Philosophy of Jazz / Miles Davis Handles a Wrong Chord

Ron Carter’s fingers are flying up and down the neck of his bass, and Wayne Shorter’s saxophone is just screaming. The five of us have become one entity, shifting and flowing with the music. We’re playing one of Miles’s classics, “So What,” and as we hurtle toward Miles’s solo, it’s the peak of the evening; the whole audience is on the edge of their seats.

Miles starts playing, building up to his solo, and just as he’s about to really let loose, he takes a breath. And right then I play a chord that is just so wrong. I don’t even know where it came from—it’s the wrong chord, in the wrong place, and now it’s hanging out there like a piece of rotten fruit. I think, Oh, shit. It’s as if we’ve all been building this gorgeous house of sound, and I just accidentally put a match to it. Miles pauses for a fraction of a second, and then he plays some notes that somehow, miraculously, make my chord sound right. In that moment I believe my mouth actually fell open. What kind of alchemy was this? And then Miles just took off from there, unleashing a solo that took the song in a new direction. The crowd went absolutely crazy.

It took me years to fully understand what happened in that moment onstage. As soon as I played that chord I judged it. In my mind it was the “wrong” chord. But Miles never judged it—he just heard it as a sound that had happened, and he instantly took it on as a challenge, a question of How can I integrate that chord into everything else we’re doing? And because he didn’t judge it, he was able to run with it, to turn it into something amazing. Miles trusted the band, and he trusted himself, and he always encouraged us to do the same. This was just one of many lessons I learned from Miles.

We all have a natural human tendency to take the safe route—to do the thing we know will work—rather than taking a chance. But that’s the antithesis of jazz, which is all about being in the present. Jazz is about being in the moment, at every moment. It’s about trusting yourself to respond on the fly. If you can allow yourself to do that, you never stop exploring, you never stop learning, in music or in life.

Hancock, Herbie. Herbie Hancock: Possibilities
Amazon

Questionable Value of Authenticity

In the 1970s, the cultural critic Lionel Trilling encouraged us to take seriously the distinction between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, he said, requires us to act and really be the way that we present ourselves to others. Authenticity involves finding and expressing the true inner self and judging all relationships in terms of it.

Authenticity now dominates our way of viewing ourselves and our relationships, with baleful consequences. Within sensitive individuals it breeds doubt; between people it promotes distrust; within groups it enhances group-think in the endless quest to be one with the group’s true soul; and between groups it is the inner source of identity politics.

It also undermines good government. James Nolan, in his book “The Therapeutic State,” has shown how the emphasis on the primacy of the self has penetrated major areas of government: emotivist arguments trump reasoned discourse in Congressional hearings and criminal justice; and in public education, self-esteem vies with basic literacy in evaluating students. The cult of authenticity partly accounts for our poor choice of leaders. We prefer leaders who feel our pain, or born-again frat boys who claim that they can stare into the empty eyes of an ex-K.G.B. agent and see inside his soul.

Our Overrated Inner Self
Orlando Patterson, Dec. 26, 2006
NYTIMES

The Extended Mind

Where does the mind end and the world begin? Is the mind locked inside its skull, sealed in with skin, or does it expand outward, merging with things and places and other minds that it thinks with? What if there are objects outside—a pen and paper, a phone—that serve the same function as parts of the brain, enabling it to calculate or remember? You might say that those are obviously not part of the mind, because they aren’t in the head, but that would be to beg the question. So are they or aren’t they?

Consider a woman named Inga, who wants to go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She consults her memory, recalls that the museum is on Fifty-third Street, and off she goes. Now consider Otto, an Alzheimer’s patient. Otto carries a notebook with him everywhere, in which he writes down information that he thinks he’ll need. His memory is quite bad now, so he uses the notebook constantly, looking up facts or jotting down new ones. One day, he, too, decides to go to moma, and, knowing that his notebook contains the address, he looks it up.

Before Inga consulted her memory or Otto his notebook, neither one of them had the address “Fifty-third Street” consciously in mind; but both would have said, if asked, that they knew where the museum was—in the way that if you ask someone if she knows the time she will say yes, and then look at her watch. So what’s the difference? You might say that, whereas Inga always has access to her memory, Otto doesn’t always have access to his notebook. He doesn’t bring it into the shower, and can’t read it in the dark. But Inga doesn’t always have access to her memory, either—she doesn’t when she’s asleep, or drunk.

Andy Clark, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the University of Edinburgh, believes that there is no important difference between Inga and Otto, memory and notebook. He believes that the mind extends into the world and is regularly entangled with a whole range of devices. But this isn’t really a factual claim; clearly, you can make a case either way. No, it’s more a way of thinking about what sort of creature a human is. Clark rejects the idea that a person is complete in himself, shut in against the outside, in no need of help.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/02/the-mind-expanding-ideas-of-andy-clark

Andy Clark on the Extended Mind
Does your mind extend beyond your skull? Andy Clark, who developed the theory of the extended mind with David Chalmers thinks it does. He explains the idea here.

https://philosophybites.com/2017/03/andy-clark-on-the-extended-mind.html

Auden Talks to Jay Parini

“I know only two things. The first is this: There is no such thing as time.” He explained that time was an illusion: past, present, future. Eternity was “without a beginning or an end,” and we must come to terms with what underlies time, or exists around its edges. He quoted the Gospel of John, where Jesus said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” That disjunctive remark upends our notions of chronology once and for all, he told me.

I listened, a bit puzzled, then asked: “So what’s the second thing?”

“Ah, that,” he said. “The second thing is simply advice. Rest in God, dear boy. Rest in God.”

Auden’s two points of wisdom have taken decades to absorb. He was telling me, I think, that our frantic search for meaning in the calendar and clock — the race against time — is foolish in the context of a larger universe or God’s eternity (one can define “God” in so many different ways). “Ridiculous the waste sad time,” wrote T. S. Eliot, urging us toward “the still point of the turning world.”

What W.H. Auden taught me about Easter, God and surviving a season of Covid-19
Jay Parini
https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/opinions/easter-coronavirus-wh-auden-parini/index.html

The Value of the Theater

But no matter how frustrated I get, if I can say it, if I do it in front of an audience, I get some relief. In other words, theater keeps me sane. For me, it is medicine for a toxic environment of electronic media mind-pollution. All that machine/profit-oriented info is poisonous to my inner machinery.

Theater clears my head because it takes the subtextual brainwashing of the media madness and SHOUTS that subtext out loud. (“You are shit compared to the fabulous creatures out there in star-world.” Or “You are ineffectual because the world is too big for you to make a difference.” Or “The solution to your misery is money, money, money!!!” Etc.) Somehow, when I really examine the boogeyman of my inner thoughts, he’s not so scary. (“You are going to lose your job and end up homeless. Toe the line. Toe the line. Toe the line.”)

Theater is ritual. It is something we make together every time it happens. Theater is holy. Instead of being bombarded by a cathode ray tube, we are speaking to ourselves. Human language, not electronic noise. Theater is laughter, which is always a valuable commodity.

Above all, theater is empathy as opposed to voyeurism. All good theater is about imagining a walk in someone else’s shoes. All theater asks the same question: What would I do if were me up there?

I’m pretty sure about all this. What I don’t know, I put in my shows. There’s alot I’m confused about. But one thing I know: Theater remains at the frontier of the greatest mystery – what it means to be human.

Eric Bogosian, from the introduction to, Pounding Nails in the Floor WIth My Forehead.

Sonny Rollins Interview – NY Times Magazine

Do you think music has an ethical component?
I can hear music that elevates me, but on the other hand there’s martial music that’s made to make people go to war. So music is neutral. It has nothing to do with ethics. Music is not on the same level as trying to understand life. We’re here for 80-something years. One lifetime is not enough to get it right. I’ll be back in another body. I’m not interested in trying to get that technical about that because I don’t need to know. What I need to know is that being a person who understands that giving is better than getting is the proper way to live. Live your life now in a positive way. Help people if you can. Don’t hurt people. That works perfectly for me, man.

The jazz icon Sonny Rollins knows life is a solo trip. By David Marchese. Feb. 21, 2020, NYTIMES 

Rollins doing the saxophone with the Stones:

Understanding vs Acceptance, Law Student’s Lesson

When we started jurisdiction in Procedure, Nicky Morris made what seemed an important comment. “About now,” he said, “law school begins to become more than just learning a language. You also have to start learning rules and you’ll find pretty quickly that there’s quite a premium placed on mastering the rules and knowing how to apply them. “But in learning rules, don’t feel as if you’ve got to forsake a sense of moral scrutiny. The law in almost all its phases is a reflection of competing value systems. Don’t get your heads turned around to the point that you feel because you’re learning a rule, you’ve necessarily taken on the values that produced the rule in the first place.

Turow, Scott. One L

Personality/Temperament, Situation and Mind

SPIEGEL: On the board, Mischel drew three circles. The first represented personality – your traits, your temperament. Then he drew a second circle.

MISCHEL: Here are the situations, OK?

SPIEGEL: But in between the two, Mischel drew a third circle. This, he said, poking the board, is your mind – that wonderful, curious thing that houses all kinds of invisible stuff.

MISCHEL: Like your expectations, your stable expectations about what happens if you do certain things. It has entered your way of construing or seeing or framing or depicting different situations. So when I’m in a large group, do I feel terrified because it’s a scary situation? Or when I’m in a large group, do I see it as a challenge because here’s an opportunity to really reach a lot of people?

SPIEGEL: All this stuff in your mind – these beliefs, assumptions, expectations that you’ve gotten from your friends, your family, your culture – those things, Mischel explained, are the filter through which you see the world. Your mind stands between who you are, your personality and whatever situation you’re in and profoundly influences how your brain interprets the world around it. Those beliefs, expectations, assumptions – they direct what your mind pays attention to quite literally – even what it physically sees in a situation and how it feels about what it sees.

And so when the stuff inside the mind changes, people change. They begin to interpret their situations differently or themselves differently, and so situations act on them differently.

MISCHEL: People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations, to reframe them, to reconstrue them, to even reconstrue themselves.

SPIEGEL: This is why Mischel sees people as fundamentally flexible. He tells me that is the single most important thing that he has stood for in his whole professional life.

MISCHEL: What my life has been about is in showing the potential for human beings to not be the victims of their biographies – not their biological biographies, not their social biographies – and to show, in great detail, the many ways in which people can change what they become and how they think.

The Personality Myth, Invisibilia

Emerson on Prayer

“Prayer that craves a particular commodity, any thing less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends.”

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self Reliance

Heaven and Hell are Within You

An old monk on Mount Athos in Greece once told me that people rejoice in the thought of hell to the precise degree that they harbor hell within themselves. By which he meant, I believe, that heaven and hell alike are both within us all, in varying degrees, and that, for some, the idea of hell is the treasury of their most secret, most cherished hopes — the hope of being proved right when so many were wrong, of being admired when so many are despised, of being envied when so many have been scorned.

And as Jesus said (Matthew 6:21), “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

David Bentley Hart, NY Times

In Front of Your Nose – Orwell

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one’s subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one’s thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean world where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one’s political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.

THE ORWELL FOUNDATION

We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist…

“We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.… If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

Fitz James Stephen, quoted in The Will to Believe, William James.

Thoughts and How You Feel

In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.

This isn’t a new idea. Nearly two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, stated that people are disturbed “not by things, but by the views we take of them.” In the Book of Proverbs (23: 7) in the Old Testament you can find this passage: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” And even Shakespeare expressed a similar idea when he said: “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).

Burns M.D., David D.. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy 

Separation of Tasks

PHILOSOPHER: All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

YOUTH: What another person thinks of you—if he or she likes you or dislikes you—that is that person’s task, not mine. Is that what you are saying?

PHILOSOPHER: That is what separating is. You are worried about other people looking at you. You are worried about being judged by other people. That is why you are constantly craving recognition from others. Now, why are you worried about other people looking at you, anyway? Adlerian psychology has an easy answer. You haven’t done the separation of tasks yet. You assume that even things that should be other people’s tasks are your own. Remember the words of the grandmother: “You’re the only one who’s worried how you look.” Her remark drives right to the heart of the separation of tasks. What other people think when they see your face—that is the task of other people and is not something you have any control over.

Kishimi, Ichiro. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness