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Chris Chalfant: Balance

AAJ Staff By

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This struggle feeds our creativity in a way that forces us to work on a much higher level than if we were always economically complacent. —Chris Chalfant
Submitted on behalf of by Chris Chalfant

Balance is such a key element in helping us move forward in our lives. As musicians, we are constantly challenged with this, especially with the relationship between economic and creative stability. When we have a lot of economic stability, often that means there is no creative outlet, whereas, when there is a high ratio of creative outlet, there is at the same time, an economic crisis running parallel. Aside from the obvious political problems inherent in this issue, there is, nonetheless, a constant challenge to balance these two elements of existence. We are forced, as a matter of necessity, to initiate and implement our creative skills (you know, "necessity is the mother of invention"). This struggle feeds our creativity in a way that forces us to work on a much higher level than if we were always economically complacent. This is not to say that one wishes economic depravity on anyone, but rather to point out what is and has been since art and the lives of artists has been documented.

The first noble truth according to Sakyamuni Buddha is that everyone suffers. We are fortunate, as artists, that we are able to channel this suffering into creative endeavors, unlike, some who fall in to the category of the wealthy ignorant (the latter too is shared by all) who are threatened, afraid, or under the impression they are incapable of exercising creative skills. Creativity is a birthright. It is not something that is inherent in just a select group of people. It is something that exists in people of all walks of life and all areas of expertise. Unfortunately, often those who choose economic stability over the wonderful, but unpredictable surprises, life makes available before us often deprive themselves of this outlet.

Why is it that people are so quick to choose such predictability in life? In reality, there is no stability. At any time we can lose our job, our family, our life. This is the nature of impermanence, something that no one can escape. As creative artists, we accept impermanence with open arms. Especially in the world of improvisation, this exemplifies enormously the reality of impermanence. Living and breathing moment-to-moment IS improvisation. It is the mutation of life as we know it in combination with what is immediately before us that expands our creative existence. Bringing forward only preconceived notions, i.e. practiced ideas and patterns, to the bandstand is NOT improvisation, as many profess it to be. Bringing forward preconceived ideas without staying open to what is before us limits the level of communication and creative output.

Working in an ensemble necessitates a keen awareness to all that is before us in any given moment. Yes, we cannot avoid bringing our ideas to the bandstand, but it is the way in which we do it that matters. Bringing forth our ideas with an openness to change, to mutate, to blend with others at any given moment, gives the space for fresh ideas created by all as a unit. Each individual feels the group blending and creating together as one organism, feeling each moment together with a keen awareness. Coming back to the word balance, there is a feeling of balance within the group - a feeling that there is no one individual serving as a director who is calling the shots, nor as a follower waiting and expecting direction. Using balance as a key element to living our lives in every aspect, including improvisation ultimately leads us to living the truth, to living to our fullest, creative potentiality.


Chris Chalfant is a pianist, vocalist, educator, producer, composer and writer. She leads the Lifetime Visions Orchestra (LVO) with Art Ensemble of Chicago multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman, which has performed at the Vision Festival and also has played the Nancy Jazz Pulsations Festival. In 2003 she was the U.S. representative for the Prague International Jazz Piano Festival. Her recordings, catalog, writings and other information can be found at www.chrischalfant.com .

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