Ben Sidran

gig | Madison - Ardells (with Steve Miller & Boz Scaggs)
photo | Ben in ‘63
photo | Ben on Union terrace
photo | Ben on Union Terrace 2
photo | At a Paris Cafe
photo | London with Jann Wenner
album | Feel Your Groove
writing | Feel Your Groove: Lyrics
photo | Capitol sessions 1
photo | Capitol sessions 3
photo | Capitol sessions 4
photo | Capitol sessions 5
album | I Lead a Life
production | Journey From Eden / Steve Miller
conversation | Glyn Johns
writing | I Lead A Life: Lyrics
writing | Black Talk: Book
photo | Madison sessions 1
photo | Madison sessions 2
writing | Putting In Time On Planet Earth: Lyrics
production | Sylvester And The Hot Band
album | Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth
conversation | Mick Jagger
production | Tell Me the Truth / Jon Hendricks
photo | Tony Williams in Boston 1
album | Don’t Let Go
writing | Don’t Let Go: Lyrics
photo | With Jane Fonda 1
photo | Bob Krasnow in Chicago
photo | Ibiza 1
photo | Ibiza 2
photo | With Jon Hendricks
album | Free in America
photo | Unknown Stage shot ‘75
photo | Madison Back Yard
photo | Winter 1976
photo | Bicentenial Bebop Band
gig | Long Island, NY - My Father’s Place
writing | Free In America: Lyrics
photo | San Francisco ‘76, 3
photo | Sing Me A Jazz Song Rehearsal
photo | Sing Me A Jazz Song Taping 1
photo | Sing Me A Jazz Song Rehearsal 3
photo | Sing Me A Jazz Song Rehearsal 4
gig | New York, The Bottom Line
album | A Little Kiss in the Night
photo | With Michael Franks, 1977
photo | Church Key
album | The Doctor is In
gig | Minneapolis - UofM
video | Germany, Music Laden “Broad Daylight”
writing | A Little Kiss In The Night: Lyrics
writing | Live At Montreux: Lyrics
album | Live at Montreux
photo | Montreux, Switzerland
photo | Montreux Performance
writing | The Doctor is In: Lyrics
conversation | Danny Richmond
gig | Tokyo, Theater
photo | Los Angeles promo shoot
writing | The Cat And The Hat: Lyrics
gig | Madison, Bunky’s (Trio)
album | The Cat and The Hat
photo | The Cat and the Hat posse
production | Pat MacDonald
photo | Perched on a chair
photo | Ben and Bunky Green
photo | Leo and Ben on stage
video | Willebskis Film with Archie Shepp “Willow Weep For Me”
photo | At Carnegie Hall
photo | Tim Hauser of the Manhattan Transfer and Ben
photo | Ensmeble singing “Oo Pa Pa Da”
photo | Richie Cole and Ben after the show
photo | Ben and Al Jarreau
photo | Ben and Al Jarreau
video | In Holland, “Charlie’s Blues”
gig | San Francisco, Keystone Korner (Kuartet)
photo | Musicians and promoters in Phoenix
video | Ben Island Promo
video | WHA TV, “Charlie’s Blues”
album | Old Songs for the New Depression
photo | “Old Songs” recording session
video | The Jazz Life featuring Richie Cole
writing | Old Songs For The New Depression: Lyrics
video | The Jazz Life featuring Mike Mainieri
conversation | Jesse Hill
conversation | Freddie Hubbard
conversation | Ben on WBCY
album | Bop City
photo | Talking with the piano
photo | Talking with the piano
photo | Street scene, San Francisco
conversation | Ben on KJAZ
photo | Born in Chicago
gig | Alaska, Fly By Nightclub - 1982 Quartet
photo | London promo shot for “Bopcity”
photo | London promo shot for “Bopcity”
album | Get to the Point
writing | Bob City: Lyrics
photo | Bopcity Band
photo | Ben and Richard in the museum
video | Since I Fell For You
photo | Tokyo photo
photo | Tokyo photo
photo | Ben and Archie Shepp
gig | Boulder, Conference on World Affairs with Spike Robinson, Dave Grusin
photo | Summers end in Minneapolis
photo | Summers end in Minneapolis
conversation | John Scofield Talking Jazz
gig | Chicago, Orphans Club
conversation | Dr. John Talking Jazz
photo | Ben and Dr. John
conversation | Art Blakey Talking Jazz
conversation | Freddie Hubbard Talking Jazz
photo | Ben and Richard Davis
photo | Ben and Richard Davis
photo | Ben and Richard Davis
album | Live at the Elvehjem
production | Night Watch / Ricky Peterson
gig | Alaska, Fly By Nightclub - Organ Quartet
video | Ben Sidran and Richard Davis, Jazz Class on Wisconsin Public TV - 1985
photo | Dr. John at the piano
conversation | Tony Williams Talking Jazz
conversation | Branford Marsalis Talking Jazz
photo | Ben interviewing Chick Corea
album | On the Cool Side
conversation | Jon Hendricks Talking Jazz
conversation | Sonny Rollins Talking Jazz
conversation | Dizzy Gillespie Talking Jazz
photo | Ben interviewing Rudy Van Gelder
writing | Graven Images Article
conversation | Wynton Marsalis Talking Jazz
conversation | Max Roach Talking Jazz
conversation | Miles Davis Talking Jazz
photo | Ben Sidran comes to Sydney
photo | Recording “On the Live Side”
photo | Recording “On the Live Side”
photo | Recording “On the Live Side”
video | Ben On the Live Side - Complete Concert
gig | Boulder, Conference on World Affairs - with Spike Robinson
gig | Sidney, The Basement
production | Pop Bop / Richie Cole
photo | Ben with Dave Brubeck and Marion McPartland
production | Ever Since the World Ended / Mose Allison
conversation | Gil Evans Talking Jazz
album | On the Live Side
writing | Have You Met Barcelona
album | Have You Met in Barcelona
photo | Ben in Nancy, France
conversation | Ben on France Musique
photo | In Bordeau with Leo
photo | Billy and Ben on the boulevard
photo | Don Cherry and Ben
conversation | Herbie Hancock Talking Jazz
conversation | Joe Sample Talking Jazz
production | Spread Your Wings / Clementine
production | Sarah Jane Morris
photo | The band lands in Japan
video | Tokyo, Bravas Club “Straight No Chaser”
video | Tokyo, Bravas Club “Have You Met Miss Jones”
production | Signature / Richie Cole
photo | Leo checks out the Hollywood action
photo | A diverse cast of characters following the gig
photo | Ben, Richie and Janis
photo | Ben and Richard Davis
gig | Minneapolis, Lake Harriett (feat. Steve Miller)
production | Born 2 B Blue / Steve Miller
writing | On The Live Side: Lyrics
photo | Hanging with the Little Giant
photo | Ben with Ben Riley and Johnny Griffin on the Ramblas
photo | Hanging with the Little Giant
photo | Johnny and Ben just before a take
photo | Ben and Johnny Griffin
conversation | George Benson Talking Jazz
conversation | Betty Carter Talking Jazz
gig | Minneapolis, NY’s Eve with Richie Cole
writing | Too Hot to Touch: Lyrics
conversation | Johnny Griffin Talking Jazz
photo | With Karim Abdul-Jabaar in his den
album | Too Hot to Touch
photo | At the festival in Vienne, France
conversation | Michel Petrucciani Talking Jazz
conversation | Ben at Stevens Point
photo | Ben, Bill Cosby and producer Mike Simon
conversation | Donald Fagen Talking Jazz
video | With Steve Miller “Just A Little Bit”
photo | Johnny Copland and Ben on set
photo | In the green room before the taping.
photo | Ben and Charles Wright of the Watts 103rd Street Band
photo | Steve Miller and I share a moment
photo | Miller loves to clown
photo | At the piano with Steve
photo | On stage with Ricky Peterson
photo | Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts and Ben
photo | French singer Clementine and Ben
photo | French singer Clementine and Ben
conversation | Steve Gadd Talking Jazz
video | Rome, D.O.C. “Mitsubishi Boy”
production | Smile Blue / Ricky Peterson
production | My Backyard / Mose Allison
video | Australia Don Lane Show “Girl Talk”
photo | Ben delivering the news
photo | Ben and Billy considering the options
photo | Ben bunnies Steve
photo | It’s an old show-biz lick: I cool him off while he heats up the strings
photo | Surrendering to the rock and roll cosmos
photo | Spacing out in the fog
photo | Standing in Frank Lloyd Wright’s living room
writing | Cool Paradise: Lyrics
album | Cool Paradise
production | Mood Swing / Bob Malach
production | Cool Cat Blues / Georgie Fame
video | Australia With Crossfire “Everything Happens To Me”
gig | Anchorage Performing Arts Center
photo | Bob, Gordy, Billy and Ben
photo | Leo plays the soundcheck with the Miller Band
photo | Has the crowd turned its back on me or have I turned my back on them?
photo | In Maine, wearing protection from the mosquitos
photo | Bobby Malach’s “Mood Swing” musicians
photo | Georgie and Ben discussing the playback of “I Love the Life I Live”
photo | Georgie, Ben and Richard Tee going over the charts
photo | Ben, Georgie, Steve and Richard in the control room
photo | Japan Go Jazz promo shot
photo | Japan Go Jazz promo shot
gig | Tokyo, Club Quattro - with the GoJazz Allstars
video | Go Jazz Allstars in Tokyo “Lip Service”
video | Go Jazz Allstars in Tokyo - Complete Concert
production | The Go Jazz Allstars / Live In Japan
production | The Blues And Me / Georgie Fame
production | Whatever Happened to the Blues / Phil Upchurch
photo | Ben, Doctor John, Georgie Fame
photo | Georgie Fame, Paul Shaffer and Ben
photo | Tommy LiPuma and Ben
photo | Time out for a family moment
photo | Clyde Stubblefield and Michael Bland
photo | Blind Lemon (Les McCann) and Ben
photo | Ben, Gavin Christopher, Phil and Chaka Kahn
writing | Talking Jazz: Book
production | Natural Woman / Giorgia
photo | Ben and Oscar Brown Jr.
photo | Ben with Pops and Mavis Staples
photo | Ben with Pops and Mavis Staples
production | Dragonfly Summer / Michael Franks
photo | Ben in the window
photo | Ben in the window
photo | Ben in the window
photo | Ben casting a large shadow
photo | Dan Hicks, Michael Franks and Ben
production | Stolen Moments / The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues / Diana Ross
production | Gege and the Boparazzi
video | Rome with Roberto Gatto and Stefano di Battista “Straight No Chaser”
photo | Gil Goldstein
photo | Bob Mintzer
photo | Lee Konitz
photo | The Boparazzi crew
production | Clementine Sings Ben Sidran
video | Talking Jazz Book Reading, Madison
writing | The Jazz Of Stuart Davis - Article
conversation | Tommy Lipuma
production | The Earth Wants You / Mose Allison
conversation | Ben and Peter on Hoop Dreams
production | Oh! / Will Lee
photo | Promoting something (I forget)
photo | Ben in between takes
production | A Tear Can Tell / Ricky Peterson
video | Ben on CBS Sunday Morning for “Life’s a Lesson”
album | Life’s a Lesson
production | The Searcher / Bob Malach
video | Gege Telesforo featuring Jon Hendricks and Clark Terry “Mumbles” - GoJazz Artists Series
photo | Go Jazz Allstars in Japan
photo | Ben in the control room
conversation | Ben on KCRW
production | Love Is Strange / Phil Upchurch
gig | Madison, Cafe Montmartre - with Gege Telesforo
photo | Ben in the dark 1
production | Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Mose Allison
video | Madison, Union Terrace with Frank Morgan “Kansas City”
production | The Mother Tongue / Gege
writing | Mr. P’s Shuffle: Lyrics
album | Mr. P’s Shuffle
video | Ohne Filter “Too Hot To Touch”
photo | Go Jazz Allstars in Germany
photo | At La Villa, rue Jacob, Paris
photo | At La Villa, rue Jacob, Paris
photo | At La Villa, rue Jacob, Paris
gig | Madison, Cafe Montmartre - with Bob Malach, Mel Ford, Ricky Peterson
conversation | Mose Allison - Sentient Meat
photo | Clyde Stubblefield, Frank Morgan, Richard Davis and Ben
photo | Ben outside the club
photo | Ben and Roscoe Mitchell
production | Solita / Clementine
video | Ben Sidran, Georgie Fame, Van Morrison, Mose Allison “Tell Me Something”
production | When the Wind Was Cool / Dominique Eade
photo | With Mose Allison in London
photo | Ben and Leo in Washington D.C.
photo | The Celebrity Lounge
photo | Ben and Richard Davis at the performance
photo | Paul Motian, Mose and Ratso Harris
production | Gimcracks and Gewgaws / Mose Allison
conversation | Quincy Jones
production | Rhapsody And Blues / Phil Upchurch
album | Live at the Celebrity Lounge
conversation | Frank Morgan
conversation | Bob Dorough
production | Live At The Quest / The Minneapolis Allstars
photo | Promo shots in Paris
photo | The band at Orchestra Hall, Chicago
conversation | Phil Woods
photo | Ben playing Lorca’s piano
production | L Sid / Leo Sidran
photo | Ben and Leo in Amsterdam
video | Go Jazz Allstars Ohne Filter “Mr. Ps Shuffle”
photo | Recording “Poet In New York” with Georgie Fame
photo | The gathering of the tribes on the East side of Madison
photo | The gathering of the tribes on the East side of Madison
production | Vietnam Long Time Coming
album | The Concert for Garcia Lorca
conversation | Van Morrison
production | New Train / Paul Pena
production | Poet In New York / Georgie Fame
production | It’s Like This / Rickie Lee Jones
video | Spain Lo Mas Plus with Leo Sidran “Sevillanas / Huerto”
photo | London club night with Tony Bennett
photo | John Pizzarelli, Ben, Rickie Lee Jones
video | Conference On World Affairs “A Good Travel Agent”
production | Conversations With Michel / Bob Malach
production | The Mose Chronicles Vol. 1 / Mose Allison
production | Hoop Dreams
production | El Elefante / Ben and Leo Sidran
video | Barlow Planetarium Lecture
album | Walk Pretty
video | Madrid, Cafe Central - with Quintet featuring Bob Malach and Gege Telesforo
conversation | Ben in Barcelona
photo | Ben in London
photo | Ben and band in London
video | Osaka Blue Note “Walk Pretty”
photo | Ben. Tammy Baldwin, and the former president
photo | Ben at Motion Blue, Yokohama, Japan
photo | Ben at Motion Blue, Yokohama, Japan
production | The Original / Clyde Stubblefield
video | Encore In Yokohama
conversation | Ben on Area Reservada
photo | El Elefante cover photo shoot
conversation | Ben on TTBOOK
production | Bob’s Ben / Bob Rockwell
photo | The gig starts at 8:15
gig | Madison, Union Theater (Jewish Music Concert)
video | Germany, Music Planet “You Can’t Judge A Book”
video | Germany, Music Planet with Georgie Fame “Symphony Sid”
photo | After show party in Madrid
video | Go Jazz Allstars in Berlin
photo | Ben in Rome 3
video | Ben Making Nick’s Bump Drink
gig | Bayfield, Wisconsin - Big Top Chataqua - with Jorge Drexler
production | Bohemia / Leo Sidran
photo | Nicks Bumps Band in the studio
photo | Nicks Bumps Band in the studio
album | Nick’s Bump
production | Dissertation on the State of Bliss / Tom Wopat
writing | Ben Sidran A Life in the Music: Book
photo | Barcelona pub crawl through the Gotico
photo | At the Blue Note in Milan, Italy
photo | Cruising with Molly the Poodle
photo | Ben and Shirley Manson backstage
photo | Cleveland celebrates its native son
photo | The Cafe Montmartre vibe
photo | Cruising with Molly the Poodle
photo | Outside the Blue Note in Fukuoka, Japan
photo | Ben’s birthday in Osaka, Japan
album | Bumpin at the Sunside
photo | Les Paul day in Wisconsin
writing | Bumpin’ at the Sunside: Lyrics
gig | Madison, Jazz at Five - Organ Night Band
photo | Portrait
album | Live a Fip
photo | Ben, Sonny Rollins, Phil Upchurch
photo | Ben with the Funk Allstars
photo | Ben with the Funk Allstars
photo | At book festival in Deia with (L to R) Lucia Graves and Laura Garcia Lorca
photo | At book festival with Cynthia Lennon
photo | On stage with Peter Bogdanovich
photo | On the streets of Barcelona
photo | Ben, Boz and Jorge perform the songs
photo | Boz, Jorge, Ben talk about song writing
gig | Madison, Capitol Theater - with Jorge Drexler, Boz Scaggs
photo | On stage at the Cotton Club
conversation | Ben Sidran Talking Jazz
photo | The Artist Quarter, Minneapolis
production | Talking Jazz Box Set
photo | On stage, Grignan, France
photo | In Morelia, Mexico
photo | On stage at the Jazz Bakery, LA
photo | Out of the pad in Paris
photo | Ben and Georgie
photo | Painting with light
video | Lecture “If You’re Not Having Fun You’re Doing It Wrong”
conversation | Ben on NPR for Talking Jazz
photo | Jazz at 5 in Mad City
gig | Grignan, France
photo | Valencia, Spain
photo | In Soria, Spain
video | Ben Sidran Cien Noches at the Cafe Central, 2007
photo | The hall of mirrors
photo | Local talent
photo | Goodbye
photo | Ben and Georgie
photo | Running the voodoo down on stage
photo | Running the voodoo down on stage
photo | Party geishas in the hotel lobby
photo | The Fame / Sidran Quintet
gig | Tokyo Cotton Club - With Georgie Fame, 2008
gig | NY, Jazz Standard Organ Night
album | Cien Noches
photo | Rome book reading with music
photo | View from the stage, Madrid, Spain
photo | At the Sunset in Paris
photo | Monte Carlo
photo | Monte Carlo
photo | Buddy Greco and Ben
photo | Meanwhile back at the Cotton Club in Tokyo
photo | Meanwhile back at the Cotton Club in Tokyo
gig | Tokyo, Cotton Club - Nardis Review
photo | Rehearsing for the Dylan project with Rodolphe Burger
photo | Mad City autumn
album | Dylan Different
gig | Paris, Sunside - Dylan Different Band
photo | The Hotel Jazz
photo | The cave called The Jamboree in Barcelona
photo | At the Guggenheim in Bilbao
photo | Recording the music for Clementine’s “Going Uptown” album.
conversation | Ben with Bobby Jackson
photo | Ben in Catania
photo | Ben watching soundcheck
photo | A different drummer
photo | The band in black
photo | Man at his best
gig | Sicily, Caltenisseta - Quartet (Dylan Different)
video | Love Minus Zero / Dylan Different Live At The New Morning
photo | At the New Morning, Paris
photo | The Montreal Jazz Festival
video | Minneapolis rehearsal “Highway 61”
gig | Minneapolis, Dakota - Dylan Different
gig | Tokyo, Cotton Club - Dylan Different
photo | My Street
album | Dylan Different Live at the New Morning
gig | Paris, Sunside - Quartet + Rodolphe Burger (FIP Radio Broadcast, Interview and Concert)
production | Going Uptown / Clementine
photo | Peter Straub, Lorrie Moore and Ben at the Algonquin
photo | Ben in Ronciglioni, Italy
photo | Ben in Ronciglioni, Italy
photo | Las Palmas, Canary Islands
photo | Living the Dream
photo | The Blues and the Reds
photo | Just the Blues
gig | Vienna, Porgy and Bess - Quartet (Dylan Different Retirement Party)
gig | Wisconsin Science Festival - The Present Moment (with Richie Davidson)
video | Wisconsin Science Festival with Richie Davidson, “Present Moment”
video | Private Guy Original Demo
writing | There Was a Fire: Book
photo | Distinguished Alumnus
gig | Madison, Wisconsin Science Festival - with Richie Davidson
video | Phoenix, Musical Instrument Museum - Jews, Music and the American Dream - Performance and Lecture
gig | Fall Book Tour 2012: Oct 13-November 8
video | Wisconsin Book Festival - Jews, Music and the American Dream
photo | A Paris Portrait
photo | Take me to the Bridge
conversation | Ben Sidran Radio: Episode 1
writing | Don’t Cry For No Hipster: Lyrics
conversation | Ben with Gary Walker on WBGO for “Jews, Music and the American Dream”
video | New York, Center for Jewish History - Jews as culture brokers
conversation | Ben Sidran Radio: Episode 2
conversation | Ben with Dave Iverson on KQED for “Jews, Music and the American Dream”
album | Don’t Cry For No Hipster
gig | SPRING 2013 Gigs
photo | Yoshis, Oakland
conversation | Ben on KCSM “Desert Island”
photo | New York Masterminds: With Mark Ruffin and Tommy LiPuma
video | The Pace Report: “The Educated Hipster”
photo | Barbes, Brooklyn
video | Tokyo Cotton Club “The King Of Harlem”
photo | Backstage in Tokyo
conversation | Ben Sidran Radio: Episode 4
conversation | Ben on WTF with Marc Maron
gig | FALL 2013 GIGS
video | Paris, Sunset - “Groove Is Gonna Get You Through Times Of No Money”
photo | Barcelona, Jamboree - Quartet
video | Atlanta Jewish Music Festival - Jews, Music and the American Dream
video | New School For Jazz - Eyes of the Masters presentation
photo | The Seine Changes
video | TedX - Embrace Your Inner Hipster
video | Dee’s Dilemma - recording session
video | Blue Camus EPK
album | Blue Camus
writing | Blue Camus Lyrics
video | Ben on One Shot Not with Manu Katché
writing | A Life In The Music - Audio Book
video | 2015 The Literary Year
writing | Talking Jazz With Ben Sidran Volume 1
writing | Talking Jazz With Ben Sidran Volume 1
writing | Talking Jazz With Ben Sidran Volume 2
gig | Copenhagen Jazzhus Montmartre
video | Blacks, Jews and the American Dream
conversation | Third Story Podcast: Welcome To Copenhagen
conversation | Third Story Podcast: Inspiration comes from Life at the Newport Jazz Festival
video | Rockburn Presents Ben Sidran
video | Jazz Music Use It or Lose It
video | National Writers Series
gig | FALL GIGS 2015
photo | Cats in Paris
gig | Paris Sunside
conversation | What Paris Felt Like
photo | With Paquito D’Rivera
video | “Picture Him Happy” live in Brooklyn
gig | SUMMER 2016 GIGS
video | Ben on Bird
writing | Picture Him Happy Lyrics
gig | FALL 2016 GIGS
video | Picture Him Happy EPK
video | Picture Him Happy - Lyric Video + Nightclub Intro
album | Picture Him Happy
video | MILES DAVIS on Dizzy & Drawing
video | I Might Be Wrong - official video
gig | SPRING 2017 GIGS
conversation | Ben on Neon Jazz with Joe Dimino
video | SONNY ROLLINS on Monk and the Bridge
gig | SUMMER 2017 GIGS
Graven Images Article
Year: 1985

Graven Images Article

If You Don't Live It, It Won't Come Out of Your Horn

The Texture Of Choice: If You Don’t Live It, It Won’t Come Out Of Your Horn


The texture of choice: what does it feel like to play jazz? 

Because jazz has typically been seen as a somewhat abstract form of expression, by fans, critics and casual observers alike, it is important to reconnect the making of this music to some very basic human feelings and activities.

On the one hand, it is true that there is a great deal of abstraction to the surface of jazz music.  Traditionally, jazz musicians have used standard, popular song forms, such as the 32-bar song form or the variations on the blues structure, as the basis for their improvisation. These are very basic structures, require little sophistication to master and are at the heart of what has been called “tin pan alley” music for many decades. What jazz musicians did, however, was extend these structures, either vertically, by employing the upper harmonics and higher intervals of chords, or horizontally, by altering the basic movement of the chord cycles themselves.  In so doing, jazz musicians elevated street culture into high art.

This is all well and good and has induced more than one commentator to refer to jazz as “America’s Classical music”.  And indeed, many jazz musicians, particularly during the period immediately following World War II, were adamant that their music should be perceived as the equal of Western Classical music.  That is, they wanted to be taken “seriously”.  However, this was a double-edged sword inasmuch as it lent additional weight to those who would argue that the technique of jazz musicians was inferior to that of Western Classical musicians inasmuch as it did not conform to the same standards.  The straight-fingered approach of pianist Thelonius Monk, for example, was pointed to as bad technique, and he was unfavorably compared to pianists like Horowitz, who had mastered the “more elegant” Western Classical model.  It would be years before jazz musicians could again claim the high ground and ask (rhetorically) why Horowitz could not play like Monk.

But this discussion of jazz technique and musical forms begs a key issue: jazz music is not about technique; it is about the individual finding his own voice and telling his own story.  In the words of saxophonist John Coltrane: “When I hear a musician’s sound, that, to me, is his contribution.” 
Telling your own story empowers the musician and, by extension, the listener.  Jazz music, although it has developed a distinguished repertoire, is not about liturgy, it is about celebrating the moment.  Again, in the words of another great jazz saxophonist, Johnny Griffin, “Jazz is music made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions.”  

So the first choice in jazz is quite basic: whether or not to answer the call of this music, to join the people who “have chosen to feel good”, to find their own voice and to raise it, “in spite of conditions”. 

Jazz is party music, but it’s a party with a purpose.  If the purpose is to celebrate the moment, then the music must literally be of the moment.   

Jazz exists in the doing, not in the thinking.  It is “spontaneous composition”, conceived as you hear it.  The musician hears the note at the same time you do.  Often, he is just as surprised as you are by what has happened.  Although it is not written down jazz has an overall rationality, like speech. Just as we can talk faster than we can think, so we can play faster than we can reason.  Action and reaction are one.  In jazz, it is not a question of whether you can step into the same stream twice, but can you step into it once. 

So playing jazz is also a highly physical occupation.  Not just because of the thousands of hours one spends blowing through a copper tube in order to find their voice as a saxophonist.  Not just because of the stamina it takes to play for three, four or five hours a night, entertaining people who are often drinking or dancing.  Not just because of the amount of hours spent traveling, hauling equipment, or keeping your spirits up until it’s time to play.  Jazz is physical specifically because the music exists in the act, not in the thought.  Jazz is the sound the body makes, and the instrument is simply the tool the body uses to project that sound.  So Miles Davis could say, as he once did, “You can tell everything about the way I play by how I stand.”    Jazz is the attitude, the posture, the response of the whole organism to life.  The sound of jazz is the literal expression of the body to the moment.

Therefore, the art of jazz does not exist in the sophisticated choice of notes or lack thereof.  The art resides in the way these notes arrive.  “The way” notes arrive can be broken into two facets: the sound of the notes, and the timing of the notes. 

The timing is crucial to jazz, and to understand it, one must distinguish between meter and rhythm.  Meter drives Western Classical music.  Meter is the mechanical representation of the passing of time, demonstrated by the clock, a man-made invention that marks the events of our day.  Meter is inflexible and once a metronome is set in motion, it will click out a specific number of beats per minute regardless of how the human responds to its demands.  Western Classical music, like all Western culture, is driven by the clock, by the machine.  Rhythm, on the other hand, is what drives jazz.  Rhythm can be felt in the passage of natural events. A heart beats in rhythm, and although it does have a tempo, the tempo comes and goes over time.  Waves breaking on a shore do so in rhythm; there is an ebb and flow to all things in nature. Jazz improvisation has this push and pull, this swell of energy as the player climbs the wall of the moment and tumbles down the other side. It is this tension, in part, that drives jazz improvisation, provides the intensity of its passion and binds the people playing to the people listening.  The best musician wait until the last possible moment to act, or react,  (this is called “back phrasing”) and often literally don’t know what they’re going to do until after its done.  It is a magic act, a slight of hand.  People love being there at the moment of creation; jazz is a party with a purpose: it celebrates the moment of creation.

The sound of the music is another deep mystery.  It’s as simple as your mother’s voice. You can recognize that voice in a moment, distinguish it from all others.  The same is true with great jazz players.  Their sound is instantly recognizable.   So ask your mother why she sounds the way she does.   Of course, she has no answer.   Ironically, the same is true for jazz musicians.  Musicians may talk about their approach to this particular musical puzzle or that specific series of chords, but when you mention the sound of their “voice”, they stumble with words or just smile and shake their head.  Whereas Western Classical music strives for uniformity of tone, jazz musicians prize circumlocution, approaching their sound from many directions. Thousands of hours later, the “voice” emerges.  Miles Davis once told me, “You see, your sound is like, it’s like your sweat!”    In many interviews with jazz players, the subject of their “sound” came up, and while they are usually happy to talk about their heroes or the hours spend practicing, they are ultimately unable to explain how they arrive at their sound.  They are united and very clear, however, about the fact that it is their sound that is the key to their way of playing. The physical sound that they produce, the timbral qualities of their musical voice, rather than the rationality of their note choice. 

So what does it feel like to play jazz? 

From saxophonist David Murray, so-called avant garde musician: “If I can’t have some fun, get me off the stage.  I could be mundane at home, you know.  But when I’m on the stage, I want to have fun. It’s like in football players, those cats get out there and they get pumped up and they just want to hit somebody.  They’re having fun.” 

From saxophonist Branford Marsalis, another of the so-called “young lions” of jazz: “It’s about reflexes.  You have to play with somebody so well that you know what they’re going to do before they do it.  It’s like you see the Lakers in motion.  And you don’t see them saying ‘Throw the ball back’, I mean, you see Magic with the ball and he’s going up and all of a sudden, the ball’s back there!  And the man is standing there with the ball, and it’s like ‘How did he know the ball was going to be there?’  He’s there; that’s how he knows.” 

I chose these references to sports intentionally, both to underscore the physicality of the act of jazz playing and to draw a parallel that many people may understand.  What does it feel like when the ball goes through the hoop?  What does it feel like when you hit a drive 250 yards?  Generally, these moments feel like nothing at all.  They are effortless.  The individual has gotten out of his own way and, in the case of jazz, the music plays the musician.  Obviously, there is an act of surrender involved in jazz improvisation.  These musicians are giving themselves up at the moment of creativity to the collective unconsciousness and the body’s own memory.  And, of course, this is fun to do.

The “truth” of jazz, then, is in the telling, not the retelling.  It is the kind of truth that Euripides spoke of when he said: “A truth is not a truth until it is felt on the pulse.”    The meaning of jazz is it’s use at the moment by the people who play it and hear it.  There is no hidden agenda to the music.  Jazz is the moment celebrating itself.

This was implied by saxophonist John Coltrane, as he responded, during the 60’s, to a question about the political message of his music:  “This music doesn’t belong to anybody, it just passes through us all.”    Therefore, when we practice an instrument, we are really working to reshape ourselves, as vessels, so that this music can pass through us more cleanly.  Jazz is the body singing, and the mind is often listening, just as the audience is, in awe and appreciation.  Just as often, however, the mind is elsewhere, watching the audience, being part of the group.

Because jazz is group music, collective improvisation.  It takes a group to play it.  If not more than one musician at a time, then at least an audience of one.  For this music to have power, it has to be shared. It cannot exist in the abstract as can Western Classical music, which can exist, dormant, in manuscript form for centuries, to be awakened years later.  There is no better example of this collective spirit of jazz than the New Orleans marching bands.  For years, I had read about the effect these bands had on people as they marched back from the funeral.  Traditionally, the band played slow, sad songs on the way to the cemetery, but on the way back, they played such joyous music that people who were going about their daily lives would stop everything and follow them for miles.  I always wondered, why, in a city so full of music, the marching bands had such power? What must it have been like to hear one of these bands?  Then, this year, I went to New Orleans and by coincidence I got dragged along behind one.

The fairgrounds of the Jazz & Heritage Festival was packed solid with one hundred thousand people trying to get into the various music tents featuring jazz, gospel, blues, folk, rock, etc.  I was standing in the crush in front of the jazz tent when I heard, from a distance, the sound of a marching band.  Gradually, it got louder and closer.  The drums were absolutely infectious.  The band passed within a couple of yards, and they were followed by a “second line”, twenty or thirty dancers, some carrying umbrellas, all doing that second-line dance. This entire group was swinging so hard that, as they started to move off, I began to inch along behind them.  I just wanted to keep feeling whatever it was I was feeling.  Then, as they pulled away, I had to walk fast, and then run to keep up.  But the crowd was so thick, it became impossible. I began to fight my way through the crowd, and, eventually, I found myself a couple of hundred yards away from where I started, dazed and confused.  It had not been my intention to follow that band.  I had been determined to get inside the jazz tent and hear some “professionals”.  But the moment that marching band came by, I was gone, captured.

Ultimately, playing jazz is about this feeling.  You will follow a band wherever it leads just to keep hearing it and seeing, to stay close to whatever makes you feel that way.  Not just “good”; you feel “alive”, “there”, “in the moment”, you are where you are supposed to be.  You become part of this group thing, you walk the music.  So the deep choice of jazz, ultimately, isn’t really being made by you, it’s being made for you, by the music itself, and by your inability to deny it. Perhaps this is literally what Joseph Campbell meant in his phrase “following your own bliss”.

And because jazz is in the moment and of the moment, it is not possible to rationally decide which moment is a jazz moment and which moment is not. Because clearly, if the instrument is only the tool being used to express this feeling, the jazz musician must spend his entire life perfecting the ability to be in the moment, any and every moment  -- to become the vessel -- so that eventually, there is no “on stage” and no “off stage”.  There is only the approach to “time” and the raising of the “voice”.  You live the tenants of the music so that, during those few hours when you actually have the instrument in your hands and are with your peers, you can become the vessel more purely, to allow the music to pass through.  And why?  Because it feels so good.  And what does good feel like?  Like this feels, sitting here reading this line.  Like nothing happened at all.  It is the simplest thing. Being in the moment.

Or, as saxophone legend Charlie Parker once said: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” 

    -- Ben Sidran