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Creativity and Change. An essay on how society treats art
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Sage Francis
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Joined: 30 Jun 2002
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Creativity and Change. An essay on how society treats art  Reply with quote  

Creativity And Change

By Wayne Shorter

Published in DownBeat on Dec. 12, 1968

Tenor saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter first came to prominence with Art Blakey, with whom he played from 1959Ė1963. Since 1964, he has been a member of Miles Davisí group. His most recent recordings under his own name are The All-Seeing Eye (Blue Note) and Adamís Apple (Blue Note). He won the 1962 DownBeat Critics Poll for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition as a composer.


Art. Art as a competitive thing among artists. Iíve been wondering how it has come about that art is, in fact, a competitive thing among artists. I wonder if artists choose to compete among themselves, or are they goaded, pushed or lured into it as a result of the makeup of this particular society? I wonder if a young musician, hearing another musician, has an instinctive desire to compete with this other musician or instead to join forces and compare notes? I wonder if the two of them were to get together and compare notes, and their notes were appraised by a third party, the critic, would these two artists be so influenced by what the third party says that they would strive to compete with one another to please the critic? In addition, the critic speaks to a fourth party, the public, and in pleasing the critic do you please the public?


I wonder if a poll or a contest is valid to give artists an incentive to create, to go on, or to run the mile in less than a minute. Is art an art or a sport? I think polls, awards and Oscars come right out of the school systemóthe star you get on your paper, the A B C D mark. If we could rid of the stigma that grading over such a long period of time has produced, I think we might have a clearer idea of what a person does when he is creating something. For instance, if a person wins first place in a category in the arts through a voting system, and he feels good about it, is he actually going to create or merely perpetuate the poll system?


Itís hard to get away from voting or polls all the way, because, if youíre going to play for an audience, the applause is the same thing in miniature size. Some people even consider applause as greater than a citation or trophy. Applause is gratifying to me and a lot of other musicians. Some musicians would deny it, but I know how they feel inside. I cannot say truthfully that lack of applause is not gratifying for me, because I canít say that lack of applause means lack of recognition. That has happened to me quite a bit, especially when I first started out. Even now it happens sometimes, but then when I come down from the bandstand, someone will come up and say something profound about the whole set, not just about me. This one person sounds like heís speaking for the whole audience, and he might say, "That was a deep setóa lot of thought going on." I think in that sense he was trying to say that there was no room for applauseóthey didnít want to disturb the essence of the moment.


Does a person create because of recognition by a large body, and, if he is recognized, does he stop creating? I wonder if any artist can grade himself, using himself as his own ruler? Maybe that has to be taught. Iíve rarely had a teacher who said, "Iím going to teach you to grade yourself against yourself, use yourself as your own incentive force." You can draw power, drive, from yourself, from nature and not necessarily from another person. Itís hard to do, but once you know what it is and you start to reach for it, itís really something. If anyone has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, itís like reaching for that black monolith, that symbol of Why and What and Where. If youíre curious enough about yourself, you donít have too much time to be curious about what the next person is doing. You donít try to compete with something superficial and exterior, a "keeping up with the Joneses" idea. I think that if artists learned to use themselves as their own ruler, then audiences would have to learn to do this too. When they go to see Broadway plays, they wonít have to read what the critic says.


Who decides what is good art? Itís a highly individual thing, with or without a body of people calling themselves critics or an audience calling themselves critics. A lot of people do not want to be individual thinkers and analyze something by themselves, so they turn to polls and awards to make up their minds that way, they might miss a lot of creative people who have something to give, without asking for something in return. When an artist creates, he can feed the soul, heal the soul, make the soul well, but a lot of people in an audience listen not with their souls, but with computerized minds, assembled and conditioned by the system which includes polls and awards.


I wonder if those who believe in polls and awards believe that they are building a bridge across a body of water for someone who canít swim. The polls may be like water wings, but thereíll come a time when you have to take those water wings off. What Iím worried about is the perpetuation of water wings and bridges. I donít believe that the designer, the critic, really perpetuates it, although he has an advantageous perch. The only one who can perpetuate it is the person who needs it. As I write now, Iím trying not to sit in judgement, because everything is en route, everything is in the interim. If I were to judge, I might as well try to get a great big pencil about the size of the sun, and put a period on this Earth. That would be supreme judgement.


If a critic has the job of criticizing and rating records, and he is torn between giving record A a high rating and giving record B a lower rating, and the reason his is torn is that the musicians on record B, while not as good, are trying very hard, and he doesnít want to step on the toes of the musicians on record A, thatís a hard thing to be confronted with, especially if thatís your job. His job and his conscienceÖhis conscience is a job too. If he made up his mind to give record A a higher rating and record B a lower rating, and musicians n record B were very honest, I think that, though they may be hurt, along with honesty comes a kind of strength. But would their efforts to get a higher rating bypass real creativity? I suppose itís up to the musicians to rely on their strength to know which way to go, no matter what who says.

Is creativity good, in the sense of originality? How can you be so original, when you walk a little bit like your mother or father, or have the color of your fatherís eyes, or you make a gesture and someone says, "You did that just like your father used to do." Charlie Parker, for example, said that when he was young, his idols on the alto saxophone were Rudy Vallee and Jimmy Dorsey. If youíve heard Bird, and if youíve heard Rudy Vallee and Jimmy Dorsey, I think youíd have to dig very deep, tear off many layers of wallpaper before you could find any similarity in sound, approach or technique. I would say that the only thing that would confirm what Bird said about his admiration would be the sophistication of his approach. Itís the sophistication of Westernized music, Western scales. But letís go back even further. Western scales came from around Greece, Jerusalem and Arabia. Theyíre world scales, really. People are taught music history this way, separating Western music from Eastern music, but I think itís one big circle. Itís hard to keep from using labels. For instance, when I said that Bird idolized Rudy Vallee and Dorsey, some peopleís minds would stop and theyíd say, "Ooo, thatís who he dug!" But I tend to use those names as a springboard into history, going all the way back to the great explosion that started this planet. You canít just go on what Mr. X said, youíve got to do a little thinking of your own.


We hear a lot of the word "freedom," and if youíre going to have freedom, a critic has to have freedom too. A lot of critics donít consider criticism a job. With some, itís a very esthetic thing. When they put their thoughts on paper about something theyíve seen or heard, theyíve more than seen or heard it. They get involved in it. Iím not saying that they get so involved that they get so involved that theyíre "swayed," because a great critic can retain a helluva sense of balance. When reading his words on paper you can fell that, actually, heís not criticizing somethingóhis words turn into a poetic thing, become an extension of the art experience. At the same time heís not putting anyone or anything up on a pedestal. Art comes firstóthe Baby, save the Baby!


Iíd like to return to the other side of competitionóthe joining, the getting together, comparing notes. When I was 16, I used to get a copy of a magzine that had articles about a musician who was playing a new music called bebop, and I heard Charlie Parker and Bud Powell on the radio. I had to get to New YorkÖbecause of reading about how things had started at Mintonís, where a lot of getting together and comparing of notes had been going on. A number of musicians then were thrown together out of poverty. They lived together, cooked togetherÖthey even helped bury each other. Today, the ones out the Ď40s who have made it, the ones who have their own groups now, can always remember the togetherness they had then, but through their fame they have to travel their separate roads. Thereís some resurgence of that now among the younger musiciansóthe wanting to get together. They want to get together in large numbersóthe big band thing, the studio thing. A few musicians have studios where they can teach students and at the same time get together, but the jam session thing is gone. That was the other way of getting togetherÖjust jamming.

I hear all across the country, "Where can I go to play, where can I go to be heard, what is it like in New York?" Itís the same old question, but New York is not the same old New York, as far as being in the center of almost anything. When I finally did go to New York in the days when I commuting from New Jersey with my horn, I remember just before I was drafted into the Army, I went to a place called Cafe Bohemia. Charlie Parker had just died, and I walked in with my horn. There was a drummer there who now lives in Europe; there was an organ player who just got in town (heís very big today), and an alto saxophone player whoís very big today had just arrived. They were all on the bandstand with Oscar Pettiford. I had a chance to sit in with them. Everyone was together, liking each other. When we got down from the bandstand we were shaking hands and talking, and you could see the light in all these peopleís eyes as if they were making plans for getting groups together out the people who were there. I was feeling kind of bad because I was going into the Army, and I didnít know whether I was going to be included in those plans. When I went into the Army, I felt, "Thatís the last of the jam session thing," but when I got out it was still perpetuating a little bit. There was enough jam sessions going on so that well-known musicians could get around to know people and see who they would like to hire.


Getting started means getting confidence, putting yourself in a context. Being around musicians who are playing, meeting them, talking to them, youíre getting conditioned. Youíre watching how a musician walks up to the microphone and plays, or how another may shy away from the spotlight. You make up your mind how you want to be, because the way you are does affect what comes out of the horn. You can produce barriers or shyness, barriers of lack of confidence, or barriers of over confidence. You have to get your own balance together.


I guess I was pretty lucky, because even when I was in the Army, I had a chance to work with one of the well-known groups. I was stationed in the East, Ft. Dix, so I was not far from the Blue Note in Philadelphia, and not far from New York and Washington, D.C. I was there one night when I really heard Coltrane (I had heard him before in New York but I really heard him this night. He was breaking away from something.) I would be in New York on a weekend pass, playing, and Coltrane would come out of nowhere and weíd talk. As a result, when I got out of the Army, Trane and I spent a lot of time together in his apartment in New York. We spent a lot of time together in his apartment in New York. We spent a lot of time at the piano, and he was telling me what he was doing, which way he was going, and what he way trying to work on. Weíd stay all day and all night. I would play the piano, and he would play his horn, then he would play the piano and I would play my horn. That kind of getting together is not going on too much now. Maybe in certain areas of New York, musicians who live in the Village who have lofts can get together. Iíd like to see more of it. Iíd like to branch out and help this thing get going. On my next record date Iíd like to do a large thing, maybe 19 or 22 pieces, and call on those musicians to help perform this work. While recording, Iíd like to create the atmosphere that weíre not just at a recording session. Iíve written something down but weíll have a jam session spirit.


The term "musician" can become a hard shell. You can become callous and impersonal, but thereís still a human thing there. For example, two musicians will meet in Europe (it always happens in a way out place somewhere), and they belong to two different schools of music, but they will be glad to see each other, shaking hands and talking. I had a long talk with a very well-known saxophonist in Switzerlandósome people call him the father of the jazz saxophone. We were just sitting there and I asked him how he was doing, and before he said he was doing all right, he started talking about economics. It was as if I were at home talking to an uncle. In the back of my mind I was thinking of people who admire people; a young fan of 17 for instance. If he could see a young musician that he knows and an older musician he would feel, "Wow, there they are together." I used to feel the same way.


In Paris in 1961, the bandleader walked into my room along with Bud Powell. We all sat around and then everyone left except Bud Powell. He looked at me, my horn was on the bed, and he said, "Can you play something for me?" I said okay, and I was thinking about when I was 17 and had to sneak into Birdland and sit way in the back and watch Bud play. I picked up my horn and tried to play one of the things he wrote named after his daughter, "Celia," and then I tried something else of his, just playing the melody. When I finished he looked at me and smiled, didnít say anything else, got up, kept smiling and walked out.


At this point in my life, when I see people who are famous and great, I donít want to ever lose the memory of the awe I has when I was younger. I donít want to become so sophisticated and confident that I can say "Weíre all in this together"óa sort of smug "thing." Now, when I am in the company of a large number of great musicians, I feel very comfortable and I can see them as human beings, see myself as a human being among them, and respect and dig whatever they have produced through the years.


Where is the new music going? I donít know if thatís as important as where did it come from, because if you know where it came from, itís going anyway. I donít like labels, but Iíll say "new music" anywayótotal involvement. When youíre playing, the music is not just you and the hornóthe music is the microphone, the chair, the door opening, the spotlight, something rattling. From soul to universe.

I saw something on television where they had total involvement. Two men were discussing what was about to happen. Then there was a little ballet. It started and the camera went from the dancers to the two men talking, and they were a part of the ballet, still talking about it. I liked that, as a start.


I think this is a very exciting time to live in. Some people are concerned with an end of things. Then, all of a sudden you hear a small voice say, "this is a renaissance." Things are happening now that have never happened in history and art will reflect this. Everything is speeded up so you can see the change and feel yourself changing. Those who donít change, who refuse to change, can feel themselves not changing, and some of them donít like it.


Everytime we go to California, I always make it a point to go to Berkeley. Iíve visited the homes of students out there. Some of them are 14 years younger than I am, and everything was very communicative. I found it easy just to be me, not to be young. We were all together. No one asked me my age. They want change.


About certain people being reluctant to change for the betterment of all concernedóI find that the people who find it easiest to change and keep evolving, who donít want a status quo, are able to move around. A person who is stationary finds it difficult to change. In the business Iím in, we move around and travel like troubadours. We are not bound to any city government or neighborhood government. The students I met out in California live in Berkeley and go to school there, but I noticed that they kept moving around. Theyíd go to San Francisco, then to L.A. and up to Seattle, then all the way to New York, and then back to school.


I saw evidence of a great change when we played two concerts at Berkeley. One change was thisóthe concert was given by a 21-year-old Chinese girl, a jazz impresario. She told me she had been listening to jazz since she was 8. She put on the concert with a lot of opposition from the school staff about allotting money and other things, but she worked and did it. She had some of the most well known names in jazz. At the last concert she gave, there were over 20,000 people at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. The audience was rock Ďní roll oriented and most of the people had never seen these artists before and had rarely heard them. I saw them turning their ears to jazz, something they had never really heard. They focused their attention and they listened with a lot of respect and at one point they kind of went wild with applause.


When I hear a jazz musician say, "Well the young peopleórock Ďní roll is their thingótheyíre not going to even listen to jazz"óI think that theyíll change and grow up. Rock Ďní roll is changing with them. Iím hearing a whole lot of things from them. The "labels" are being taken off the bottles. As I said about the different scales, Western and Greek, itís all one big thing. I saw kids with their long hair, beards and sandals sitting right down in front of the bandstand and they were part of a thing called jazz. The same thing happened in New York at the Village Gate. I met a lot of young people there, and I spoke to one person who had long hair and everything. Iíll describe the way the person looked and then youíll have to piece together how he looked and what he does. He had long hair, beard and moustache, and he had on beads, a buckskin jacket, and an Apache head wrapping. He writes opera! He came to listen to the music labeled jazz, and heís meshing and welding what he knows about sound with what he hears everywhere. He said, "I have to be here. Itís part of the thing."

East and West I saw evidence of a meeting of minds. The change I like is always that getting together. The person who has been labeled hippie and rock is breaking out and taking his own label off. The younger people will tend to look at the artists who are really doing something and use them as guides, so thereís nothing really to worry about.


Iím saying all these things because I myself donít like to stand still. Art Blakey told me once, "Music is like a river. It must flow." When someone would ask, "Why does it have to flow?" he would say, "If a body of water has no inlet or outlet, itís bound to get stagnant." I doubt if youíd find anything living in it. He who drinks from it will have an awful stomach acheóor start digging six feet. Any person knows when heís stagnant. If he doesnít know, thereís a whole lot of "camouflage" going on. You can be taught to know things, and you can be taught not to know things. If you think youíre not stagnant, check yourself out.


When we played at Berkeley with a 19-piece orchestra, I looked out in the audience, I looked at Miles, I looked at Gil Evans, I looked at a19-year-old girl who was playing harp, then in the French horn section there was an elderly man whose hair was stone white, there was a middle-aged lady playing French horn next to him, then I looked at Howard Johnson on tuba, and I said, "All ages, all ages here, and weíre having a ball with sound." No one questioned "What is thisóitís not normal." The young female harpist would only ask a few technical questions and that was all. Thatís what goes on in music, the interplay between ages. I saw life come to life that night. Iíd like to see that with young people and the elders throughout the world. The youth canít get their hands on the tanks, they canít get their hands on the plans at the Pentagon and the Kremlin, they canít get their hands on the buttons, they donít have access to the material power, but if the elders are so nervous about the youngsters and they arenít getting nervous about the power they have in their hands, evidently the youngstersí mental power is upsetting someone.

Just recently Iíve been looking at clothes, and I found one place in New York where a lot of young people hang out. One thing caught me as soon as I walked inóthey were playing records in the store. Everybody was looking at clothes and some people were kind of swinging and swaying to the music. I went back to the store another timeóno one was buying, everyone was dancing, and the owner was dancing, too. He said, "Well, the main thing is to have some fun, as long as I can survive." Heís not afraid if someone comes in the store and doesnít buy. Theyíll buy or trade something eventually and at the same time theyíre trading a little happiness. I like that approach. The same spiritóbreaking up something thatís stiffóhappens on the bandstand sometimes. When there is an obviously straight up and down audience, sometimes I know that the musicians feel compelled to throw themselves into the music and break up the ice.


Life to me is like an art, because life had been created by an artist, the Chief Architect. Some people can only relate their soul to God. It seems as if they can only do it when itís time to go to church, or when times are hard. They think that the soul in relation to the universe has to do with religion all the time. I think part of the stiffness we see is due to that, because they cannot relate their soul to a table, for example. They canít see any practical use in relating their soul to a table, to a bug on a windowsill, to musicians on a bandstand, or a picture hanging on a wall, or salt and pepper. You can say thatís going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but is it? Itís like saying, "A bird does not fly because it has wings. I has wings because it flies."


People who are hung up in stiffness think in issues, broad issues, the issue of making a living, the issue of crime in the streets. The issue turns out to be a hangupóthe issue of asking someone to come over to your house to have dinner. What is an attitude and how can you change an attitude? They say how can you legislate attitudes, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, you say, "Come over to my house and have dinner." Some people say, "I donít want to associate with Ďoutsideí music, I donít want anything to do with it." What I hear from younger people is who needs that hangup, everything is everything, let it be, letís do it whenever, if I canít get you tomorrow, wheneverÖ


Among these young people thereís no room for jealousy as a force, jealousy between men and women, jealousy about things. I like to call jealousy an emotional rage, and it exists very much among the older age bracket. In the last few years I havenít heard the word "jealousy" used among the young people. When I look at some of the soap operas, I see in their conflicts that theyíre still perpetuating those things that the young people have almost completely eliminated.


I canít talk about music at this stage of my life without putting it in a wider context. I canít talk about social ills or goods without trying to sneak in something about art. Many musicians who came up about my time are taking care of business when theyíre not performing, taking care of paperwork, legal things. For a long time I used to hear, "All youíve got to do is play your horn and the business will take care of itself, youíll have people to take care of business for you." I think musicians today should try to read about business and copyright laws, etc. They should know what certain words mean when theyíre confronted with a contract and not jut look at the number of zeros attached to a digit and a dollar sign. I wonder how many musicians today have thought of drawing up wills.


Music has always played a great part in inventions. I think there may be something coming along that would be an extension of the TV set and I believe that music will play a part in it. Along with these inventions there comes a new amendment in your business mind. Iíve written to Washington to get the jukebox bill passed, and I know Stan Kentonís working on it. That, and royalties for the way an artist interprets a certain piece of music. No oneís getting any royalties from jukeboxes. The copyright law says that royalties should be distributed to the artists in the event of any mechanical reproduction of musical sound. If they canít get the jukebox bill passed, anyone who invents something to reproduce music may look at the jukebox as a loophole, since it would be advantageous or him not to pay the people whose music is being reproduced.


I mentioned the idea of "total involvement." Everything Iíve said about art, about youth, about business, indicates that the music and musician of tomorrow will be totally involved. Neither he nor his art will be confined to the stage.
Post Sat Dec 13, 2003 12:13 pm
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anonjondoe



Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 437
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thank you for posting this
very good read

35 years later

the more things change the more they stay the same
Post Sat Dec 13, 2003 1:26 pm
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bobbythebear



Joined: 29 Jul 2002
Posts: 254
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damn Sage- just as I am about to pop in my Jazz messengers album, I see this. Wayne Shorter is fuckin brilliant. the lil essay wandered a bit, and idealized the youth a little too much, but it was still a good read. I agree very much with the critic as an artist, so long as the critic conveys to the audience appreciation rather than snootiness
Post Sat Dec 13, 2003 2:19 pm
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Sage Francis
Self Fighteous


Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 21558
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"Music has always played a great part in inventions. I think there may be something coming along that would be an extension of the TV set and I believe that music will play a part in it. Along with these inventions there comes a new amendment in your business mind. Iíve written to Washington to get the jukebox bill passed, and I know Stan Kentonís working on it. That, and royalties for the way an artist interprets a certain piece of music. No oneís getting any royalties from jukeboxes. The copyright law says that royalties should be distributed to the artists in the event of any mechanical reproduction of musical sound. If they canít get the jukebox bill passed, anyone who invents something to reproduce music may look at the jukebox as a loophole, since it would be advantageous or him not to pay the people whose music is being reproduced."




nuts
Post Tue Dec 16, 2003 1:27 am
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