Wednesday, March 20, 2013

my other life

Well there it is, my other life on display. The book is something that has taken an enormous amount of energy over the past year and a half. I started working on it around that time I finished Todo Corazon and was involved with it the whole time I was recording my next album with Aruan Ortiz. The working title of the album is FREE. It is Afro-Cuban free jazz, 70's style, with tunes by Sam Rivers, Don Cherry, Andrew Hill plus originals by Aruan and some surprises. Like most of my albums it is me and a rhythm section. Aruan played piano, Rashaan Carter, bass, Gerald Cleaver, drums and Ramon Diaz on conga. It is a strange album, especially after my last three which have been increasingly pleasant to listen to.

My tendency is to go back and forth between albums that are more familiar and albums that try to stretch the music in the direction that reflect my aspirations since the late 60's towards the avant garde. After all, the original Cuban Roots (1967) was way ahead of its time. After my first album on flute, Seasoning, (1996), I recorded Jazz World Trios (1998) which in many respects is still among my most adventurous albums, followed by Three Deuces (2000) which is mainstream. Another example of my switching back and forth are O Nosso Amor and Lua y Sol (Brazilian, inside and out) and Con Alma and Timbasa (Latin jazz, mainstream and cutting edge). But getting back to my last three albums, Jazz Brasil with Kenny Barron was certainly very much in the pocket and although El Cumbanchero is strikingly original in many respects it still references the charanga tradition in available ways. And Todo Corazon, whatever its novelty is luscious and easy to listen to. That built up a lot of musical gravity on the side of me that likes to make music that people want to listen to. And so there was a lot of pressure building on me to bolster my avant garde credentials with something to counteract all the sweetness of my recent work. Well, for better or for worse, that is my latest, FREE, hopefully to be released next year (Jazzheads hasn't heard it yet). FREE is even hard for me to listen to. When I played the rough mix for some musician friends I prefaced it by saying it is the kind of music that makes people hate jazz.

But, whatever my anxieties about the album being accepted I felt it was necessary to make a statement that situated my music back towards the direction of artistic riskiness. And there is a risk.  Both Jazz Brasil and El Cumbanchero were at the top of the radio play charts, while Lua y Sol and Timbasa, although well received, never got as much play or attention. And my most innovative album, Tales From the Earth with Omar Sosa, received little or no play and has pretty much disappeared from view (it is a great album and I am very proud or it, nonetheless). So my next album is "out there." What has that to do with my new book?

Well I'm going through a really strange period and I am afraid that my attitude towards my life and music has been impacted. For the past 20 years I have been balancing my musical aspirations with my professional commitments as an academic. I published lots of papers, made a reasonable reputation in the field in which I published and was well enough respected that I was asked to write the book for a new but prestigious press that is publishing important work in logic. But although I think I have something important to say about logic, my heart and and my ego has been all tied up in music. I defined myself as a musician. That is where I felt I had to prove myself and that is where I saw the real value of my my life, my contribution -- what made my almost 73 years on this planet more than just taking up space. But then I wrote that book. The first thing is that it is really fun to do. I mean fun! I really enjoyed the process of pulling my thoughts together and I had to read some modern logic that stretched my abilities in ways that are more common to logicians in there 20's, not some old guy in his 70's who hasn't kept up with the field for a really long time. But I managed. I read some really hard stuff, figured it out and incorporated it into my ideas and came up with some interesting results. I really like my book. And for the past 6 months, while I was putting the finishing touches on the book, after if had been accepted for publication (even though I was asked to submit a manuscript, it had to go to readers who review it for the publisher) something really strange happened. I started to practice less and less.

Ever since I started to play the flute and no matter the ups and downs of my life playing the flute was my first priority. I was notorious at academic conferences because I always found a place to practice, frequently outside of the conference residence (conferences are frequently on college campuses). There is a major conference in my field (argumentation theory) in Amsterdam every four years and I spent more time playing the flute in Vondelpark then I ever did at conference events. Playing in Vondelpark is one of my all time favorite things to do and whatever the value of presenting at the conference for my academic career, it was getting nicely toasted and playing the flute that was the main attraction of the Amsterdam conference for me. But when I was writing the book, I would wake up, put my flute in the stand and get ready to practice, but the book would grab me. And once I started working on it the day was finished. I would put up to 8 or more hours of steady work into the book without even realizing it. And the day would go by without my touching the flute. I would then force myself to play for a few hours, but even that got less and less. And for the first time in over 40 years I went to days without touching the flute. The irony is that I started having a little flurry of gigs during the last 6 months, so I was preforming more than usual, but something had changed in my head. The flute was not the most important thing in my life.

But then it got even crazier. After the book was finished, I still didn't practice all that much and I had another conference paper to write. Instead of just putting something together I got deeply involved and wrote something really special. And I started to practice less. I really don't know what is going on. And I am writing this blog to come clear to myself. With FREE I think I may have said everything I want to say as a musician. I'm sick of looking at boxes of unsold CD's. I'm sick of fighting for space in a field crowded with great musicians for whom being a musician is all that there is. They struggle to make a living, the successful ones (the guys I record with) are on tour all over the world and their music is taken seriously. I'm a weird out-sider, a professor who makes records. The latest review for Todo Corazon even identifies me as a logician. And maybe that's what I am. Maybe I'm a professor who plays that flute, rather than a flute player who supports his music as an academic, like so many jazz musicians and other creative artists for whom a full-time teaching gig is the ticket to artistic independence. Well we will see. Anyway the book is available here in case you are interested.

Meanwhile I have to put the finishing touches on FREE and get it ready to present to Jazzheads. And I have another album almost finished. The album of Jewish music I recorded in Jerusalem last summer. That still needs a lot of work so I will remain engaged with music. Meanwhile I'll have to see what is happening in my head. I guess it is time to stop writing my blog and practice for a few hours.