Monday, October 28, 2013

Jazz Playground


Say say, oh playmate. Come out and play with me.
 And bring your dollies three. Climb up my apple tree.
Slide down my rainbarrel, into my cellar door.
And we’ll be jolly friends, forever more, more, more.”

Yesterday afternoon I played perhaps the best concert of my modest performing career. My partner in crime was the great Joshi Marshall on sax and the gracious host who opened her beautiful home and shared her remarkable Grotian piano (also literally sharing it also in an inspired duet with me) was Samia Clark. It was a late Sunday afternoon, the weather perfect, the food extraordinary (pumpkin tiramisu!) and three people independently commented after it was over that they noticed the setting sun on the golden leaves out the window while we were playing Autumn in New York.

The duet is perhaps the most revealing and vulnerable format, two musicians listening and responding with a conversational intensity distinct from the large group format. I always feel like I’m the low end of pianistic technical flash and polish, still growing toward the latest hip jazz chords, scales and voicings. But the breadth of my dilettantish musical career— from Scarlatti to Scriabin to Satchmo, from Bali to Brazil to Burkina Faso— all leaks into my conception of entering a jazz tune and catches people’s attention— they have to listen with more attentive ears and at the end of the matter, the depth and quality of listening is 90% of the concert experience. The lovely house, the intimate setting, the autumn trees out the window, the convivial company, the exceptional piano, the carefully-crafted and selected repertoire, the interplay between Joshi and I, the familiar tunes given a new face all combined to make some memorable musical magic. One woman said, “I felt like you were speaking to each person separately, each of us going on our own surprising yet familiar journey with each piece.” Well, maybe a little weird to review one’s own concert, but it’s as much a complement to the audience as to Joshi and I and a chance to look at what makes any musical event notable.

But perhaps the quality in yesterday’s music that was the most important is the sense of play, that feeling of being set loose together in the playground and joyfully romping from one thing to another. For that I can credit the Orff approach and my four decades of playing with children. You might take a tumble down the slide or miss a rung of the monkey bar, but no one is judging you or assessing you in the playground— and you aren’t judging yourself either. And that gives you such freedom! I played a little of a classical piece yesterday and I was instantly transported back to those old piano recitals where you lived in fear of hitting a wrong note. But in jazz, it’s different. As Joshi said, “If it’s wrong once, it’s wrong. If it’s wrong twice, it’s jazz!”

So this my way of announcing to the world, “Hey, we’re available to play at your house!”
(If there’s a decent piano there). We’d love to get this message:

Say, say jazz players. Come join us in our home.
And bring your saxophone. Sing out those pretty tones.
Climb up the blues scale. Slide down to end the tune.
Can’t wait to hear you play, we’ll see you soon!”

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