“Jazz is something you have to feel, something you have to live”(Ray Brown)
What makes jazz music so appealing to me as a traveler? Having experienced the musical “high” of performing as a jazz trombonist in both a big band and small combo setting in the past, jazz musical language now speaks to me as a prime motivator to explore the world around me. In traditional jazz, I think of the smoothly creative sounds of saxophonist, John Coltrane or the technical proficiency of trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis. In more modern times, guitarist Pat Metheny’s brilliant infusion of jazz with classical, rock, funk, and new age genres or Snarky Puppy’s diverse assemblage of multitalented musicians performing in intimate live settings equally attracts my attention here.
The jazz medium connection to my travel interest can be best explained by identifying those musical elements which make jazz unique. In the two videos below, numerous examples of this “bag of jazz tricks” motivating my “wandering ways” vividly come to mind. Do you recognize them?
In jazz music, the solo performer freely explores his own interpretation of a recurring musical melody or theme within the confines of the musical chords provided. Feeling equally spontaneous on our Europe-based vacations, using a Eurail pass combined with a Paris Metro map in France has provided great flexibility in interpreting where my wife and I go next as the moment strikes us each day. The future focus of arriving at our destination thus feels secondary to the “now” enjoyment of moving from place to place each day.
EXTENDED NOTE RANGE
A jazz performer occasionally finds a challenging opportunity to test the limits of his ability by playing beyond the normal sound ranges of his/her musical instrument. In travel, my binoculars similarly serve as the primary outlet for extending my range of exploration in inaccessible locations. On the west coast of California, steep cliff overlooks, jagged rock formations, and pounding surf tides along the shoreline frequently prevent us from accessing beaches of interesting natural beauty. Yet a methodical scan of a such a remote beach with my binoculars of a tide pool inflow or hidden cave, have revealed to me a priceless look at a living ecosystem of marine sea life beyond my normal view.
In jazz performance, one plays to the hidden beat felt by the music presented. In fact, on many occasions, the band plays on with no conductor on stage. Likewise, there have been times where WiFi, GPS service and map reference are useless along walking trails on our American roadtrip vacations in the remote locations in Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. We are thus in fact lost. In the absence of our directional conductor, then, reliance on our senses to look for obscure trail markings placed by previous trekkers have provided a successfully strategy for finding our way back to safe haven.
The success of a jazz performance by one musician in a band requires a commitment to hear how others are playing simultaneous to his/her efforts. A drummer, guitar and bass player may play “tight” together” to produce a pulsating harmonic vibe while a refreshing brassy interlude resonates the melody in coordinated tandem. In related fashion, we have wandered the world for a glimpse of such live performance unity of expression as a spectator of football, baseball, and more recently soccer sporting events. On our past London trip, I excitedly witnessed such “call and response” synergy at an English Premier League football match at Emirates Stadium. Notably, joyous Arsenal fans sang traditional hymns loudly throughout the stadium as Arsenal players respectfully nodded to the crowd entering the field. The chants intensified throughout the game as the home team responded by putting on an impressive scoring display to soundly defeat their overmatched opponent.
SYNCOPATION AND BLUE NOTES
Jazz players typically defy accepted rules of musical composition by reinterpreting traditional rules of rhythm and sound in unpredictable ways. Skipping the assigned beat, lessening or lengthening an audible note or making the sound slightly higher or lower makes jazz sound somewhat odd to the dance-pleasing eye. Yet such creative alterations to predetermined touring routes in travel have often come in handy. In medieval “old towns” of Lisbon, London, and Venice…, for example, a challenging walk taken through unmarked, crowded corridors and narrow cobblestone streets frequently has required an irregular variance in course and direction from our more direct and unimpeded traveling norm.
One of the more enduring qualities of of jazz relates to its cultural sensitivity to time/place. A nightly show performer might for instance freely incorporate Afro- Caribbean salsa, Mississippi Delta Blues or Asian Zen Mysticism as a plausible way to express his/her unique variation of a jazz tune “standard.” In essence, then, jazz serves as a “world music”, offering unity of “humankind” throughout the world. On our recent India tour last spring, we thus sought authentic spiritual settings there that inspired similar vibes of positive optimism. We thus embraced with our “open” jazz mind, New Delhi street monuments and sculptures, portraying the spiritual bonds of its many diverse cultures/religions coexisting in this overpopulated and poverty stricken city.