It Can Get Ugly

The timing was right–I happened to be in Berkeley working on a project when my brother, Vincent, had an upcoming performance. Vince has been studying jazz guitar for about 3 years and he performs with 2 different groups. I was excited to see him perform, of course. Here’s our text conversation before my trip:

ViL: X (name redacted!) in this group likes to play faster than I can keep up with and people are not really on the same page all the time so it’s a challenge trying to figure out something to play and dealing with the unexpected. But hey that’s jazz.

VyL: Yes, out of the messiness and unpredictability can come great moments. It’s also very much about creating in the moment with what you have: Improv.

ViL: Sometimes Y drops a bar, Z and A rush the beat, I get lost in the form…it can get ugly. Just setting expectations. And seems like everyone can only play at one volume…11.

That’s the thing about live performances and improv. The risk is imperfection, bloopers that can’t be edited out, experiments that don’t work out. There are no filters and special angles, no second takes and zooming out. Improv in any art form is visceral. It requires guts, nerves and a heart open to connecting with the audience.

Vince was trying to “set expectations” but my expectations were already set. The excitement of a live performance and improv is that anything can happen. I watch these events like wrestling matches between order and entropy and bite my nails. Yes, it can be unexpected and it can get ugly but that’s sooooo much better than never letting the music out!

Vince in green on the far right

1 comment

  • Greetings Vyvyane,

    You, characteristically, artfully said,
    …Yes, out of the messiness and unpredictability can come great moments. It’s also very much about creating in the moment with what you have: Improv…in any art form is…open to connecting with the audience [including ourselves, as listeners of course]…sooooo much better than never letting the music out!

    Indeed, that’s POETICALLY spot on!

    Pardon my added parenthetical ‘especially ourselves’ which harkens my first college semester invited second drummer spot, with our founding rhythm and lead electric guitarists’ (no base guitar) agreed open invitation for ANY other band members, either renting practice space in the same warehouse facility as ours or their invited guests, to join us every Saturday afternoon—for truly free form, unrehearsed jamming (explicitly not mimicking ANY popular recorded music).

    But after our core 4 member band’s just second gig—using our humorously sarcastic “B Flat On Rye, Easy On The Mayo” moniker— at the still today prestigious annual Ft. Lauderdale, Fl Arts Festival—I decided the following week to take my phonograph, headset and just two selected albums to our warehouse unit, early one morning by myself, to play along for several hours with just two of the recorded drummers I then most admired (Elvin Jones and Ansley Dunbar)— my sole purpose, to thereby realistically estimate how many hours I would need to practice, on my own—every day—that would undoubtedly compete with my then burgeoning principal interest in the then also nascent, but predictably far more globally impactful, biochemistry of human nutrition and physiology of exercise ‘sciencing’ (my now preferred action focused distinguishing nomenclature).

    If nothing else, that made it easier for me to guiltlessly justify my immediately resigning from our delightfully stimulating band which, as I expected, soon thereafter led to our lead guitarist (Ed) resignation as well. Interestingly enough, only Ed and I thereafter went on to pursue PhD level research: Ed’s resulting invited sole initial partner in an exceptionally profitable large pension funds portfolio management software company, conceived and birthed by his notable former UC Berkeley finance department professor; my pioneering real world nursing home based, rapid visibly substantial functional restoration (“amazing’) of even the oldest and so called “most helpless and hopeless” long stay (remaining lifespan) residents—including ALL initially deemed bedfast, wheelchair bound,“unable” to stand or walk, incontinent, and passively hand fed—given the University of Kansas offered 4 year funding of my explicitly planned research, within its Applied Behavioral Science PhD specialty.

    PS: You also harkened my still prized Miles Davis pioneering Bitches Brew double album inspired nearly a dozen of his then handpicked musicians’ resulting further pioneered progressive jazz (or jazz fusion) genre, including The Weather Report group—who titled one of their albums “I Sing The Body Electric” which, of course, your more recent coincidently enough use of that title led me to find its also truly poetic origin.

    Best always.
    Bye for now,

    Be well informed to be well—and THEREBY ALSO be more effective