A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake.
- Dogen

There are no mistakes. - Miles Davis

17 December 2015

Friday Night Jam eBook

eBook chronicle - peak experiences  & growing pains - of jamming

Friday Night Jam: A how-to memoir tracing the learning curves of group music improvisation, the peaks and pitfalls of African hand drumming with electric instruments.


African drumming is usually not well integrated into conventional Western music mixes. This chronicle conveys the challenge of merging diverse musical instruments, genres and personalities; of attempting to produce quality music in a venue that welcomes relative beginners, lifelong amateurs, and random drop-ins for the night. The book offers experiential advice to beginning drummers, or to longtime musicians who have not yet had the opportunity or courage to attempt improvisational collaboration with others. 

28 November 2015

The Arbiter of Rhythm

The breath itself stands as the final arbiter of rhythm, with words as tom-toms played against the otherwise empty score of the day; these pastiches of form creating their own meaning by virtue of beauty, pleasing effect, internal harmony, ecological composition and interrelation—even without audience, readership, plot, vessel, marketing platform, venue, or costume for appearance in public space.

In another age the word-beats may resurface, dusted off and varnished, reinserted into a mosaic of resurrected meaning; for now they dance, like individual souls on a modern-dance floor, unseeing in the dark, moved like molecules by the vibration of bass force passing through them, gyrating and gawping in the night against the pulse of stars, awaiting some connection which is already, unseen, sounding at the core of their apparently lonely existence, the loneliness itself an illusion.

Living in a state of constant synchronicity, life becomes art. In stillness, emptiness, all life conspires in one dance. Then with or without one’s own agenda, the synchronicity remains, available simply with perception of it. Then the flow begins, and there is no stopping the flood of words, images, events, people, interactions, love and death, wars and brilliant compositions, accidents and great works.

Pausing again, reflecting, resting, taking stock.

Plunging again into the stream. Like a soul in the bardo, down to earth and back again. In the whirl of life, away and then again in motion, the heat of activity takes shape. The music begins. The dancers’ feet slide into step, then run in free figures across the floor. The soldiers march, then creep through the alleyways. There is no justice in this world, only coherence of events conspiring into the picture we create by being here to witness: whatever the picture contains. Even supposed chaos coheres, when framed; and we are nothing, if not framers, by definition even as we are bounded by the frames of our provisional flesh and sensory apparatus.

Our choices frame our experiences. Our fate too represents our unconscious choice. And we are merely parts of the composition in the frames of experience of those we meet.

Details, conspiring. Does it all matter? That too is a choice.

18 December 2013

The Friday Night Jam: excerpts from work in progress

Being a kind of anecdotal instructional how-to (and sometimes painful how-not-to), to convey the elusive magic of group improvisation, different every time, so sensitive to all factors, and so emblematic of all human relations. An experiential overview of the confluence and conflict of different musical styles and expectations: acoustic/electric, world beat/rock, drummers/guitarists, perfectionists/amateurs, safe/risk, stoned/straight, standards/improvisation, men/women, fifties/sixties, tight/free. At the core of the journey is the learning of the limited individual ego, with its unique talents and limitations, to negotiate the free and structured spaces with others, to merge in the greater group striving for excellence and beyond, ecstatic union. 
And in attempting to convey this spirit and process, sometimes letting the words speak for themselves, players in the mix, jamming on the universal pulse.

It will keep the perfect time if we are relaxed enough to feel into it, get into the groove of the all-becoming, through us in cosmic unfolding now here in the awareness boom of our own making and consciousness-keeping: circles of celebration, our sacred duty to carry on, act out in the street theatre of the us and now, the who are we today and tomorrow: to wipe the old memories out where useless, so as to free up disk space for the more creative functioning of programs yet to be heard. Carrying on the energy of youth, of what’s alive today, even with the rhythms of ancient times, cutting through the buzz and blare of advertising unconsciousness, pap and blather obscuring who we are together in the ongoing beat of the keys of right now, who are you, what’s going now and let’s get to it: jamming, of course, into the night if that’s what it takes, universal language music. Fatala says: beyond spiritual politics.

I want to hold too the clear consciousness of clarity and space and time enough for all, of social fabric in music which is metaphorical for all of us relating, ritual the form by which to recognize it, all in the sacred circle dancing, carrying the rock, drinking the potion of our life, sacred fluid together in veins interlinked, consciousness behind the shifting scenes, it’s all a kind of body, a common or linked consciousness behind the shifting scenes of our life interactions, our separate bodies merely limbs and organs and cells of the moving animal that is our human and of course, larger living and nonorganic life, the earth our body, the earth our consciousness. I want to remember this sense of unity and harmony, I almost say purpose but purpose being mostly in the awareness itself, of what this beast is and to appreciate the wonder of its working. To see in this way, the art in everything, the art of everything, that it’s all an ongoing jam, a huge street theatre, we’re playing parts even when we’re unconscious of it, or partially aware, or forgetful, vindictive, and other ways obscured-mind human, which after all is the game we’ve chosen, at some level, to play. All a large computerlike draft, us the players in the unseen program, all the more wondrous because we do have the chance, anytime we wake up to the moment, to enter the programming level and modify, customize, add wrinkles to the brainfold rules, shades of meaning to the patterns, embellishments on the mother beat.

This is visionary: hard to maintain against the play of personality, the separateness of our voices when we talk and write and explore to the utmost our personal and individual opinions and variations. Again the music metaphor is relevant, for the secret of harmonizing these individual understandings is to play together: to allow with tolerance and yet resonance the separate strands to color the tone of the whole, to weave into the hybrid code. To blend the obscurities of rhythmic variation into the common ongoing underlying pulse . . . pulse . . . pulse . . . of our common body which is the sacramental understanding of human unity, love. If this is cosmic purpose in any literal or anthropomorphic sense, so be it. If only symbolic in that way through our own imaginings, that’s as well. It’s the tone of the interactions and spirit of our lives together that counts in either case, and if it be prophetic to state it thus, so be that too.

Read next excerpt from The Friday Night Jam, by Nowick Gray