Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"The Marvelous Ego Labyrinth" by Steve Provizer

Too much of a bad thing, no doubt, but being unemployed has induced hyper-posting.  My Little Grey Cells, otherwise preoccupied for the last 12 years with idle strategies for world domination have lately been inspired by things people write in the comments. In this case, the ego posting.

The interplay of ego on the bandstand is a marvelous labyrinth-a combination of conscious and unconscious body language, visual signals and-whether playing music with or without harmonic guideposts-perceptions of how much and how well people are listening. 

The most successful collaborations calibrate egos through listening-active and intensive listening-which to me means an openness to allowing what someone else plays to effect your next musical decision. As with any kind of communications, this will be more or less conscious on the part of a given player. But somewhere along the line, the player has to decide that responsibility for the music's success is shared; that he or she is willing to be a part of a larger group that either delivers the goods or screws up.

Solo genius is not predictive of collaborative genius. Bruno may disagree, but when I listen to Bird playing fours with other horn players, I don't have the impression of a person who has made the decision to really share the space. While the other soloist plays his 4, Bird's next entrance seems to say that he had been listening less than thinking about what his next 4 bars would be.

I think that many of us have been in the position of sharing a bandstand with a musician who simply wants to get his own agenda across. This is acceptable if you've understood that your role is sideman, know the limits of your soloing, etc. But in any purportedly collaborative situation, it's alienating and disastrous. Amazingly, I'm not sure the audience always hears it. Visuals can be so important to an audience and musicians are oiten too well-mannered to let their irritation and frustration show. When I talk about a bad playing experience, this is at the top of the list, above audience size, response and finances.


Bruno Leicht said...

No, Steve, I agree wholeheartedly here: Bird was probably the biggest super-ego of them all, and he showed it. Let's say, as someone else wrote it: He knew he was great.

But did this knowledge hesitate him from making also great music? No, on the contrary, even in some of his weaker moments (1953-54), we are earwitnesses of absolutely magnificent art.

Once upon some nights at Birdland (in May 1950) there came a big boy along who was challenging the Bird seriously.

And what happened? An amazing fire of improvisational creativity on the highest possible level. Bird accepted Fats Navarro, and he even left room for him, doing a quartet number on "A Night In Tunisia". Fats' presence was truly inspiring Charlie Parker, especially on most the fours you'd mentioned:

Bird plays really breathtaking (calculated?) phrases, but Fats was not only able to keep up with Bird's pace, he also remained cool, and blew his horn almost provocatively relaxed.

Alas, we rarely have the chance to listen to Bird, playing fours in such a high-class live setting, 'cause most of the folks who recorded the stuff on the spot cut the other horns off, and only Bird's solos survived.

(Sorry, Steve, I'm still in my Charlie Parker craze, just because I'm at it, learning some of his compositions by heart these days; we will play a memorial concert for Charlie Parker, on Saturday next week.)

There is not much use in today's jazz for only solo trips. You have to be a team player, even if you're a genius ;)

Also, when it's your band, and you organized the gigs: It's more fun for everyone when there is enough space. If you're sensitive, and musical you will mostly decide right what to do, or admit that you were wrong here, or there.

But it takes some years until you're mature enough for being able to realize this.

Steve Provizer said...

I was definitely thinking of Bird's live stuff with Fats when I talked about his trading 4's. Listening, I keep thinking that Fats is expecting to get more back from Bird than he does. Maybe I'm just projecting-although, anticipation is what listening's partly about.

Bruno Leicht said...

Oh, the "Cool Blues" four's are fantastic. But one must not forget that all this happened shortly before Navarro's death, and he was somehow on the other side already. If he would have been still in total control of his powers as he used to be in 1947-48 maybe those four's would sound differently.

Anyway, I learned from Miles, and from others that Bird could be a real mf, a very mean fellow.

Well, he is definitely one of my greatest musical heroes, but I'm not deaf, and can hear when something is not okay.

I will post some very embarrassing moments in Dizzy's career where Bird showed him that he was the master.

No, that wasn't very nice indeed, but, as we say in Germany: "Life is no coffee party."

Chris said...

Steve....when you say you don't think the audience always hears the disasters in ego-destroyed collaborative situations I think you said a mouthful. Sometimes I think the audience might actually like some of the friction that you as a player might not like. I remember doing a go once with a lot of great players...and feeling the gig was ruined by a really egotistical drummer (who at the time was getting a whole lots of props and critical attention). It is to this day my least favorite gig I've ever done but people still come up to me and comment on how good they thought it was.

I also wonder sometimes if the audience is geared to always expect genius from certain players who have been annointed by the press as geniuses....he's been written about so much that this MUST be a good gig.

Steve Provizer said...

The psychology of "success" is well understood by people in the business of selling personalities to us. There's no swifter path to the top than delivering the message that someone is on the way up and ya consumers better hurry up and get on board if ya want a brush with fame.

And, I think audiences dig some drama. If cleverly dealt with, it becomes mystique. Also, Big Time Show Biz.No knock on her (although I'm not crazy about her music) but Diana Krall didn't lose any fans when she married Elvis Costello.