Wednesday, September 8, 2010


This is the eighth blog of September. 8 of 30. Only, somethings blocked me for the past 2 days! I need to get moving. The goal is a Blog a day for the entire month. Of course, I suppose I’ve been cheating some. I understand the ‘rules’ say I am to write the blog and post it the same day. I guess…. But no way I can manage that! If I can’t let what I write rest for a few days I will never feel comfortable that it isn’t pure drivel.

Of course, no matter how long I age the product, it may still stink like that pack of chicken in my ‘fridge after a month or so….


Let’s take a look at jazz…. As I write I’m listening to a John Coltrane piece with blazing runs that sound oddly off key. But I now know that John is playing the upper reaches of the chord - not that I have a clue what the chord is - my ear isn’t good enough….

Which reminds me of the girl next door. I had known her from Mr. Odgen’s level 300 evening English class. A most interesting class with a minister, the girl and me creating a strange harmony with our varying takes on the world - often dissonant, but always interesting. Well, OK, this was mostly the girl and the minister rifting, but I WAS there and I stuck my nose/ mouth into the excitement sometimes.

About half way through the term, Mr. O announced the required term paper topics and passed a paper around for everyone to sign up. He allowed space on the off chance someone might have an idea for something different. I put in for ‘something about John Dos P’ and my assignment came back the next week as: “Write something about John dos Passos.”

I have to say that felt good and I ended up collecting a 40+ page bibliography (really…!) and an essay on how JdP was neither a Socialist nor a Fascist and that his swing politically from the left to the right fitted the notion of an Anarchist. Who knows how close I came to truth, but I remember having a good time with it and I got an A, so there ya go….

But I was talking about the girl, who I will now refer to as the Girl (since I seem not to remember her name). Besides arguing with the preacher her major devotion was to jazz - specifically to John Coltrane’s music and soon after she moved in next door (between Nancy McCorkle’s home and mine) she invited me over to listen to JC and for the first time I heard the long convoluted solos that he created.

I had no idea what I was listening to. I had never heard jazz before - had no markers to guide me along.

The Girl tried to help. She explained the concept of chord changes and how one could play over and around them. How one could approach the music obliquely by playing in those upper reaches of a chord. How John Coltrane was pioneering this sound. I suppose I probably nodded, but I had no idea what she talked about.

However, not long afterward, I bought Live at the Village Vanguard with an aching solo off of My Favorite Things that seems to go on forever. I later learned that JC had already become ill with the disease that would kill him and supposed that this solo somehow reflected the state of his soul at the time. It never occurred to me that another performer had actually created the solo I admired and around which I had created such an tragic romantic scenario.

Several years passed and at the new Student Center - the new one replacing Sharkey - I stumbled onto a jazz group wailing away in one of the basement bistros only to recognize the tenor jazz player as the Girl. I had not particularly advanced in my knowledge of jazz and my ear was still tin, but what I heard sounded dreadfully off key.

More years passed…. And I learned a little more and my ear became a bit better - just a bit.

And I began to wonder if what she was doing back then was simply playing entire solos based on the upper reaches of a cycles of chords - all 9th, 11th, and 13th notes rather than what we might regard as ‘pretty’ notes matching the root, 3rd, 5th and (sometimes) the 4th of a chord. I suppose I could drone on about what all these numbers mean, but I won’t. They either mean something to you or they don’t.

No matter.

Because the point is really about good and bad, right and wrong, consonant and dissonant. Much of what we regard as good or right or consonant has to do with what we are familiar with - what fits within our comfort zone. Jazz players - the best at least - like to push into the Zone, to push into dissonance. Maybe life is like that. We get so comfortable and cosy we forget that it’s the roughness that becomes memorable.

I don’t know. Let’s just play….

Jim FitzPatrick 2010 09-08

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