Back in Los Cabos and out of the race for about a week, feels nice. Been working quite a bit on some Monk  tunes for a record we're doing in a couple weeks with the great Dean Magraw on guitar and Jay Epstein on drums. Its really a thrill for me to be playing with these guys, who I've been watching, drawing inspiration from for some years now. Monk's music is so full of character, I think that is what keeps him timeless and his ideas celebrated by players across the jazz spectrum. I posted something somewhere about playing some of these tunes and a friend commented a teacher had told him "to play like Monk, just play what you usually do but either up a 1/2 step or down a 1/2 step." Rubbed me a bit wrong in that what Monk did has so very little to do with any harmonic concept, this one obviously being a gross oversimplification anyhow. Besides that not really being how he played, at all, it was kind of revealing to me as to the academic world of music versus the creative, and to me spiritual (dangerous word I know), aspects of music. I was very fortunate to have some great teachers that passed on an amazing amount of knowledge of harmony, approaches to tunes, composition techniques, but the most lasting were those that stayed in touch with why we create music, thats the place we must operate from. Emoting to connect, we're not solitary beings, and one of the greatest manners of reaching a sense of unity, commonality, and a greater purpose than serving ourselves is through the arts and music. The less we have of creative, poignant music, the more we suffer and lose track as a people. I realize many of those words are subjective, but think it is safe to say much of what is heard on pop radio these days is largely forgettable and does not do the human race justice.

I'm very grateful to have had those opportunities to learn in school as well as from friends, mentors, and on the gig, where it all hits or falls apart, though Ive also had some teachers who were not so great, that were more interested in either establishing their own authority in a given aspect of music, i.e. this is how its played, how it should be played, what is "right, what is "good" OR so desperately seeking validation and removed from the spirit of music the only examples they used for how music is to be written or played were those of their own doing. "Hey, here's how to play a bossa, check out this tune from my third CD entitled "Saxual", here's the cover... hear that , yea I wrote it, thats the bossa kids." Uh. If its all for yourself, its cathartic, or you're fine with playing to bolster your ego - which is in itself a falsity, the ego is hollow, I suppose thats fine, but lease do not take it out on the rest of us with claims of superiority and the inevitable back talk (see talking to the mirror) that results. 

So back to the Monk quote from the teacher that sent me ranting. Its great to know about intervals, and even how some people employ them, but to know how someone really plays, you have to listen, and feel them. Sometimes there is not much to feel, thats when we lose the listener. If its honest, and you're giving a story of who you are through a solo, how life is feeling, thats where we connect. If we are lost in the academic world of harmonic concepts and rigidity in how things "should be played", that is recreating, we're done for. Its something I have to very careful of. A great drummer, teacher, and inspiring presence Bob Moses, who I had a chance to attend a workshop by this summer, spoke at great length of "unlearning" and considered himself fortunate to not have attended music school, for he had less to "unlearn". His dedication to his craft and self discipline is obviously remarkable, as his self study led him to a place not only of great knowledge of harmony, rhythm, and melody, but also to a unique voice and approach seemingly unfettered by the self doubt many of us sicken ourselves with... "but Im not supposed to do that".

So if you just LISTEN to Monk, thats how you can play, not like him, but with the playfulness, audacity, and beauty that he brought to his compositions and improvisations. Its in there, thats what jazz was and is at its best, human. You can hear a fight in it, even at its most serene and peaceful moments. There's worlds to live in within the music. Its wonderful. It happens in poetry, great music of all genres, nature, art of all mediums, when its real you feel it, its not that hard to detect if we're to step back from what we have learned, our fears of being "good", and just create.

So, go for the soul, not the notes. They will come. You can write them down and play them back in perfect time and still fall completely flat. Its not in the fingers or the text books. (Noted, this post also involves me talking to the mirror, thanks for coming by, hope its of some interest).

Here's some Monk  

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