Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


I'm a better musician, I think

Currents + | -

I have been feeling like a yo-yo since that back operation of mine. I mean, just the pain was bad enough . . . and then adapting to a whole new set of ways to move my body. After all, I have screws and rods and lordy knows what else in my back now. I don't want to pop loose any hardware!

Fortunately, the worst of it seems over—fingers crossed—but there's lots of other things that have been problematic and in need of adjustment. Oh, there's still pain, but nothing compared to what I was in for so long. It was a heavy operation, though. The resounding shock of it threw my endocrine system totally off. Since I'm also hypothyroid, and take natural porcine thyroxine daily for that condition, it's been up and down and sideways for me for quite awhile. I'll sleep for 12 hours one night and 4 hours the next. Fortunately, I think I'm getting the hang of the new me and her requirements.

But the new music coming out of me is one of the biggest surprises.

I've tried to write about it without really touching on how different it really is. I like it a whole lot better than what I was doing. Right after back surgery, and for almost 8 months afterwards, I was either dopey on the effects of general anesthesia or flying on Norco—an opiate-based pain killer, oral, a very strong form of Vicodin. This can really mess up your mind and your entire game . . . constipation and wild emotional swings were two side-effects for me.

Now that that part is over with, I am re-learning the piano. This time I am doing it right.

I am sitting up straight. They taught me this at Peabody Conservatory and they were right. But I ignored them, and ended up with back problems from my late teens onward. And I am learning scales and correct fingering techniques. I am learning to play in B major . . . never an easy chore for me. I am listening to Ravel and Debussy and Tchaikovsky and Borodin and Bach and Mussorgsky and Stravinsky and lots of composers that I had not thought were very "hip".

I was a jazz pianist.

Now I am more of a musician and less of a pianist and this is good because I am no longer in competition with other pianists. After all, I've been at it long enough that I have nothing to prove anymore. Fifty years.

I'm glad for me in that regard. I was wearing myself out!

I find, though, that I'm still a good pianist, and that, coupled with being a better musician with a lot more restraint and experience, I like what I hear when I listen to the playbacks of myself. I'm working hard to get the perfect "sound" in my little studio (my living room), adjusting the mic placement and the gain controls and the EQ, trying to use just the right amount of reverb and on and on. I find that I don't really like that dead, "dry" sound that became so popular among jazz purists.

I like a little "tail" on the notes, like I got when I played in halls. The Mac Pro sure lets me do that with its advanced Core Audio filters, and Adobe Audition is a pretty fine music editor. I'm becoming quite a perfectionist when it comes to the sound of the piano.

And I'm totally honest with myself, I admit that I like playing ballads the best. I think that's my new thing at the piano, because I think I was always best at that to begin with. I'll admit, my music has changed, but when I play a tune like For all we Know, it seems that I'm getting a lot more out of the tune than I ever was able to before.

I'm still working on my movie music, using piano plus controllers and synthesis and Logic Pro and Cu-Base. That's a different thing altogether, and I enjoy the challenge. It is quite wonderful, after writing a lovely melody, to put it together with cellos and basses and violins and tympani and cymbals and, well, a whole "symphony" without having a real symphony available. I never could afford one, and now, after all the things I've been though physically, I can only hope that I get a chance soon to hear that part of my art played by really great studio musicians. That will be a gas!

But I am no longer confused about which direction to go. My direction is my music, all of it, all of it that fits me and allows me self-expression and that affords me comfort.

Jazz, orchestral, electronic, Russian folk music, Klezmer: Wherever it takes me, I will go.

Even in this age of corporatism, where artists and musicians and writers are all getting their creations stolen as soon as they make them, I find that when I make something real, money comes to me. Somehow. So I never give up, I never stop.

This is probably why people still like my music.

It's too much a part of me to stop, and it's FUN!

I'd be an idiot to stop my own heart from beating. Music IS my heart, and it's right on track.


-JW, Nov 25, 2013





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