Back in January I wrote a post about American exceptionalism, the thesis offered by generations of American historians that their country was put on earth as a beacon to other nations, responsible for perfecting Western civilization. It was summarized nicely by President Polk’s observation that
We are a Tenth Amendment People.
Said another way, our national “core competency” is creating governance, systems, processes and art that optimize individual contributions without tearing the fabric of the whole.
More to my point, it seems to describe the music of a Tenth Amendment People.
In this book I hope to deliver the positive message of America’s greatest music: how great musicians demonstrate a mutual respect and trust on the bandstand that can alter your outlook on the world and enrich every aspect of your life—from individual creativity and personal relationships to the way you conduct business and understand what it means to be a global citizen in the most modern sense.
The most prized possession in this music is your own unique sound. Through sound, jazz leads you to the core of yourself and says “Express that.” Through jazz we learn that people are never all one way. . .Jazz also reminds you that you can work things out with other people. It’s hard, but it can be done. When a group of people try to invent something together, there’s bound to be a lot of conflict. Jazz urges you to accept the decisions of others. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow—but you can’t give up, no matter what. It is the art of negotiating change with style. The aim of every performance is to make something out of whatever happens—to make something together and be together.
Jazz is the art of timing. It teaches you when. When to start, when to wait, when to step it up, and when to take your time—indispensable tools for making someone else happy.
The musician’s relationship to time can be of ultimate assistance to you in: 1) adjusting to changes without losing your equilibrium; 2) mastering moments of crisis with clear thinking; 3) living in the moment and accepting reality instead of tying to force everyone to do things your way; 4) concentrating on a collective goal even when your conception of the collective doesn’t dominate; 5) knowing how and when to expend your individual energy. Being in time also gives you the confidence to take chances.
Jazz musicians have to listen and communicate. You have absolutely no idea what the other musicians are going to improvise, so you’re forced to listen.
Swing demands three things. It requires extreme coordination, because it is a dance with other people who are inventing steps as they go. It requires intelligent decision-making, because what’s best for you is not necessarily best for the group or for the moment. And it requires good intentions, because you have to trust that you and the other musicians are equally interested in making great music.
Edisontold me the blues was the saddest sound you ever heard. Horace Silver said it was the most joyous sound. It’s perfectly designed to give form to what we feel at any time. . .The amen cadence in Christian church music—the blues.
You don’t have to earn your creativity—you’re born with it. All you have to do is tend to it and unleash it. Every human being on earth is given the gift to create, and that creativity manifests itself in trillions of ways. There are no laws or rules. Creativity is unruly. Like a dream—you can’t control what comes to you. You only control what portion you choose to tell.
Jazz—the music—is the collective aspirations of a group of musicians, shaped, given logic, and organized under the extreme pressure of time. When we all work together, the music swings, and when we don’t, it doesn’t. That’s why, although the perception of jazz is that we all get along, in actuality, we’re all always trying to get along. It is the integrity of that process that determines the quality of the swing.