By Michael Pronko
I find jazz to be a metaphor that encompasses a broad section of life’s best experiences. Immanuel Kant said that ethics begins in aesthetics. I could not agree more. It is not that you can judge someone’s character by the type of music they like, but that beauty and character and ethical choices in life are connected at the deepest level. You are what you listen to.
Jazz, however one defines it, is based on creativity and emotion. These are not just things that happen to people, but values that artists take seriously. Real music has the power to offer not just pleasure, which is important enough, but hope, ideas and strength. By “real music” I mean music that values creativity, authenticity, artistry and a spirit of human exploration. Vital music is not an escape from the hassles of life but an artistic counterbalance that lets us return to the worst part of life refreshed and able to look at it squarely and reasonably. It is a way of re-humanizing.
Music is a kind of language that must be learned, though it is very different from spoken languages. Music expresses values, ideas, and emotions, though it is easy to misunderstand. People who listen to music that has been processed by the ProTools computer program to adjust the tone, set the rhythm and re-harmonize poor musicianship expresses more of a love of technology than of human creativity. That type of music is about predictability, not about surprise.
Music is very abstract and imprecise, and jazz is perhaps the extreme, yet that is what art is about. Sensing the musical forms and finding the meanings takes effort, though. In our consumer culture where big corporations sell easy solutions and immediate pleasures, most people are reluctant to make much effort, and prefer to just take what is promoted and stuff fast food music in their ears.
I think that jazz is difficult music in one sense, but is easy in that it is essentially improvising in the moment, an activity that people do all the time. Improvisation is the art form that is most similar to human life, though many people prefer pre-programmed emotion and corporate-determined experiences. Jazz rebels against the conformity of consumer pressures, and the effects those pressures have on our spirit.
Limitations of words
Someone said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. That is, it doesn’t tell you much of value. However, the same might be said of writing about anything. Love hardly fits into words, but most of the world’s stories center on that theme. Music is an art form with tremendous complexity, emotion and abstraction. Not much of the experience, frankly, fits into words. That’s not a limitation of the music, but of language.
Words about music may seem futile, but they can make unnoticed connections, point out subtleties, discover what happens artistically and revel in magical moments. Even more to the point, why NOT dance about architecture? Why not respond to art with art, or at least with an essay? Miles Davis said, “The music speaks for itself.” Yet, all music, all art, all life, can be re-experienced in words. That’s only human.
I hope this site encourages interest in the music, which I find to be compelling and evocative. I also find it fun. It may take effort to get to clubs, especially since Tokyo offers so many attractions, but listening to live jazz in Tokyo is a potent experience in the middle of the chaos, surprise and intensity of life here. You do not need to count the number of earphones stuck in people’s heads to know that music is important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. As Nietzche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake…I would only believe in a God that knew how to dance.” I hope this site, in some sense, dances.September 2007