Gnomicon 111

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  111
Tuesday 28 August 2012

Read gnomica 1-100 here!

101     102     103     104     105     106     107     108     109     110

Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple.

Keith Jarrett (8 May 1945 – )

Yes, this great jazz pianist and composer is talking about music here, and it’s as good a description of jazz as any other I have come across.  But what actually captured my attention was the lateral transferability of this comment to a lot of other areas – like, most notably, life itself.

Jarrett was definitely on to something there!

First, substitute “Life” for “Jazz” in his observation, and you have a Buddhist arrangement for how to play life, in how to play every moment of your life, at any point.  Your life is here and then it’s gone.  There is no teleological overlay here, no purposive end-game:  it just happens, it just is.  And since the notes are irrevocably gone once the music stops, you really have to have been there as they embraced you, you needed to be there, be present.  And that’s pretty simple – in all its complexity.

Second, expanding from the comment, life, like jazz, is rule-bound at the same time that it is almost infinitely free-floating, improvisational.  Take any tune done by different jazz pianists, and you’ll hear the same tune and simultaneously different tunes.  That is, there are basic rules that make the tune recognizable as such but the possible improvisational variations are endless.  Why is, say, ‘Poinciana’ so different when played by the incomparable Ahmad Jamal and any other artists?  Ditto for any jazz piece?

Similarly, life is a life but one life recognizable as such is so different from any other life, or even from itself at different points.  It’s as though a kind of standard melody called “Life” were infinitely interpretable – whether straightforward as simply a basic melodic line or grandly ornamented with Bach-like expansions here and riffs there: indeed, the same pianist playing the same song as part of the nine o’clock set and as part of the eleven o’clock set plays two different songs that are the same!  How strictly ‘identical’ is one’s handling of any given situation at two different points in life, and how constrained is one or should one be to deal with it in fixed and immutable fashion?

How boring, how stultifying, how unimaginative that would be!

One can to my way of looking at things do worse than think of life as a jazz melody composed by someone else (nature, God, chance, evolution, whatever you want!) that can be recognizably played by you in any style you choose.

Now, cut loose – try a lick, riff a little!

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