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Seeing Red but/and Finding “Accidental Goodness” January 24, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy (Lunar) New Year! Happy Carnival!

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

How do you react when things don’t go your way? What happens when you are very specific about what you want and/or what you need, but then you don’t get either? Are you quick to anger? Or, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten and you have to deal with irritating situations? Do you “see red” at the drop of the hat or the blink of an eye? If so, there are (obviously) practices for that.

There are also handy tips (even if you don’t have a mindfulness-based practice). For instance, it’s good to get a good night sleep, eat when you need to, and – as much as you are able – avoid situations and people that push your buttons. Of course, just to be on the safe side, you could just not leave your house on days where you might be easily irritated. You know, like today, the third day of the Lunar New Year when some people will absolutely stay home and go to bed early.

Some portions of the following were previously posted.

“恭禧发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai [Congratulations and Prosperity!]
Gong Hey Fat Choy [Congratulations and Prosperity!]

– A common New Year’s greeting in Hanzi [Chinese characters], Mandarin and Cantonese pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

According to some Chinese creation mythology the third day of the Lunar New Year is the birthday of all boars. As I mentioned yesterday, some people will spend this third day of the Year of the Rabbit/Hare visiting the temple of the God of Wealth. Others associate this day with the “marriage of mice” and – in addition to providing treats as a “dowry” for the mice – they will go to bed early to ensure the mice have a peaceful ceremony. The belief is that if the mice have a peaceful ceremony, they will not pester humans during the rest of the year. In Vietnam, where people are celebrating the year of the Cat, this third day is a day to honor teachers.

Another reason people may go to bed early on the third night of the Lunar New Year is that, in certain parts of China, this third day is the “Day of the Red Dog” or “Red Mouth” Day and there is a greater danger of conflict on this day. People may also stay home and avoid anyone outside of their primary family circle in order not to say the wrong thing in anger – as a Chinese word for “red dog” is also a description for the “God of Blazing Wrath.” Some people also associate the tendency to say the wrong thing on the third day with the demon (or monster) Nian.

The Hanzi (Chinese character) for Nian also means “year” or “new year.” According to the legends, the monster Nian would come out of the sea or the mountain once a year looking for crops, animals, or villagers to eat. All the villagers would hide at this time of year, but one time an elderly gentleman was outside during the time Nian came to visit the village. One version of the story says that the man was a Taoist monk (Hongjun Lozu) who, like Br’er Rabbit, was a bit of a trickster. He some how convinced the monster that he would taste better if he could take off his outer clothing. In the version I tell in class, there is a big chase and the monster rips the man’s outerwear with his sharp teeth and claws. Either way, when the gentleman’s bright red undergarments are revealed Nian freaks out, because he is afraid of the color red (and loud noises). Therefore, it became auspicious to start the New Year (or even a marriage) wearing red; placing red throughout the village or town; and making a lot of noise.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5; Wikipedia indicates the 4 DM equaled $1.72.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Now, imagine you are a musician like this – one who knows their stuff and is also very particular about the instruments you play – and you are presented “the unplayable piano” just hours before you’re meant to play a groundbreaking concert. What if you were also hungry, tired, and sick?

Would you see red? Or would you “accidentally” find goodness?

A version of the following was originally posted in 2022.

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”

– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano).

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

Good luck!”

– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 24th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “0123-24/2022 Doing: Lessons in…”]

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

You can, as I did, also listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### Play On! ###

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