Heavy ideas from the world of jazz…#2

This second post in this series takes a look at the output of another of the leading lights of contemporary jazz; pianist Aaron Parks. Since I sort of formally retired from jazz several years ago (before my current renaissance), I had not kept up with the latest developments in the music by any means. It was my assistant music director of the Veritas Orchestra (Ollie Howell) who had to point me towards this guy – because I had in fact confused him with another jazz musician with the same first name without realising it. But I soon sorted it out!

The Harvard musicologist Ingrid Monson makes an very interesting argument in an award-winning book on jazz (a superbly interesting book called Saying Something) It is a genuinely academic book, so prepare yourself if need be for quite a power-packed little paragraph:

“Nevertheless, I maintain that the only ethical point of departure for work in jazz studies and ethnomusicology remains the documentation and interpretation of vernacular perspectives, contemporary and historical, no matter how much we must rethink the claims we make for them in light of poststructural discussions of representation and the politics of knowing and being.”

What she is saying is that to truthfully represent the world of jazz (and other musics) in academia, you have to take serious account of the ‘vernacular’ perspectives – the verbal accounts – of the musicians themselves, and those who are otherwise associated with the music. It can be argued (and frequently is) that the musicians are biased and subjective, and so a truly balanced account of any aspect of jazz would not be necessarily possible by taking the words of a jazz musician as a starting point.

Monson does not think that there is any ethical value whatsoever in academic speculation about jazz that fails to take the perspective of the jazz musicians themselves as a starting point. And speaking for myself as a anthropologically-trained jazz musician, I know that she is absolutely right. This was part of the rationale behind the first post in this series, and it is obviously part of the framework for this current post – which features below another blog post – this time by Aaron Parks himself:

Peaceful Warrior

“I want to share something that really touched me today.

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Ted Poor (for those who don’t already know, he is an incredible drummer that I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot recently) and was introduced to his wife Emilia. A truly wonderful spirit. She went to college for classical piano, but has now taken on a much bigger challenge: teaching music to students K-6 (kindergarten through sixth grade).

In the course of conversation, she mentioned that she’d been trying to get her students to listen to different kinds of music than they might usually at home. Then she paused, and said, “actually, I played a song off of Invisible Cinema for some of my 4th-graders…” She had already made my day at that point, but she continued, “…and I didn’t tell them the name of the song, but instead had them come up with their own ideas of what the song title could be, as well as make drawings of what it made them think about.”

“What?!?” I said. “That’s the best thing ever!!!”

Fast forward to today. This morning, she sent me an email with the full list. So, without further ado, here are the astoundingly imaginative song titles that a bunch of creative young individuals came up with for the song that I call Peaceful Warrior:

River Flow
Back and Forth
Dark Day in the Forest
Intertwined
Slow Dance
Magical Light
Soul Rainbow
Shades of Music
A Day on the Beach
Night Light
All Around the World
Peaceful
(this title was actually chosen more than once, oddly enough)
Smoothing
Sounds of Beauty
Wonderful
Sweet Jazz
A Light in the Attic
Sounds Like Heaven
Dive into the Music
Combination
Pop Magic
Beautiful Night
Going to Heaven
Moonlight
Piece of Music
Music in Your Ears
Piece of Love
In the Deep
Under the Night Stars
Happy Place
Space of Wings
Sad Death
Beautiful Home
Down Below the Surface
Heaven on Earth
The Waves
Soul in My Body
Free Blend
The Chinese Eagle (Flying around China)
Romance for Love
The Wind Within You
Colorful Whale
What a Beautiful Life
The Wind Between
Deep Below My Sins
Wanted Love
Open Mind
Colors of the Rainbow”

~

It saddens me that the monumental significance of this will be lost on many people, but I hope, dear reader, that you will not be one of those. How can it be that children who, for the most part, would not have had any home access to this kind of contemporary, sophisticated jazz, could come up with these sorts of names for an instrumental piece of music without any prior information?

If you want to view the original post, and even see a sampling of some of the pictures for yourself (which might amaze you), here is the link:

http://www.myspace.com//aparksmusic/blog/474342406

~

This world has become a diseased planet. There is still much of God’s goodness to be seen, but the great Apostle wasn’t being metaphorical when we spoke of the creation groaning (Romans 8:22). Whatever you believe, wherever you come from, however old or young you may be (obviously that’s relative – you know what I mean) – people are searching for meaning. They are looking for it in relationships. They are looking for it in professions and vocations. They look for it in sporting achievement – which everyone pretty much now accepts is always about more than sporting conquest in and of itself.

And they look for it in the arts – which are, in certain places and in certain ways heavily linked to religious and spiritual systems.

This album Invisible Cinema (released by Aaron Parks) is an astoundingly thoughtful album. It represents a completely different set of ideas than those on the Christian Scott album mentioned in the earlier post on this series. So for the Christians who want to know what the ‘rules’ are for listening to secular music – I have some plans to discuss that more seriously in other contexts, but for now, I will say that in the end, you have to take each artist and each album and each live performance on their own merits. Nothing is straightforward. People say “pray about it” but how often do they do that? If we did, we might see some surprising things happening – and in a good way – more often…

There are so many ideas which will have to be touched on in later posts, but I hope you will agree that it is amazing that a piece of music from the jazz genre could transport those children to a better place – maybe not even for just the duration of the song – but for all we know, that music may have stayed with some of those children.

As I write this, I am listening once again to “We Praise You” from New Beginnings which I referenced in an earlier post. But before I put the album on – I was listening to “Praise” – which is also on the album Invisible Cinema. So before, I was listening to jazz  but now I’m listening to gospel. Now, interestingly, given my Monson quote earlier, Parks has stated that there is a definite narrative, but he has no intention of verbalising that for the listeners – they will have to draw their own threads together for themselves. But here’s the mad thing…

When I said just now that I had been listening to “Praise” – I didn’t mean on my stereo (or computer).

I was listening to “Praise” in my head. I was listening to the tune, because I ended up playing it last night live for the first – but certainly NOT the last time. There is something just astonishing about that tune. I have absolutely no idea what Mr. Parks believes in terms of religion or spirituality, but he is unquestionably offering praise with this song. It has affected me like very little else in contemporary jazz recently. I wished I had played it better, but I certainly understood it on the gig better than I did in rehearsal the day before (where I was just distracted by my other rehearsal stuf). But I understand it even better this morning having woken up – and the sun has come out. It’s in my head. And for me, that’s serious.

Jazz musicians understand praise better than most. Every truly heartfelt improvised solo is an act of praise. It is not always praise to God. In fact, it is usually not – for no other reason that most jazz musicians have never really had the chance to meet God for themselves! But I know that some of these guys are reaching out to God – even if they don’t know it. And the fact that I listen to ‘Praise’ in my head and feel emotional, and God somehow feels closer…

OK, so the circumstances are not the same – but I feel an affinity with those kids.

I’m playing solo piano tonight. And that is going to be one whole act of praise from start to finish. Who knows, I might even attempt a solo version of this same tune! But if I don’t do it tonight – I will do it soon. Of all the life-affirming things a human being can do, to offer up praise to one’s Maker and one’s God as a musician is pure as it gets. This post will now end with a serious word to my fellow musicians: whatever your creed, whatever your genre, if your reason for playing is not bigger than yourself, you may achieve fame and wealth, but you will always be poor in spirit. And that’s a waste of musical talent. But if you play (and sing, of course!) for the right reasons, you may well find something (and even Someone) that no-one can ever take away from you.

Even if they kill you.

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