Jazz and simplifying complication
August 09, 2005
Last week, a great Osaka-based bass player and I backed a couple of cool jazz guitarists in one of the biggest Starbucks cafes in Kansai. We all had a blast. I deeply enjoy playing music for people. I love it because I'm energized by communicating and connecting in creative ways with new people. It's a feeling that is hard to put into words. Sometimes a great seminar or presentation will leave me feeling exhilarated too because I feel that, in my own little way, I made a difference in someone's life. Maybe I inspired them, or helped them in some small measure.
Playing music is a performance and also very much a presentation. Good presentations are after all about conversing, sharing, and connecting at an emotional level in an honest and sincere way. It doesn't get much more honest than jazz. It is even easier to connect when playing music since everything is really laid right out there in front for everyone to see and hear. There are no politics, no walls. The music may touch them or it may not, but there is never even the hint of insincerity, questionable motives, or of being anything other than what people see before them at that moment. The smiles, the heads nodding in agreement, and the feet tapping under the tables tell me that we are connecting. It's a fantastic feeling.
Usually when I play a jazz or a blues gig in the city, I have a larger kit of drums. But moving drums is quite problematic in such an urban jungle like Osaka. So for the Starbucks sessions I followed a Zen-like principle of using only what is absolutely necessary to get the job done. I employed a kind of drumming minimalism, if you will.
I knew that to support the guitar and bass, I would only need the essentials. So, a month ago I purchased another drum kit to go along with my regular set. The new set is designed for portability and is called the Pearl Rhythm Traveler. I only used the 14" bass drum from this kit and added my vintage 1966 Ludwig snare, and Paiste high-hats and ride cymbal. This was all I needed for this particular situation.
Having fewer drums is easier to move, of course, but it also was very liberating musically. The fewer drums and cymbals I use, the more I get out of what I have. It is more challenging and creative. And most importantly, a minimal kit was the most appropriate choice for the moment.
The great jazz bassist, Charles Mingus, once said that "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." I like that quote so much that I have used it in some presentations. I am not only looking to simplify messages, but simplify logistics as well
Just as a minimal, yet high-quality, drum kit was the most appropriate equipment choice for the Starbucks venue, there are also times when I decide that I will use a whiteboard for a particular presentation and leave the projector at home. Or I may bring some high-quality lap visuals to pass around the table, or a combination of whiteboard and paper. It all depends on the context and circumstance. There are certainly occasions when using a projector in a boardroom is like bringing in an 18-piece drum kit to a small jazz club. It will work, but it's unnecessary...and it can serve as a wall. You will be surprised how free and creative you can become sometimes without the use slides and the hum of a projector. And since the competition is likely using a standard deck of bulletpoint-filled slides, your analog, minimalist approach may just differentiate you and demonstrate that you have thought more about your client's needs.