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  • Writer's picturestephensgerald10

Emote This Music


My previous jazz chops were forged with honesty, hard work and a good understanding of the music, but also in bad techniques, difficult habits, trying too hard, lack of cultural support, and very little extension into the community.

This is why I had to back off of jazz piano, and change through classical and rock like before, but more correctly this time. And as a grown up who now knows and understands.

I once went to hear a blues group who had original music I had heard on the radio, but was disappointed that they were doing pop covers in a bar. I was young. 8 years later I was in that band. I often ended up doing what I had previously thought would be wrong. I guess I just had to learn not to judge.

There is a concept of “no compromise” in the arts. I have learned that words like “compromise” and “sell-out” mean different things to different artists, and that there is no right or wrong, only personal feeling, opinion and expression.

These kinds of discussions happened in my world about well-trained musicians taking jobs for which they were overqualified, in order to make the rent or whatever. “He’s gonna mess around and lose his jazz chops playing all that rock and roll,” was something I heard at a young age.

I dropped my jazz chops on purpose. I went back to school for a masters in classical 17 years after my bachelor’s. I dropped everything for it from the age of 40-42, but would still play the jazz and background music gigs that fell in my lap. And on those gigs I played much better for all the work on Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Debussy and Ravel I was doing.

I decided after that to drop trying to be a jazz guy, and just see if I could apply any of the classical techniques to blues and rock piano. I ended up learning a lot about organ, bass lines and soul music as well, and I worked professionally more than ever.

I had to drop the bebop playing for 2 reasons, first and foremost that I had developed it under physical duress (bad technique), and didn’t want to keep those negative muscle memories up. And secondly because it was less appropriate for the gigs I was doing. And as long as I kept it to the blues and swing, I could play it, and didn’t feel I was selling out anything about myself.

Quarantine changed the style for me. I am now, first and foremost, very sure that I couldn’t have ever dropped being the musician I was, no matter what I did. My concept of the music, forged in bebop, was still there when that specific music was not.

The modern improvisational music that made me choose professional music is still with me, and now I have gotten back to it. Back to Coltrane and Bach, blues and standards, working on keeping it fresh. Easy technique. Easy feeling. Not chasing intensity but allowing it when it comes. Back to solo piano. Gigs will come back, but the deeper influences for me are presently working out, and I won’t leave them again.

New phase, back to the original phase, 30 years later. Fun.

The “no compromise” intention, in my feeling, means to do whatever it takes to not change or sell out the sound of the music for money. This concept often happens in complex, modern and/or avant-garde musics, and may require either being poor or getting a day job.

Wayne Shorter, one of the most progressive, forward thinking, and avant-garde artists we have, one of the best and most lauded composers, and one of the best musicians, on the last page of his autobiography, says that the main thing he wants readers to get from his story is “art vs. commerce”. And he has the stories to back this up in his own life. He earned his stature long and hard.

Interesting. I have always been able to say that if I need the money plus the experience, I can do the gig. It can’t just be for the bread, but it also can’t be just an experience for free. I deserve compensation, as I do work very hard at this. But I really have to like it to feel like I am staying true to myself. If I am on a gig and maybe it’s not my favorite gig, I still like it enough to be there.

During this time in history, I have been resting, healing, working my physical self back up. I actually needed the home time, alone time, rest/healing time and surgery/recovery time. And now I play better than ever but still

not good enough to want to show you yet. I have so much work to do to get to from where I want to emote this music.

Ok Sunday night/Monday morning blog journal ended for now. Hope y’all are good.

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