Listening to the jazz station right now. I don’t listen to jazz much, simply because it’s so hit-or-miss in my opinion. But a little jazz can be good for the soul, and this wouldn’t be Flotsam and Jetsam if I didn’t try to enumerate how I think this may be so.
When I was in high school, I thought I might try my hand at writing music. It was awful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I remember showing one of my pieces to my band instructor and asking his opinion. He was trying to be kind, and so instead of shredding it, he simply told me “you need to know what the rules are before you can break them.” He was exhorting me to go further in my music theory before I attempted to put notes to paper, and he was right. I’m not one of those naturals with music running in their souls.
I was reminded of that incident just now whilst listening to Donald Byrd’s rendition of “Ray’s Idea.” Half-listening to the song, it sounds like the drummer is spazzing out while the pianist is playing with fat fingers, and the bassist has had waaay too much caffeine. It makes me wonder what any of the old greats would have thought of it. Would Chopin be impressed? I’m reminded of the scene in The Majestic where Jim Carrey sits down in front of the piano and the community waits with baited breath to see if it’ll jog his memory (if you haven’t seen the movie, you should; it’s the only Jim Carrey film worth watching), and how his old classical piano teacher is scandalized when he starts playing these wild jazz riffs. Certainly, when jazz came on the scene, it broke all the rules. But when I tuned in fully, the song came into focus in a way that not only made sense, but fit together beautifully. It’s the bass, I believe, that ties the whole thing together, keeping the key while the piano dances all around it with it’s accidents and licks and arpeggios (forgive me if I misstep, music mavens– I’m no expert). What appears to be thick fingers incapable of hitting one key at a time is, in fact, an intentional part of the whole scheme. These composers and players know their way around a major scale. They aren’t making mistakes, they’re making music, exploring the qualities of their instruments and of the notes and chords themselves in a way that no one had done before.
The Sanhedrin thought Jesus didn’t know his doctrine well enough, or that he was flouting it on purpose. They thought he was ignorant of the law. A man can’t pick grain on the Sabbath– don’t you know that? A man can’t eat with unwashed hands. A man certainly can’t claim to be God; can’t extend forgiveness to sinners; can’t associate with gentiles, whores, tax collectors; can’t claim to interpret holy writ; can’t raise himself above Moses, Abraham, and the Fathers; A man can’t rise from the dead.
The scribes and Pharisees, those teachers of the law railed and railed, and Jesus just smiled. Listen closer, he says. The deep music of redemption threads its way through his works and teaching. Jesus isn’t sabotaging the sacred things, but saving sinners. And once you know that, you can see it on every page.