Dealing with your natural self in music takes courage, honesty, and determination. Sometimes it can take years for you to process just how you relate to the different aspects of what happens when you play an instrument with the intention of being who you are. Of course, singing makes it even more personal with no go between like a horn. I have recently come to see that some of the greatest things we have heard in jazz over the years are what came from relationships between very specific people when they were both being completely themselves. Sometimes people must play with very specific people to get to themselves, as when they play with others, their music doesn’t become fully revealed. It comes down to how natural selves line up with one another. Sometimes your music fits with another person’s music and sometimes it doesn’t. When a group of people find all the relationships fit, then watch out, you’re creating something that only those people could create together. In this way, making music with other human beings is based on relationships. Just like personal relationships, musical relationships can come and go, and must be sustained through commitment, patience, and hard work. As it is with human nature, you can be hurt when you want to develop a musical relationship with someone but the two of you just don’t line up. That can be a learning moment if you can summon the self-honesty. Maybe two people line up, but the third or fourth person doesn’t fit. You can also flip the script and cut yourself off from other human reactions and go solo. The truths will eventually be revealed when the sound comes out. It always comes down to the sound, the most important thing of all.
This has been hard for me to look at closely, because my natural self needs to put people together with very strong musical selves and self-awareness to see what happens. My natural self always wants to know what would happen if people you don’t think could come together musically, tried to. I need to see people push into other areas of themselves that they might not reach otherwise. Duke Ellington meets John Coltrane is one of my favorite, you could say, experiments, that yielded eternal results such as the way Duke responds to John and Elvin. The biggest victory for me is Duke’s composition Take the Coltrane. If you look at the melody and harmony, Duke is showing that he knows exactly what Coltrane is doing. Even further I believe this piece to be harmolodic!
Both Directions at Once is what led me here, as I’m hearing more clearly that the great quartet at the core is all about what happens when John Coltrane’s natural self enters the river of Elvin Jones. Trane once said that the quartet was really Elvin’s band. When Elvin totaled his car, Trane said he could always get another car, but there was only one Elvin Jones. On Facebook, Cooper Moore added that it’s always the drummer’s band. The relationship between the horn and drums seems to be paramount throughout jazz history in this discussion. Miles Davis second great quintet was all about Tony. Miles was at the helm, but Tony was the ship he was flying. My natural self wants to hear Miles with Elvin and Trane with Tony in the mid 60’s just to see what would happen. I’m now reaching the understanding that Elvin and Trane and Miles and Tony are the natural relationships that were supposed to happen, as a kind of co-destiny. We have the evidence as we continue to listen to the music they made together like it was made yesterday, still changing lives. Still, can anyone imagine Miles coming in on Crescent or Transition? What if Trane played on Miles Smiles?
I’m at great pains to hear that Ornette and Albert sat in with the great Trane quartet but that it wasn’t recorded. What happened when they did? Miles invited Don Cherry to play with the quintet, what happened when he did? Miles, Roy Eldridge, and Woody Shaw all played with Ornette, what happened? These moments might have revealed how their natural selves lined up. Sometimes we do get the results. When Jackie Mac played with Ornette all the focus was on how Ornette responded, but people overlook that Jackie was responding to Ornette’s innovations in person with some of the most blazing alto of his career! When Sam Rivers played with Miles, Miles, at times pulled back to almost complete and total melodic playing, playing totally straight melody during an improvisation as if he threw himself his own anchor as his ship entered a storm called Sam Rivers. Sometimes conflict is the only way to discover the truth, even just as listeners.
As usual, Miles had moments where he found himself at the center of where the core philosophical principles of the music can be seen more clearly, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Many people have heard of his blindfold test reactions, but I discovered his most extreme reactions recently in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 70’s. For me, Feather will always be remembered for saying Monk couldn’t play. Who had the last word on that Leonard? When Miles was played the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band playing a piece called Bacha’ Feelin’ here was his response:
“It makes me feel like I’m broke and wearing a slip that doesn’t belong to me, and my hairs combed the wrong way; it makes me feel funny, even as a listener.”
Then in response to Don Ellis- “He’s just another white trumpet player.”
As for Dizzy and Ornette, I’ve found some information on what went down. Ornette told me himself that he had a double bill with Dizzy and played first. On the intermission James Moody expressed interest in studying with him and Dizzy intervened, telling Moody, with Ornette standing there, that he forbid it as Ornette was full of shit. But in a blindfold Test with Feather years later Dizzy said this:
“Bernard Stollman gave me one of Ornette’s Town Hall Concerts. I was alone when I put on the record, and I could follow the chords he was playing. It was difficult stuff, very complex, and highly enjoyable.”
Then there was Max Roach attacking Ornette in the bathroom at the Five Spot and then going to Europe with a piano-less group a year later.
It’s undeniable to me that we always somehow end up playing with the right people, for the most part. Certain musicians will push and challenge you while others might make you feel comfortable. Some musicians will do both to you. These kind of playing relationships lead to very different kinds of music. Relationships are based on needs after all. What do you need from other people to be who you are? What do you need?
How do you feel when someone goes out? How do you feel when someone plays totally in and doesn’t take any chances? How do you need to feel to get to your music? I heard Miles would have his shoes on too tight, so he felt like a boxer in the ring. I myself have been told I sound like I’m hungry. I sometimes partake in a simple ritual before playing called cheap coffee and a buttered roll.
My whole relationship with music has been challenged through my studies at Rutgers. Studying the solos of King Oliver and Bird with a magnifying glass is intense. Writing functional harmony applicable to the different periods in jazz, there’s no way for that not to result in a self-examination of my relationship with music overall. I went from writing authentic bebop and swing music to doing a presentation on the harmony of Ornette’s Kathlin Gray. The results for me are in.
I’m HAF. Harmolodic as F***. That’s my natural self. At the same time, I need to be free to attempt to construct something as perfect as Lester Young’s one chorus on Fine and Mellow with Lady Day. With one semester left at Rutgers, my final task is to write my thesis on Ornette. I’ve never been deeper in his world, but the problem is he and Bern are no longer here as guides. Denardo has been helping me reach the core big time. My natural self is why I was compelled to record Harmolodic Monk, and Harmolodic Duke is on deck. Someday, the Harmolodic Hot Fives.
That’s all I have for you today my friends.
I know who I am.
Who, are you?