You'll find pianos and pianist, part I, here, and more about my present approaches to the piano in part 2. Also see about performing and my decision to purchase a Yamaha Conservatory Grand. See also Fantasias and Adagios
Lately I've watched a LOT of flash videos of one of my very few piano heroes, Glenn Gould. You'll find a plethora of good ones on YouTube Prepare to be mesmerized. Most of my models in the "jazz idiom" were horn players like Miles and 'Trane. And Mary Lou Williams did my soul so much good, her just being there and doing what she did. Watching and listening to Glenn Gould, the amazing Canadian pianist whose "eccentricities" made him both a major attraction and a pariah among the classical critics (what's new?) has stirred something deep within me, something in desperate need of stirring.
Above: Gould plays Goldberg Variations 26-30 and the Aria Da Capo
That first evening of discovery, I spent a two-hour listening session during which I cried tears of joy and sadness and laughed gleefully as a scarf-draped and overcoat-wearing Gould, right in the midst of a sternly-played Bach Etude, stood up, sang the part, walked to the window, looked at the ducks in the pond outside (keeping perfect rhythm all the while and conducting the orchestra that was obviously playing inside of his head) and then darting back to the piano to finish the piece with a flourish. Immediately upon releasing the keys, he bounced up and darted out of the camera's field before anyone could blink.
And I had that feeling of immense and jubilant discovery that I had experienced when I first really began to make Music, way back when I was four years old. I was making Music even then, no doubt about that. I can remember when it started to "lock in" for me. I wasn't one of those children that had to practice scales and study day and night. My hands may have been tiny, but, as I've said many times, Music doesn't come from one's hands. It comes from one's HEART.
As is usual, there were certain technical problems to overcome. Fingerings, mainly. My time was there, always, and you can still set your clocks to me. And not having perfect pitch was no shortcoming. Relative pitch in me was there to begin with. It was just THERE. Perfect pitch is an ambivalent anomaly, and not often one that serves its owner. I can play a piano INTO tune if it's out. I have known a few people who have that ability. But the piano may still be a semi-tone LOW. That doesn't hurt me at all. To someone with perfect pitch, that could be more than a mild annoyance. It could stop the Music altogether.
When I was four, as when I was fourteen, I could HEAR the Music before it was played, and sometimes AFTER it was played. But always I could hear it.
If I heard it, I knew I could play it. I was so full of confidence that it took many, many years for my teachers and my parents and my plague-ridden society to instill a small but potent fear in me, a certain self-questioning hesitation.
And that drove my Music into the realm of the technically brilliant, ego-driven, speed-centered, socially-sanctioned style that is so prevalent in "jazz".
I now avoid the word. I bracket it in quotation marks. I have come to dislike the word. The word itself derives from roots that hold disrespectful and flatly barbaric connotations for me. I do not feel like a jazz musician. I do not know what that is anymore.
Perhaps I am too sober. Being a non-drinker and a non-smoker, having left all of my nasty little vices and habits behind, I don't often feel comfortable around true "jazz buffs". When I play festivals (which I do with much less frequency than before) I feel as though I'm at a really big, loud party where everyone is having an absolutely great time but me. The wine is flowing and the smoke is blowing and the drums are banging and the bass is twanging and I feel totally displaced.
I have either moved away from it or it has moved away from me.
I see now that many jazz bands have hired turntable players or rappers. Some have taken to playing the music of Willie Nelson or Elton John or The Beatles (seriously...this is not something that I have the audacity to fabricate) and others have taken to wearing outlandish costumes and acting "hip" in ways not previously considered hip at all...
I've seen a band that has three very scantily-clad females and a turntable whiz kid (playing at the St Lucia Jazz Fest) and I've seen (and unfortunately heard) a pianist that plays so ridiculously fast that each and every tune contains every single "lick" known and unknown. Not an ounce of honest passion. Just a billion flying fingers.
It's like watching the great Jackie Chan doing Kung Fu, but stripped of all the love and the fun. It's barely believable, but without the joy and without the passionate involvement, it's just tricks... a thicket of notes that pelt me like teeny tiny pebbles. It's like being hit by little stones, or perhaps a nasty and forceful spray of cold water.
So, after being immersed in the great Gould, I went to the piano and let my fingers do exactly what they wanted to do. Emboldened by his very infectious (highly contagious) and passionate affection for his own nearly-immaculate abilities and for the Music that was literally bubbling up from the depths of his soul, I did what I haven't done since I was a young child. I played MY way, outside of "jazz" or "classical" or any category or box you can think of.
AND I DID NOT QUESTION MYSELF. I DID NOT ASK MYSELF IF IT WAS "VALID"; I DID NOT CENSOR OR JUDGE OR CONTROL MYSELF IN ANY WAY.
It was beauty pure and untarnished. To me. I released an album of this work, called Fantasias and Adagios. Please listen and buy if so motivated.
And that was what I have been doing these past months. I have, every day, gone to my piano and let my soul and spirit soar and roam and wander and flounder and resuscitate and shine and grow dark and become brilliant. I have done this all alone.
Sometimes the thoughts come unbidden. "What would this or that critic think of this?" or "What would my daddy think if he were alive" or "what would my piano teachers have thought"...and I have to SHUT DOWN THOSE VOICES.
Now I better understand what the great Salvador Dali was painting about when he created "The Persistence of Memory" and now I more fully know where Keith Jarrett goes and WHY HE CHOOSES TO GO THERE, in the face of so much opposition from his critics and his culture.
I should insert here that I have always lowered the bench to it's absolute lowest position.
And I went out and bought a suede padded swivel office chair that is armless and puts me at 17.5 inches off of the floor.
I have found that this position is breaking up old playing patterns and creating new ones.
It not only enhances touch and accuracy: it causes one to be very close to the keys without slouching.
I have to sit up, and not slouch down, to touch the keys, and the sensitivity and RANGE of touch is vastly greater for me.
The WAY in which I touch the piano changed immediately. It's like a different instrument.
Music is like a river that's always moving, sometimes rushing, sometimes whispering by. Always carrying me along. Sometimes even in directions I'm not sure I should be going.
I never know where it will take me. We never know that, do we?
We, as artists and musicians and poets, in a dimming, darkening age, are often the last to know where we're headed with our creativity.
All I can say with any certainty is that listening to Glenn Gould has changed me in some fundamental way, at least for now.
And I need to let that happen.