|A kind of magic happened
a few weeks ago in
University of California campus. Geri Allen's piano concert in Recital
Hall 101 coincided with my evening feeding schedule. I threw hunger to
the wind as robust, elegant, damper-off,
colorful washes of sound
stacked and combined in the performance space, an ethereal bonus to
the deliberate keystrokes
Ms. Allen offered us. It was ecstatic music,
I couldn't help but feel as my stomach
grumbled, ratcheting up a
connection within. Soon I surprised myself
with the restraint.
I had to muster to keep from shouting
the thought bouncing around my head in
ten thousand point marquee glow, "I FUCKING LOVE FOOD!!!"
Yes, to the music! Yes, to eats! Yes! Yes!
Yes! On reflection, I could have let it
rip, inviting a quick and uncomfortable ushering to the curb.
Improvisation can absorb such a disturbance to the force, though it
certainly would have changed the flow of the evening. Seldom do we get
to experience the mind/body/soul connection
in so visceral and raw a way. I kept my impulses inside in the moment, but am sure glad
to share it now. Improvisation can do this.
I was in town for the UCSC-ISIM
International Festival and Conference.
I'm a first-timer to any International Society For Improvised
event, and it was happening in one of my favorite places in all the
My history with Santa Cruz includes my instruments Big Red and
the H'arpeggione, both made by my good friend,
Fred Carlson, in the
Bonny Doon hills just up the coast. Fred and I had the honor to
co-present on taking an idea and seeing it through to physical
fruition. Talking it out, I more completely realized what a huge part
of my life, and of my developing improvisational sensibility, the
instruments have been. I've grown up alongside them. Fred highlighted
the beneath-the-surface improvisational aspects of his creative
endeavors from lutherie to songwriting. The H'arpeggione and harp
guitar Big Red have kin and kith spanning hundreds of years
and a few
continents, though they are modern manifestations of the muse. Having
a relatively blank slate with which to struggle, discover, and soar
has been amazing for my music. The future is unwritten as I enjoy the
now, and I thank Fred for this. And I thank improvisation.
Fred Carlson (inventor)
Killick Hinds (artist-H'arpeggione)
Santa Cruz terrain is in places steep, to put it mildly. Each day I
perched my rental car in the Core West Structure, a redwood ensquared
Endor Forest cement bunker, a Himalaya yaw above much of the festival
action. I can't say irritation was the strong note in my affect,
rather huffing and puffing with a sweaty finish. I fancy myself in
good shape and, true, on a flat stretch, watch out! This
several-times-daily traverse at first made me feel double the age of
the slinky college students, which I just about am, though inspired a
dusting off of certain underused leg musculature, something coming in
handy during these shortest days of winter...I front-loaded my
seasonal exercise. For this I again give thanks to improvisation.
I wouldn't've done it else-wise.
Some highlights: harpist Susie Allen and her students Aniela, Drake,
and Chris from CalArts made brilliant introspective waves in the
awfully chilly Kresge Town Hall, a Peach Pit-esque (90210 fans,
anyone?) theater room. They played beautifully despite cold fingers,
and gave us impassioned insight into their motivations. I got to play
with them later on that night in their waterfront rental house, along
with Roman Stolyar from Siberia...thanks be
to improvisation. Levy
Lorenzo's light controlled sound trigger in a dark classroom was a
sonority seance with wonderful wow factor. Trumpeter Dave Ballou cut
the bull in helping students find what really jazzes them, especially
if they're gonna play jazz. The last minute addition of Gino Robair
gave us maybe the best microphone solo ever. I really loved Charles
Lloyd's pianist; who is this guy? He's great! Somebody should discover
him. Oh, haha, the program tells me he's Jason Moran. I think people
know. There was a spontaneous big group with horns, strings, and
electronics that held together nicely, passing the baton at all the
right times in all the right ways. And there was the sweet Sunday
morning duo of saxophonist Kate Olson and guitarist Gary Prince.
Now the scheduling was less tidy than it could
have been. When there
was a start-time delay it log-jammed
the next, and the next.
I'd like to see two things when ISIM again
The first is less emphasis on
delivering papers, and more on playing.
We can dance about architecture in the
abstract. Here's an opportunity to
get all these hearts and minds in for some
serious getting down.
The second is I'd
like an equalizing of the famous/obscure, celebrity/upstart
I've seen it done at the High Zero Festival in Baltimore. Everyone
accorded the same. It yields stratospheric results. And it would seem
to, as ISIM aims, "Rebuild Global Community
Through the Arts".
The days of rigid hierarchy are numbered in
the improvisational world.
Sure, we can recognize excellence and
achievement and longevity, yet there's
something to be said for commitment in the moment. Everyone attending
made an effort to get to Santa Cruz, newbees and old-timers alike.
There was a considerable outpouring of time and money, and certainly
energy. Recognizing this is only fair, and would serve as a model to
bring back to our homes, schools, offices, and to our relationships
with ourselves, each other and to the Earth. It's a young
organization, ISIM, and it's got a heck of an exciting road ahead.
We're dealing with improvisation, the most ancient and Zen of human
interactions. IMPROVISATION! For this I am so incredibly thankful.
Peace and Love,
written in Athens, Georgia
December 22, 2009