Back in my spiritual shopping days as a young adult, I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Don’t remember too much about it beyond some exceptional mystical flights into realms I had never visited— and never would. But little did I know that the wisdom I was seeking was much closer to home, in the words of another Yogi who was the catcher for the New York Yankees team I followed as a kid!
Tomorrow is my last of 32 Jazz History classes and I will indeed be sad to have it end (though stay tuned for future incarnations). It’s a good time for summing up our new-found understanding of jazz, so I saved the most profound reflection for the end. Here is a little treasure I stumbled into one day (don’t know where it’s from)— Yogi Berra explaining jazz. Enjoy!
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz?
Yogi: I can't, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it's right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it's wrong.
Interviewer: I don't understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's what's so simple about it.
Interviewer: Do you understand it?
Yogi: No. That's why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn't know anything about it.
Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today?
Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead.
Interviewer: What is syncopation?
Yogi: That's when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don't hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they're the same as something different from those other kinds.
Interviewer: Now I really don't understand.
Yogi: I haven't taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.