Art, by its very nature, affects different people in different ways. But the common thread is that, when it’s right, art gets beneath the surface into the soul in some way.
To fans of jazz, the music is more than a collection of catchy sounds and melodies. For most, it gets into the blood. It has meaning. It’s part of the life support system.
Author and musician Richard Terrill paints a vivid portrait of the correlation between the music and its affects in “Fakebook; Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz,” (Limelight Editions, 255 pages).
The story, about Terrill’s own life as a struggling musician, is a unique, touching and thought-provoking look at the art of jazz. In presenting the tale of his musical life, Terrill vividly portrays his feelings about the infectious art of jazz. Terrill never did make it as a big-time saxophonist, but it doesn’t matter. The story is compelling because of the moving, visceral, emotional ways in which he describes the journey and the feelings conjured up by his experiences.
The result is a warm, personal, yet wonderfully different look at the magic that can be evoked through jazz. Terrill may not have hit the big time with his sax, but he did become a creative writing teacher at the University of Minnesota. It shows.
He’s created an ode to jazz — and to the struggle for individual creativity that is at the music’s core — that is quite different from most anything out there. Devoid of academia (thank the gods), it cuts into the heart and soul of jazz. It’s visceral. It’s poetic. Its first-rate prose is remarkably descriptive.
The book follows Terrill’s journey from a musician in college, to jazz gigs, blues bands, wedding bands in South Korea and back to jazz gigs in small, funky bars. Why would you follow an unknown musician on this trip? Because of the way he looks at life and delivers words about his passions, his ups and downs, his love affair with jazz, its improvisational nature and the important musicians who formed the music.
The reader can relate to the feelings, as well as learn from the questions raised and the answers sometimes offered.
Terrill’s accomplishment was to take these universal feelings, add his own thoughtful take, and come away with story as warm and human as the music itself. Once the story washes over you, it leaves a certain understanding, but also with a feeling that there is always more to know and feel in life and that art is one of the things that help us do that.
He also examines the artistic process, the creative quest. That’s a land many readers may not have visited, so his thoughts can be eye-opening, as well as instructive.
Certain jazz icons like Bill Evans, Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon are used to exemplify the author’s influences. But they are also used as vehicles to show a little bit more.
“We said his name always quickly, like one word: Billevans. Never Evans or Bill,” he writes of the beloved pianist. Then you realize it’s exactly what you’ve always done. You just didn’t realize it.
Listen to his description of music, or how it’s created, of Tony Bennett’s style, of Getz and his playing and his life. It’s not a scholarly treatment. It’s more important. More incisive.
Listen (the flow of this writing is “heard” in the head, not read like a history lesson) to the lexis on Dexter Gordon. Speaking about a large mouthpiece he used at the time, Terrill confesses, “I really can’t control it, like a bad car, like an interesting life. But it gives me that dark, dark sound I heard in my head... I never played Dexter as well as Dexter. But once I hear his sound I heard the sound I’d heard in my imagination up to that time. He played me better than I did, and he’d been doing it since before I was born.”
Makes you go back and read phrases like that again. For the flow and feel. Like picking up the turntable arm (yes, some of us still do it) and putting it back to catch Dexter’s solo again...or ‘Trane’s... or Bird’s... or Billevans.
There are many moments throughout the book that discuss art and how it’s created. Even why it’s created. And the difficult road that has been taken to create it. Feelings are captured and expressed in a colorful and meaningful way. The lingering, unshakeable effect that music has on Terrill’s life is translatable to us all.
Terrill has the words that make the magic come out. And he does it while making us feel and think. For that, we can squash our cigarettes out in the ashtray and applaud his finished solo, taking another sip of beer as the rhythm section continues on.
Good job, man.