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.