Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Physics of Flying

After some two weeks away, I eagerly awaited the reunion with my piano. I shouldn’t have been so surprised when my fingers felt like lumbering bears bumping into the wrong notes and snapping twigs in the 88-treed forest. Music is nothing if not physical and when the digits lie dormant for awhile, it takes a while for them to get out of bed and join the day fully awake. So I took out the Bach Partitas and started cutting and slashing my way through them until some muscle memory kicked in. That helped, but if the phone rang for a gig in an hour, I would have been wise to turn it down.

But the next day, I started playing through some of the old jazz chestnuts and before I knew it, my fingers were flying through intricate paths with great fervor in a state of phalangetic bliss and let me tell you, there is no finer feeling than that. The body deeply rooted in the rhythms that connect us to this earth, both feet (barefoot!) firmly on the soil while the imagination kicks in and sends us soaring over the chords, dodging in and out of the notes to be avoided in the full freedom of ascending to the heavens. But not too high (remember Icarus?), always swooping back towards the roots, resting on tree branches, splashing in the birdbath on our journey to nowhere. No destination beyond the exhiliration of flying and the joy of unencumbered movement. And it doesn’t sound so bad either.

I suppose that’s why I love jazz, the physical and aural and intellectual embodiment of what it means to be free while still in this human body. The rhythms on drums made from animal skins and cymbals forged from the metals of this earth remind us of where we come from and who we are, mortals on the physical plane whose soul is connected to soil, in company with plants and animals, streams and stones. The chords on the stringed instruments take us to the left hemisphere of the brain, call on our capacity for abstract thought and call forth the sheer pleasure of intricate, nuanced and complex ideas, structures and systems. Then the melodies on horns and flutes and singing voices lift us in the air on the wings of our own breath, the exhales and inhales of the lungs so close to our heart opens that marvelous organ to the wonders of the feeling life. Our body-mind- heart, our physical-intellectual-emotional capacities all dancing together in a marvelous three-way conversation.

On some level, just about all music does this, but in different ratios and balances. 12-tone music falls short of stirring body-based rhythms, hip-hop is low on complex intellectual structures (someone just sent me a joke photo of a “rap piano” with five keys on it!), smooth jazz has had all feeling drained from it. I love just about all authentic music, but when you’re in the midst of a hard-swingin’ jazz piece with evocative harmonic voicings and progressions and the improvised melodies flying into the outer reaches of the stratosphere— well, there’s nothing quite like it. Especially if you’re the one playing it all on piano!

Now I feel ready for the gig. Give me a call. 

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