Sunday, July 31, 2005


In classical music, the written composition is something like a play. Each actor has a written part which is followed exactly, and the performance is measured by how well the actors breathe life into each role. In jazz however, a composition is more like the topic of a conversation in which the performers are invited to participate. They are free (and indeed encouraged) to present novel and interesting ideas within the framework of this topic (As an interesting aside; Indian classical music is a more rigorous treatment of this conversational philosophy). And just as in any conversation, a jazz performance is measured by how interesting each participant's ideas are, and their interplay.

This is why it's so great to see a jazz standard performed by different collections of musicians (or even by the same collection in a different setting). Each session is a meeting of minds -- learning, collaborating, exchanging and innovating. Old friends revel in knowing and anticipating each other's conversational style, and new meetings provide exciting fresh perspectives on tried-and-true lines, inspiring even further innovation.

This is also an interesting analogy within which to explore why some people like certain (performances of) compositions and not others. Think back to the last social gathering in which you participated in (or listened in on) a group conversation. If a conversation leaves you out of your depth because the ideas are too complex, then you tend to tune out. Similarly, if the conversation is mere drivel, it quickly becomes irritating and boring. A conversation which is a complete barrage of new ideas is exhausting, while one that merely repeats well-known phrases sounds cliche. Even so, it's important to realize that novelty is in the ear of the beholder, and each listener is a collective set of experiences that give new events and ideas their context.

Just as listenening or participating in a social conversation needs a requisite intellectual substrate, listening to jazz demands the corresponding collective musical experience within which we can understand the melodic discussions that evolve. Therefore, not just performing, but even listenening to jazz is a practiced art which takes time and training. If pursued however, it enables one to decrypt this secret world of conversations where the ideas can be refreshing, thoughtful, emotive, and always infectious.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Making Music

I finally have a piano (again)!

Susan Pinto, a former piano teacher of mine once said to me reproachfully over her bifocals: "If you don't practice for a day, you'll notice the difference. If you don't practice for two days, your fellow performers will notice the difference. Don't practice for three days and your audience will notice the difference."

I haven't practiced in six years. Oboy.

Three cheers for C. L. Hanon!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jazz for a classial pianist

Jayita and I attended one of the sessions at the Stanford Jazz Workshop entitled "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Jazz (But Were Afraid To Ask)". The pianist had some interesting advice for me: He said that when he was training, his teacher would have him take a section of a classical piece, and break it down to it's most basic melody. This brings up the interesting notion of starting with an involved piece, and deconstructing it so that one is painfully aware of any embellishments.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Miguel Zenón

Been meaning to post about this guy for a little while now. Peter and I caugut Miguel Zenón in concert at Yoshi's a couple of weeks ago.

We were simply blown away.

A lot of the music was from his new CD Jibaro. Peter bought the CD after the show, and I borrowed it a week later. I've now decided to by it myself (and everything else by the guy). This is the first set of music in 3 years where I've actually been really challenged at teasing apart the polyrythms. At the time, the concert was so good that I thought I wouldn't get the same energy coming across from the studio version. I was wrong.

He's coming again to the Monterey Jazz festival later this year. Woohoo! :)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Shannon's Theory of Evolution

Jayita and I were chatting this evening about the "evolution vs. intelligent design" debate that is still being regurgitated over three quarters of a century after the Scopes trial of 1925.

I've occasionally mulled over the idea that we've stopped evolving in the true Darwinian sense. Given the medical advances that level the playing field of life expectancy, survival of the biologically fittest no longer works the way it used to. I remember vividly a conversation I had with a colleague of mine several years ago, during which we came upon the idea that in this age, it is a measure of information fitness that should be used to evaluate the survival probability of a population.

Call it Claude Shannon's other theory.

Simply put; it is how well a community evolves around and absorbs new ideas and information that determines whether it arrives at the top of the information heap, or whether it is doomed to the information-centric form of extinction: irrelevance. The point extends to dogmatic belief both religious and scientific. A scientist that espouses Newtonian mechanics has to face its inadequacy at explaining relativistic phenomena or risk being left behind in the wake of novel research.

Statistically (at least), it is the section of the population that is fearless enough to continually adapt, test, tear-down and rebuild its information substrate, that is the most successful in the so-called information age. The successful species is always the one that adapts.

Stubborn faith in a single isolated nugget of information without re-evaluating it in the light of newly collected facts and ideas is fatal. Ironic that the community that is least open to ideas such as the theory of evolution, will probably be its swiftest victim.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Order and Chaos

I've come to the realization that a good measure of the amount of entropy in my life at any given moment, is the disorderliness of my home directory hierarchy.

If I'm under little pressure and/or have all my ducks in a row, then everything in my filesystem has it's place. Ogg files neatly categorized, photographs date-stamped and labeled, papers organized alphabetically and by topic, etc.

But throw one runaway project into the mix, and suddenly things go awry. The desktop becomes a dumping ground for the refuse of shell scripts, multiple screen instances compete for terminal real-estate, and all manner of bizarre file extensions seem to come crawling out of the ethernet and wedge themselves into the filesystem like plaque accumulating when one neglects to floss.

That reminds me. Must floss...