"Or a dream that will fade and fall apart…"
I found my jazz recordings today. They were shoved away in a box, plastic dusty and liner notes faded, as if they belonged to someone else. I couldn’t listen to them until now. The grief was too new.
Growing up as a violinist, you don’t get many opportunities to play jazz. The orchestra teacher doubled as the jazz band teacher, since budgets were getting cut every year for arts. Since I couldn’t play it, I listened. During college, I started playing in jazz combos. Improvisation unlocked a forgotten floodgate–composition–and my first piece (a little jazz waltz) terrified me. But composing for jazz ensembles–my real love–was frustrating (I didn’t want to play it, although I enjoyed it; and jazz musicians can be the epitome of stubborn, when it comes to new ideas–things existing classical music for the past few decades.) I took a chance at a classical composition department–my Master’s–and they took a chance on me. I hadn’t listened to or written jazz since then.
Constant discouragement and fighting took its toll. Once I left my undergraduate school I was too burned out on the violin to keep playing, and jazz was an unfortunate casualty. Busy in my new world as a “classical” composer, I tucked away my jazz compact discs, instead discovering Lou Harrison, Colin McPhee, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, Ligeti, Berio…
But these old recordings–their music as familiar to me as my fiancé’s face–never left me. Everything I am today as a composer existed then–I learned to orchestrate from Billy Strayhorn and Gil Evans; the serialism in Miles Davis’ album, “Aura,” was my own because I didn’t know the right way to write serial music; the sheer walls of raw ecstasy and timbre of late ‘Trane; the displaced canonic metrics of Pat Motian and Bill Frisell, the wordless poetry of Kenny Wheeler’s “Music for Large and Small Ensembles, the counterpoint in the microcosm of jazz voicing–these are my roots.
If you truly love something, it’s so much a part of you that a little time, dust, or absence isn’t permanent, an old friend you run into after decades of silence. After a little awkward silence, you find out they never went away.
(Whoever emails me with the correct standard the title comes from will get a surprise…you may have to bug me to mail it, though.)
~ by Jen on February 27, 2007.
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