For over a year, I’ve been working on an essay entitled something like “Celebrating Two Decades of Chordophone Symbiosis,” in which I’ve been attempting to explain an argument developed over my lifetime relationship with the piano: I am distinctly not a musician, which is not self-deprecating, nor irrelevant as it sounds — especially to professional musicians. The fundamental (and ill-discussed) truth in the distinction is that a musician results from a primary focus on disciplined training with an instrument, whereas [title needed] like me cannot be made by anything but lots of time spent just fucking around.
I don’t remember the original moment of discovery, but there are three distinct elementary school-era instances in my mind of blistering my fingers from whole afternoons spent pounding away in my first two octaves. In all three cases, I refrained from stopping even after noticing them, and — in all three cases — blood was the end result. The sound itself was very rudimentary. Duplicated hands on a single-octave spread was all I was capable of. C, E, G, Middle-C, E, G, in the beginning. But to coax my developing brain to pipe a trickle of even the most basal unconscious information to the developing muscles in my tiny fingers so that old instrument could translate it into something I could hear… It’s called improvisation, and — for me, then and now — it is entirely irresistible. It is serene.
After discussions with musicians and enthusiasts across the spectrum — including one especially-stimulating all-nighter hanging with the exceptional Columbia Jazz Orchestra — I believe this conversation is one of the most important insights I have to offer. An intense physical, emotional, and intellectual relationship with one’s instrument like those experienced by (especially) professional musicians requires maintenance, and the “art” of improvisation has tremendous potential for reflection and healing.
but when he’d finally play, I’d pity“Scapabobididdywiddilydoobapbapbaphobia” by David Blue
because he must ask first
and his fingers are well-read
but they must ask first
and every little passerby
draws away his eye
his attention for she that loves him
After returning to my early adulthood home of Columbia, Missouri this weekend after my year spent in Portland, I realized that my own relationship with the instrument has been neglected more than ever before, simply because I’d had less access to the keys than I have in any other period since I began playing as a toddler. For my (underappreciated) following on Periscope, I streamed my first time sitting down at my own childhood upright Baldwin in far too long, and found the session quite reassuring. It’s certainly not an important listen — if you really want to hear my improvisation at it’s best, stop by my Bandcamp — but it got me thinking about what I might offer in future works within this subject. To begin, look for an upcoming review of the newest album release from the greatest living champion of the improv process, Keith Jarrett, and (eventually,) a completed draft of my aforementioned essay.
In the meantime, I’d love to read any thoughts you may have on the matter, however you’d like to deliver them.