Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. In fact, there are times when you don’t even realise that there was anything to be looked for in the first place. That is, until you suddenly notice that the hue of your subconscious has changed a little, that a new feeling, or depth of understanding, is shaping the way you go about your business. At which point it becomes almost unthinkable that you hadn’t noticed long before now.
I’m writing on the eve of the first rehearsal of a new musical project that I have embarked on. This is ostensibly a new suite of music that I’m in the process of writing for the 12-piece ensemble that I convene from time to time, but actually it represents more than that. To be sure, it is a new suite of music (or at least it will be soon). Nevertheless, I have recently come to realise that it also represents an important development in my relationship with music in more general terms.
Since I began a PhD in composition at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2014, I have been dedicating an increasingly large percentage of my intellectual and creative efforts to critiquing and questioning not only the way I engage with music, but also the fact that the wider worlds of art and philosophy come to bear on my role as a twenty-first century European jazz musician (not to mention a doctor of such matters to boot), and furthermore that recognising this fact can be richly rewarding.
Perhaps the most notable result of this change of perspective has been a shift in the balance between the way I prepare and perform music. As things now stand, the process by which I engage with the former has become both more deliberate and more painstaking. By this I mean that I have come to invest more thought in the way that I conceive of music – be it practicing, composing, performing, listening, or one of the many variants thereof. While the minutiae of this process may only be of interest to the most hardened of theorists, the results can be more readily witnessed. An example of this will bring me round to the new music that I’ll be rehearsing for the first time tomorrow.
My most recent album was a self-released solo saxophone record that I entitled Picasso(s). This music was the outcome of my doctoral research, and in the simplest of terms represents my attempt to find an original way to perform jazz, via Picasso’s Las Meninas and Coleman Hawkins’ Picasso. The details of this process are best saved for another forum (a brief outline is available in a previous post) but the effect it has had on me as musician has been profound. So much so that I have decided to build on the solo project with the aforementioned large ensemble suite.
Which brings me back to my starting point. I suspect that as a result of this process I have developed a conception of music that, at least for the moment, allows me to reconcile, on one hand, my longstanding commitment to the varied historical traditions of jazz (memories of bunking off school to go and buy Charlie Parker records), and on the other, my complex, at times insecure, and by no means always positively-motivated, expectation that I should be a ground-breaking experimentalist. To put it more simply, I’m excited to play it!
Of course, much of this might be of little or no interest to many of my listeners. However, I have decided to undertake to make details of my process available should anyone be interested. Sharing these insights will take a number of forms. Of course, I will be updating this site much more frequently, and I will be doing my best to encourage people to feed back. I will also be offering pre- and post-concert talks to allow audience members not only to find out more about how the music comes about, but also to engage in discourse with the performers.
And, of course, we’ll be performing the music too! A date for the diary is the 27thApril at the Midland Arts Centre in Birmingham, where we’ll be premiering the new suite as part of Sid Peacock’s Surge In Spring festival.
My plan is to post updates here as the project progresses, and I’d be very happy to hear from anyone who would like to know more.