Read a great post today from a cool blog called Presentation Zen. The crux of the writer’s post was the Zen-like elements of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis’ iconic album. No arguments here-that album one of the greatest pieces of recorded music ever with no apparent wasted notes and brilliant use of space. However what resonated with me on an even greater level were some of the comments made by Herbie Hancock in the video above. Hancock made the statement that one of the reasons Miles music was so brilliant, and in particular this work, was Miles trusting that by using stylistically different musicians he’d get an element of discovery in the music, provided that the musicians had honesty in their approach to playing. That was my transcendent moment in related post and video-that and Kind of Blue shares the same birth year as I do(1959).
This had always been one of my favorite recordings of all time. It and Miles music moved me so deeply, I even named my son Kevin after him (Kevin Miles) in honor and tribute of this master musician/artist . While I never had the privilege of hearing Miles in person I did have the privilege of hearing several of the musicians (John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock) that played with Miles live and even converse with some of them (Dave Holland-bassist). I never bothered talking to Dave about what it was like to play with Miles because that question would have been so superfluous-it was too obvious that playing with him affected each of these men in a profound and deep way. It was also obvious that anyone that Miles chose to play with him was destined to be an influential musician in their own right. Miles didn’t play with any light-weights. He had an impeccable sense for musical talent and was probably paying forward the opportunity to gifted young musicians like Charlie Parker did with him in the early 40′s when Miles was new on the scene. So first a legendary sax player used Miles and his trumpet and later on and in particular on Kind of Blue-Miles used the youngbloods John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly.
Perhaps the thing I love so much about jazz is the conversation that can and does take place when musicians with the right ears and fingers are together. I have heard more great jazz performers/performances than I can recall having grown up in NYC and run a jazz club when I was a teenager. The things that always got me was the humanity of the music especially when 2 or more of the musicians would “converse” with their instruments and improvisation.
I was introduced to Miles by a big fan of his who became my jazz mentor. Noteably he had an interesting albeit hurtful experience with Miles at a NYC jazz club. Marty (my friend) was using the rest room during a break between sets. It just so happened that Miles was too. My friend got a chance to say hi to Miles. He said,”Mr. Davis I just want to say how much your music means to me.” Miles responded with, “F**k off kid.” Of course my friend was devastated. Why am I including this note after all my accolades above? Well, I’m certainly not apologizing for Miles. He had a lot of pain in his life and obviously some of it produced bitterness. Also I’m a firm believer that if you really love someone’s art or music it’s best not to get to close to them. Many artists are very insecure and unhappy. I can’t speak for Miles if those were definitely factors but I do know that much of his later music had a lot of blazing fire in it. So maybe there is some credence to my supposition. Another point is people are full of conflict in their lives, so anyone is capable of doing both good and bad and is not always as in control as they would like to be. I believe most artists would prefer we connect with them via their art, rather than ask them to explain or amplify their work. Much of the substance of art is from very deep and sometimes murky places within the artists’ soul, a very subliminal element which is not easily explained and perhaps not fully understood by the creator of the work either.
In honesty I’d have to say I’ve met more insecure fragile ego types than the really “together” with their art types. The latter are far more enjoyable and left me with more hope. The summit is always the highest and narrowest point on the mountain. Hope you all have a great and peaceful new year! Maybe “Kind of Blue” can help bring some musical meaning into it for you.
Addendums: Instead of resolutions how about axes to grind laid to rest? First one is Herbie Hancock. For years I’ve harbored a grudge that resulted from a great show I saw at Brooklyn College with Herbie as Headhunter…er-headliner(was in the Headhunters days though) and the final incarnation of Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring founder John McLaughlin. To make a long story short or make the sharp axe duller if you will, McLaughlin played a screaming set with some wild synthesizer guitar rig feeding his guitar signal into a bank of 6 Moogs. He even did a rendition of Star Spangle Banner ala Jimi on crack. We were all amped about Herbie killing it and maybe bringing out his old Miles’ band-mate John for some jamming. In fact after 1st song he said he’d like to bring out a special friend for us. We were all psyched knowing it’d be McLauglin-then he says, “it’s my rhythm machine…” Anti-climax, axe sharpened thank you very much! OK Herbie letting you off for that one based on your career of much stellar musicianship, writing and the cool things you said in the Kind of Blue tribute video. I know very big of me…
First let me start by saying that the impetus for writing this post was initiated by Dave Allen who I greatly enjoyed (well still enjoy actually) as a musician (Gang of Four) and still find interesting via his new media and social media posts on Social Cache. One of the links that Dave pointed to was by Josh Rabinowitz of Soundcheck Blog. Josh’s post was well thought out and documented and caused me to think a little bit (thinking’s not a totally dead art yet in the Internet age). I like Dave Allen and am from the music generation that started with singles(45′s) and grew into LP’s and were all fairly affordable. Many pundits have a bevy of disparate opinions on why the music business has become what it is. Some blaming the greed of the music corporations-by churning the over-priced CD’s and sicking the RIAA watch dogs on music fans for downloading; some blame the artists for not doing enough engaging music or only having 2 or 3 good songs on that expensive 14 song CD.
I guess the entertainment industry (let’s not forget many of those record/music companies are the corporate siblings of movie studios) really glimpsed the future at the same time Wall Street and many other business people did-grab what you can while you can. In fact capitalism always seemed fairly focused on that premise: make money and let the chips fall where they may. This philosophy really driven home by the Bush administration and the derivatives gang.
Somewhere along the way due to the major labels building up a star-maker machine(borrowed from Joni Mitchell song) the artists also lost their perspective. Way back in the early days musicians and other artists either found a rich patron(emperor or empress) to finance their archival (scored works) or they busted their butts in anonymity playing in pubs and beer halls. Nowadays the Internet is allowing musicians and artists to virtually be their own pubs and beer halls-meaning that if they bust their butts and mesh with their fans online via micro-channel media and through these channels they can possibly pay their bills through their art. Many will not be equally successful and maybe will content themselves with being able to express themselves musically, while not earning financial independence or freedom from the 9-5 world (join the club).
Unfortunately, the star-maker system fostered a wrong view and expectation by many musicians-one of entitlement, despite all the evidence to the contrary that this stardom and resulting riches were much more the exception than the norm, since the record companies contract system (made infamous by Steve Albini et al) was much more stick than carrot and slight of financial hand that would have left Houdini proud (or maybe ashamed??).
In summary, Dave Allen responded to a comment on Josh’s post:
Jennifer, what this says to me is that music is now merely a commodity that can be used to sell a can of beans without irony. Cat Power and Lincoln? That is something that does not sit well with me…she and Bowie downsized for a crappy American car…wow! The music industry follows the US Auto makers to the bail out party…
I disagree, I think many musicians would have done this a long time ago if they were offered this deal. Why not? Musicians are no more evil for flogging a song to a deodorant maker than a “suit” is for his 9-5 salary-man time selling of his working life. In fact at least the musicians music still has a possibility of affecting the listener in some positive even spiritual way. How are we benefitted by toxic mortgage products or by the government officials re-paying their Wall Street patrons in the name of saving main street, when in fact they are just skilled in saving their own hides? The Who made a parody of just this very sell-out scenario on the Who Sell Out. Maybe they were feeling their street cred, maybe they were just jealous of their more successful Liverpool contemporaries? Later on they surely seem to be much more in tune with touring and flogging songs to TV shows to maintain their lifetyles?
So what is my point? Idealism and capitalism aren’t good bedfellows. Why use different standards when talking about musicians, investment bankers and preachers? Just saying…
I was just thinking about my first Christmas in Taiwan some 21 years ago. I got roped into being Santa for a friends party. Some expat engineering guy at his fancy TienMu house. When it came time to some adult beverage refreshment he asked me, “Did you ever have KaoLiang?” I replied, “no” with quite a puzzled look on my face. He poured out a shot and got me a fresh Taiwan Beer. Before I touched my glass he explained to me that KaoLiang had a taste similar to rocket fuel. How is it that so many equate any paint peeling might strong spirit to “rocket fuel” just like any rarely eaten animal meat: snake, wombat, ant-eater,etc. is inevitably compared to chicken?
Anyway, my friend the host told me t take the shot of KaoLiang in one hand and the beer in the other. Once I downed it I needed to chug some taiwan Beer without breathing, passing Go, or collecting the $200 of Monopoly money. Fine, batter up! Whoaaah baby-hold the phone. That thing kicked like a mule on crack. I had discovered Chinese Tequila, or maybe even Mescal sans the worm. It burned like fire going down and bit like a pit bull. The oddest thing was about 15 minutes later I checked my watch thi9nking hours had past-in fact, it was only minutes. Wow-that stuff was pretty trippy and 116 proof. Another inebriated Santa hits the sleigh…
Nowadays I don’t drink very much and KaoLiang has come out in the more palatable 76 proof variety, but I’m still more inclined to use it in cooking rather than straight down the hatch. It also is made into vinegar which is quite delicious. FYI-KaoLiang is the Chinese name for sorghum, a common cereal grain. Ho, ho, ho.
I’m sure I mentioned getting inked before. What made me do it? There were no Miami or LA Ink’s on TV at the time to inspire me. In fact I had no plan to do it. My girlfriend at the time had a day off and wanted to go for a tattoo. I ended up with mine because it sounded like a good idea at the time, the artist drew a good dragon on my arm, and my rebellious urge to piss of my mother and grandmother needed to be sated. I was still 19 at the time.
The muse for this tattoo talk was a collection by Korean tattoo artist Kim Joon. Kim’s work is really expressive and involves materials other than tattoo ink. Check out Kim’s collection and you can see the level of artistic expression there that goes beyond even the modern tattoo artists boundaries.
My tattoo was inspired by the dragons on the sleeves of those US military servicemen’s jackets from their Asian tours: Korea, Vietnam, etc. I bought one at a thrift shop in Tucson and absolutely loved that thing. So while I was waiting for my friend to make up her mind I asked the tattoo artist how much a dragon’s head would be like on my sleeve? He said, “$35 bucks.” I said, “Do it.” The rest is history. I think it has aged pretty well, even though colors have faded some. Maybe I’ll go for a touch up here in Taiwan.
Some of you might know that I’ve been Xacti-less for just over a month while my little wonder returned home to Japan for some under warranty surgery. I’ve also been in need of some new spectacles (the wearing kind, what did you think?) for both stylistic reasons and functional ones too. I purchased some new ones with Japanese frames (no not the Sarah Palin ones although I too am a maverick…) half frames in fact. Very excited about getting something a little smaller and lighter on my face, but I digress. Later that day I received a call from the shop I purchased said Japanese vacationing Xacti from, telling me this Friday my camera would be back. Cue the fireworks, Jimi playing Star Spangled….no make that Purple Haze! What’s the conection between these 2 items you ask? Well my x-ray specs will be ready on Friday too. So color me fully lensed for the holidays, that’s what I’m saying!
Update: The appointed time came and while I’m spectacular now I’m not XACTI camera-ed. Translation: I’ve got new glasses but camera still delayed due to utter nonsense beyond my ability to confirm.
This was part of being tagged by Brad P for a Flickr 6th page #6 image posting. This was a morning I took Anne cloth and sewing shopping for her new line of hand sewn women’s accessories. Along the way I spied these 2 cute little kids and promptly snapped them. Sounds a little gruesome but… People always make the best shots and kids can be priceless-don’t you agree?
For the record I’m not a ColdPlay fan. Maybe I like their earliest pseudo-Radiohead stuff a tiny bit, but over all just way to safe and smarmy for my taste. Joe Satriani is one fine on steroids over the top guitar spanker-perfect for when you’re in that kind of mood. It seems clearly that ColdPlay were-cough cough, influenced by Joe’s song. What do you think?
I was recently a guest on a friend’s podcast-Chinese Consumer Connection, hosted by Clyde Warden and James Stanworth 2 professors here in Taiwan. Here is a blurb from their shownotes:
Many foreigners move to Taiwan or China and hit a phase of culture shock. For some, the environment is too alien and they choose to leave–especially if they have children. Others start the whole process of localizing and working the system to maximize benefits. Mark Forman fits this profile perfectly in that he has learned how to thrive in the Taiwan environment…
Check it out if you want a deeper look at interacting with a foreign culture on a deeper level.