After recording the Fantasias and Adagios during two days in late February of 2007, it became clear to me that I was in great need of what that music gives to me. It certainly has very little to do with jazz, and so I thought it would be just for me, to listen to late at night when I needed to relax.
The album found me extemporizing - the "classical" word for thematic improvisation, in a style very like the earlier masters. Bach. Brahms. Chopin. Vivaldi. I went to Peabody Conservatory for many years, starting when I was nine. I had played since I was four, but it took awhile for my parents and teachers recognize that my ability was worthy of a good music school.
And I joked about it for so many years. It was considered bad form to be a jazz musician and also have had extensive classical training. Something like "that music is by and for dead guys."
I know I hid my classical experience, telling only very few musicians. It meant you had somehow lost your soul, if you played that square music. It wasn't hip.
One night I was on a popular video sharing site (YouTube) and decided to watch and listen to Glenn Gould. I was dumbstruck. His music entered me and stayed there. It wasn't what he was playing, it was the way he was playing it. I had never heard Bach played with such fullness and passion and gentleness.
He caressed Bach, where most pianists play Bach like robots. They make it sound so mechanical. I know it was the way I was taught. To play the two and three part Inventions, one had to sit up perfectly straight, force your hands to emulate little claws, and play tic-toc tic-toc like a metronome. Like a machine. Hating math as I did, I certainly didn't take to Bach. It wasn't MUSIC to me. I found Miles and Trane shortly after that, and spent the next forty-five years believing that I hated Bach and all those "dead guys".
In 1984 I married the assistant principal bassist for the local symphony. He took me to many rehearsals, and I got to attend (free) any program I chose. I'd listen to all that music, and try to find something in it that moved me viscerally.
I wound up loving the Russians - the BIG FIVE. Tchaikovsky was my favorite, and Rimski-Korsakoff was a close second. It was their romantic melodies that snared me, and I loved Sheherazade in particular.
I still do.
But so many pianist would come through, and they would play their huge wooden instruments, perched like birds waiting for the big, black bull (the piano) to die. They would throw back their heads and raise their hands three feet off of the keyboard and just generally act like idiots. Mimes. I was taught to do that too but I never did it. It made me feel like a performing seal.
Economy of motion seemed very important to me. It always has.
After seeing and hearing Glenn Gould, hours and hours of videos, I began to notice patterns emerging.
The playing itself was technically flawless, beyond anything I had previously experienced in ANY idiom. But the thing about Gould’s playing that held me transfixed was his utter immersion in the music: he was in a TRANCE. He was so totally absorbed by this magnificent music he was either making or was somehow pouring forth from him that his RAPTURE was physically palpable. So real.
It has been argued that Glenn suffered from a form of autism, or Asperger's Syndrome, and it was this difference in him that allowed him to create such utter beauty with little or no effort. I feel that, if this assertion is true, and he was autistic to some degree, that his achievements are doubly important in that he rose to such heights in spite of, and not because of, his challenges. I'm always suspicious of people who explain great art away by saying "oh yes, it IS great, but you know that this person was also a ___, and you can insert any oddity you can think of. It somehow makes the "average person" feel less insecure with their own mediocrity, and puts genius and divinity in the category of anomaly.
I defy ANYONE with any passion and love left in their bodies to watch ANY video or listen to ANY recording of Glenn Gould and not cry out with joy, not feel the merciful and infinite God pouring through their veins.
What Gould gave me was the courage to let that same well-spring of AGAPEspring forth from my own heart, unjudged.
JUDGEMENT! The enemy of great art, love, music, life, joy.
JUDGEMENT! It isn’t good enough. It's TOO good. It has no right to exist.
JUDGEMENT! If it’s not written down, it can’t be “classical” music. It is fake music.
I submit this to you who judge:
When one improvises in jazz one is improvising within a style. That style is a set of standards and rules that creates a sound. If it is an authentic sound, it comes from experience, from immersion, from knowing, beyond words, what jazz sounds like. What the vocabulary of jazz is.
When one improvises within the style of the early masters (read “dead” to detractors) one is also improvising within a style. The style, the rules, the framework are different. But it’s no less real, and, if done by one knowing the vocabulary, it is VALID. It is true art, true music.
There is a disease afflicting art and music, and it is not new. It is becoming more common, though. It is the need to put every single creation into a box, have a pre-made label handy for any contribution, and to dismiss, out of turn, anything that falls outside of one's "tastes"... this is the elitist and critical view of our age, and it is destructive to children, to educators, to parents, to everyone.
It shows itself in our politics, our medicine, our science, and, most notably, in our ART (or lack thereof).
For a glimpse into my own "sense of divine wonder", I refer you to my recent creation, Fantasias and Adagios. It is my self made pure by its own song of freedom. Not judged, not valued for its displays of pyrotechnics, not created with the intention of making money or friends. Created by pure will and with pure Spirit, it is a surge of healthy life in an unhealthy world of war and deception, poverty and domination.
When I hear it, I am glad to be human, and alive, and free, and I consider myself blessed to be carrying this anomaly.
It doesn't matter that I made it. It matters that it exists.
See also Glenn Gould