Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jazz and the Healthy Neurotic: How Can it Be Any Good if it Ain't That Hard?-by Steve Provizer

Hey! You with the dirty mind: I'm not talking about sex. I'm talking self-torture here-masochism, not sadism. In this jazz life, we are plagued by a foundational neurosis-to be revealed below-but let's start off with the happy thought that we have found-albeit unconsciously-healthy ways to try and de-fuse or re-articulate this neurosis. Here's what we say to ourselves: "No one gives a shit about this music. This society sucks." Then, if we do get a few people to care, the whole thing shifts a bit and we think: "I should be making a living out of this. No one really understands my genius, the sweat I've given. This society really sucks." But, swearing under the breath and bemoaning the rock-headedness of your fellow sapiens is good. It's solid sublimation; a healthy way to deal with what's underneath it all, the crux, the root neurosis: "Why can't I play like Clifford (Brown)? Why should I have to play like Clifford? I don't have to play like him. I can play like myself. Self-expression-yea, that's where it's at....Why can't I play like Clifford? Why should I have to play like Clifford? I don't have to play like him. I can play like myself. Self-expression-yea, that's where it's at...." Unending, unto eternity-the masochistic need to spend your days, your years, in pursuit of the chimera of creative resolution when there will never be a resolution. My observation is that-in or out of music-most jazz musicians aren't happy doing anything they can easily do. Ours is a personality type that must be wrestling with something just beyond our grasp. Any job we can do without a struggle is a job not worth bothering with. Any club that will let us join ain't worth the time. We work for years to make the high G and as soon as we get it, we gotta have a high Bflat. It's good that our partners force us to do things we can actually do-like hanging curtains, or figuring out on the bank checks which is the account number and which is the, you know, the other number. Of course these paltry victories inflate our egos to abominable dimensions, to the point that the distaff side tells us to just go away and get back to our damn practicing. The usual self-medications-scotch, pills, dope-have unpredictable side-effects. But fear not, friends and fellow sufferers. Even as you read this, Brilliant Corners jazz neurologists are sequestered in our gleaming lab, synthesizing a fool-proof 12-step plan, guaranteed to turn that bed of nails into a bed of roses---and 100,000 $.99 downloads of your latest masterpiece.


Tom C said...

I believe that you’ve hit on something that really defines jazz, although it may be a neurosis that is found in other art forms. However, it is much more prevalent in jazz. Although I was never a serious student, I wanted to play like Harold Land, back in the 1950s. I listened and try to dissect his solo work, but I couldn’t play it. It was impossible to get into his head. When I played my tenor, all I could hear was myself, with a few Gene Ammons quotes in the solo. That was when I decided to take up Jazz Photography!

That need to continually reach further heights among jazz musicians usually gets them into trouble. There appears to be two types of jazz musicians; those who are comfortable with their work and those who are not. For example, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Oscar Peterson and others never really changed how they played, once they matured. Others, such as Harold Land, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis, to mention a few, went through several changes in their careers. Whether you prefer one style verses another doesn’t really matter in this discussion. I think the real question is which group of musicians had the most success, as well as a greater sense of satisfaction in their careers? I’ll let you decide.

Tom Curry
Jazz From The Top – Zumix Radio

Steve Provizer said...

Tom-Thanks for your comment.I guess the neurosis has two parts that are separate but connected. One part is about attaining a level of mastery that's comparable to those of one's musical heroes. The other part is never being satisfied unless we are struggling.

They're both extensions of a single character, but seem to exist on different planes. That is, you can't really know how you will act in the second part until you've attained the first.

Jon Hey said...

Nicely written, can perhaps be said of any creative soul. Perfectionism.
Driven despite the fact one will never be "as good as X".

Steve Provizer said...


Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Over the years, my enthusiasm for the musician mindset has crashed to the point where I can barely stand listening to anything.

I used to cut you slack for being a semi failed human if you were a reasonably gifted musician.

Now I'll cut you slack if you are a sturdy kind human who happens to be a musician.

2 years next to a goofy performance gallery will do this to you.

When I booked a trendy rock club, I expected those people to generally suck and was pleasantly surprised when they didn't.

I had to babysit toxic Steve Albini, loaded Evan Dando, pretentious goons in Urge Overkill and the evil flailing and now mostly dead junkies in the Laughing Hyenas.

Rock people in general are floating on a giant fart bubble of pretense. It's just stupid folk music with big amplifiers.

But now after 2 years of recurring dumb stunts it's like musicians are afflicted by the malady Marcuse described in 'One Dimensional Man'.

They are so obsessed with tooting their precious noise that they can't do a whole range of everyday life skills worth a shit.

I'm getting out of this place before I end up hating music completely.

Just two nights ago, some dumb bastards tried to run the huge bass cabinet Jacob William stores here off a tiny Mackie Board and an amp that was not up to driving it. Our recording engineer, David Lee was amazed they didn't fry the amp.

Aside from the sturdy regulars like Hobbs, Morris,Lantner, Dave Bryant, Jacob, Julee and Junko and a likable crew of others, I usually expect to come down in the morning and find the remains of some dumb stunt and am rarely disappointed.

"Oh look, numbnuts left a music stand in front of the real estate office door..again. He must think that big wooden rectangle has some other purpose...wheee."

Steve Provizer said...

There are 2 levels. One is the general hysterical star-worshipping tendencies of this-and probably most-cultures. The second level, more specifically toxic, is the tolerant, or shall we say more precisely, enabling behavior shown by friends/lovers who trade off self-respect in order to be able to bask in the reflected glory of The Great Artist.

Chris said...

This thread is really interesting and hits on something that doesn't get commented on much...there is much romanticizing of bad artist behavior and vet little real understanding of it...let alone calling us on our crap.

Back when my significant other at the time was a doctor, one of our medical friends posited that Mrs were in general emotionally stunted because they spent so much of there lives learning medicine that they never spend much time on their emotional intelligence. I countered that the same could be said for musicians. After all friends of mine at school spent so much time trying to prepare for the Tchaikovsky competition That.they would go months.without normal human interaction. Its not really healthy.

As to the behavior of rock musicians at clubs...I think Steve is right. There's a difference between rock musicians who get fed by the adoration of fans, fleeting though it may be, and jazz musicians who spend their lives searching for perfection in an art that few people seem to care about. Both create potential neurosis, but manifest in differing ways.

To me the answer is to try to just be on anything else....control what can control....ignore what you can't change

Steve Provizer said...

Chris-Thanks for your comment. What so many of us wrestle with is what it means to "be yourself"- it's such a fluid concept. I formulate the challenge more as trying to equilibrate among my many selves.