Jazz is once again a metaphor for my plan, or lack thereof. The essence of jazz is that each song is a framework, a beginning and ending melody which bookend a myriad of improvisations in the middle. Each performance is completely different.
When I started playing jazz, I would go over the songs for my lessons and memorize an “improvisation” that sounded good from start to finish. It worked while I was playing alone, but once my teacher started playing piano with me, he would ask, “Why aren’t you responding to what I’m playing?”
I’m thinking life is like that, for me at least. I’ve got great players surrounding me, a strong starting melody, and now it’s time for improvisation. The trick is that I can’t plan it and I can’t figure it out without committing to play something with no idea where it’s going next. I must put myself out there, then listen and respond to what the other players are offering.
I’m going to China in September, if all continues apace. I will study Mandarin and work with my friend to figure out how to bridge the Christian/Muslim divide in our minuscule corner of a tiny corner of the world. After a school year (semester?), I’ll see if it’s time do something else, and if that something else has made itself accessible.
It is not much of a plan. It is the first note, the first lick, in a longer improvisation that I cannot hear yet. All I can do is surround myself with good players, put my heart and soul into that lick, and pray that I don’t miss what the others around me are playing.
Then, when the time for improvisation is done, I will know the exact changes, exact notes for how the tune finishes. I will be able to look back and see how the improvisations brought the melody full circle. Then, if I’m fortunate, I’ll be able to look back and discern a coherent, plan-like journey.
Either way, I was playing jazz, and that’s what it’s about.