Monday, June 29, 2009

Music and the creative process

I was having dinner with Larry Wallerstein in San Jose’s Japantown and he asked me a very intriguing question. What does one who has done Aikido for almost 40 years now do to train. My answer to him was that I thought it was vital to keep being creative. Not necessarily just in dojo time.

So one of my creative outlets has been music. I love the music of Chet Baker. So I play the trumpet. I listen to Chet a lot. I’m currently in a phase where I’m playing less and listening more. Initially when I started playing again(I played in middle school and high school but with a flawed embrouchure and have needed in essence to re-learn everything) I would play and every once in a while I would say to myself”That felt like Chet”. Something in a phrase or a sound or a series of sounds. Initially when I recorded stuff and it happened, it didn’t sound like much. But as I kept going, I noticed that this feeling produced something. So I let this feeling be my guide. If I have a teacher, it is this feeling. I lose it quite often, but it will come back at unexpected times. It is not something that(unfortunately) I can produce on demand. Maybe as I play a bit more.

But the journey is what it is all about. Not the destination. The hours of bad sounds and
Struggles are what determines whether you can persevere through difficulties. Bruce Lee hurt his back and was bedridden for 6 months. Osensei spent vast periods physically quite ill. Chet Baker suffered a brutal beating in his 30’s and had to learn to play without teeth. So whatever difficulties I have had pale when compared to those of the true giants. But through it all every once in awhile some thing would come through and I would say to myself” That felt like Chet.” Not sound like Chet. Ultimately you can appreciate someone who inspires you on your journey, but to simply copy them is to do a disservice to their creative process. Chet himself acknowledged the influence of Miles Davis, but said that it helped him to understand what he was about.

So I play. And listen. And hopefully grow. I notice that when in a flow there are notes that you hear inside, rhythms you sense inside, and the more aligned you are the more they just happen. And the less separation between what you hear inside and what you play the better you are doing. And as in aikido when the “I” takes it over and you are caught in your conceptual mind it is very painful. And as I go forward the notes on the interior change. And every once in a while mind and body come together and there is the space of pure being.

One of the reasons I feel so close to Chet Baker’s music is that he obviously felt very deeply what he was playing or singing. He was real in that sense. He was categorized as a jazz trumpeter/ vocalist of the cool West Coast sound of the ‘50’s. I feel he is very mis understood. What he had was an almost unique lyrical sense and jazz was his arena. While he deeply respects the songs he plays, his improvisations are almost compositions in and of themselves and often surpass the songs he plays. Even the old standards. I think he is one of the alltime great musicians. Bach? Beetoven? Chet Baker? That is a bit like saying Einstein? Jung?Ueshiba? Maybe not that farfetched. At least not to my very different mind.

So there have been those who have helped me on my journey. Marianne Messina and Peter Skilj for hanging with me in my insanity to return to music. Ben Shuts for letting me bounce my stuff off his saxophone playing. Dennis Kyne for being there and having someone to play alongside right now. And I’d like to thank Artt Frank for his wisdom and encouragement. Artt is a great drummer and musician in his own right who played with Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. You can find out more about him as And he was a very close friend of Chet Baker. He lets me pester him with questions about Chet. But it is so wonderful to actually be able to talk to someone who not only knew Chet personally, but was a very close friend.

The following piece I did was originally something I learned playing with Marianne. I hope you enjoy it.


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