Sunday, December 6, 2015

All that Jazz

"Jazz pieces fumble most when the players themselves lose their vision and the will to play."
Guest Post by Cynthia Beale

I thank Albert Bates for his continuing and informative live reports on the climate talks in Paris. This one, in particular, took me somewhere I hadn't expected to go -a lot like good Jazz.

He opened yesterday's article by comparing the COP event to a symphony, identifying its varied movements (the talks are a little poco at the moment). But he closed it with the speculation that, due perhaps to the discord and the inability of the players to reach any accord on the next notes to sound, imagining future ears to look back on these events as their own history might be moot, since the planet itself might be empty.

That baleful ending made me hit the reset button. I don't do baleful endings.

In keeping with the (excellent!) symphonic construct he started with, I'm comfortable(ish) with a muddle-in-the-middle that has the listener wondering if the group is going to sort it out. Will the players find the themes? Will harmonies emerge? Will satisfying sounds unfold and leave moving ripples in their wake?

French schoolchildren lost chickens to floods
Of course they will if they keep playing long enough and hold onto their passion to play together. We're just not to that part of the song yet. This is an improvised piece, and not a symphony. The whole climate conversation is Jazz. And like all good Jazz, we've never been here before.

One has to be patient with Jazz. Good players listen, seeking their balance, using their hearts and skill to uncover the riffs and grooves that meld their diverse instruments (their lands, their peoples, and their ecologists) with the beats and themes that are emerging as one by one they test their voices.

Unlike a symphony, the notes in Jazz aren't scored in advance. There is no conductor, and usually no music to read, beyond charts that outline a general direction, pointing the way forward but not dictating how one will get there. It can look like a free for all, but their all rules - and the reward for sticking to them generally (and breaking them at the right

Ducks symbolize adaptation, so the kids
wrote messages to COP21 delegates on
the backs of paper mache ducks
Jazz isn't for everyone, but neither is the symphony. And a symphonic score isn't very helpful if no one can read the music - and it's not much fun at all of the end is pre-ordained to be flat and silent, and playing to an empty room.

I'd encourage him (and all) to keep the faith and trust that the future hall will be filled, and that the listeners will be appreciative and moved. Jazz pieces fumble most when the players themselves lose their vision and the will to play. Booing audiences can do that to a performer, and fear is the mind-killer in any creative endeavor.

I know Bates gets this, probably much better than I. I like his symphonic metaphor a lot, and it opened my mind to the pure Jazz on display here. Jazz requires relaxation into what unfolds, not comparison with other earlier renditions of a set piece, like you find in a strict symphonic rebelling. Jazz needs feeling, flexibility and flow. Jazz trusts the future and cultivates confidence in tackling the next unknown.

I realize the climate symphony isn't over, and that this is just one of many, but I prefer thinking about it as Jazz. I like thinking about the participants as players game enough to come out and join the session. I like feeling my role as a listener, internally rooting them on and choosing to hope that that they'll find resolution, and harmony, and maybe a bit of enlightenment along the way.

And I like choosing to know that they will certainly NOT be playing to an empty room when the last note fades. They'll take their breaks, have their beers, and then the next set will begin.

That's Jazz.

Cynthia Beale is Founder and Evangelist for Natural Burial Company in Eugene, Oregon

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