Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The "Lone" Musician

I find it interesting that two musical parts can be less intimate than one, but more uninhibiting also. With two musical parts, things become relaxed and festive. A man's voice and his guitar: festive. Two horn players: festive. Guitar and banjo: festive.

The lone musical part however, the solitary expression, is the purest, and shares the most intimacy with it's listeners, for there are only listeners. A lone alto sax blower, running scales over some band in his head: intimate. The deep and rhythmic throngs of the lone African djembe: intimate. A person reading poetry among silence: intimate.
How then, does the solitary musician keep our interest?
The lone sax player's note selection suggests at an imaginary (yet, existing) underlying part, that not only he hears, but he who listens hears. After a while, it appears that something else is there.

The rhythmic throngs of the djembe are polyrhythms, found on and utilized by multiple parts of the drum; an orchestra of rhythmic tones needing nothing except organization; again, suggestive to space, and filling space.

The poet is not just speaking for himself; he speaks for nature and for the imagination; for when the poet speaks, we listen, but when he rests, we examine mental images and internal feeling based on words he has said.

The verdict here, is that "lone" musicians are never alone. There's something there anchoring the function and inspiration of the single instrument, whether we see it our not. Whether it be something we see like the sax player's foot tapping along, or something we don't see like the sax player's thoughts of clouds as he plays the Reinhardt classic, "Nuages"; humans still understand it, and it's very different from the group configuration.

In a group configuaration, many things change. You have to assume that while he plays, the lone musican must be filling as much space as possible, even if using silence. An acoustic guitar player does not play a single-note, single-string melody by himself, but rather he strums a three, four, five, or even six-string/note chord; a chord with six parts ringing through at once. Some acoustic guitarists that combine rhythm and lead parts, and an example of that kind of player is Joe Pass.
What Pass did was play all the basic parts of a jazz ensemble band on the guitar. That means, his thumb often caught the bass line (as well as high-string melodies), while his index and ring fingers provided chordal accents, as well as some brilliant "in-between" lead lines. He often did this entirely by himself with no accompaniment, and produced a whole album of songs in this manner.

Joe Pass's thumbed basslines held everything together (even when not playing), and he provided eighth-note, triplet-chord accents in between his chromatic lead playing; a simple, yet delicious recipe. It's the pulse and walk of the bassline, the harmony of the piano, the volume accents and syncopation of the drums, and the dramatic, improvised soloing of a horn, all on electric guitar.

These are dramatic shifts of rhythm on his part, and it's all suggestive. That's what the solo, lone musician ultimately is: suggestive. This involves more solitary imagination than the mutual imagination of a musical group. Solitary imagination is a deeper, more potent form of imagination, and it affects people more powerfully.

The lone musician teaches us that power and deep emotion doesn't have to involve hundreds in unison chanting, a multilayered orchestra, a harmonized chorus, or a rock & roll band, but that it also exists on the solitary end, where there is space to be taken up by it's listeners.

Henry David Thoreau favored the sound of a solitary music, flute specifically, and that was much like how he felt about life. But perhaps this is when we ask: Music, Life, what is the difference?

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