Jazz is, if nothing, evolutionary. It is an artform that evolved from cultural amalgamations. Much like abstract art, jazz can each be highly challenging. It can ask a lot of both a performer and a listener. Jazz music’s evolution over the better part of the twentieth century certainly asked a lot. It asked that its practitioners be open-minded to the possibilities of the art form. It asked for progression and experimentation in order to grow and move forward, just as much as visual art did. The levels of abstraction and experimentation that jazz music reached by the 1970’s were comparable to similarly expressionistic and progressive visual art. And so a lot of jazz album releases, even before the 70’s, used abstract paintings for cover art. It’s an appropriate combination.
But I find one of the most fitting visual representations of jazz music to be the black-and-white photograph above. We see the late jazz performer John Coltrane, sitting in a chair. On his lap rests his signature instrument, the saxophone. But he does not hold it; he does not play it. Instead he holds, he considers – not plays, but considers – a flute.
John Coltrane was, and is, legendary for many things in his short life. Beyond his astonishing musical ability in general, Coltrane was known for his experimentation. For pushing himself and his music, and thus jazz music, beyond what it was. His sounds evolved over his mere 10 years as a solo performer from cool bop to more challenging hard bop to borderline unbearable modal, avant garde and free jazz. So too did he move between playing tenor, soprano and alto saxophones.
In his last years, he was beginning to record with the flute.
He was open-minded. He was never quite content to find a niche, sit in it and be comfortable. Like the light that shines across the room at him in that photograph, he saw the possibilities of another room to stand up, walk over to and enter.
That, for me, is inspiration without words.
© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes