Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


Leaving one's own Mythology Behind

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I found myself standing, at 2:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon in a cold day in November, on the grass of what is referred to as a "yard" by the neighboring populace. A yard to me is a big open space with room to have many dogs running far and wide, to and fro. No great number of dogs would fit happily into this yard I find myself in, so I share my life with but one dog and for her the yard is still too small. But there it was, and there I was, on that approximate time and date, standing in a wedge of sunlight, amidst all that was left of the day. It gets dark early in the northern climes.

I had fastened my awareness on a single blade of grass near the edge of "the dark zone" (that place where the shadows encroached on, fed on the sun's rays) and watched as, within minutes, its bright green illumination was eaten by the darkness. So swiftly! Our planet turns so swiftly! We are not even aware of the turning of our own ship as it wends and wafts through the great Void of Space. And this was not a new awareness for me, but it was a reminder of the transience of things, the inexorable move toward something not yet revealed.

Other blades of grass attracted my attention and they too would soon experience the same yield. And I reflected that, if we're all very lucky, the sun will rise tomorrow and these blades of grass will again be illuminated by it—including the one blade that I had originally noticed. So it seems true: That which is now will pass away and return in its changed form at another time.

Incidentally, I don't think that time is sequential, but that's the way it seems to be filtered through our senses . . . a past, a present, and a future. I think that's too complex a model. It seems all one thing to me. But that's another bunching of words for another page.

Back to the story at hand: Earlier, I had awoken from a not-unpleasant dream-state in which I was playing a piece at the piano, a piece first sung by Frank Sinatra and later played by Miles Davis and then played or sung by many, many others, a piece called I Fall in Love too Easily. This piece of art, by the way, was written in 1944 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne and was sung by Frank Sinatra in a movie called Anchors Aweigh which also starred the great dancer and fine human being, Gene Kelly.

That Sammy and Jule wrote this wonderful tune is a thing worth mentioning because we have been recently informed that it is not the song-writers who deserve the big bucks, but the people who have fat media deals, the star-people who are in the news for smashing their cars into utility poles while stoned on expensive drugs or saying asinine things to the press and such. To quote a corporate big-wig, "You won't find groupies hanging around the song-writer! So they should get nothing for their song."

And another thing worth mentioning is that you'll find me wandering off-topic at times: Not only do I write songs, but, when I write words like this, I'll veer to the left or right, careening off the path for a moment or two to indulge in a passing thought that has significance, most often, only to myself. That's just me being me in my 'later years', as the sun is setting on a fading and once-brilliant youth. Like a blade of grass at the terminator, that place where the light gives way to the shadows, I suppose I'll return again, but in changed form.

But I guess that's not such a literary detour, because it's nearly right on the mark of what I want to say about permanence. Namely that permanence does not exist except through one facet of our mysterious Universe: Change. Change seems permanent. I suspect it is, but only in most cases. At the end of the Universe, entropy may have collapsed all possibility into a tiny point of nothingness, and even Change will go "pffft!" . . . but I don't think we'll be around to see that.

So I've discovered that Change is a constant. This is not a big leap, like the discovery of Relativity or the invention of the wheel, but it's a leap for me.

So I ask: Are we always the same person, every day of our lives? To the bureaucracy and the government and the big-wigs in our life, I suppose we are. But ask anybody and you'll find out that we are Change personified. Even the most static of people grow older and die. That's a Change!

This is why I made such a big deal about Sammy and Jule and Frank and Miles . . .

See, when I played that song in my dream, it was nothing like the thousands of times I've played it in this "real" world. So, when I got out of bed, I went right to the piano and played it like I'd remembered from my dream, and darned if it didn't sound like a totally new and different song! It was the same song, but oh how different it was compared to the way "the old Jessica" would have played it.


That's what I call my self of a few years ago: The old Jessica.


And the old Jessica was not about to invent the wheel or discover Relativity or write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Neither is the new one. But there's a lot to like about the new Jessica, about me "now", after all of the experiences and thrashing about and wild excitements and explosive moments of success (and failure) that I've been through, that I put myself through.

I wore myself out!

Today is not the first day that I've realized the mythology that springs up around any kind of achievement, particularly if it affects a large group of people. And today is not the first day that it seemed to me that mythologizing someone was a dangerous thing to do, both for the myth-maker and for the targeted myth-person themselves.

Just a few extreme cases of the unpleasant effects of being mythologized: The actor James Dean. The jazz musician Chet Baker. The philosopher Jesus Christ.

As if that weren't enough!

There are many thousands of examples. Think of your own. A weekend to-do for the entire family: Make a list of extreme cases of people suffering from the unpleasant side-effects of being mythologized.

I'm sure glad I'm not the old Jessica. It's been hard to convince a lot of people that I'm not. To them, I am and always will be that tall young blonde-haired lady on the stage playing some frighteningly good piano music. To me, I might as well be Emily Post or Mary Kay. That's how different the new Jessica is from the old Jessica. As different as all the ways the old me used to play that song, I Fall in Love too Easily, from the way the new me played it this morning! There was, fortunately, nothing frightening about the way I played it this morning!


Some musicians change their names to herald a change in the mythology that inevitably springs up around them like a prison fence with razor-wire atop it. Snoop Dog to Snoopy to Snoop, Puff Daddy to P-diddy to Puffy to on and on, Prince to the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. And there are lots and lots of actors who would never have "made it" if they had stuck to their original names—imagine watching a movie starring Betty Joan Perske (Lauren Bacall) or Bernard Schwartz (Tony Curtis). It's about creating a mythology.

I don't want to be a myth. I want the freedom to be who I am at every phase of my art, in every day of my life.

I presently believe that human beings are a lot like ecosystems. We may be a colony organism in theory but we sure haven't realized it yet . . . that's at least a million years off. Being an ecosystem means we have weather. Drought. Famine. Bumper crops. Bad years. Good years. Sometimes our fields lie fallow. Sometimes it's a big harvest and we "cash in". Like the planet we live on, like the galaxy we inhabit, like the very Universe that we dwell in, we have lives that become changed by time and experience and illness and love and joy and hate and fear and pain and on and on.

To stay the same is to die of boredom.

To hold on to who we were is to never get to experience the thrill of being who we might become!

When I go out and stand in the sun tomorrow—assuming that it's not raining or snowing or just plain cloudy—I will not be able to find that one blade of grass that I watched so intimately today. But there are millions, billions, trillions of blades, and I might pick one. And then again, maybe not. Maybe I'll stay in bed and come up with a nice new melody that's never been heard before. That's quite a feat in itself. I know I'll never invent the wheel or discover Relativity, and I sure won't write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony! But I'll at least try to do my part to change what is into what might be.

Maybe that's our job as human beings. It's certainly the job of everything else.

JW, Nov 23, 2013


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