Friday, December 25, 2009

Music, Memory and Loss

This can be both a beautiful and wonderful time of year and the older we get the more the pendulum swings between the 2 sides.

On a personal level, 2009 was a tough year, especially with the death of several friends (including one very close to our entire family.  On an artistic level, this was a great year for music and certainly for the jazz I like to listen to.


Most of the time, I listen to new music, CDs I plan to review or others I've downloaded for fun.  Every once in a while, I dig into my collection for music I haven't checked out in a while.  Thanks to bassist Christian McBride's loving tribute to Ray Brown on jazz.com (read it here), I've dug out some of my recordings featuring the great bassist, including his duo with Duke Ellington ("This One's for Blanton" on Pablo) and Sonny Rollins' classic "Way Out West." Both wonderful recordings (the latter released in 1957) that still hold up.

This morning, I was reading poetry by Carl Sandburg, spurred on by several pieces on the upcoming Sam Sadigursky release "Words Project III." Drummer/composer Matt Wilson, like the poet a native of Illinois, named his debut CD as a leader after a line from one of Sandburg's pieces and has been working on a large-scale project using a selection of the poet's works. Wilson recorded his CD with the fine bassist Cecil McBee and his employer at the time (1998), saxophonist Dewey Redman (Larry Goldings adds keyboards on 3 tracks.)  Pulling out the Wilson CD, I had forgotten the beautiful trio version of "Body and Soul" and listened in rapt attention, especially moved by Redman's playing.

This experience made me ruminate on all the music that has really touched me over my lifetime (I've been aware of my love for and need of music for over 55 years) and, believe me, I'd be hardpressed to create a list of the artists. What makes us return time and time again to our favorite tracks?  Certainly, the familiarity of the melody or the words and the memory of where or when we first heard the music.  Even though we know what's coming, there's that tingle, that thrill (i.e., the opening chords of "Hard Day's Night", Peter Townsend's guitar intro to "I Can't Explain", Paul Chambers leading the band into "So What", John Coltrane's majestic "A Love Supreme", Julius Hemphill's thorny yet seductive "Hard Blues" and so much more) that shakes us and shapes us.

In the time spent listening this Holiday morning, I thought about the emotional weight of music in my life and how it has made me who I am (for better or worse.)  I do enjoy being with friends sharing food, wine and conservation.  Chatting with my daughters and their respective mates and/or friends gives me great joy as does a quiet drive through an autumnal countryside with my wife (my best friend for over 4 decades.) But there are moments in a club or concert hall, in my living room or sitting on the porch under headphones being swept away by the power of a drummer, the finesse of a bassist, the fleet runs of the pianist, the flurry of notes from the horns or the plaintive cry of the singer that can just take away my breath, can eliminate the blues (even for an hour) and can help affect a change in attitude.

I know others feel this way about music (no matter if it's opera, country or African high-life) and trust that you try to share this passion, even if there are times when you fell you're the only one. We are born alone, often die alone but, in the lifetime between our first and last breaths, we needn't be alone.

Happy, healthy, New Year!

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