“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”
–William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (excerpt)
“Now’s the Time” — Charlie Parker
Do you remember when you were a child and those long summer evenings seemed to go on forever? Or you were playing in the backyard and all you sensed was joy? Later in life we collect challenges and responsibilities like barnacles on an old whale. These feelings can obscure this sense of wonderment that we once had.
How do you feel about the present moment? How do you feel about the past? Regret? Nostalgia? The past does not exist. The future is only a collection of hope and fear. Our salvation does not lie in a better job, relationship, car or house. Our salvation will come when we realize we have only the present.
The best music is made in the present. It can absorb and reflect the past, like Jimi Hendrix channeling Muddy Waters or Oscar Peterson absorbing Art Tatum, but doesn’t mimic or ape it. Nor does it try artificially to predict the future, like a record producer trying to create the next “big hit.”
Dizzy Gillespie once told me, “If you have to think about an (musical) idea it’s too late, it’s gone.”
Like Olympic gymnasts, musicians practice so they can make it look easy, so they can easily reflect the present. With concentration on the now, memories of past mistakes or fears of future challenges fall away. The next moment is not more important than the present one, nor is one from the past. There have been many times when I’ve been playing music and the world just seems to drop away. There is no mortgage to worry about, no traffic on the way home… Just the sublime now.
Why did you decide to play music? Maybe for fame and fortune? Maybe to meet girls (or boys)? I bet at least part of it was for the sheer joy of making music. That is a payoff that occurs only in the present.