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Journey into Jazz

Subconscious Chatting

By Published: February 15, 2003
My Journey Into Jazz – part IX

I must start out with a load of thanks to my friend Scott Dolan of Missouri who sent me an interesting little aside which appealed to me so much that I decided to write an article on it... Here it goes : it seems recently a friend of Scott’s sent him an e-mail and they were discussing the merits and functions of free jazz. They were talking about how odd it was that they both got quite similar feelings and reactions from the music ( which tends to be quite different from others who regularly listen to free jazz ), and most peculiar, the fact that we both felt that Albert Ayler's albums seemed to fly by in a flash, seemingly lasting for just a few minutes. After talking about the type of meditation that is involved when listening, especially to something as intense as Albert Ayler's music, his friend described it like this, he said: "You really don't think about it, you just try and clear your mind as much as possible, and then Ayler’s subconscious and your subconscious sit down and have a little chat".

Well that’s a neat way of putting it across –I have distinctly felt my subconscious sitting down to chat with that of John Coltrane’s or Miles Davis’s or even Charles Lloyd’s... that’s one helluva saxophonist who has had an interesting career in Jazz. His colorful life seems to reflect glaringly on his music, much like the red-hot belly of an active volcano throwing up its angry shades onto a silvery cloud up above. My interesting friend Sujit introduced me, and a lot of other like-minded friends to this genius some months ago by playing some powerful improvisationally-sound and jazzily packaged numbers. I have listened to two of his albums, Forest Flower and The Water Is Wide –and for lack of better description, let me come back to Scott’s friend’s idea and say that my subconscious did sit down and have a nice little chat with this flower-child who had renounced the world to become a Buddhist. That little excursion stretching over half a decade has punched a pretty hole in his recording and playing career of course. If any of the readers have more information on this genius please forward me some, for future chats with the subconscious...

Charles Lloyd’s music to my mind, reflects a little of his own special persona : well the cynics may call this perhaps running away with my imagination, but somehow I have come to believe in this human trait, and I know it borders on the plain superstitious, that what one does as an occupation does reflect on one’s face and even in articulation including the creative expression... three decades ago I had read a similar poem penned by a gifted lady by the name of Chitralekha, probably from Chennai in South India, who had stressed the fact the butchers’ face indeed starts looking like a pig’s or a bull’s after years of trade, or a flower-seller lady seems to radiate smiles like a flower... so on. Similarly, the intriguing persona of Charles Lloyd seems to come through –knowing so little about him, all I can do whilst listening to his magical improvisations on the tenor sax, try and decipher what all he must have gone through in his various avatars –including the stint as a flower child during the 70s. There is a mystique in his music, without an iota of doubt.

Which brings to my mind Buddy Bolden the cornet player who revolutionized Jazz during the turn of the Century [the one before the World War I, not the millennium one!] when it was still in a fluid state and was absorbing a lot of influences from the marching bands on the streets, and the small combo’s playing at various clubs. Michael Ondaatje, a gifted writer who won the famous Booker Prize for his highly original and hard-hitting novel The English Patient, wrote his first novel about a jazzman! Buddy Bolden, according to him, provided a powerful impetus to jazz with his lyrical playing and as I understand, he brought out the importance of the solo instrument within the confines of the band performing a tune –this may be a debatable point –but then sadly, Bolden has never been recorded [though the name definitely rings a bell, and I am sure I have heard him play with some bands on the radio].

Anyway, for those who enjoy a good read, and like to get into the head of a character, Bolden has been painted in gruesome colors by Ondaatje, a complex character driven by forces and hungers he little understood or controlled, and a prey to a lot of weaknesses : his life seems pretty close to that of a typical rocker, rather than a serious jazzman somehow. There’s a dark world there, in this book, which has been lent an eerie shade by the author who has written it in a unique style. He narrates the story, without any quotes, and though that does give rise to a bit of confusion now and then, on the whole the unique idea has lent the story a life all its own. A compulsive read indeed.

Books on Jazz tend to be scholarly essays by specialists, or historical documents by others –and Buddy Bolden’s story, entitled rather enticingly Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, seems to stand out like an oasis in a desert, or a blue lagoon island in mid-ocean. If anyone has read similar books based on the life-stories of jazzmen, you know where to send an e-mail –I shall be much obliged for the bits of information.

Talking of books, no one seems to have written a book on “how to develop a taste in jazz...” –that’s one question which pops at me whenever someone, especially the adolescent crowd, learns that I listen to jazz. I have half a mind to write one, though of course some intrepid publishing house would be first required to support my venture. It’s so easy to lose a piping little voice in the tower of Babel that the music industry seems to have turned into. Or perhaps an online course, a short course on what records to listen to and how to start liking jazz –encompassing all the major styles right from straight-ahead jazz to free jazz to hard bop to funk to jazz rock to avant-garde via the swing era and Dixieland, and of course, all shades of Blues?

I think I would love to do that. Do comment, readers, feel free to have your say. I generally reply to every e-mail that comes my way... within a day or two, usually.

Cheerio then, so long... take care and listen to more jazz. Right now I seem to be stuck with Ballads by John Coltrane , and there’s a profusion of lyrical beauty, -the haunting kind that pervades this CD to such an extent that I have to suspend my multitasking habits and force myself to listen to the sheer genius –with total focus. It lifts my soul, it lends wings to my spirit, every pore in my skin sprouts a tongue and poems drift around from these like birds of paradise in some rain forest, where man has never yet stepped in... Do give this marvelous record a listen, if you can. It’s amazing. It’s worth a subconscious chat.

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Crossing the Waters Wide: Charles Lloyd's Latest Musical Journey


Photo Credit
Matt Thayer



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