Inspiration and humanity in music

My own feelings about the direction in which jazz should go are that there should be much less stress on technical exhibitionism and much more on emotional content, on what might be termed humanity in music and the freedom to say all that you want.

— Booker Little

I think we have all have had experiences of pure inspiration in music. These moments leave us with much to think about regarding our own directions and ideas about music and life. One such experience… I feel so blessed and humbled to have had the opportunity to play with pianist/composer Arturo O’ Farrill and alto saxophonist David Bixler. I must admit, I had been more aware of Mr. O’ Farrill’s work as an arranger and bandleader, not as much as a pianist. After hearing the first notes he pulled out of that well-worn piano at the Jazz Estate, however, I and everyone else in the room was well aware of the magnitude of this incredible musician. We played a mix of charts I brought in, and some of Mr. O’ Farrill’s originals. After getting a chance to talk with Arturo for a bit on the break(s) and after the gig, I came to a few realizations/re-affirmations:

1) I had never really heard anyone sound like this on the piano. What I was hearing was a unique voice, void of recycled cliches, licks, patterns, etc. Yet at the same time, I could hear the entire history of the piano from Art Tatum through Brad Mehldau. It is ok to be yourself, after understanding your place/role in the tradition. Vis a vis the great Coltrane quote: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” It is important to possess a vast library of vocabulary that can be delivered eloquently, intelligently, originally, and authentically. 

2) Humility is an essential element in maintaining growth as a musician. Here is a musician playing as much music on the piano as I have ever heard in person…. and he is as gracious, courteous, and open minded as can be. There is NO room for ego, pretentiousness, attitude in this music (and in life). The only way to improve as a musician (and as a person), is to acknowledge your shortcomings and to address your weaknesses. 

3) It’s about what you say AND how you say it. I am reminded of a particular performance with a good friend. As we were about to begin the set,  he leans over to me and says “Alright now, no licks!”. Much easier said than done for certain… Actually, this was really difficult and I certainly played plenty of them that night. However it caused me to think very deliberately, “I am going to really try and say something and say it with some force and some depth and some meaning and some direction.”

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