Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Visual Jazz

Basketball is on my mind lately. I’ve been a staunch loyal fan of the play-off season Warriors, often much to my pain and suffering (games 5 and 6 and the first half of game 7 against the Rockets). Last night, there were some sweet moves and poetry-in-motion passes in that first half, though most of them from James Harden and crew before the Warriors kicked into their third-quarter-comeback mode. So sweet to watch the numbers advance towards and surpass the Rockets and sail home (though still on rocky seas) to that sweet victory.

So it should have been no surprise that listening to Brad Mehldau’s latest album driving to school, I kept visualizing Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson moving that ball toward the hoop while listening to the music and I couldn’t help but feel the connection. Brad Mehldau is the Steph Curry (or James Harden or Lebron James) of the piano keys, moving around and in and through the defense of the chord changes to drive to the hoop or sail a long 3-pointer. Monster speed, control, coordination in both, feigning and darting and pivoting and faking through the notes or players to end the phrase with a swoosh and gather for the next time downcourt.

If I had more technical skills, I could try to match one of Mehldau’s solos with select footage of Curry (or Harden or LeBron James—plenty to pick from) so that the synchronicity would be clear. But meanwhile, I tried playing piano imagining them playing and then got the idea of a free jazz piece where I’m actually watching the game with the sound turned off and trying to follow it with my own improvised solo. Well, that  was interesting.

You could make a case for all art forms being variations of the same human capacities, but I do think that basketball and jazz have a special connection, especially that need to be present in the moment and to respond from the cumulated discipline of hard, relentless practice. To notice who's open, to flow through the changes, to know when to shoot and when to pass. The teamwork and attention needed when someone passes you some notes or the ball and you follow the flow of the assist.

So next time you listen to jazz, imagine a great team moving the ball downcourt. Next time you watch a basketball game, imagine a great jazz band playing together.

And of course, Go Warriors!!!

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