at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

The Jazz Ear

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on February 9, 2010


Been reading this lately… and have been thoroughly enjoying it.  The author Ben Ratliff, a writer for the NYTimes, set up a bunch of interviews with some of the best jazz musicians/composers/arrangers of the past, present, and those of the future.  The premise is simple: sit down with a handful of masters, listen to some music they pick out, and just talk.  I like that.  Sounds like something I would do with friends.

But of course, the power of music is that it opens up subjective avenues.  There is a sort of common bond established as sounds weave in and around the room.  This was strategically genius of the author to do.  Of course you’ll get to witness the excitement that bubbles as one master of a craft aurally participates with another.  Of course you’ll get a privileged glimpse into the struggles that threads the life and music of a master.  And of course, you’ll pause after each chapter and reminisce on the insights you’ve just gained not necessarily of music, but of life.

This book is a privileged glimpse into the process of how masters think.  I call them “masters” specifically because they were able to formulate their own distinct voices in the midst of the genre that has a lot of noise… and a popular culture that has a lot of static.  And they are masters cause the way they talk about art… is the way they speak about life.

And finally a note on the form of the book: while reading it, I realized that it reminded me of listening to a jazz soloist.  Because it’s an interview centered around listening to music, the conversations aren’t necessarily focused.  The artist kinda churns out random thoughts as something happens in the music.  It’s like capturing a stream of consciousness through written form.  Wonderfully similar to a jazz solo.  In short, improvisation is the centerpiece to the text.  In my opinion, that’s how one approaches this… and how one responds to it.

This isn’t James Joyce, nor should that be the expectation.  But it’s a profound insight into how one opens up consciousness.  After all, jazz isn’t just music… it’s a way of life.


2 Responses

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  1. keithosaunders said, on February 9, 2010 at 05:44

    As a jazz musician I always enjoyed reading Jack Kerouac. His prose comes the closest to what it feels liek to improvise. I hadn’t read him in over 25 years but have recently picked up “Maggie Cassidy” and am enjoying it.

  2. Charles said, on February 9, 2010 at 05:52

    i hear you man. kerouac is great. i love that one passage where he talks about louie, bird, monk, lester young… etc. paints such a vivid scene.

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