“Life is like a box a chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” We are all familiar with these kinds of metaphors that seek to find profound meaning in the mundanity of our everyday experiences. Jazz is something that was born out of human experiences, and harsh ones at that, as a way to deal with being a young person in this country. It truly is the spirit of living stylized into music. The repetition of ideas, the layers of complexity, the rhythmic incantation of brass and percussion stomping the blues away - even temporarily, is what breathes energy into both this music and our lives.
Jazz is about developing an individual role while participating in a collective
In jazz both the individual and collective contributions are valued at an equal level. There are times when performers need to be empathetic in order to develop an idea with others, and times when they need to do their own thing and explore their individuality. Developing your own personal sound and musical personality is as important as your commitment to the way the group phrases and inflects the music. Musicians have to balance their role as an individual musician into a larger collective experience. And in jazz, the individual sound is never lost as it joins that collective.
The Blues allows us to express what is human
When Hamlet asked the age old question, “to be or not to be,” what he was really asking was whether it was worth the struggle. This is nothing more than the Blues. The common misconception is that the Blues are sad, but the Blues are both the ailment and the cure, the problem as well as the solution. Everyone has and understands the Blues, because everyone has paid their dues in some way. The Blues are a musical structure designed to provide an expressive outlet for performers to come to terms, deal with, make fun of, and even stave off their struggle. That is the ironic nature of this music; the subject of the verse may say one thing, but the feeling of the music says something else.
The very aspect of swinging 8th notes is an active negotiation with those around you.
Swing is the uneven performance of two 8th notes. Generally speaking, the first 8th note is longer than the second, which creates a lilting or swinging line. But the degree to which that first note is longer than the other is not an exact science and isn’t always the same beat for beat. Musicians have to work together to establish a collective feel that resets itself with every downbeat. Wynton Marsalis states, “the process of swinging - of constant coordination with things that are changing all the time - is modern life in a free society.” That is why jazz musicians use the term “swinging” to describe something that is really together. If two people are walking down the street and are so subconsciously connected to each other that they are walking in step - they’re swingin’!
Jazz Writer Ralph Ellison states, “While a complete mastery of life is mere illusion, the secret of the game is to make life swing.” In each of the selections for this evening, none of them will be perfect. Each will have its own challenges and negotiations for students to work out in real time before your eyes, on stage. In some cases that will happen so seamlessly you won’t even notice. But still, there will be complications left unaddressed. Jazz teaches us to accept those events and simply make the tune swing regardless! When life hands you lemons…..sit down, drink some lemonade, and start swingin’!