What separates the masters from the rest in jazz is not based only on their technical and/or theoretical prowess but also on their philosophical capacity and the emotional impact they can trigger through that depth of capacity. There are differences in the proportions of these elements within each artist(technical, theoretical command vs. philosophical, emotional scope and depth) but ultimately, the latter is always the most crucial factor in evaluating artistic merit.
I remember in NY, it wasn’t so uncommon that some of the most profoundly universal and fundamental questions be posed and passed around casually among jazz musicians, and quite often in the form of a joke. While no one phrased the following words explicitly, perhaps the most profound of these implicitly communicated ideas I found could be summed up into the question, “what really are we, stripped of our physical/external attributes and mere concepts of ourselves?- e.g., son, wife, policeman, American, best player in town, etc., etc. "
The effect one’s philosophical characteristics and capacity can have on one’s music may seem highly debatable to some, if not many, but not to those who have witnessed, and also have the capacity to see, the correlation between the two.
The palpability in the shift of consciousness in the air and the room where these profound performances take place is undeniable- two of the most powerful in my personal experience being during Hank Jones’ and Peter Bernstein’s performances; hearing them in small room settings also drastically amplified this effect in each.
Such an event functions like a magnet and taps/draws the listener into some sort of an electric-like current and into the performer’s field of consciousness. But more importantly, this kind of experience has a lasting effect and thus, can be quite literally “life-changing”. Furthermore, it is only multiplied in its effect upon realizing the truth that this “magnetic” or “electrical” current pervades and exists in all things in all places at all times, and that we were merely guided into being attuned to it, made more “palpable”, by these master performers. Practitioners in Zen Buddhism engage in this phenomenon head on every time they sit in Zazen. In that sense, for the Zen monks, this is their “head” of the coin while the rest of their lives’ functions, the “tail”.
Jazz, as proven many times over through its well-documented and illustrious history and by its many great masters, is a profound art form, the depth of which is only limited by its practitioner’s level of capacity, especially in the more abstract and philosophical aspects, wherein lies the true potential for emotional impact. In yet another sense, it is also every man’s ultimate “homework” in life- to ask, seek, and find what we really are and what we are really here for. And it is too important a task to bury under for the sake of common courtesy or cultural/social customs. Nor should anyone who calls oneself a jazz artist be so complacent with and firmly rooted in the idea that we are nothing more than our external forms, names and concepts; as a famous Zen saying goes, “great doubt, great awakening, small doubt, small awakening, no doubt, no awakening.” And yet another saying states, “one has to lose oneself first, in order to find oneself”. So it is in this spirit and with these thoughts in mind, in addition to its pre-existing and original sense of abandonment, I quote and say, “let’s get lost.”