Friday, March 12, 2010
Harmolodic = Highest Instinct
When I speak of rhythm I'm speaking about the oxygen of the notes. The beat or the time is the constant format. It's the mechanical part of motion. Rhythm is the freest part of that motion. The beat is the cement for the road. It's the road you're traveling on; the road doesn't necessarily ever change. Rhythm can be harmonic or melodic. Most listeners and players think of rhythm as the drums and think of non-rhythm as sound or words. To me they're the same. You can be moved rhythmically or non-rhythmically.
Improvising is a word used to express music that is not being written and calculated at the moment. Once I heard Eubie Blake say that when he was playing in black bands for white audiences, during the time that segregation was strong, that the musicians would go backstage, look at the music, then leave the music there and go out and play it. He was saying that they had a more saleable appeal if they pretended not to know what they were doing. The white audience felt safer. If they had the music in front of them, the audience would think they were trying to be white. So that's what I think of the word improvising. It's outdated. The term doesn't describe the muscians individual struggle for expression. Usually the person improvising has to use some sort of vehicle to let you know he's doing that. It's a limited term. Memory has a lot to do with improvisation. People enjoy the music they've heard before, much more than the music they haven't heard. To me that's like memory. The same sensations that made them enjoy what they liked in the past, when it was the present, wasn't memory. That was an experience.
This essay, written by Ornette Coleman, originally appeared in
FREE SPIRITS: ANNALS OF THE INSURGENT IMAGINATION
pictured above are, left to right,
Charles Ellerbe, Ornette Coleman, Bern Nix,
at Caravan of Dreams, 1986.