winning the popularity contest

the heavy rain we got yesterday was the first wetness in weeks.  as i raked the yard yesterday, it was leafy and dusty and in need of some precipitation.  thanks mother nature (or brother nature, as andy from parks & recreation cleverly quipped).  i hid beneath my umbrella as i scurried to school for a marathon day of rehearsals.  i park about a 10 minute walk from the building, and pass the planned parenthood offices along my path.  people are often standing out front of the clinic with signs, and yesterday was no different.  an older fella was perched alone with his poster that read "pray to end abortion". he was getting drenched in the cold november rain, but remained unfazed.  regardless of my take on that controversial topic, i was impressed with this silent protestor.  he was standing for what he believed in, despite cruddy weather and drive-by jabs from the college crowd.

i spent a week at an improvisation camp-of-sorts out in brooklyn about 10 years ago, the same summer that the power went out all across nyc.  we were stuck in an oil refinery.

we slept on top of the building that night in '03
great minds taught at this thing; including drew gress, tom rainey, vijay iyer, mark helia, don byron, uri caine, and ravi coltrane.  the longest and most informative day by far came from the instruction/preaching of steve coleman.  he is a terrific alto saxophonist, pretty hip guy, mover & shaker, prolific composer, and ultra opinionated guy.  his teaching was tough to swallow.  he had us all doing some ridiculous math problems in our head and attempting to improvising with them.  he would quickly cut us off, call us jive, reek of disappointment, and run us through the impossible gauntlet again.  he beat the concept of using the archaic undertone series over the changes to winter wonderland into the ground.

a bunch of us went and got lunch after the first session.  i remember feeling weary, defeated, and a little pissed.  i had never met anyone like him before.  the coordinator of the event, trumpeter ralph alessi, offered some insight.  he agreed that steve was super intense and a bit jerky, but noted that he had always been impressed with steve's relentless pursuit of his own musical concepts.  he believed in it, and was willing to fall on the sword for his ideas.  ralph's perspective hit me like a ton of bricks.

sometimes i wonder if anyone relates to what i am trying to accomplish artistically.  i often struggle with this. maybe i should whip out the slick blues licks, race into the upper register, rub a growl into some of these notes, and toss in a recognizable charlie parker quote for good measure - all in an effort to get instant approval from the pedestrian audience. i'll admit - fighting for your own sound, your own ideas, your own concepts is an exhausting and often unappreciated expenditure of energy.  what keeps me going?  i believe in it. i'm willing to stick it out, no matter what.  i don't want my epitaph to read stylist, but would rather be remembered as a contributor to restructuralism.  humor me and read this excerpt from the great book forces in motion by graham lock, chronicling the life and times of anthony braxton.

"stylists are usually able to become more successful than restructuralists because their music is not perceived as threatening to the cultural order.  this is why phil woods wins so many polls.  his playing doesn't really challenge any law, it just reaffirms what has been current, in the air, in the last thirty years; that being the dynamic implications of charlie parker's music.  whereas the greater public have not really had the possibility to examine the music of john cage, albert ayler, the art ensemble of chicago - those musics don't seem to filter through.  but in fact, before charlie parker demonstrated his music, nobody played like him; so if the value systems that surround phil woods are allowed to dominate, there will be no forward motion, and no future phil woods because he would have no one to take a music from."

1 comment:

  1. Like this a lot Mike. I struggle with this a ton, in every aspect of my life.
    When you start the initial "rocking of the boat", people say, "hey, don't rock it! You might fall out!!!" Maybe they don't realize that getting wet every now and again in life is far better than staying dry.