To Innovate, or Not to Innovate
In my interview with Christian McBride this issue, I felt he brought up a stellar point (one of many actually) that deserves in my opinion to be put into the serious food for thought category. We all at one point or another [and I will use Christian’s phraseology on this point] find ourselves searching for the “lost chord”. Said another way, most of us spend some time in the throes of creative urgency trying to “find something new”. Is this a worth wild quest in itself…I believe so. But a closer look at the reality of how to realize that exalted creative expression (if possible) can be quite enlightening.
Let’s start off with one of the most well known quote unquote innovators in the business…Jaco Pastorius. I’m sure many of you have seen his one and only instructional video he did late in his career, being interviewed by bass legend Jerry Jermott. For those of you that have seen it, I will remind you of a point Jaco made, and for those who haven’t, listen closely. Jerry put it to Jaco basically saying how he had turned the bass world on its ear with his revolutionary style and approach, and wondered how that came about? Jaco’s response was; I got it from you man. He then proceeded to play a couple of Jerry’s infamous groove lines, much to Jerry’s surprise. Jaco was of course alluding to a much greater point in his response to Jerry. He was simply acknowledging the importance of the impact of his contemporaries in his developmental stage, and how that was the source of his inspiration…the guide to finding a voice.
Christian spoke of drummer Tony Williams in this same light. Tony was also looked at as a true innovator on his instrument. But when approached with that same question of where did you come up with this, he always spoke in terms of his past contemporaries, such as Philly Jo, and Roy Haynes, and Max Roach, being the fuel to his unique approach.
Let’s look at this perspective through the eyes of another master, Victor Wooten, which has a bit of a twist on this “lost chord” syndrome. I’m sure most of us would agree that Victor embodies the sacred “innovator” status…the man definitely has a voice of his own. But when I questioned him about what his journey to attaining that signature voice was all about, he explained how it evolved due to his love affair with the drums early on in his career, and how he as a bassist had the desire to try to emulate those sounds, and that rhythmic power that the drums owned on his instrument. And Voilà…here comes a “style”.
The commonality I see between these iconic figures, and I guess the greater point I’m trying to get across from my eyes is this: None of these players in my opinion “set out” to be innovators, masters of the lost chord if you will. They simply and quite naturally added what they “hear” to what they had already “heard”…a juxtaposition of past and present…no more. And a voice is born. There’s a fine line happening here. We all work through the process of emulation at one point or another, but the key phrase that so many of the artists I’ve interviewed get to, is seeing the relevance of trying to incorporate “what you hear” to what you’re working on, or what you’ve experienced. This seems to be the most logical strategy to pursue as far as opening the door to that acknowledgement we all look to hear at some point in time…Wow…that sounds like “you”.
Editor’s side note: I personally don’t like “teasers”, but I’m going to put this out there anyway. Keep an eye out for a new study paradigm coming soon—it will sport its own site, involve some serious heavyweights, and I think a lot of you might find this to be of great interest.
Jake Kot, Editor