Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cueing Up The Music

I should write more. I’ve been telling myself that for years. Instead of writing, I do other things.
Too often it’s as detached and passive as watching television. I think I’m one of the original bingers. At least, I was doing it years before I was aware it had a name.  24 was one of the first. Hey, the show took place over twenty-four hours. Why not try to watch it in twenty-four?
I’ve binged on the catchy, thrilling stuff like 24 and Lost, and on the Shakespearean Breaking Bad and The Wire. And I’ve sometimes supplemented those with regular, weekly doses of Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance.
I don’t think of it all as brainless, but it’s not active either.
But I’m also spending a lot of time with Jazz Gumbo, my internet radio show and podcast. Once a week, I carry some vinyl into the basement studio of a Regent Park youth program and spin tracks for a couple of hours. I used to haul in a crate of thirty or forty albums each week, but now that I’m commuting, it’s fifteen to twenty. I’ve had to think more in advance of what I might play, of the soundscape of artists and styles, tempos and instrumentation, melodies and moods I want to create.
Putting the set together is like a stimulating and rewarding game. Most weeks, I start with the handful of albums I have from last week’s show that I didn’t get to. This week, that’s Terumasa Hino’s “Speak to Loneliness”, Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way”, Jay Hoggard’s “Overview” and Duke’s “Ellington at Newport”.
Most of them, I’ll carry in again, and I’ll eventually find a good place for them. If I haven’t played something in three or four weeks, back on the shelf it goes. There are almost always three or four numbers I’ve already decided to play (chances are, one of them won’t make it). Then, I’ll spend some time picking out other tunes to complement them or balance them. That’s a lot of fun. That’s the heart of the programming, for me.
Often, I’ll hear something on Jazz FM during the week, or something will come up on my iPod random play. Those will account for a quarter of what gets played. On the morning that I go in, I’ll often grab a couple of last inspirations as I’m walking out the door, and by that night I’ll have thought of another one or two I wish I’d grabbed. But, I do carry my iPod with me and anywhere from once to three times during a show, I’ll scroll through it, or go looking for something that just came to mind, to stick in on the spot. In the mix there are almost always at least a couple of tunes I’m not really familiar with. And increasingly, I have a recommendation from a friend or a listener, of a favorite tune or artist of theirs.
The actual two hours in the studio – which results in an hour and forty minute podcast, on average, is fun, busy, focused, scattered, stressful, spontaneous, frenzied, exhilarating, out of control and inspired by turns. I love the music and never tire of hearing it. And I experience the power and beauty of it in a concentrated way through the show. I’m trying to share in the brilliance of musicianship, the dazzling artistry that flows as sound through an infinite array of personalities, histories, attitudes, loving and experiencing.
I play enough music to know the potential of the connection between oneself and an instrument – a beautiful tool, built to open channels of expression through practiced skills of coordination and manipulation. Enough to know what magic emerges when skills reach the point when they can be given full reign, and you let yourself connect to rhythm and sound, and find the inexpressible flowing through you.
I love combining the musics of the different genres and cultures of the extended jazz family: the urban soul r&b from Detroit or Memphis, the classically structured jazz of the fifties and the eighties, the raucous, brash explorations of 70’s fusion, the visceral, blood coursing rhythms of Nigeria or Brazil, the folk inspired chord structures of South Africa or Poland, the rigorous, spirit flights of progressive or free jazz.
Yes, I should write more. But I’m pulled to so many other things.

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