by Kenny Baron
Having been a professional musician for the past twelve years, I have always been intrigued by the esoteric components of group performance, especially in the area of so-called jazz, or as I prefer to call it, improvised music. That a group of musicians, each with his own particular life style and problems, can come together and spontaneously create music remains a constant source of amazement to me. It is even more amazing that a group of musicians who don’t know one another can create spontaneous music of a high caliber. I use the phrase “high caliber” aware that, even for the most proficient performer, there are several plateaus or levels of performance.
A good professional musician will always turn in a competent performance, even at his lowest level. What intrigues me are the reasons for the different performance levels and the strange, mysterious force that elicits that highest level of performance.
I have experienced the highest level of performance with many different groups of musicians; some of whom I had worked with on a regular basis, and others with whom I had never performed. What I recall most about those experiences is the way I felt emotionally, the fact that the other members of the band seemed to be as involved with the music as I was, the way in which the music affected the audience and the way in which the reaction of the audience in turn affected us on the bandstand.
Emotionally, I felt uplifted, and the intensity of the music indicated that all the other musicians also felt their spirits being uplifted. When I was a child, I went to church regularly and I can recall seeing the church sisters get so involved with the singing and preaching that they “got happy.” “Getting happy” is the phrase used to designate one’s emotional state of being when one received what the congregation called the “Holy Ghost.” Those who had received the Holy Ghost and were in this emotional state usually began to scream and shout and eventually worked themselves into a frenzy, speaking in unknown tongues and crying out, thank you Jesus-thank you Jesus.
My point in mentioning what happens to people when they get happy is simply that I believe what happened to those church sisters is the same thing that happens to a group of musicians who are performing improvised music. There seems to be some sort of spiritual communication taking place between the musicians. This same communication exists between the musicians and the audience. It is a give and take in which the musicians and the audience spiritually feed upon one another.
It is interesting to note that this phenomena does not occur with any degree of consistency. When it fails to occur, it seems to be because of some hindrance to the necessary element of spiritual communion. These hindrances are very often painfully obvious. There is one obstruction, for instance, that involves me directly because of the instrument I play, the piano. Oftentimes, I am obliged to perform on a substandard piano, a situation which grieves me greatly. What happens is that the other musicians are acutely aware of how I am affected and they react to the negative vibrations which I radiate. Having received my negative vibrations, they send out those same vibrations to the audience. Consequently, the music suffers and never really gets off the ground. At the same time, the audience is dimly aware that something is out of kilter. Even though they may be unable to pinpoint the difficulty they are aware of some spiritual malfunction.
The fact that spiritual communion on the bandstand occurs in such an irregular fashion poses the question, or perhaps the challenge, of whether or not it can be made to occur consciously. I personally believe that it can be made to happen. I confess however, that the modus operandi by which it can be made to happen eludes me. I can only offer supposition and hypothesis.
The notion strikes me that if the members of the band were to meditate in a quiet place before performing, perhaps they could purge themselves of any ill feelings or negative vibrations they might harbor. In doing this, the positive vibrations would become strong and capable of warding off any negative vibrations.
I have found that spiritual communion can take place unaided and unabetted; but, it is necessary that the conditions be proper. By this, I mean a set of conditions which have happened naturally. An example would be a band that has been together for a considerable length of time; a band in which all the members have feelings of trust admiration and respect for one another; a band in which there is social as well as professional contact among the musicians. The incidence of spiritual communion will be very high within such a group.
Despite my twelve years as a professional musician, it is only recently that have become fully aware of the role at one’s spirit or soul plays in the creation of improvised music. I have always been aware perhaps sensed, in a vague sort of way, some force at work, hovering over the musicians as they perform.
It is my hope that someday, wherever music is studied, the spiritual aspects of creating all kinds of music will be discussed, studied and analyzed. I truly believe that such discussion will bring about an even greater communication between artist and audience.