, socialism is unfulfilling. For those who are seeking something more, they look around and see a Muslim community that is very welcoming to outsiders, and appeals to people's basic needs for faith. Furthermore, nobody tells a Muslim they're full of crap for believing in God in Europe. For women, there's the added benefit that if they walk around in hijab, Muslim men treat them with respect instead of calling them whores and behaving threateningly. For men, they feel powerful.

Here in the States, there are a lot of prison conversions. Imams in prison are viewed the same as priests or pastors. Converts wear Muslim clothes and change their names, and they stand out. Other inmates are perhaps less likely to bother them. And amongst the black community, it is often seen as more "authentic," being a faith straight from parts of Africa. (I know, so is Christianity, but try explaining that to some people...)

Mostly, it's the same reason people join any group that confers a perceived special status. They get group support, as well as, in some cases I'm sure, not just license but a command from god to treat badly anyone who deosn't share your faith. That's not the only reason, of course - I'm sure there are lots of pleasant things about Islam as well (a lot of people buy into the whole ROP line, especially in this country, I think). It's been said before here and I'll say it again - all muslims are not terrorists.
Community, traditions and values all play an important part in bringing people into "submission."

But it really boils down to this:

Empowerment.

There's a word the left likes to use a lot.

My 2 cents...

3/06/2007 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>Evans makes a key point about the need for structure to "play against." Although jazz involves radical improvisation, it will be devoid of meaning -- not to say, dramatic tension -- if it is not in reference to a stable framework that is always being "referenced" in the background.<<

As has been said many times about jazz, it's the unique American musical art form, maybe the unique American art form, period. And it does, I think, say something about the real soul and character of America.

Radical improvisation - ie., the openness to spirit, creativity, spontaneity in the deepest spiritual sense, all of which adds up to the fabled American talent for constant "reinvention" of one's self. Of course, such self reinvention can amount to nothing more than self-indulgent bombast if not for . . .

The stable framework always in the background - the spirituality implicit in the Constitution and Declaration, the real meaning of liberty.

Ideally, the newness of improvisation avoids sliding into mere temporal fashion because it is backgrounded by what is eternally new.

3/06/2007 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks River and Juliec,
That helps a lot. I guess I still have problems with the 'growing numbers'. It seems the reasons you both give would cause the thing to colapse on itself in a few generations.
Example: You say 'all muslims are not terrorists'. I believe that. That has to be true. But likewise not all Christians are TV evangalists - and that turns a lot of 'Previously Known as Christians' off.

I'm not arguing with you. I'm agreeing realy. And maybe I'm just projecting my own sense onto their non-sense.

3/06/2007 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous uss ben said...

Will said:
"The stable framework always in the background - the spirituality implicit in the Constitution and Declaration, the real meaning of liberty.

Ideally, the newness of improvisation avoids sliding into mere temporal fashion because it is backgrounded by what is eternally new."

Woooo! The stable framework (the eternally new) provides the launching point and capability of improv. and creativity.

3/06/2007 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous uss ben said...

Bob said:
"Meaning is what takes place in the dynamic tension between structure and process -- not by slavish devotion to the structure, but by using it as a launch pad back into the vertical realm from which it arose in the first place."

Meaning. The balancing of the dynamic tension between structure and process. Truth.

I liken a Ship as an instrument of her Crew, developing a life of her own in a very real sense.

I wrote more about this, albeit not as elegantly, on my blog today, in response to an excellent question by Van.

3/06/2007 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous ms. e said...

Tristan and Isolde. I've spent half the day revisiting Octavio Paz's The Double Flame. I'm in Love Now and Again.

3/06/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Wagner was a classical Evans, minus the heroin + Jew hatred.

---

It seems to me, and this is just an odd inkling, that my fidgeting is sort of my body willfully trying to forget God by doing a menial repetition since I refuse to mentally ruminate like I used to. I'm a tactile and spatial person, so I always want to touch stuff (walls, windows, chairs, etc.) Needless to say, I am the least germophobic person you may ever meet...

Anyhow, textures for me derive a simple kind of pleasure (one of my favorites is the edges of the pages of a book.) so my body's reaction (not necessarily bad per se, but simply reactive) is to fidget in that way. Like, feeling the texture of my face, or messing with my hair, etc. (For this reason I can't have long hair.)

Never thought about it that way until I just wrote it. Hair indeed does have a wholly unique texture.

Anyhow, I also understand the piano=extension of yourself. For me it can take up to 45 minutes for that to happen with an instrument. Now, If I could just play as well as Evans did...

3/06/2007 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Jacob C said...

Meanwhile, apropos of nothing, here is a little drivel from one of the great drivelers of any age:

"What will appear clear to anyone who reads his various Epistles side by side with the Gospels, is that [St. Paul's] mind was saturated by an idea that does not appear at all prominently in the reported sayings and teachings of Jesus, the idea of a sacrificial person who is offered up to God as an atonement for sin. What Jesus preached was new birth of the human soul; what Paul preached was the ancient religion of priests and altar and propitiary bloodshed. Jesus was to him the Easter lamb, that traditional human victim without spot or blemish who haunts all religions [...] Paul came to the Nazarenes with overwhelming force because he came to them with this completely satisfactory explanation of the disaster of the crucifixion. It was a brilliant elucidation of what had been utterly perplexing." -- HG Wells, who should really have stuck to fiction

3/06/2007 07:44:00 PM  
Anonymous debass said...

There are so many things to comment about, I don't know where to start and I'm really tired.
Great post, as usual. Like, cool, Gagdaddyo.
The interaction of Evans and Scott LaFaro is amazing. None of the bassists after could come up to that standard.
Like he said. You learn it and then internalize it.
People like Evans and Coltrane don't even need the chords. They play the tonal centers in their solos. You can hear the harmony in the solo line, even the upper structure triads (goin' outside), but always referencing the inside.
I could go on. Don't get me started.

3/06/2007 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Conditioned... that's it, exactly. The style you are conditioned to. I know this from experience, as my childhood was rich with the complex harmonies of the Hardanger Fiddle, which my young urban friends hear as torturing of cats.

But of course it extends to verbal comminication too. I've already long now enjoyed this blog with its reactionary, ethnocentric ramblings, which I honestly believe are inspired by God. I recognize it like a familiar voice speaking a foreign language, or like daylight through corrugated glass. What I have suspected, and am now certain of, is that to the local coons, the language is their mother tongue, and the glass is as clear as to be transparent. In fact, most of the locals will probably be unable to see Truth and fact as separate, in that they are perfectly aligned from where you stand.

And that is as good as it gets.

3/07/2007 06:32:00 AM  
Anonymous JohanOfSweden said...

For swedish people (a folk who lives in Sweden - a distant, small, almost totally socialized, country in the northern parts of Euroland), the work of Bill Evans is mostly known because of the cooperation between Evans and the wonderful singer Monica Zetterlund (who tragedly past away not that long ago). You might want listen to her and Evans here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tp-nbchmHU

She sings in swedish so you probably don't understand any of it, but it's beautiful and it fits well to Evans playing. She had a peculiar voice, and her very own way of singing, dear Monica...

Anyhow, I must say that I really enjoy reading your blog and I'm just about to start reading the fourth part (the grande finale!) of your Book. I think the pieces are begining to fall into place. A lot of things that I have thought was "the right thing" or "the way things has to be", your writings have confirmed to me. I Thank you for that!

3/08/2007 02:20:00 PM  

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