I’m rethinking this blog and what I consider worth writing about. The political/cultural/climatic insanity gripping the world compels me to take a break to reframe, reassess. Or maybe cop out. Meanwhile, I’ll be posting a few old numbers from my former blog, jazzinsideandout.com, plus random thoughts. Here’s a post from May 2018 called “Quiet Time.”
I’m in Puerto Escondido for two-plus weeks to try and get my head around a plan for a book on jazz. This is the height of the low season, hot and with few tourists, a good time to visit. My escape is also a retreat from all things Trump, including the constant world calamities and fiascos that our flesh seems heir to.
Time is altered here. It becomes less pressing and far less structured. One can manipulate it to serve purposes higher than clock time and scheduling. A quantum physicist tells us convincingly that time is merely “a fluid, human concept—an experience, rather than [a quality] inherent to the universe.” Time is a story we tell ourselves, basically an illusion to keep us sane and functional.
Time can become malleable and infinitely flexible, particularly so in music. Yesterday I was listening to Ahmad Jamal’s A Quiet Time which, like so much of his music, plays with oddly syncopated rhythms, congas in the background, unanticipated pauses—all devices to make time expressive and give it a voice.
Ahmad is now 87 and has never played better. I’m approaching 84 and his great (yet still rather unsung) career in jazz gives me reason to rejoice in how much we can accomplish before time stops.
I began listening to him when he was playing at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago in the late ‘50s. Along with a couple of friends from the University of Chicago I would attend his shows regularly. His most famous record, At the Pershing, with “Poinciana” became a big hit in 1958, and his influence on Miles Davis was legendary.
It is like something out of Proust for me to flash back on those gigs. They come into memory as moments of untarnished joy, time standing still for their duration. For me, only music can do this.
Along the way, Jamal began to avoid the standards and play more of his own compositions, as he does in A Quiet Time. But on occasion (Live in Paris 1992) he could just blow you away with his approach to old chestnuts like this great Jerome Kern tune from 1920, which Judy Garland and others later covered multiple times.
The sonic experience usually gets lost in translation, which is why it’s so hard to write about music. Still, nothing is more rewarding than this challenge, at least for me. Bringing such moments to life is one way to make time real.
Says the quantum physicist: “Time is the form in which we beings whose brains are made up essentially of memory and foresight interact with our world: it is the source of our identity.”