Zen and Jazz by Richard Tabnik

On Zen and Jazz:

by Richard Tabnik

Can anyone recommend any resources about the connections/similarites between zen and jazz improvisation? Also anything on jazz and intuition? Thanks in advance…

The question of Intuition and Jazz goes back to Lennie Tristano, who based his entire artistic and pedagogical existence on Intuition and Feeling!

Even though he went through a lifetime of exhaustive study and practice of music, and recommended it for his students, one of the basic, important, and profound differences in Tristano’s scene was that everything had to come from feeling and intuition, not intellect [although he was accused of being intellectual], chops

[although his were phenomenal!], theory [although he was a genius of innovative music], or style [“To me, jazz is not a style; jazz is a feeling”]. The idea with getting with something was to stretch out with your feeling and intuition, not “build up your chops”. In 1975, Lennie spoke about Bud Powell’s influence on him:

“This is what I’ve always strived for; to be able to sit down and play what you hear and feel. And without Bud’s example, I don’t think I could really have arrived at what I have arrived at in my teaching. I was striving for that, but since I hadn’t heard it, it was difficult to get to it. But after I heard Bud, that changed everything. Because it simply meant that if you were really going to portray your feelings, your fingers had to be able to duplicate what you heard and felt. Every note…Every note Bud played

had a specific individual attention paid to it, which is fabulous when you think of a piano, which is nothing more than a big pile of junk. It’s all screws and pieces of felt and pieces of wood and glue, right? And the way most people play it, thatÕs the way it sounds. But when Bud plays it, it’s no longer a piano. He gets it past being a piano, which is practically impossible. But he does it, and that came right to my core.”

“When Bud played the piano, the musical logic of his work is perfect. Absolutely perfect. In whatever way it was organized in his brain and then transmitted though his fingers, whatever way that happened, it was absolute perfection…Behind it all is Bud’s ability through his fingers and his feelings to actually give you exactly what he feels. Now imagine that–to hear somebody with just fingers, portray a profound feeling to you . That’s something else. And it has had a profound effect , not only on my playing, but on the playing of all the people who have studied with me…There’shardly anything anybody could say about Bud Powell which could emphasize how great he was…someone who is contributing something in the 20th century which has never been done before.”

“Nowadays musicians are interested in ‘chops’, technique and vocabulary. But I donÕt teach that way. Now I have short-lived students. ItÕs not discouraging. It’s the way it is…I have so many who want to study with me that it keeps me going…but they are short-lived because they want particular things. They don’t want the whole. Whereas I feel as serious about teaching as I so about playing: it must be done with everything you have.”

“I teach from the conceptual point of view–according to the individual, of course. I’m not interested in teaching parts, only the whole. The whole is greater than the parts. Everyone learns that in school. Bird was certainly greater than all his licks. That’s why the imitators are not great. They’re only doing the parts.”

In his early years, he had himself billed as “Lennie Tristano and His Intuitive Music”. One of his many innovations was the first recordings and performances of free playing with his band.

“Free form means playing without a fixed chord progression; without a time signature; without a specified tempo. I had been working with my men in this context for several years so that the music which resulted was not haphazard or hit and miss….These two sides were completely spontaneously improvised. A lot of people who heard them thought they were compositions…”

In fact, the title of the first free track, recorded in 1949 is “Intuition”. It is amazing to realize that, in all of his great music, it is coming from such a deep place. It is ironic that people accuse him of so many things when, in fact, the jazz scene at large went that way to a large degree, e.g. intellectualism [playing from a theoretical idea or certain repetitive changes, licks, scales; not necessarily hearing and feeling it], chops, [practicing licks and then playing them, trying to create music from technique, instead of letting the technique flow from the feeling], being “cold” [what’s colder than ‘selling out’ and/or the aforementioned?]

He passed this innovative and profound conception to his many students, as well as through his music. His great students include:
Lee Konitz [especially his work from ’49-’55]
Warne Marsh
Connie Crothers
Sal Mosca
Lenny Popkin
Liz Gorrill
Sheila Jordan
Billie Bauer
Roger Mancuso
Ted Brown
Fran Canisius
Willie Dennis
Don Ferrara
Peter Ind
Charlie Mingus
Jeff Morton
Bill Russo
Betty Scott
Marylou Williams
and many others.
“I think the reason it all began, and this was in Chicago, was because no one else there was trying to teach anything special besides reading and embouchure building. So musicians come to me…I didn’t really know how to teach at that time, but students who wanted to learn taught me how to teach.”
Lennie was really the first to take women completely seriously in jazz.
“Women are more open, they’re looser, they’re more emotional and spontaneous, they are more intuitive and original, they’re never out to prove how fast, or how loud or how high they can play. They are less compulsive, and for that reason they tend to do less work; they get side-tracked by their relationships with men. They don’t have the same opportunities to get out there and do anything because everyone gives them a hard time because they’re women.”
“If I can talk about women being so great the question can be asked ‘Why aren’t there more women out there?’ Society won’t let it happen. Women are brought up to catch a man, get married and have kids, It’s sociological. They have to suffer every kind if indignity if they work in clubs. They’re though of as inferior musicians, especially by men, and some women.”
“But in my experience it’s changing. The women coming up now are in a different place. They don’t feel the inferiority that society has always imposed on them. They take up boxing and judo and karate, and every kind of sport you could think of. They’re deliberately changing the whole scene of inequality in every sense.
And this is my own thought. I think that men are afraid that if they really allowed women to get turned loose, that’s gonna be it for them.If they had equal opportunity in every area I think they would far surpass men because of their imagination. Women want to change. Men don’t want to change, They want the upper hand.”
For a catalog of his music from the record company he started, write:
Jazz Records
POBox 30273
NYC, NY 10011-0103


There are also recordings on Atlantic, Keynote, Capitol, and, more recently, Rhino.
For a catalog of the music of people deeply influenced by him, including those that studied with him, send me your postal address via e-mail or write:
New Artists Records
POBox 549
NYC, NY 10018-0549

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