Life in Reverse: Corollaries
By Ron Westray

“It is possible that we exist in a predominantly narcissistic society – in which people want you to love them; and then they don’t want you anymore.”

I occupy these worlds: jazz and academia. The jazz world is filled with pandering, patronage (real and false), banter and fastidious applause; meanwhile, the hallowed, homogenous halls of academia (a world where everyone is somebody, hence, no one is anybody, per se) offer little recognition. Ultimately, I realized that writing would be the only way to distinguish myself. But the writing world is silent; and the price of notoriety is [prior] anonymity. Because writing is not something that you talk about; it’s something that you do.

“Who is this guy? And why should I read his exhaustive account?”

Well, you didn’t know Alonso Quijano, either. At least, I hope not; because that would mean that you are a ghost; and the thought of that is [totally] mind-blowing. Perhaps it is this intangible familiarity, with fictional legends, such as, Quixote, that allow the reader to be comfortable with accepting who the character is (or believes themself to be) — or is becoming.

Equally inherent within most of us belies a positive self-evaluation— this along with a desire to appropriate our singular achievements as commodities to be bartered for acknowledgment (from colleagues, peers, family, laymen and novices). And to even be noticed (objectively or subjectively), my eminence must exceed yours; and, in general, the garnering of another being’s curiosity takes on a quasi-intrinsic value. As a panacea, think of me as intangible—too! Notwithstanding, we might [actually] meet; and that will be [totally] awesome.

Query III: A Road-rage Homology

I prefer to be in the middle lane. Sometimes I drive fast in the slow lane—faster in the fast lane.
Like an old man, sometimes I drive slowly. But I really like driving in the middle lane.
Apparently, other drivers don’t like that. I reckon that I should be making more decisions than just that.
Plans (not to be confused with appointments) never work. We do not control our arrival; and, besides having no control over our departure, we know-not the course. So, what are we controlling? And if you drive the race like a thug, could you lose that life that you’re made of?

Query II: For the Right Price

If you will take the vaccine to win a lottery (or a shotgun), it means that you don’t really think that it’s harmful to your body. And if you do think that the vaccine is harmful, that means you will risk your health if ‘the price is right’—right?

Well, come on down! That said, what was the ‘big deal’ in taking the vaccine in the first place— again?

“The idea that nothing is free in this world, and that nobody owes you anything, is not the problem.
The problem is that (many times) those who could render assistance do not.”

Harangue IV: The blues-scale does not exist in nature.

The Blues scale is a six-note-minor-pentatonic-scale containing a #4 scale-degree in relationship to the root-note of the scale. This scale is commonly used over all of the changes (chords/harmony) in the twelve-bar blues progression, Boogie-Woogie, Soul, RnB, Jazz, and Funk — to name a few.

It is a hybrid-scale— an alternative-fact assembled within a formerly burgeoning jazz-education-system; and, somewhere along the way, your well-meaning band-director told you to play ‘this on this’ so that the adjudication/concert would go off without a hitch. It was the same when I matriculated. Now, it’s time to stop using it as a short cut for teaching and playing the blues form (i.e., V7 chords).
It is an inaccurate-harmonic-solution (and a poor choice). Dominant-chords (V7) are supported by the Mixolydian scale producing a major-third (as per the chord-root). The blues-scale (with its minor-third) does not describe the true-quality of the V7 chord. Yeah, Yeah, “Coltrane ‘walked the bar’ in blues-bands down south.”Even so, I’m sure he was not ‘putting down’ the blues-scale as such.

Harangue III: The Perfect Pitch

Absolute pitch (AP), often called perfect pitch, is the rare ability to name or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a visual reference.

Stop making excuses about ‘the cat’ with the perfect pitch. The chord/scale relationship in jazz improvisation is corroborated by the recorded history of classic jazz. The difference in the ‘level’ of two jazz-improvisors can ultimately be reduced to sheer memorization—not just hearing (as to position perfect pitch as ‘the solution’ to jazz improvisation).

“That’s like saying that someone who knows all the words in the dictionary is automatically a great writer.”
Or—
“I know this one musician that, if you sit down, and play all the keys on the piano,
can tell you what chord you’re playing.”

To the point, absent harmonic understanding, pitch-recognition has ‘zip’ to do with jazz-vocabulary. What’s jazz vocabulary? Listen. It’s ‘the sound’ you expect to hear. It’s there in the styles of all the great-harmonic-improvisors. It’s a common thread in the ‘knitting and weaving’ process. Imitation leads to stylization; and the transcription process must be converted into general, theoretical wherewithal. I would also propose that there is no such thing as hearing the note ‘before’ you play it. I would say that one should ‘know’ the note before they play it. Having completed many of the most complex Coltrane (sheets-of-sound) solos, I am confident that ‘Trane’ is not hearing the sound prior to such expositions. It’s all application and confirmation (post-note). In Western Music (of which jazz is a microcosm), technique (including hearing) is established through the memorization and the repetition of scalar/linear values. Harmonic specificity and velocity (accuracy and precision) within jazz improvisation (not to be confused with blues ‘expression’) are achieved through preparation (not by fiat).
Ron Westray is one of the most highly regarded musicians of his time and the author of the title Life in Reverse.