Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


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Making oneself available

There's only a few who are so very lucky; only a few of us who are driven or have the passion or are fortunate enough to have the privilege to create dreams in real time, busily at work being available to our own fantasy.

Making a thing that never existed.

Bringing magic back.

Not about being the fastest or the hottest or the hippest or the greatest, but being the most real, the most honest to ones self, the most naked, the most affected and yet the most unafflicted by these death cults we are living in.

In music as in any art it's not so much improvising as it is MAKING ONESELF AVAILABLE (as Fellininew window said); being there in the moment, and time is not real at all, it's an illusion, and all of this will pass. The vision you see can be created with strong will.

The agents won't be remembered. Producers won't be remembered, or music agents either. They think they are indispensable.

No one is indispensable.

They will be forgotten.

Nat Hentoff is writing now about the vast scope of the sexist discrimination in jazz music. He has seen this and understands that it hurts us, hurts the art, hurts the future of the art.

The art HAS no future without its outsiders, its outlaws. All who made great art were outlaws, and would not be allowed to make art now, in this restricted walled-off atmosphere.

Most of the instrumentalists who are playing now are very adept and proficient, very facile and well-practiced. And they have no presence, they are not making themselves available to the moment.

Mingus has presence, even now, and he's dead.

So, listening, we are bored.

We are impressed, but bored.


What was this thing that held us, enthralled, for two hours at a stretch, when we heard Miles? How can we keep an audience silent and in a trance state for that amount of time?

Miles said it was about hypnosis. I agree to a point. He said it was repetition, simplicity, passion. He was right there. But I think that it's also like Fellini said; it's about making yourself available to the moment.

The moment is the silent time within a heartbeat, between the two thumps.

Explained like that, it's not easy to capture a moment.

That's the idea, too. To not capture it. To let it run free all over. To not rehearse a moment, and embed it like a dead fly in amber.

Never rehearse a moment. Too much practice kills all magic, all spontaneity.

Being spontaneous is the highest form of calculated artistic achievement. Calculated only in that it's a plan not to have a plan.

Sitting alone at home at the piano, I become the piano.

Most piano players see the piano like a big black bull. They go to the bullfight as toreadors, they fight the bull, they are either gored or they are bull- killers.

By becoming the piano, you become music, you become a musician.

Never strive to be a pianist.

The size of your hands has NOTHING to do with the music you may make. Music does not come from the hands but from the heart and soul and - yes, I believe it comes out of the moment that is between the beats of your heart, where there is NO TIME, and everything is still and quiet and at rest, and yet in torrential motion, like a frothing sea.

The sea is still, the sea is in motion, the sea is the MUSIC which you MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE TO.

Most jazz (the more I live, the more excruciating the word becomes to me) has been plagued by otherwise great musicians not making themselves available to the music.

The more notes there are, the more it becomes hash. 'Making a hash of it' - supposedly a phrase used by Beethoven to describe his own music being played by 'unavailable' musicians - has become the 'way to play in NYC'.

(Standing squarely behind the Coltrane Legacy, I defend his use of 'sheets of sound' by saying that each of the notes is a part of a larger whole. Like Jackson Pollack more than anyone else, the complex smear is also the conveyor of the immaculate and stunning simplicity. So simple that we still have Pollack Formica and Pollack Linoleum. But this is unnecessarily defending genius of a rare hybrid; most painters that attempt to paint like Pollack wind up painting hash. It's unavailable to the artist, and consequently doubly unavailable to the audience.)

At this point, most of jazz is nothing more than ego-driven hash played by disinterested, unengaged, non-present, UNAVAILABLE instrumentalists - incredibly adept instrumentalists at that - whose main motivations for making music have little or nothing to do with art and culture, because all art and music and literature and film are cultural user-interfaces; they can be seen as a GUI of the inner workings of the mind and heart and soul of the culture and its values, realities, and shortcomings.

And why do we listen to music? To be impressed by the skill and speed with which a saxophonist plays a scale? Why do we watch a film? To be awed by the special effects which now can be duplicated on many home computers with the proper software? Why do we read a book? To be filled with admiration by the author's use of nineteen-syllable words?

Frankly, all of the above scenarios and the corresponding works that subscribe to those formulae bore me to tears!

I listen to music that makes me feel deeply; that uplifts me, that inspires me, that makes me sad, or happy, or whatever I may need at the moment. And if I can't find it, but I hear it, I MAKE it!

I don't count the notes. I don't compare it to K___ or G___ or M___ . I am not those people, and if I were I would not like it.

Their music is made UNAVAILABLE to me by the fact that I can HEAR THEM THINKING.

It can NOT be a conscious act (the making of art). If it becomes conscious, it becomes self- conscious very soon afterwards.

I don't want to hear (or know) what someone thinks.

I want to hear what someone IS, what they FEEL, what this moment is and means TO THEM.


I told a friend recently that I do not like too many of my own CDs. They're all good music, but they're not all pure. There are many pure moments, and moments of great torment and passion and peace and sadness.

But mixed in there are all those THOUGHTS.

Many of the thoughts consisted of matters pertaining to record producers!

In between takes, I'd hear the usual litany of what to play and how to play it, how fast to play - always faster and faster - and what the people might like to hear.

Never, ever again will I allow this to happen, and, consequently, I will probably never have another contract again... and I am very glad about this.

There is now nothing to stand between myself and the music and the people.

My music is now mine, all mine.

Financially, I made about one-hundredth of what the record producers have made and continue to make on my art.

And I was lucky.

I had lawyers, and followed all the protocols. I actually took all of the advice given to me by Sonny Stitt and Philly Joe and Stan Getz and Leroy Vinnegar and Eddie Harris.

I own my own publishing company (oh, am I happy about that) so all of my compositions belong to ME. I've been lucky to have ASCAP collecting monies for me in foreign mechanical royalties.

But while the big shots flew in first class, I was in coach. So I have some anger, and I occasionally am filled with sadness over the whole mess that the music business has become.

The good news is: I'm a real musician now.

If I play 12,000 notes at a concert whereas this or that wunderkind plays 100,000, that's ok with me. I want my audience to meet me and to meet themselves through the music.

I MAKE MYSELF AVAILABLE TO THEM. I am there for the music and the audience.

It makes me, I don't make it.

It is much larger than myself or anyone. We all listen together.

We are all together in the moment, living and breathing and sharing, lost in wonder and passion and joy and sorrow.

And when the music is done with me, and I stand and bow, they have become as available to me and to themselves as I have.

These are the moments I live for, and why I live.

Every moment I am a musician.



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