Friday, September 30, 2005

Listening with Sonny: Freedom/Chaos/Unity and Art (not Pepper)

A lucky New York Times reporter spent an afternoon listening to some choice tracks selected by the great jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins: Fats Waller, I’m Going To Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; Lester Young: Afternoon Of A Basie-ite; Charlie Parker: Another Hairdo; Coleman Hawkins: The Man I Love.

While sampling Charlie Parker, Rollins rifts on his jazz aesthetic:

"People playing jazz have to try to understand where he [Charlie Parker] was coming from, what that was, and emulate it and absorb it. This is what jazz is: jazz is freedom. I don't think you always have to play in time. But there's two different ways of playing. There's a way of playing where you can play with no time. Or, you can have a fixed time and play against it. That's what I feel is heaven - being able to be that free, spiritual, musical. I would say that's an ideal which is underappreciated."

Here he seemed to sense that he was getting into rough waters. "I mean playing free without any kind of time strictures - there's nothing wrong with that either. I'm not saying that's inferior. But I guess I'm getting older now, so I'm getting to be a person that's steeping myself in the tradition of Fats Waller and all of these people we're listening to today, who are playing time music. I'm probably going to be dissing myself to the new guys coming up somewhere, but a lot of our audiences still relate to time. I'm still in the era of time being an important component of jazz. I'm still there, O.K.? So kill me."

Rollins, like so many artists (hell like anyone interested in life), is navigating the narrow, yet deep, rift between anarchy an order, freedom and unity, structure and chaos – like Coltrane recording quiet ballads after the experimental explorations of Live at The Village Vanguard, momentarily turning from the abyss.

Total freedom, freedom with no rules and no structure (chaos) drifts into nihilism and limits expression, simply put, you end up asking, “Now what?” The discipline of some rules (structure) can lead to (truer) freedom and beauty, like a Buddhist monk spending years meditating; or imagine the opposite, poetry as just a random utterance of vowel sounds, maybe of interest for a minute or two, but then you move on to washing dishes. Art is the tension between chaos and order, Robert Johnson’s crossroads—that is the force, the passion, that drives creation. As Camus writes,

This passion which lifts the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from which it nevertheless cannot free itself, is the passion of unity. It does not result in mediocre efforts to escape, however, but in the most obstinate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavor in fact, finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it does not have. The same impulse, which can lead to the adoration of the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature, which derives its serious content from this source.

The source. Cracked dishes and blemished silverware. Birds in rough weather. Decent into language and the rhythm of time…


At 11:48 PM, Blogger Brian Campbell said...

Great post! (I see you're having fun with blogger's photo software... I just recently discovered it too...)

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Anonymous Poet said...

Eclectic blog!


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