Jazz and the Soul

I have written a book called Jazz from the Inside out. Here is a synopsis I'm circulating among publishers. Thought I'd share it with you this week:

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The gig is over.  Players put their instruments away.  The saxophone and trumpet end up in a box.  Piano and drums are left in place with a nod of thanks and a promise to return.

Some who came to listen solved the problems they brought with them.  Others who dropped by for the first time may have wished they had gone to a movie instead.  But it really doesn’t matter to the players.  They play for their own reasons.  The more in touch they were with their pain and pleasure, the more they had to share with the audience.

The players, like you, learn this language called jazz much as an infant learns to speak.  First they listen to the sounds made by musicians who played before them and learned how it was done.  They work to imitate some of these sounds and phrases played over and over.  When the sounds become routine, the players get personal.  Now it becomes conversation for them, with themselves and with others, just as it does for the small child.

One instrument began this gig by throwing a musical idea or phrase around to the others, loud and fast.  Someone answered with a louder, faster sound.  Then a sax played a well-known “lick” (perhaps created by a great player many years ago) and the piano player replied “I heard you,” with the same phrase two octaves higher.  While these conversations develop, the other players comment with their own sounds here and there.  They encourage the exchange to continue and wait for their turn to state an opinion, express disagreement, or ask a question about the subject. It is conversation at its musical best.

Just as the language of jazz originated with slaves needing a way to express their pain, the players in this book integrate jazz into their own ways of life.  Each of them has had times, ecstatic and painful, that for them, could not be worked out any other way but through music.

Dave uses jazz to measure how he is doing.  He listens to other players to learn about new ways to do a lick, a bridge, a tag.  He also uses jazz as an outlet for energy, natural and stress-produced.  He and jazz have been through a lot together.

Sharon Saulnier needs jazz as a way to get to her secret place.  She feels whole and brave when she is singing, unlike the rest of the time.

Jeff knows that jazz gives him courage to compare himself to others and want to do better.  He discovers that he can do better than he thought.

Dean is so caught up in jazz with his drums that he can’t imagine life without playing or teaching or writing or most of all studying.  Dean zeroes in on a rhythmic idea and becomes his own best student, letting the topic take him deep.

Amy uses jazz as a way to survive.  She knows that playing her cello keeps her balanced and in touch when her autism invites her to get off track.

Jim uses jazz to keep his wires from getting crossed.  He is an intense person (by his own definition) and he needs an outlet.  He pulls the plug when too much frustration builds by blowing his sax instead of his cool.

Rosetta uses jazz to keep her family close to her.  She never sings without pictures of Mom, Dad, sisters, and brothers flashing across her mind.  They live inside her and support and cheer her on.

Geri makes family for herself wherever she plays music.  She plays organ; her family/guests sing. Some get to be siblings who share her life, some become cousins with whom she plays games, and some are children who need her encouragement and training.

Rhonda knows that music is her way of making and keeping friends.  She communicates most fully with her saxophone, carefully selecting notes and tones that say what she wants heard.

Barney’s jazz is the reason he gets up every morning.  Each waking moment is a rehearsal for the next time he sits at a piano and listens to what his mind and heart have made up since the last time.

Because these twelve players share their stories, you the readers, can peek at something in your own experience that could be touched by jazz.  Perhaps a recording you find will put goose bumps on your heart.  And the more you listen, the more the notes and chords will get inside you and move things around.

Maybe you will choose an instrument and a teacher and mess around with sounds and techniques.  You might start your own band as many of these players did.

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Reading about the artists and their stories could be inspiration enough. Jazz starts on the outside like that.  A sound here and there.  A little experiment on the horn.  But for anyone who stays with it long enough, jazz ends up on the inside spying and crying.  Bending and mending.  Healing old wounds.  Cooking up new ones.  People don’t know where jazz goes for them until they give it some breathing room in their soul.  It’s too up close, and it’s way too personal.