Imagine being a master of your craft, and then breaking all the rules – discarding some, rearranging others – only to transcend into the upper echelons of creative flow. That is where jazz lives.
The musicians that play here embody a spirit of change, made manifest in notes that are sharp and flat, beats and the ones that are skipped. Who determines the pace or switches the rhythm? Piano or drums or bass? I wish I knew more about music.
From my seat last night, I could see three artists at work – as individuals and as a trio – soloing and supporting, which is my ultimate ideal of teamwork. If you are lucky enough to know what this feels like – as I did through AAU basketball – you come to expect it as the standard level of play because it feels so good to be so in sync with others that you can riff and audible and improv; beam as others shine as much as you are celebrated because you’re all influenced by a collaborative spirit that is superior to one’s own. Simply put, it is pure connection.
It’s not naive to believe in this feeling. You just need one good experience to know that it exists. Because what you make together changes you forever, and you look for it everywhere you go thereafter.
Jason Moran & the Bandwagon have been together for more than 20 years. They hail from Houston, New York City, and Los Angeles and when they first started, they needed to bring those parts of themselves to each other and to the music. “It’s not a thing that you throw away,” Moran said. “It’s a thing that you keep when you leave home.”
It’s an ingredient. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. are all pieces of me, if not whole versions of past lives. The ocean, the “mountains”, the proving ground, and the monuments are places that have their own conditions; institutions with their own traditions; small towns with their own cultures and big cities with many cultures; corporations with their own politics; people with their own striving, surviving.
I understand why my lives have been short-lived there, spending no more than five years in one place: it’s hard to listen and easy to be influenced. Everything is so dense. The population, ideas, traffic, bureaucracy – it all encourages a smallness that can give rise to frustration, anger, and fear; emotions associated with a fist. But closeness does not equal connection. Oftentimes it enforces competition.
It probably doesn’t sound like these struggles are things anyone would want to keep, let alone take with them. It’s necessary, however, to note the transition from closed to open, heavy to light, density to rarity. AAU was an anomaly that existed in its own space and time, the same way that jazz does, and it reminds me of the ease I feel here in Colorado. My fingers uncurl in the thin mountain air, my heart expands, and my mind is at rest. I can hear my voice clearly and listen to the sounds of nature at play: birds rustling in the brush, guitar strings on a street corner, wind whipping through snow-covered trees, the railroad bell of trains coming in, rushing water over age old rocks. The silence of cloudless clear blue skies and sunshine.
“By virtue of traveling the world over all these years, we end up learning a lot about each other but also marking where each other’s forks in the roads are,” Moran said. “And they become part of the lines in our hands, which then becomes the history of what we’re trying to play when we make these songs.”
I’m no palm reader, but I appreciate that the lines of my hand can be associated with the sole of my foot. Wherever I have moved, I have held on to and let go of what has made me, vibrating up and down and across frequencies – tuning my ear for what the heart already knows.