A BOWL OF CHERRIES?

A true story in parable’s clothing follows.

As a child — aside from my refusal to eat peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches — I was happily omnivorous.  But I had gotten it into my head that I didn’t like ripe cherries.  It could have been my reaction to a pie made with canned filling, but I turned away from the real fruit for years.  Then, someone said, “You don’t like cherries?  Try one of these!”  A rapturous experience.  But while I was savoring the fruit, I thought to myself, “There’s twenty years that you could have been enjoying this experience, and you didn’t, because of some irrational prejudice that stuck.”

This story came to mind yesterday.

Earlier this year I was at a jazz party (its name doesn’t matter) whose stylistic range sat easily between the Wolverines and Buck Clayton — call it “small band swing,” “Condon style,” “Mainstream.”  Delightful in all its variations.

But one of the sets, as an experiment (the musicians got to suggest their own thematic ideas) was a tribute to Bill Evans.  I had only heard Evans’ works for piano trio, for the most part, but when a small group of musicians I admire took the stage, I soon settled into the adventurousness of the music, as improvised lines crossed in midair, echoed, crackled and resounded.  The set was thoroughly uplifting.

Seated near me was someone — a semipro musician whom I’ve come to respect, a perceptive listener, someone devoted to the music in many ways.  Sandy [an invented name] looked at me when the set concluded, with a serious facial expression, and said, “Well?”  I replied, “I thought it was marvelous.”  Sandy frowned.  “Well, I don’t understand it.  And I don’t like it!

Not wanting to seem too didactic, I said quietly, “Forty years ago if I had heard that coming out of the radio, I might have turned away in annoyance.  But if you listen closely to it, all sorts of interesting and lovely things are going on.”  “Well, I don’t like it.”  End of discussion.

Later in that same weekend, someone saw me videoing and we got into conversation.  This person planned to visit Manhattan; I offered to send information about places to go, people to hear.  Again, after expressions of gratitude, there was the same ominous facial expression.  “I don’t like any of that progressive stuff.”  Another door closed somewhere.  I said only, “New York is full of musicians you might not have heard of who play the music you like to hear.”

Do you think if I had told these stern people my story of the cherries they would have seen its relevance?

I am not proposing that all art should be embraced equally.  People who say “I like everything!” always make me wonder if they really understand what they enthusiastically espouse.  But arteriosclerosis of its audience’s sensibilities can kill off an art form.

May your happiness increase.

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4 responses to “A BOWL OF CHERRIES?

  1. Yup, that’s the way it is, Michael. My feelings about music & art are SO different from almost all of the “jazz fans” I talk to, I never even bother telling “my” truth any more. It’s sad: I keep myself hidden, because I’m nearly certain I’ll be misunderstood. And I NEED as many clients, customers, and fans as I can find & keep: otherwise I won’t be able to satisfy my financial obligations, such as grocery bills, mortgage payments, and college tuition for my children. I actually believe that those close minded feelings about music are linked in some way to racism and other kinds of irrational hatred. Sad.

  2. It’s a common reality. People select and reject and at the end of the year/decade/life they think they have constructed a logical and non-conflicting aesthetic. Mostly its an illogical grab-bag of what appealed to them on stuff they liked on a Tuesday, or they acclimated to over time.

    The most profound musical experiences I’ve had almost always came over time. The list is long of indispensable albums that I could make no sense of initially: Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Memorias Choroando (Paulinho da Viola) are notable because I listened to both records about 8-10 times over a number of years before something in my brain just opened up and I was hooked. I had a reason, but I don’t expect people to do that too much.

    If a modicum of understanding, just a little dab, is necessary to appreciate a work, then it doesn’t necessarily just drop in your lap. You have to listen, ponder, weight, consider. Then, perhaps this modicum of understanding now present–you can reject it with confidence.

    I liked the urban contemporary music in the 70’s. When the BeeGees, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, The Village People and other shlock artists were tagged “disco”, every black pop musician somehow fell into the same category. I tried to play Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder or any of another dozen artists, and as soon as the victim heard a beat and a black singer they gacked up “disco sucks”, and they were done. Funk had a long hard climb against these peoples limited mindset.

    For the most part I don’t like country, but it’s mostly because I don’t like over-commercialized “delivery systems” that are meant to appeal to me like candy; without nutrition, without lasting value, without anything but appealing to the lowest common denominator. But I’ve stopped rejecting it out of hand when I hear other musicians carping endlessly about it. It irritates and reflects an image of myself I don’t much want to have.

    So when someone stats flatly and adamantly that “country music sucks”, I quickly agree. Then the rest goes something like this:

    “Well I guess Hank Williams, was pretty good though.”
    “Oh, sure–I got no problems with Hank.”
    “And really, Bob Wills and that whole crew sure had it going.”
    “That’s true; Bob Wills was a lot of fun.”
    “But the rest sucks. Oh! Just thought of Doc Watson, he can sure play!”
    “Well yeah…”
    “And then there’s Merle Travis and Chet Atkins and… well hell I guess Woody Guthrie was country technically.”
    “Okay, okay–I get it. You can lay off now!”

    It’s kinda fun.

  3. Well, as one friend said, years ago, “Life is not a bowl of cherries, just ask any cherry picker.” (I don’t know what this has to do with your story, but it is a cherry anecdote.)

  4. But music like anything of interest is a journey – say a train journey. Nothing much to do with cherries but there are some stations that look interesting and so you might stop and take a look and there are others that you give a miss, but you still keep journeying, adding to your experience the more you travel. I started in New Orleans, traveled to Chicago and then to New York and Los Angeles and hundreds of stops in between. I even popped across the pond to enjoy the sheer joyfulness of Paris and London post-war. And during that journey I have absorbed New Orleans, Dixieland, Swing, mainstream, cool, bop, post-bop and even free jazz. The adventure is in the listening. Some sounds are comfortable and familiar, cosy even while others require more concentration and still others leave you frowning admitting that it is best to file it away for a re-visit later. I wouldn’t have missed any mile of that journey and I still love to listen to a wide range as the boundaries are continually being pushed back. I am pleased that I found no rut to get stuck in on my journey. Thanks for the blog – great music, great reading – an uplift.

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