How To Completely Miss The Point Of Music

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By Kevin Dorn

Step 1: Take stylistic labels very seriously.

Study all the various names for different styles of jazz, such as Mainstream, Traditional, Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Hard bop, Post-bop, etc. Before you play, decide in which style you are going to perform. If possible, attend a class at a music school to learn what licks and phrases are appropriate to each style. Limit yourself to text book examples of the style you are playing and avoid anything that falls outside of those examples. It is also a great idea to decide beforehand in what year you want to sound like you're playing. The more specific the better, such as November of 1927. Any year is fine, as long as it isn't the year you are actually living in at the moment. This is probably the single best method of completely missing the point of music, because you will be thinking and playing in a way that is absolutely opposed to the way all of your favorite musicians played and thought.

Another good technique is to pretend you don't take stylistic labels seriously by mixing styles in an "open-minded" way. For example, you could play a tune like "I Thought About You" with a reggae feel and follow it up with another standard performed with a funk type of rhythm. Although it might seem like you are not hindered by trying to adhere to a specific musical style, you will actually be as aware of various stylistic labels as one can be. By mixing various styles (and especially changing the style with every tune) you will again be thinking about music in a way that is completely opposed to how all the greats thought and you will come very close to sounding like a wedding band, which is of course the main goal. Don't become distracted by the fact that your favorite musicians of the past each had their own style. You must think like a music critic or a jazz historian if you want to miss completely the point of music.

Step 2: Pay more attention to favorite recordings than to the musicians with whom you're actually playing.

The great musicians of the past listened to each other while they played and came to the bandstand without any preconceptions. In order to miss completely the point of music you must have as many preconceptions as possible. Before the gig starts, decide in your mind exactly how everyone should sound. If possible, pick a recording you like and try to get everyone to play a note-for-note recreation of it. Ideally you should transcribe the entire recording, as this will leave nothing to chance. Don't pay any attention to the strengths, weaknesses or personalities of the musicians with whom you're actually playing. Don't attempt to have any real musical interaction with them. If you like the way Gene Krupa played a choke cymbal on a recording from 1932, by all means tell the drummer you're playing with to play exactly that. The effect will not be the same of course, because Gene Krupa would have played what he was feeling in the moment, but this is a surefire way to miss completely the point of music. Always pay attention to the specific notes on your favorite recordings, NEVER to the mindset that was responsible for those notes.

Step 3: Become obsessed with affectations such as period clothing.

In order to miss completely the point of music, it is good to have as many non-musical concerns as possible to distract you from actually playing something that has any depth to it. If you are playing music from the '20s, spend at least 75% percent of your time on acquiring a period wardrobe. Again, this will be approaching music in a way that is completely opposed to the approach of the musicians in the '20s, who of course just wore what was current. Anything you can do to make yourself come across as a clown will benefit you greatly and if people can tell at a glance that you are someone who is stuck in the past, you will have achieved your goal. I cannot stress this enough: Your wardrobe MUST match the era of the music you are playing. Remember, no great jazz musician of the past ever did anything like this, so it is obviously a good step toward completely missing the point of music.

Step 4: Put effort into becoming rich and famous.

It is virtually impossible (especially in this day and age) to become rich and famous playing jazz, but don't let that stop you from trying, especially since any effort in that area will certainly detract from the music you are making. By completely selling out, you could potentially raise your yearly income by several thousand dollars, which is obviously well worth it. Instead of learning tunes, practicing and listening to recordings, try putting all your time, energy and money into achieving some sort of major cross-over success. While I guarantee you that you will fail in achieving that success, you most certainly will not fail in completely missing the point of music.

Step 5: Convince yourself there is some objective importance to playing jazz.

The truth is that playing jazz is not a very important thing and in fact nowadays is something so nerdy that it rivals being a Trekkie. While a realization of this will put life in perspective for you and allow you to enjoy making music in a mellow sort of way, it will not help you to miss completely the point of music, which of course is our goal. Try to see jazz as a religious cult. If you can keep the names of Bix and Louis alive, you will get into Heaven; if not, you will go straight to Hell. If you can approach music in this way, it will cease to be a fun activity and will become a crippling pressure, guaranteeing lifelong misery. An added bonus to this approach is that by taking your favorite musicians overly seriously and elevating them to a god-like status, you will actually be helping to destroy their music and what they stood for with every concert and lecture you give. After all, you don't really care about any of these musicians all that much; your need to recreate their music and celebrate their lives is only to distract you from the paralyzing knowledge of your own mortality. Playing music for them was a way to wash away the dust of everyday life. But you can use music as a way to collect as much dust as possible. You will then have completely missed the point of music.

Dorn has appeared at jazz festivals and jazz parties in the United States, Europe and Japan, with musicians such as Ed Polcer, Dan Barrett, Allan Vaché, Mark Shane and Dan Levinson. His biggest influence (both musically and philosophically) is the Eddie Condon Band of the '50s.


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