Jazz Will Set You Free

Jazz Will Set You Free

by Alain Derbez

copyright © 2005 Alain Derbez

(Editor's note) This is a translation of a work written by Mexico's Alain Derbez, which was released as Eze Ozo Jazzea Az on Pentagrama Records and performed at the 2005 Guelph Jazz Colloquium and Festival by the author on voice and soprano sax and guitarist Emiliano Marentes.

NOTICE: "Jazz will set you free" is not a provocation, it is a concert for reading voice and instruments. I include (in capitals) the names of the pieces I will play with my saxophone, when these are the ones that want to come out and not others. If not onstage with Emilio Marentes and me, the reader should put whatever he or she feels like on the record player.

JAZZ WILL SET YOU FREE (as a prologue): And what is jazz?

Jazz: is this. Jazz: is always this. Jazz: can always be this . . .

Jazz: can always be: something else. Jazz: is always something else.

Jazz: always is: this and something else . . .

Now, let us talk about the word "always".


Possible answers for the next time a nice interviewer person asks, preening themselves like a jerk: and what is jazz for you? (TENOR MADNESS by Sonny Rollins, NOTHING PERSONAL by D.GROLNICK or STRAIGHT NO CHASER by Monk)

It is a commonplace to declare that jazz is "elitist music." Down with commonplace! Do not drink there. Don't go to that oasis: it's rotten water. To be said in Spanish: No abreve en el que esa agua esta pasada, esta podrida. (BESAME MUCHO by the recently deceased Consuelo Velazquez)

Jazz is the aesthetics of controlled improvisation. Its framework is strictly musical but its influence can be found in creative aptitudes in poetry, dance, and theatre. It can be applied to life itself and can be defined as the poetics of improvisation. But listen! Before defining — said the poem — improvise. Would you like me to say this poem out loud? Which music could breath with it? . . .

El jazz segun don Juan Quiero mirar tus habitos colgados Y sea tu desnudez la que improvise Toque los instrumentos afinados Estentoreo estertor, tambien matice. Dejame oir rincones perfumados Y que mi cuerpo hacia ellos se deslice Suenen la santidad con sus pecados Hierva tu carne y que mi piel se erice. Pulsa la cuerda tonica que arrulla Y luego rompe el ritmo con espasmo Que las reglas armonicas destruya. Hazme bailar Ines hasta el orgasmo Sin importar que el tiempo ya no fluya O el contratiempo se disuelva en pasmo. (BLUE IN GREEN by Miles Davis or ISHMAEL by Abdullah Ibrahim or CUMBIA FOR MINGUS by A.D.)

But, be careful, before improvising you need the tools to make a way of interpreting everything, I mean, emotional and intellectual baggage so we can become part of life, improvise around it, nourish it, and nourish ourselves with those tools. Perhaps we already had them and lost them; perhaps we'll get them back again. Let us read Julio Cortazar in "El perseguidor" ("The Pursuer"): Johnny Carter, the main character, could move the world with two or three phrases from his saxophone; he could make the world comprehensible in a different way, by listening to it. (Let us listen to Charlie Parker right now, Missy), let's get the saxophone out and play a long note, a very long note. Like John Coltrane or Don Cherry with his trumpet. Let's us shower ourselves with Don Pullen's piano.

Let us play. Let us make sounds. You get the drift: When that happens, when a long, sustained note changes your world, you begin to look at everything from a jazz perspective. You see how "elitist" she is? Ah sensation, ah conscience! (LONELY WOMAN by Ornette Coleman or NAIMA by John Coltrane or THE THREE KINGS by Emiliano Marentes)

For some, this musical poetry in Mexico (like in many other parts of the world, you tell me) went from being a city sound, from city streets and nightlife, to an elitist genre, of theatre, niche and cult. So much was said so many times that people believed it. Mistake: jazz is not just a view of music but a worldview, and from this perspective it has permeated all of the cultural expressions of the 20th century, as it still does and will continue to do in the 21st century. (LAGRIMAS NEGRAS by M. Matamoros)

Academic and non-academic music, whose authorized and dis-authorized spokespersons have authoritatively disdained jazz once or again in every available platform, know very well on the inside that from the beginning it is nourishment, a rich and enriching nourishment. Even much of the most commercial and coarsest music has some shred of ephemeral but breathable quality thanks to the fact that jazz or jazz musicians are, or were, there, or could be.

(DEVORAME OTRA VEZ by P. Hernandez or TIME AFTER TIME by Cyndi Lauper)

Jazz wouldn't be a low-audience musical genre if it were promoted, with continuous presence, as in spite of the fact that it is played and bet on little by those in charge of putting up the displays, it caters to a great diversity of tastes and many audiences (note the plural).

(LOW RIDER by War and VARITA DE NARDO by J. Pardave or Ague e vinho by Egberto Gismonti)

"Intellectualization?" you say . . . I answer: What is important here is spontaneity, improvisation, the capacity to create from the moment you find yourself with your instrument, with others. That's the spirit of jazz: one voice in all, all voices in one. We are all intellectuals; in fact we are so in spite of the aberrant domestication, because we interpret reality, we transform it, we read it, we explain it, we demolish it. At least we have the wherewithal (some more abandoned and rusty than others) to do it and to learn to do it.

(CONTIGO EN LA DISTANCIA by C. Portillo de la Luz or EN MI SOLEDAD by Miguel Pous or TRES PALABRAS by O. Farres or Un POCO MAS by Alvaro Carrillo)

"But," you turn on me, "Why is such a popular kind of music not popular?" and I answer immediately, "The thing is, the fact that our soccer is so bad doesn't mean that all the players are bad. It's true that there is a lot of bad music that prevents us finding other musical forms. I'm not against radio stations playing music by any of those summer songsters or those melodramatic types whose face and figure have been tuned along with their la-la-la, so long as there is also room for music not just made for consumers. The criteria of programmers are usually strictly profit-seeking, under the pretext of "this is what the public wants", but they forget that they are the ones who define, outline, sell, and castrate this taste.

(LA BIKINA by Ruben Fuentes)

- Is it possible to find Jazz in your radio dial? Jazz and how to access to the what's happening and where? How do we know that what's being aired is what we really want to hear and that what we really want to listen to is played and . . . the vicious circle . . . Let us create alternatives of counterinformation in all senses. In the end that's what jazz is about: alternatives of information, of sensation in front of music, in front of the artistic doing and being. Jazz invites us — it has being doing it since it started — to combine thinking, feeling, moving.

¿Sera mucho decir que el jazz os hara libres? Would it be exagerated to say that jazz will set us free? . . . No . . . Jazz will set us free . . . LA BRUJA (son jarocho de dominio popular), HISTORIA DE UN AMOR by Carlos Eleta Almaran or AMOR PERDIDO by Pedro Flores and YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS by Raye and De Paul)

You can't deny the body, you can't deny that all popular music is music for the body, and music reflects you as a whole being. This genre was born as an act of protest or rebelliousness, and more than that, of oneself as creator. Even if only in a few moments of creation, you think of your whole self, and as you do so, you think of what makes the world go round, which is (oh, eroticism) one another, one with the other, one. On the one hand, they have their guilt complexes. On the other, we have body, we have soul.


So what's jazz? You ask again . . . I could now talk about the constant intention of all those in power who would have us all nothing but consumers of our lives, not have us live them; I could stand up and leave, I could also pick up my saxophone, naked: "This is how you play it" . . . This is how we touch it . . . This is how we sound . . . This is how it sounds . . . This . . . Sound . . .

PARA HACER QUE TU VENGAS by Derbez and Haro, MOLE DE GALLO by Marentes, HABANERA DE BLUES by Derbez and Marentes, ROUND MIDNIGHT by Monk, MY SONG by K. Jarrett, and so on after encore ad infinitum . . .


C o m m e n t s

Yes! Freedom! 1 of 1
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December 16, 05

This is a great text full of radiant truths and interesting proposals. A great difinition: "jazz is the aesthetics of controlled improvisation". Or even more direct: "jazz is the poetics of improvisation". And what Alain says about those in charge of "creating" the public taste (as well as Mexican soccer) is so true that it hurts: nothing will change until we realize that there is more to life than profit and consumerism. But there is a lot of hope now, this is a good time to become serious about our struggle: the freedom in jazz will contribute to the liberty of our society. Cheers!

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