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Paul F. Murphy: Playing Universally

By Published: April 28, 2010
AAJ: The study, appreciation and promotion of art put this on display.

PFM: Yeah.

AAJ: By promoting free thinking and exhibiting peaceful coexistence and, in cases like yours, exploring the condition of the human spirit and mind, art demonstrates a model of harmony and a standard of living that should be demanded by the people.

PFM: Right. Take for example the microcosm of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. There all art, all races, all people, all music and all literature were embraced. The coexistence of peace within itself sparked innovations such as the Haight Street Free Clinic and all forms of music from the Jefferson Airplane to Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
. This offer and presence of peaceful coexistence was answered by the city fathers of San Francisco with Kent State. What does that tell you?

I believe there needs to be a greater amount of public access to art. I would like to see more institutions made available to the public in the form of education. I believe that the most refined and most endowed venues of education have now and will always have the ability to study music and other art forms, however, access to these institutions is difficult at best. During pre-college years, there should be programs developed to not only teach music theory, composition and art, but also more ... well, let's just say, if you're a kid that plays flute and wants to study flute, where do you go? Peabody?

There has to be the same access to resources for people who don't have the financial ability to go to places like Harvard and Peabody. Those people need to have places to study and obtain the knowledge needed to produce art and think freely. What we are doing right now is keeping the pool very small. If we broaden the opportunity for learning as well as the candidates for learning, progress is going to come and come at a much faster rate. I mean vibrations, tones and rhythms can make children younger than 3-years old stop in place and dance because voice and drums were the primal instruments from the beginning of time. If sound has the ability to do that to someone that is totally "innocent," then what is to say that the study of vibration, sound, tone, rhythm, etc., doesn't have something to do with astral projection or other methods of transportation, growth and peace that are not currently considered by hard science. They obviously exist if a three year-old child stops and dances when feeling and hearing these vibrations and tones.

AAJ: So, by opening up real opportunities for more than just the elite to learn about and produce art we increase the chances and pace of new discovery altogether?

PFM: Yeah.

AAJ: What do you have to say about the programs that are presently available, accessible or not, for teaching music and art?

PFM: I believe the programs that are set up now are devoted to method and not exploration. The reason we listen to Beethoven's Fifth over and over and over and not to Alban Berg, Stravinsky or Stockhausen is because of the methodology used in promoting certain sound and composition over others. The media takes the choice out of music.

AAJ: To go even further, what is the content that is being taught and how does it affect the way people play and write? Most students' first experiences with drum curriculum were all based off of patterns—set blocks of patterns to practice, which lead to certain sounds. If these blocks of patterns are taught, learned and practiced by all drummers—which isn't too far off the mark—then those certain sounds come through in all of those people's playing. So everyone ends up sounding very similar—if not given the tools necessary to expand these ideas.

Furthermore, due to the structure and ways of presentation, representation and explanation, what is to be played becomes locked into a grid, like you talked about earlier. A grid where everything must be played this way, it must fit this way. It's very mechanical. As a student trying to do what you are told and believe is going to make you a better player, it is very easy to get boxed into sounding like everyone else.

But you teach students to look at music and drumming as something that is not dictated by a grid and a metronome and doesn't necessarily fit firmly between any lines—bar or otherwise.

PFM: And that's what it is and that's how it should be taught. A good example of methodology and the removal of choice is the use of click tracks, auto-tune and quantization on all commercial recordings. The click track and quantizing and the other allow commercial music to be recorded by people who may or may not be able to play or people who may or may not be able to sing.

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