I try to be the best musician I possibly can. I still have my problems, and that’s alright. I’ll work through them. I get lost in tunes sometimes, my lines aren’t as great as they can be, and I quite often just can’t express what’s in my head in sonic form. I can’t make my hands play what my brain says, and it frustrates me to no end. But I work on it. I go to class, I ask my teachers about problems I’m having, and I practice my ass off. I listen to records and try to take what I can, and I go to clubs to play and hang out with some really great players, and to just listen to what other people are doing with the same tunes that I’m playing. Something’s been bothering me though, something that seems to run rampant in this town.
Everywhere I go, I hear nothing but bebop. Barely any latin, and not a single god damned ballad to be found anywhere. Lines and lines go by in the solo sections, flurries of notes soaring up high and down low, dancing up and down the chord changes like nobody’s business. I listen to these guys play, and I truly do respect, admire and even envy the faculty they have on their instruments. I wish I had the clarity and focus of mind to be that aware of what’s happening in the harmony to the point that I can just blow over any progression and be-bop up and down all those scales like Jaco or Charlie Parker, but even if I could…I don’t know that I would.
Night after night I listen, and I get frustrated to the point where I just want to scream “play something pretty!” at the bandstand. I’m tired of hearing 32nd note runs all night, broken up by a measure or two taken so the sax player can breath before his next sonic barrage. There’s plenty of Charlie Parkers and John Coltranes out there, so to speak (not to knock Charlie or John, I love them too). Where’s the Bill Evans? The Wes Montgomery‘s? For Christ’s sake, where is Miles? Where’s the guys playing the real art? Where’s that slick cat who gets up there for his solo, waits two and a half measure and lays just a 3 note phrase over top of everything that’s so perfect, so innately musical and beautiful that you just melt and say to your buddy next to you “Where’d this fuckin’ guy come from?” Where is it? How many times can people hear the same bop licks played over and over ad nauseum, burning through Donna Lee and every rhythm changes song they can think of? Where’s the just plain old good music? Where’s Bye Bye Blackbird and Ballade? Play me some art, don’t play me some math! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great and enviable skill to be able to arpeggiate up to the thirteenth of every chord on the chart, and it’s great to be able to do it with blinding speed and not rush the tempo. The key word, however, is “able.” Those skills are part of the language, and the language is a tool used to communicate something. I want to hear someone who really speaks when they play. Where are these guys? If you made a list of the top ten prettiest melodies ever written, I can pretty much promise you they won’t be bop tunes. There’s nothing wrong with bop, but it seems that in this town, that’s all that’s left. What happened to the rest of the music? I’m by no means a great player myself, but I’m trying my damnedest to become one. I hope above all to not fall into the same trap, my goal is to play what I hear in my head, to play the things that make the music memorable and get stuck in people’s hearts, musicians and non-musicians alike. I just want to play good music.
I'm not trying to say that bebop isn't good music, nor am I trying to say that good musicians never play burning fast lines, I'm just saying that there's a time and place for it. A saxophonist banging out a huge, rocket-fast ascending phrase can be just as beautiful as one of Miles Davis' two or three note phrases, it's all about the taste with which both are done. In Philadelphia, I've been finding a disproportionately large number of the former and barely ever any of the latter. If a ballad is ever played, it seems like it's treated as a chance to put EVEN MORE notes into a measure, rather than just playing something beautiful. I'd like to hear more playing from the heart, rather than the head.