It's strange that in jazz I found many things and tried many ways to explain those things. In the end it was all somewhat ineffable, like the way you read some stranger's face for a smile. You don't know enough about their smiles to know exactly what it means. So I talk about a song and I watch people smile or bob their head or close their eyes. Something is recognized, something human, but to be more precise requires magic.
Giant Steps is a song I didn't know that I knew. I heard it throughout my youth without listening. It means jazz profundity of some sort I cannot recall without re-hearing Countdown. And now that I am this moment it echoes more in memory exactly as the song plays. Finally at the end I get it in full flavor, but only for that last moment. Then the genie of YouTube playing on a hidden browser tab takes me to Equinox, another song I knew but didn't know that I knew.
Fables of Faubus is the title of a journal entry and a cassette tape recording I made in my late 20s. There is a dimension of unknowing when you are not a musician. When a piece of music is riveting, you don't know necessarily if it's the performance or the music itself. You experience the complexity in the single dimension of hearing, which again is different from listening. Some music demands that you listen, and musicians in learning must listen. I know that during that period when I made jazz recordings, I was needing the background material in order to speak the metalanguage of jazz appreciation, so I was listening intently and searching for things to experience. Somewhere there is a journal entry that will take me back, but right now I'm not going to look for that song in my library.
Suddenly I am reminded of you, my friend, and it literally brings a tear. Your library is immense and your mind so fertile and sharp. Where will it all go, and who will be able to know the way you do when you are gone?
When I learned how to grill chicken, a skill my wife would have me know as our children reached kindergarten age, I began handling my tongs and timing on Saturday afternoons to the tempo of Coltrane's Giant Steps. It finally coalesced in my subconscious as the songs progressed from track one of the compact disc how quickly I should return to the grill and turn the bird. In this moment I cannot reproduce that sense, but it was my first thought as I gathered thoughts for writing about listening and Coltrane.
Finally, when my father comes to visit, it is Coltrane and Miles Davis that he must hear. Anything else issuing from my hi-fi is a waste of his time. He lives in that era of jazz seriousness and suffering. The very hint of a smile in Satchmo's ourvre makes him angry, and Wynton Marsalis makes him sick. I do know my father's smile and his frown as well...
Here's some interesting research about how we perceive threats. Basically, as the environment becomes safer we basically manufacture new threats. From an essay about the research:
To study how concepts change when they become less common, we brought volunteers into our laboratory and gave them a simple task -- to look at a series of computer-generated faces and decide which ones seem "threatening." The faces had been carefully designed by researchers to range from very intimidating to very harmless.
As we showed people fewer and fewer threatening faces over time, we found that they expanded their definition of "threatening" to include a wider range of faces. In other words, when they ran out of threatening faces to find, they started calling faces threatening that they used to call harmless. Rather than being a consistent category, what people considered "threats" depended on how many threats they had seen lately.
This has a lot of implications in security systems where humans have to make judgments about threat and risk: TSA agents, police noticing "suspicious" activities, "see something say something" campaigns, and so on.
The academic paper.