Thursday, April 23, 2009

Philosophy: On Music

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I had the experience tonight of hearing octogenarian Elsa Denzey play the piano. After this event, part of the "All and Everything" Conference taking place here in Toronto, she answered audience questions, and while one of her answers was intended to be about the specific pieces she had played, it seems to apply in a much broader context: (This may be partially paraphrased, rather than her exact words, as I am writing from memory.)
I think the most important thing is to listen to the vibrations in the music... Every person listens differently. Some hear more, others hear less. People can say that that this part should be played this way or that other parts need to be done another way, but it doesn't matter. We have to play the music the way we feel it. It's always an individual experience. Even if we play it exactly the way we feel it, people still hear it differently than we do. We all just have to be honest about what we hear and feel.
This unexpected moment of wisdom, a jewel following what had already been an enjoyable session, reminded me of a time in high school when I was covering the 1997 Bellevue Jazz Festival (in Washington state) for our internal television station and intended for airing on a local cable access channel. I was probably the worst choice in the world to host the program, as I knew nothing about jazz. (For that matter, I still know very little.) After a solo by a student from Mercer Island High School that received the loudest applause of the night, there was no question that I was going to interview the soloist for the show.

The tape has apparently been lost to history, but I wish I had it. I asked the most banal, Larry King-style question that even at the time I knew was ignorant, something to the effect of, "how do you know you to do that?" but as sometimes happens with such questions, it elicited a beautiful response. After perhaps two seconds in which the soloist (whose name I also do not recall) got over the shock of the stupid question, he launched into probably the best elucidation of the process of playing jazz that I have heard to date. The impact of his now-lost words were at least as powerful as the Denzey quote above in the context of jazz. I was a fool for not immediately getting a copy of the show, just to be able to review his response--and all the more reason to write this blog entry to preserve Denzey's words for posterity.

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