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Richie Beirach: Indelible Memories and Thought-Provoking Reflections on a Life in Jazz, Part 2

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Very interesting. There's so much in what you say that could be unpacked in different ways. The joy of music comes from its mystery, but you said it more richly, no pun intended, than I've heard before. The truth about music is that you can play one note, and let it vanish, and it's a mystery with a story behind it. It's a mystery that has a meaning, but no one can say with certainty what the meaning is.

RB: It's invisible.

AAJ: And it disappears.

RB: Yeah, it's gone. Eric Dolphy said that the thing about music is that once you've played it, it's gone into the air. It's fantastic.

AAJ: To wrap things up, for the young jazz musicians who are reading this, what would you like to tell them as they try to jump start their careers?

RB: Sure. The thing is that when you're young and you're really equipped, and you really have your basic skills, you can read music, you have good music, you have good technique, you have good improvising skills, you've got to do something worthwhile with it. If you're a genius like Tony Williams or Herbie Hancock, you don't have to worry about it. But I'm not a genius. Most of us are not geniuses. Bill Evans wasn't a genius. So if you're twenty, and you can play, and you've got great chops and ability, you still may have nothing meaningful to say with your music. So you have to live, you have to go and live your life so you get experiences and have something to say. The whole thing is the ability to express your view of the world in your music. That's the nut, the essence of the essence. You must acquire the ability to express your view of the world with great clarity, emotionality, balance, and fire.

In addition, you have to interact with the people. Unlike a composer, who writes alone and gives the music to his publisher, you as a jazz artist give the music directly to the people, except in a recording studio which is something different. You have to have something to say to the audience. And all your studies and skills mean shit! You have to have something to say. You have to have the ability to articulate your opinion and beliefs and your life in the music. And it has to come from inside you. Jazz is the music of the individual. Jazz is the music of self-expression, The challenge of jazz is that you have to go before an audience, under pressure, and improvise something interesting and consistent, strong enough to hold the audience for a couple of hours. If you play a standard like "Midnight" or "Solar," the head lasts a minute or two! The rest is you expressing yourself in improvisation. That's the stuff they don't teach in school. That cannot be taught in school. You have to go out and live! See things, have experiences.

When you play, you have to be in it totally. You immerse yourself in expressing your view of the world in music. Now when you're just starting out, you're apprenticing. You play like Bud Powell and Art Tatum and Lennie Tristano and Chick Corea. But hopefully at the end of it you come out as yourself. What you don't want to be is a clone. Apprentice-master is just a period in your life. After that, you need to do something individual. To do that, you have to go out and live spontaneously, have life experiences that you can express in music. When people go to a concert, they want to be moved, they want to feel something. Even anger. They want to feel emotions. You've got to give them yourself!

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