Letter From The Publisher… Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable

Suzanne CadgèneYears ago, I took a class from a very famous, very crabby psychologist, the late Dr. Albert Ellis. Ellis’ ambition was to teach us that knee-jerk reactions can be managed, and to do this we must free our feelings from the reactions of others. Every week we had an exercise: to loudly call out ALL the stops on our bus or subway rides (“GRAND CENTRAL STATION! CHANGE HERE FOR THE SHUTTLE TO WORLD-FAMOUS TIMES SQUARE!”); we’d go to a public space and ask 100 people to do something simple which they’d likely refuse (“Would you hold my hand?” “Can you tie my shoe/wind my watch for me?”). If a stranger actually did it, it didn’t count toward your 100. Those who know me may wonder whether I was Ellis’ class ringer, but that’s beside the point.

In addition to honing my I-know-what-I’m-doing-even-if-you-don’t skills, weeks of this nonsense taught me to endure long periods outside my comfort zone—to start a magazine, for example. Or to listen to jazz.

Frankly, I started with the wrong stuff and gritted my teeth for a couple weeks. Turns out what I was listening to was, a.) new compositions by garage-jazz artists who don’t know a hell of a lot more about making good jazz than I, or b.) free jazz. Taking a class at Jazz at Lincoln Center from music professor Phil Schaap, whose jazz knowledge—and I mean this literally—puts encyclopedias to shame, we listened to an Ornette Coleman free jazz composition in which a string quartet vies for dominance over a sizeable, squealing jazz ensemble. I told Phil, “I’m not going to live long enough to like this.” (In fairness to Mr. Coleman, this piece is atypical.)

I’ve learned over the past months that jazz is about rhythm and feeling. A beginner who tries to figure out the structure, chords and interplay is likely to suffer frustration, self-doubt (see paragraph one) and an intellectual hernia. Take it easy! As the great bluegrass innovator Sam Bush says, “It’s only music.” Listening carefully to standards like Ella Fitzgerald or Diana Krall’s “Cry Me River” will move your intellectual knowledge forward, but also try falling asleep to some instrumental work, where the rhythms get under your skin and the music makes you comfortable. Herb Ellis & Friends’ instrumental “Georgia (On My Mind)” or Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ “Sunset Road” are both excellent choices.

Our readers don’t curl up with a paperback and an iPod filled with Top-40 clicktracked, Auto-Tuned pap. Elmore always urges music fans to get out early and often to hear today’s opening acts who will—with our support—be tomorrow’s headliners. Here’s another challenge: leave your comfort zone. Listen to music whose very existence is wrapped around performing and recording live, about taking chances, about pushing the envelope. Jazz. Stuff a little jazz in that envelope, folks. You’ll be surprised what benefits you’ll get, including hearing new qualities in your old favorites.*

—Suzanne Cadgène

*You can stretch to country, too. See our music-back guarantee on Page 27 of this month’s issue.

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