Wednesday, September 26, 2012


“Once you achieve technical facility you’re either a musician or you’re not.  You’re either a creative person or a stenographer”  -Charles Mingus

In recent years I have been applying different concepts to my music making.  A concept that I started focusing on a couple years ago in how I conceptualize improvising and composing is the issue of ‘clarity’.  Clarity can be a very broad concept encompassing tone, time, solo lines, melodies, chord structures… really everything. 

To me the goal of any kind of music is to move the listener.  I think it is easy to become technically proficient at an instrument.  It is quite another to ‘say something’.  I remember when I was in undergrad I played what I thought was a particularly blazing solo and felt very proud of myself.  One of the instructors looked at me and said “one wrong note by Miles says more than a thousand right notes by you”.  At the time I just thought it was kind of a mean thing to say.  As I’ve matured as a player I have come to a better understanding of that comment.  Miles’ solos were so moving that in 1983 George Russell arranged Miles’ solo on So What for big band on the record of the same name.  Kinda Blue is still the #1 selling jazz record of all time (last I checked) and I venture to bet that more babies have been made to that record than maybe any other. 

So when I started trying to apply this overarching concept to everything I do musically (and non-musically for that matter) I stopped to think how it could be applied.  Since an idea as broad and subjective as clarity doesn’t really have a tangible right or wrong answer I had to look outside myself.  I started thinking that clarity is not coming from within but rather how my ideas are being perceived by others. 

There is a desire in the arts to put it on the consumer if they don’t ‘get it’.  We as artists say aloof things like they just aren’t ‘hip enough’.  The consumer feels stupid and since nobody wants to feel that way they move over to something they can understand and moves them.  But in the spirit of communication isn’t the idea to make art that people WANT to view or listen to?  I don’t think this means it can’t be challenging.  But art is a community activity.  I think the producer and the consumer have equal parts in the creation of the art.  After all without both it doesn’t exist.

This is where the concept of clarity comes in.  To me clarity is about presenting any idea in a way that everyone involved can understand the idea.  This doesn’t mean compromising your artistic ideal but you wouldn’t walk into a room and start speaking gibberish.  You can however craft those words in a way that moves your audience.  I believe the same to be true in the visual arts and music.

In the subsequent posts I am going to be writing about how I have applied of clarity to different aspects of my playing and writing.


  1. Yes Sir, I like it. This concept you speak of is exactly what has been on my mind for awhile now with regard to my own playing. While I can't just dismiss the earlier version of me, and my bombastic approach to practically everything, the journey to achieve clarity, and even just thinking about it as helped I think. Playing with others whose approach clarity in the same way, or I like to think in terms of strength, a strong player that embodies all the right stuff can sometimes rub off, so to speak on to the other players. I think there have been studies on this. I am striving for clarity is what I say to myself. And then practice the shit out of tie another idea from one of your other blog posts - learn by doing.
    Hey Marc, this is Paul Townsend, been enjoying your posts. I had no idea.