Unless I was dreaming, today I played at the Vortex (a jazz club in London) with Kenny! He was making a guest appearance with the Evan Parker Trio and asked me to come along. At first I thought he meant for me just to listen but it turned out he wanted me to actually play! I was stunned and amazed, and I only agreed to join him because he said we would be playing “free” jazz rather than jazz jazz – so it would be relatively easy.
The first thing we played was a duet – just Kenny and me, in two sections – Kenny on the trumpet, me on flugel, followed by Kenny on flugel, me on horn. It’s hard to say if it was any good or not but it was certainly interesting and great fun. We made a lot of noise. Needless to say, Kenny was great – firing off powerful torrents of scaleic and arpeggiated notes, all fascinating. I made various squawks and rips and noodled around trying not to get in the way too much and mess things up.
Nearly all of the free jazz I’ve done before has been with non jazzers so this was very different to the kind of stuff I used to play with Derek Bailey back in the eighties, for example.
After that we played for 40 minutes or so with Even Parker’s trio. My abiding memory is of the sensation of playing the flugel, standing up, the sound firing outwards in the direction I was facing – something of a novelty for a rear-facing (French)horn player.
After that I drove Kenny home.
The cornet is going well. I think I have a useful range – fairly comfortable up to about top C – and the fingering is mostly sorted, although there’s usually a glitch around high E (same as top A on the horn) where I’m trying very hard to remember to play it with no valves pressed down, whereas it’s best on the horn with 1st and 2nd down.
I’m also gradually getting the register shift sorted in my mind. Although the fingering almost exactly matches that of the horn, if I think in horn pitch, I have decided to make the shift into thinking and reading in Bb as this will make reading music much easier in the long term. Thus I have to re-educate my pitch sense, when I am in cornet mode, to one fourth higher. I get lost sometimes – sort of a pitch whiteout where I have no idea what notes I am playing. My fingers and lips know but my conscious mind is nowhere. Granted, this has always happened when playing the horn, but now that I am formally learning jazz I really need always to know what notes I am playing, what chords, scales, etc… This is new for me. My previous improvisations have always been instinctive, with almost no role for the conscious mind. Jazz, however, needs the guiding keel of definite harmonic navigation. It’s a discipline I’m trying to learn – determined to learn.
Oren Marshall is a brilliant and unconventional tuba player with at least one leg in the world of jazz, although I don’t know how well versed he is in actual jazz improvisation and, for that matter, I don’t really know what it is to be a jazz tubist. He visited me today, partly for a jog over at the Hollow Ponds and partly to “do some playing” together. It was an interesting lesson for me. It made me realise that I was actually quite embarrassed to let go and play “jazzilly” in front of him. When I eventually did – on some blues in concert F – Oren said, in his usually flattering way, that I was loaded with all the right tools but that I didn’t have the feel. Nice of him – and I suppose I kind of knew that. He also said a lot of interesting, thoughtful stuff about how it can be refreshing to hear someone new to jazz playing their own unique stuff and that the “novice” can have a certain amount of freedom that perhaps would be difficult for an experienced jazzer to express. A difficult concept to argue, I think, but it was very nice of him to be so encouraging. We played a few rounds of blues but I don’t think I achieved much.
We talked about Derek Bailey a bit – I’ve done a fair bit of improvising (free, non-jazz) with Derek, donkey’s years ago, and so has Oren only much more recently. It seems Oren was able to make much more sense of Derek’s style of improvisation, which always had me confused. I told him about my general frustration with performing free improvisation to which he had some interesting responses.