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Jazz Intensity & A Wet Reed

From where does jazz intensity in it's primordial self originate? The answer is three-fold; from the soul, the composition being played, and leave us not forgot, the performing musician. So what about the soul; can we have an awareness of it. Yes! Through the use of our intellect. Why intellect? It is with the intellect that we conceptualize and perceive the existence of the soul, spirit, and ultimately, jazz intensity!

Is it possible to identify with jazz intensity. Yes! The facial expression reveals it all! About the photo here, it was taken around July, 1955, in Sasebo, Japan. The photo is small, but if you look close, you'll see the intensity in the face of the 20 year old musician in a white navy uniform blowin' the saxophone; he was playing Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train" in A-flat; a rather unorthodox key compared to today's standards; upon being released from the navy, Night Train took on a new flavor...he played it in B flat through the rest of his career!

If you've never studied philosophy, then you have missed a lot: "To study the principles underlying the nature of the Universe, and all that it encompasses, is to study philosophy." Richard V. Duffy March, 1993

Is not jazz intensity a part of the cosmic enterprise; it's a form of energy or vehemence of emotion, thought, or activity. To contemplate the very fundamental statutes of behavior which lie abode with the performing musician, is to take into account that he/she made a connection to the three-fold path originating from the derivation of jazz intensity; we must acknowledge it's presence. Keep in mind that, it is not just the facial expressions of the performing musician that give way to intensity, but the emotional content of the sound emanating from the musician's horn; here we have an interesting phenomenon. The saxophonists has many options to changing the sound coming from his/her horn; hence, changing the aura of the displayed intensity.

As the foremost tenor saxophonists of the be-bop era, Dexter Gordon, once said, "Happiness is a wet Rico reed." The reed is what's happening with the saxophone...I have one! It's interesting to note that, with the saxophone, the mouthpiece of which, goes into the mouth of the musician, providing a means to display so much more intensity; this is not the case with brass playing musicians, in that their mouthpiece goes on the outside of their mouth! Can you see the symbolism here-the saxophone vs. the brass instrument?

Now in this photo, taken in Yokosuka, Japan, mid-1956, we see a facial expression void of any intensity; the sailor's eyes are closed...his face...dead-pan. As it turned out, the sailor had too many beers and was in another orbit; an orbit outside the realm of where he was supposed to be. Today, some 44 years later, that young sailor still has a scar on the palm of his left hand; when he went to step down from the stage, he tripped and fell on a piece of broken beer bottle; he looked at the blood flowing and laughed!...he was feeling no pain! A couple of his shipmates quickly took him up stairs, pulling a drape from a window for a tourniquet. He ended up back on the ship to visit the doctor. That young sailor's name was, and still is, Duffy!

Can an audience appreciate the intensity revealed by a performing musician? I certainly hope so. It is this intensity that emanates from the composite musician; he who makes the music exciting, sensuous, vibrating, and venerable to being enjoyed and accepted by an audience. It's possible that the musician, bringing forth an admixture of emotions allied with intensity, can stimulate the listeners into an orbit in concert with that of the musician; they would be on the same wavelength of jazz intensity!

Cosmic energy is a power source; we all have access to it, but do we use it? Chances are we do, but are not aware of its power? The performing musician is, unknowingly, using this valuable cosmic force; the musician, in a state of intensity, uses this energy as it is conveyed through his/her facial expressions; they reveal the inter most product of the soul as it pervades the composite musician as he/she come forth with a finite musical message; the message that lies abode within his/her musical soul.

Now in this photo, we have still another example of jazz intensity. The musician is playing baritone saxophone and later, the alto and tenor-same gig! Look at his face; left eye open slightly-right eye closed. The gig took place in August, 1957; the place, Melbourne, Australia. You see the mouth muscles coveting the mouthpiece; it adds to the overall flavor as displayed with jazz intensity. With the metronome ticking away at around 210, the musician was playing the great jazz classic, "Green Dolphin Street" in E flat (not C, as others do)!

Before we close the above scenario, I must note that, the musician was playing the baritone, alto and tenor saxophones, all of which belonged to the group saxophonist; the musician's new tenor was enroute via the US mail...from LA down through the South Pacific, to Australia, and finally, they met, for the first time, in Yokosuka, Japan. His new tenor did some traveling, developed its "sea-legs," and was a seasoned tenor; trust me, I was there!

Up until now, we have used a saxophonist for our examples. But what about the piano, acoustic bass, guitar, and drums; can these musicians convey jazz intensity as does the saxophonist? The answer of course is, yes! Musicians in the rhythm section have a unique advantage here; they too show their emotions as displayed on the faces, hands, and body stature. Next time you are at a jazz club, pay attention to the musicians in the rhythm section; I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

This last photo has a special significance; note the intensity in the face of the saxophonist. This gig was at "Manhattan Jazz," located in Manhattan Beach, CA. The date was in December, 1987...the purpose, a "Tribute to Dexter Gordon." On stage, I was in fine company; three of the most talented musicians I have ever worked with; Tom Owens-grand piano; Richard Simon-acoustic bass; and Mike Whited-drums.

I think the facial expressions of the saxophonist speak for themselves; he is not without emotions, as he displays jazz intensity. That night, there was a photographer walking around taking pictures; I didn't pay much attention. After the gig, and out of curiosity, I asked him what was going down. As it turns out, he was looking for a musician that could realistically display jazz intensity in his/her face. Then, in May, 1988, the picture you see came out in South Bay Living Magazine, page 52.

That night, we played a number of Dexter's original compositions. Then the saxophonist played Dexter's version of, "Polka Dots And Moonbeams," emulating Dexter as he and only he can do! In the audience, there were two ladies who went to school with Dexter in Watts, Ca.; they knew him well. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. After we finished the tune, it was intermission; I walked over to the two ladies whom I knew and heard this, "Dexter would have been pleased." I couldn't have been more delighted!

What delectable facets lurk within the emotional shadows of a musician as he/she performs with the ideology of jazz intensity; we have addressed some, but are there more? Yes! We can see intensity revealed from the musician's stance; the way he/she holds the body...the hands and arms; the composite stature that solicits a response, visual and audible, from those tuned in to what's going on before them.

What is it about the mind and soul of a musician that resonates with his/her musical Universe? It is, by it's very nature, a quest to be tuned in to the wavelength of time, his/her time, as the musician tastes the very essence of creativity; spreading it out among those who are abreast with the message the musician is trying to convey

There is nothing more annoying than to be on stage with a group, playing a favorite tune, and have people in front talking; even to the point of laughter. A prime example of this was at the Hague in LA in the 1950's. Come to think of it, it must have been the early 1950's; the saxophonist in the photos here, went into the navy in September, 1954. Gerry Mulligan and his quartet were on stage. This is when Gerry had only bass, drums, and Chet Baker on trumpet; no guitar or piano. Gerry heard some laughter in front of the stage...he took his baritone out of his mouth and stood there...waiting!

A few minutes later, the people noticed what was going on and shut-up! They realized what had happened and Gerry said two words, "Thank you." On he went with his incredible ideology of jazz intensity as he displayed his artistry on the baritone; like no other, he managed to fulfill his destiny; he played and then played some more; even though just a kid, I was there to share in Gerry's glory. The message here is two-fold; take promise from the fruits offered by the entertainers and, show "respect" where it is due; keep in mind, musicians just don't pop up and become a musicians...it takes years of hard work...which I think, commands respect, of the highest order. Show your appreciation to the performing artist; there are many ways to do this...one of them is...RESPECT!

From my many years in the business, I could site many examples of jazz intensity. However, I think the above examples should suffice. And as well, I have proffered from the musical trees of the past, for they represent the one and only facet of being a musician... the capacity to send a musical message out to those who have chosen to be in your court; as the ball goes back and forth, it represents nothing less than..."experience," which can not be purchased, it must be earned...to convey..."jazz intensity!"

"And the notes shall resonate...into the mist of the night...as the audience lay to and receive these notes, with open ears...and open eyes." The State Rests!

Next on Jazz Review..... "What's It Like To Be A Musician"

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