Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Freedom, Discipline and No Rules

    Music has been good to me. Aside from being an active listener, I've managed to be a participant in a variety of functions. Mostly as a drummer. I've run the gamut of marching bands to pit orchestras to variety show gigs to heavy psychedelic weirdness and beyond. To tell the truth, I've been lucky beyond my abilities. More than a few times I've found myself playing drums behind players that were a few galaxies ahead of me. Luckily, no major damage was ever done and things are cool between me and most folks I've had the pleasure of playing music with. I'm glad to have had the experience of being stretched to the limit of my abilities by some truly world-class musicians. This is not a moment where I want to crow about this person or that person that I got to jam with, exactly. I've had some super-cool path crossings for sure. Yet, I know these were merely lucky moments so I'm not going to get into some phony trip about how great I think I am because I got to play with so-and-so, etc.......

     However, I would like to acknowledge one truly special musician who has just recently left our planet - the great jazz guitarist Larry Coryell. I had the opportunity to meet him a handful of times and got to perform with him onstage just once. The performance was limited to a select few songs with NO REHEARSAL and in front of a decently sizeable audience. To say I was fairly terrified would be a gross understatement. Please understand - I love jazz music, but I am not a jazz musician. My abilities are far too limited for me to make such a claim. Yet, that night Mr. Coryell illustrated for me what a true professional musician does:  pull the best out of whatever players you are working with, as if by magic. As part of the mercifully brief set we played, Mr. Coryell decided to call off a Thelonious Monk tune (I think it was "Well, You Needn't") at a tempo which represented the EXACT LIMIT of what I was capable of holding together for an extended period of time. It wasn't slow. Yet, somehow he made me and the rest of the young charges backing him up sound WAY BETTER than we actually were. After the show he was gracious and kind  - and I did get to hang out with him at the Blue Note in New York City once after that (the band I was in included his older son Murali - a great talent in his own right). Those few encounters I was blessed to have with a musician of such stature are burned into my consciousness. I cannot fathom the loss felt by his family - children, grandchildren and loved ones - in the wake of his passing. Godspeed, Mr. Coryell - your music made the world a better place.
     What I've come to accept about my own playing is to what degree my abilities exist in relation to my discipline. I love to play, but I never was the most committed to "practicing" - at least in the rudimentary way. I sometimes wonder if I'd had more discipline and drive, would I have been able to hold my own a little better when my path crossed with musical giants like Larry Coryell? There are scores of musicians who never get anywhere near a legend and I've had a few run-ins over the years. What if I were a better musician? Would it have made a difference? Not that I'm unhappy with what I do now. For me it's all about serving the music as best as I can. I still perform on a regular basis with several groups. And folks get up and dance and don't "boo" or throw things. Yet I know there's that discipline thing................
     Sun Ra was big on discipline. Any cursory study of his music and life will reveal that theme. Yet, the goal echoes what can be found in many styles of music - FREEDOM. Indian musicians practice their hearts out and, somewhat like jazz musicians, discover the freedom of music in performance where the exercise leads to inspiration. In a few instances I have had the experience of what a little extra attention to chops-building can do. There are some moments I wish HAD been captured on tape - moments where I played beyond my usual abilities. That "state" of playing can be awfully exciting and gratifying. No wonder some folks get obsessed with building their chops to those levels. But it takes DISCIPLINE. Study and practice. The payoff is the freedom to engage in the ULTIMATE TRUTH of music.......which is: there are (actually) NO RULES!

     Larry Coryell was known as a "jazz" player who blurred the boundaries between jazz and rock music. Yet, one of the most enduring memories I have of hearing him perform live was being exposed to the great classical Maurice Ravel piece "Pavane for a Dead Princess" :
The first I heard this was not on the LP above (great album as it is). I got to sit front row when Larry was the opening act for Miles Davis at the Tanglewood Music Shed one summer evening and he played this piece. It was as if my molecular structure got re-configured! Fairly blew my young mind. This helped to reinforce my growing belief that THERE WERE NO ACTUAL BOUNDARIES in music. If you like it - it's good. If you don't - it's bad, or you haven't figured out why you don't like it. THAT'S the ONLY RULE.

     All the rest comes down to so much marketing. Which is not to say it's pointless, of course. If one buys a ticket to a country music show, will you be happy with a marching band playing Dolly Parton songs? Most likely not. Commerce works against total freedom. But that's life. The trick is pushing those boundaries - and for me that's where the most exciting music lives.

     Over the next few entries, I have a lot of new music suggestions to pass along. I know I haven't been as active lately here. Yet, the listening has not stopped. I have some great stories to tell and vibrations to send out. For now, I want to put the word out about a few new things I've been listening to lately.........
     Speaking of boundary-stretching guitar players - Harvey Mandel has a NEW album out titled Snake Pit! I got it on vinyl and it smokes! Harvey is backed up by some of Ryley Walker's musicians here and the results are impressive. Harvey Mandel is one of the guitar's finest advocates - his talent has caught the attention of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and even the hip-hop world! His own solo LPs have been sampled many times by folks looking for awesome grooves and beats. The latest LP adds to his stature as a major musical talent of our times. Support living artists and get this record now!
Michael Chapman has a new album out now titled "50" - in celebration of the number of years he has been an active, prolific musician. A great guitarist, performer and songwriter - I was fortunate to see him last year in support of his other great release titled "Fish". I hope I can catch him again soon. I cannot believe what deeply profound and moving music is coming out of this guy - he's at the top of his game! Grab his new record NOW!
Aha! What strange record is this? How about The Crazy World of Arthur Brown? The new (2014) LP - "ZimZamZim". Dear reader, are you sitting down? Get this - I SAW Arthur Brown live in New York City a few weeks ago where I bought his new album AT THE SHOW! He was amaaaaaazing! Sang his azzzz off and put on a fantastic show. It was a true bucket-list experience and Arthur did NOT disappoint for one moment. See him if you can and get his new album and check out this wild video!!!
Arthur Brown is still cutting edge, people! Oh, bugger it - here's the show in LA about a week before the show I saw in New York:
Arthur announced from the stage that he had achieved the 75 go-round point in his life and his energy was more like that of a 25 year old! These artists are inspiration to us all. We need them. We ought to treasure them and cheer them on when given the chance.

Driving down to the Arthur Brown show, I was cutting it close to showtime and grabbed a spot in the nearest available parking garage to me. Just so happened to be located across the street from the Blue Note. The last time I had been there was to see Wayne Shorter and Mr. Coryell met his son Murali and I for the show. It was not the last time I saw Mr. Coryell, but I couldn't help but pause outside the Blue Note to recall the happy memory. As it happens, the club I saw Arthur Brown perform at that night had once been a famous jazz club - The Village Gate. Now taken over by new owners with a new name - still a great venue for live music. However, I couldn't help think about what that club looked like back in the 70s when the Coryell Family (and band) posed for this album cover picture:
Time is fleeting........life is a carnival.......take care to treasure those important to us while they're here and hold those good memories close along the path..............and may music be the center of the celebration! Until next time! Bright Moments!