Daily Archives: October 23, 2010

“I WANT! I WANT!” (Part Two)

From Fernando de la Riestra (translated by Samantha Avila):

Why have so many records?

There is no reason even for necessity or for accumulation.  Simply said, I get a great amount of tranquility in knowing that they will grow old beside me.  The tranquility that comes with the knowledge of the absolutely precious existence of the music and being able to enjoy it.  There are occasions when I enjoy putting the disc in the player and I profoundly enjoy the prolonged sounds of the music, just the way it was originally presented to us.  The amount of music makes it easy to finding the rhythm that’s just right.  Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or even next week, that may the state that coincides with the determined work of Sonny Rollins, and it is a great thing to have Sonny in my home to immerse myself in his music.  But sometimes the rhythm is very fast and other times it’s irritatingly slow.  But just to know that it’s there at anyone’s disposition, as a stimulus to ultimate knowledge — as well as the guarantee of a simple and sure life full of momentum.  I have many records and CDs but I never speculate about the possibility of being able to listen to every single one of them all the time, and I don’t speculate about the absurd question whether there will be time to listen to all of them. 

From KING LEAR:  “”O reason not the need!  Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous.  Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

From “Willie The Weeper” (thanks to Mike Durham):  “Now tell me, what would you do? / If you could have all your dreams come true?  / There’s something tells me, you’d lock the door, / Like Willie the Weeper, you’d cry for more.”   

Three very different perspectives, no? 

Fernando de la Riestra speaks of the possibility for pleasure the sprawling amplitude of music can give us, and suggests we live in these moments of gratification and amplitude without needlessly gnawing on the darker questions: “Will I live to hear all of this?  Am I greedy?  Do I deserve to have all this?”

And since some of our musical idols are now dead, having as much of their music around us is a way to make it feel as if they never died: fantasy and fancy, but a way to stop our grief at their absence.  In my ears, Louis is alive . . .  But I am a Lapsed or an Enlightened Completist who no longer strains to have every note his idols ever recorded.  I did that often in my youth and found it frustrating: I did not have the resources to buy or trade for every Ben Webster recording (for example) and some of them were less than perfect . . . with apologies to Ben, of course.

Lear (early on in his painful path to seeing clearly) says to his hard-hearted daughters that the difference between people and animals is that we can allow ourselves more than bare subsistence. 

The anonymous lyricist of “Willie the Weeper” suggests that it is human nature to want and want more — although in the interests of accuracy, I must point out that Lear has yet to realize that a complete human being (king or not) is not defined by the number of knights in his entourage, but by how deeply and well he loves and forgives and receives the loving forgiveness of others. 

And Willie, having a wonderful time in his dreams, is driven by opium — so he might not speak for us all.

I am returning to this topic because the enthusiasm of the comments suggested to me that these were serious questions that went deep.  And I wanted to offer a musing illustration. 

In my previous post, SIDNEY CATLETT, TRIUMPHANT, I shared three images of photographs of Big Sid that had appeared for sale on eBay.  Sidney is my hero: he made everyone else sound better; he was himself; he brought joy; he was deeply loved and is deeply missed.  And he is not a recognizable figure to many beyond this world of jazz and percussion.

Now it can be told: I bid on and won the large portrait at the bottom of that blogpost. 

I am a very restrained bidder: I bid on less than one percent of the things I covet, and I set a monetary ceiling for myself: had the bidding gone up and up, I would have left the arena early.  And I am not a vindictive bidder: I will not purchase something to be the only one on the planet who has it.  If someone had outbid me — as has happened before — I assume only that my rival has more money and more desire . . . and I hope (s)he enjoys the purchase immensely! 

Did I NEED the photograph?  Certainly not. 

I need to pay my bills, have clean clothing, food and drink . . . but I could certainly have proceeded forward in my life without this purchase.  And in a world where so many people are less fortuntate, it would seem an impiety to proclaim that I needed this object.

But I did WANT it.  Why?

Some of my feeling comes from the adult desire for autonomy.  We are, as children and perhaps as adults, surrounded by people who don’t necessarily see the world as we do and disapprove of our pleasures.  In bidding on this photograph, I am not automatically responding to the people who said, sometimes angrily, “What do you need that for?  Haven’t you got enough of that as it is?” 

But perhaps part of being an adult with freedom and some disposable income (thus terribly fortunate) is the Thorstein Veblen principle in a mild, non-judgmental way: I can afford to buy myself something that won’t keep me warm or house me — but something that will please me when I perceive it. 

I no longer have to ask my mother for an advance on my allowance to buy a Louis Armstrong record I had never seen before (she was good about such things) so buying the portrait of Sidney is a way of saying, “I am adult enough to trust myself to spend a little money on something not essential to my life; I am adult enough to spend money on something that will please me whenever I look at it.”   

Another person might say, “What I want for dinner tonight is simply a bowl of cereal.  Or scrambled eggs and toast.  Why should I not please myself?”

Freedom to act with individuality, the maturity and self-knowledge to trust one’s impulses. 

And I will be able to hang the photograph on the wall at eye-level so that I will see Sidney as I go past him, and will be able to muse on his generous brilliance. 

I can never BE Sidney, but I can hope to draw something from his example: Be youself.  Be excellent at whatever it is you do.  Do it so that you give your gift to others. 

And there’s more.  I would call my bidding on that photograph a selective acquisition: were I to feel passionately that I had to have copies (or originals) of every photograph taken of Sidney Catlett, then I would be in a different realm.  Frankly, although I revere Sidney, I do not want to have him on every wall of the apartment: he would become inescapable.  There’s room for Pee Wee Russell, too, and my own photographs of living musicians.

I also think that my desire for the photograph is a quiet response to ignorance and mediocrity.  Strong words, you say.  Fighting words, even.  But my words are not idly chosen.  The world outside has very little interest in or knowledge of the music I and others love and celebrate here. 

Having a portrait of Sidney is my own way of saying to the world that ignores him, the world that raises mediocrities to stardom, “THIS is what you should be honoring.  I know he means nothing to you, but I refuse to forget him and what he did.”  

Having things that give us pleasure will not keep us alive a moment longer; our collections of beloved objects will have to find other owners when we die. 

But if we enter into an uplifting spiritual relationship with the things we do purchase, perhaps our lives will be enhanced by the powers they continue to possess.

And — a mournful postscript: there are so many things in our lives that we cannot control, so making these small decisions to bring beauty, elation, and solace into our existence is very important . . .

COMING SOON: MICHAEL BANK (October 28, 2010)

The excellent young pianist Michael Bank, whose jazz appearances usually take place north of New York City, is coming to Brooklyn to show off his understated swinging creativity. 

He’ll be joined by the superb bassist Murray Wall, the young guitarist Matt Smith . . . and perhaps other friends as well.  All of this will unfold on Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 6 to 8:30 at PUPPETS JAZZ BAR in Park Slope, located at 481 Fifth Avenue, (718) 499-2622.

Michael has played with a great many swinging small groups in New York and environs: his colleagues include Kevin Dorn, Dan Levinson, Craig Ventresco, Ben Polcer.  He has a witty way of looking at the world — reflected not only in his amused commentaries on his surroundings but also in his playing: restrained, sly, epigrammatic. 

Although he can launch into Waller-stride, he is much more likely (a la Basie, Nat Cole, and Wilson) to let a few notes ring out and ride the rhythmic flow.  I’ve heard him in the worst situations — on an electric keyboard in a room full of noisy brunchers, in the middle of a wildly disorganized big band — and he always provides light.

Here’s Michael with Kevin Dorn’s THE BIG 72, something I recorded live in March 2010 at the Garage in downtown New York City.  Joining him are Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Adrian Cunningham, alto sax; Pete Martinez, clarinet and vocal; Kelly Friesen, bass; Kevin, drums. 

Don’t miss this!