I’ve settled into an interesting set of rhythms. I get a little flash of summer, a challenging fall, a big haul through winter, then my first gasp of spring. I’ve discovered that the brutality of winter is determined by the success of my fall. Therefore my summer is often spent scurrying around preparing for the challenges in September. More experienced Winnipeggers have broken this cycle and can spend summer at the lake or other such leisurely and restorative activities. For the sake of my own health I have to learn how to do this trick very soon.
Looking ahead, this semester I get to participate in an experiment at the U of M in a program called CanU. Our goal is to use music to teach grade 5 kids from the inner city how to listen and really hear more. We also want to teach them to speak and say more. The twist is that we will be using a jazz approach.
A lot of people think jazz is about melodies, but true success in jazz is about rhythm. (As I said to the Jazz Camp students this summer, the three most important aspects of jazz are rhythm, rhythm, and rhythm.) One of my trusted mentors pointed out, “you won’t last more than half an hour in the classical world without good intonation.” I will add that you can’t last fifteen minutes in the jazz world without good rhythm.
A jazz approach to listening is vital because you have to hear the rhythm in language and from there, the language hidden in rhythm. Hearing the language of rhythm requires that you are acutely present in every situation. A jazz musician has to lock their sensibilities onto another person’s rhythms the same way that a cheetah locks herself on to the next meal. They move together in rhythmic harmony until they appear to think from one mind. (No, the kids are not gonna try to eat each other—they’re just going to pay a lot more attention to one another!)
Learning jazz rhythm language not only requires that you pay close attention to each other but that you value the other’s input as a vital part of your output.
One of the great ironies of the day is the fact that no matter where you go, you will more than likely have to compete with a screen to get someone else’s attention.
I recently observed my daughter entertaining her friends by providing them all a place to sit and look at their devices. When it was all over they laughed, raided the refrigerator, and left. The TV can’t even get them to look up. It’s weird.
I’m not sold on this idea that people are only present when they’re appearing as a text message. I strongly believe that more exposure to heightened listening experiences—where people pay close attention to one another and respond intelligently to what they hear—will give our children the opportunity to choose much more sophisticated social messages than what the media is pushing at them.
As our jazz community grows and develops, we will see an increasingly diverse community of people who not only value each other’s input, but take that input and create something beautiful and valuable for our society as a whole.