I’m something of a jazz fan. Not an informed one who can tell their Basie from their Mingus and who thinks BC means Before Charlie (Parker). I’m more the kind of fan who matches the music to my mood. Right now, as I write, I’m listening to John Coltrane and Duke Ellington getting very sentimental. Taking my cue from the music, I’m so languid I could almost slide off my chair. Or gaze soulfully into a cocktail glass.
But wait, I’m onto the next track, Take the Coltrane. And I’ve jumped right aboard, lured along by that irresistible sax. Now it’s all about going places and the excitement of what lies ahead.
Jazz is nothing if not unpredictable. When the musicians really get going, who knows where you might end up.
Now, to my mind there’s a connection here with growing older. I’ll give it to you in one word. Improvisation. Once those musicians start jammin’ and riffin’ there ain’t no music sheet to play from. They have to make it up as they go along. Remind you of life in general? Getting older in particular?
Of course I’m not the only one who’s made that connection. As George Gershwin put it very succinctly, “Life is a lot like jazz. It’s better when you improvise.”
The thing about improvisation (or “improv”, as it’s known in the business) is that you need quite a lot of flexibility, not to mention spontaneity. The juices of life have to be flowing freely through your veins, not stagnating in sluggish pools. In short, it’s all about channeling vitality and vim.
Are you feeling tired just reading that? If so, you’re not alone. The older we get, the more effort we have to put in to generate the exuberance that once just bubbled up so naturally.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of that vitality left. After all, if the vital signs had all gone, we’d be pretty much dead, not so?
It’s a sad truth that as we get older many of us get set in our ways. You’d think those ways had been handed down on stone tablets from heaven, so determined are we to hang onto them. We follow them on autopilot because it’s so much easier to do what we’ve always done.
Jazz is the very antithesis of that kind of mentality. To play it you have to tune in, not out. You have to seize a note and take it where you will, maybe even all the way to heaven. You may find yourself playing riffs you never knew existed. Indeed, chances are they never have.
Then when the music changes rhythm, you nimbly improvise new notes without missing a beat. You sex up that sax and key up that keyboard till the notes come out all by themselves. You drum up that drum…OK, you get the picture.
Anyone else remember Carol Channing belting out Jazz Baby?
There’s something in the tone of a saxophone
That makes me do a little wiggle all my own
Here’s to keeping that wiggle going, no matter what our age.