I love jazz music, but not for the typical reasons that you may think. Most people who like jazz enjoy the smooth baselines and groovy horns. Or perhaps it’s just the rhythm that simply takes them on a journey. All of these are wonderful reasons to love the genre; at one point in time it was the reason I loved it too. However, I currently have a different, deeper love and appreciation for the freedom to fail in jazz.
A while back, I went to a music festival in Las Vegas. Three days jam packed with some of my favorite artists in the world. It was a terrific experience overall but there was one moment in particular within the festival that stood out to me. Nearing the end of the second day, my friend and I were drenched in sweat, water, alcohol, and other foreign liquids after moshing to some of our favorite rappers. Our energy levels were at their peak to say the least. As we glanced at our phones to see what stage we should migrate to next, exhausted from all the mosh pits, one artist stood out among the rest.
If you don’t know a lot about Thundercat, Stephen Bruner is a Grammy award winning funk, neo-soul, jazz bassist. Not only has he put out amazing projects of his own, but has also been heavily featured on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and has worked alongside Flying Lotus on tracks that are so unique, they’re nearly impossible to describe with words. Much like that last sentence, Thundercat’s music is best described as a long, drawn out selection of beats and rhythms that reinvent themselves throughout the song. Said simply, he’s dope. On each song, the listener gets a sense where the music is going but as soon as you do, you’re hit with something completely different.
A big inspiration for this is Thundercat’s jazz roots. Yes there are patterns underlying within his music but there’s also an element of uncertainty and cluelessness. You simply don’t know where it’s going. And neither do the jazz musicians. They have a general sense of what they’re trying to produce, however, the freedom of jazz is abundantly apparent. This is something that fascinates me about the genre; beyond the incredibly creative music. Jazz encapsulates the dual nature of freedom; the yin yang of freedom and failure.
So many of us yearn to be free. Free at work, in our personal lives, free to be who we are at our core. If you live in the US, it’s that thing we just celebrated a couple days ago. What we often forget though is all that goes into achieving freedom. At least I do.
I forget that that freedom requires an immense amount of failure. You get it wrong a lot along the way. Back to the festival, Thundercat took the stage. You could feel the anticipation for his hit song begin to build. But that’s not what he and his band played. Instead he delivered, to me, something far better than that. They let the music and vibe amongst them lead them down whatever path presented itself. They bounced around from beat to beat not really knowing what was coming next.
It was trash.
A failure in every sense of the word. It was the only time in the concert where I saw waves of disappointed people leave. But hey, that’s jazz sometimes. That’s life most of the time. One failure after another. But underneath all that failure, all those missed notes and off beats is courage. Bravery to take a chance, to jump at that opportunity and take a risk to make something beautiful. Perseverance to face failure and press forward. An unwavering spirit in the midst of struggle.
That’s what true freedom means to me. As a person privileged enough to live in a free country, I have lived through times of frustration, failure, and a fear that both of those things bring along with them. These are natural and totally valid feelings. However, they are not feelings that should be condemned, avoided, or ridiculed. Rather, they’re a natural part of the gift each of us should cherish; freedom. So over the remainder of this year, approach everything it brings you like jazz. Play along with the rhythm and take some risks along the way.
Freedom lies in being bold. — Robert Frost