Thursday, June 5, 2008

Giant Steps

it’s not just art–it’s knowledge

My father introduced me to jazz as a child, so I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t love it. I’ve even refer to it as noise, but they hear it as only noise, because a master jazz musician, like John Coltrane in this case, can play faster than they can think. That’s why, for the most part, jazz is a thinking man’s music.

The key to listening to jazz is to listen to the keyboard player. He can play up to ten notes at one time in a chord. So the reason that the horn man is playing at break-neck speed is because he’s playing all of the notes that the keyboard player is playing, but only one note at a time–and he may have less than a half a beat to get the notes that he selects from the chord in. In addition, he may be adding extra (grace) notes for color.

For example, the first two chords in the tune, Giant Steps, above is Bmaj7, then, D7. A Bmaj7 includes the notes B,D#,F#,A#. Then he goes to D7, which is D,F#,A,C. So when the horn man is playing, he has to see the chord, know exactly what notes are a part of that chord, and then play the notes in a meaningful manner within one bar. And when the music and chords are flying past at break-neck speed, that can be an awesome task. That’s what makes jazz one of the most technical and formidable art forms the world today–and the ability to pull it off is what makes jazz musicians so great.

The average jazz musician easily spends twice the amount of time learning his craft than a heart surgeon spends learning to replace a heart. But that’s understandable, because a heart surgeon can only repair a heart, while Trane could either make it either swell, or break it, depending on his mood.

So now that you understand what’s going on, lets take a moment to listen to Trane beat-up the progressions to “Giant Steps”. And take pride in what you’re hearing, because it speaks of you–your soul, your talent, and your potential.

Eric Wattree

Wednesday, June 4, 2008



Young and curious, crusin= the street, my partner and I, with life at our feet. Beautiful days of summer=s ilk, and beautiful ladies with legs of silk. Miles on the box with Thelonious in tow, playin' "Round Midnite", with nothin= but soul. Miles was moanin=, Thelonious was Monk, our senses were spinnin=--our top in the trunk.

Down Century Boulevard, past Sportsman Park, North on Crenshaw, Can=t wait til it=s dark.Crenshaw was jammin=, not like today, with cognitive people, who went their own way. Cadillacs gleamin=, prosperity galore, Ladies a struttin=, that gait I adore. The hood left behind, no denial or shame, among people of substance, on top of their game.

Dreamin= and crusin=, yet, chained to the hood, but into an element we both understood. Jazz was the thing that had lured our route, and no chain of poverty was keepin= us out! Cause THE MAN was in town, with his mighty ax, and was jammin= that night at Dynamite Jack=s.

So anxious to worship THE MAN in the flesh, the first thing that mornin= we started to dress. In our youthful exuberance we saw nothin= wrong, with the hours to kill before HE would go on. Hence, there we were with nothin= to do, THE MAN=S first note at 9, and it was now only 2.

So we went to a park on Rodeo Road and proceeded to get in our Mack-daddy mode. We needed two women with presence and class, who were progressive, and sexy, and dug modern jazz.

We lucked-out, no doubt, with Debra and Gwen, two sisters on cruse in their step-father=s Benz. These women were ladies we soon recognized, not only quite lovely but exceedingly wise. We spoke of Dizzy, Dexter, Thelonious and Bird, and all of the monsters of jazz that we=d heard. Then just as our session was starting to end, Gwen mentioned Dolphy, and we were at it again.

We partook of the bush, we had a few beers, by 8 it was like we=d been partyin= for years. But now it was time to hit Dynamite Jack=s, to hear THE MAN blow, sip Scotch and relax.

So we followed the ladies up into the hills, to a fabulous pad, must=ve cost a few bills. We dropped off my car, then got in the wind. We split to see HIM, and my journey began.

Dynamite Jack=s was the place to be. There seemed to be thousands of new things to see. Doctors, lawyers, pimps and Awhoes@, dope fiends with their nostrils froze; Perverts, politicians (one and the same), everyone seemed to have some kind of game.

At 16 years old I was really impressed, with this flash, this glitz, this flamboyant success. I knew before long, that my turn would come, I=d shoot for the stars, at least, out of the slum.

Then HE came on stage to a mighty roar, as bustling humanity hung all out the door. A quiet MAN, of knowledge and taste, yet HIS presence sent a chill through the place!

Then flash became silence, and glitz bled to awe. Pure greatness just glistened from THIS MAN we saw. No posturing, no swagger, no hipster-like Mack, Just unfettered greatness, the essence, in fact....

On that one precious moment, as I gaped at the stand, my young reckless mind would take hold as a man. That moment estranged from the kid that I=d been. Life's door was flung wide, and a new man would step in.

Now, many years later, I assess my life, with the dues of raising two kids with a wife. THE MAN is long gone from this earthly plain, but HIS unflaunting manhood stays etched in my brain.

A kid on that night gave birth to a plan, that night when I looked up in awe at THE MAN. Revealed was a path that would color my life, that shunned the flamboyance and glitz of the night. To shoot for the stars! That was my plan–for the stardom that=s found in just being A MAN!

I taken two souls, molded their lives, away from the flash, and the glitz, of the night. Two college age kids now view ME with awe. I now see in their eyes what that night HE saw.

Greatness is relative, I learned from THE MAN, through the glint in HIS eye, and HIS demeanor on stand. You don't have to be famous to be someone grand, just pull up your trousers, and stand tall like a man.

It was KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM that night that I saw; the EXCELLENCE of DISCIPLINE that put awe in awe, of one humble spirit, so sweet and sublime, but a spirit that=ll speak to all man for all time!

So a droplet of beauty, from this "kid" to mankind; a pearl of wisdom, a wistful rhyme; some insight he gained as he bat away tears; might his essence endure through the unfolding years?

A journey began, on that faithful night, that moment a young set of eyes saw AFirst Light.@ When HE tapped out the rhythm to Africa Brass . . .

and my dream to see COLTRANE had come true at last.

Eric L. Wattree


Stay on top of what's going on around you. From Hip Hop to world and national news--stay informed about those things that impact both the Black community and the entire world, as interpreted by Dr. Boyce Watkins, and some of the nation's top Black writers. Stay in touch with Your Black World It's our piece of the net.