Monday, September 13, 2010


Wabi-sabi. "What's wabi-sabi" you say? I'm glad so you asked. I happen to be an expert on the subject. Well, actually, I just read about it very recently, but it is a principle to which I have subscribed without ever actually having heard the name before. So here goes.

"There's a beauty to imperfection. This is the essence of the Japanese priciple of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade. It teaches that cracks and scratches in things should be embraced. It's also about simplicity. You strip things down and then use what you have. Leonard Koren, author of a book on wabi-sabi, gives this advice: "Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don't sterilize." It's a beautiful way to put it. Leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses it's soul. It seems robotic"

The above paragraph came from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson, pages 182-3, published by Crown Business. I'd put a proper footnote at the bottom of the page but I don't know the correct way to do so. And wabi-sabi would dictate that rather than look it up and make it all perfect that I just leave it as is instead.

So, I think I have always followed the wabi-sabi principle. I've never been all that concerned with perfection in most of what I do. (That didn't apply to things like preparing my uniform when I was in the military!) I don't care about performances being slick, cool and polished. I want them to be heart felt. Make those attempts at new and exciting things. If you miss, I don't care. It was real. And I like music that is pared down the right way. There can be a lot of things going on in a jazz orchestra arrangement in a good way or in a bad way. So often things just sound so busy all the time. I believe Maria Schneider's music is a perfect example the right way. People come up to her and tell her how complex her music is. But she replies that actually the melodies are so simple that a child could sing them. They are just developed, ornamented and harmonized in the right way. It's really simple music. Bob Brookmeyer would be another example. Sure, there is lots going on. But Bob truly believes in only writing what is necessary. There are no improvised solos in a piece until he feels that's the only thing that can go there. Some of his works for big band have no improvised solos. No cookie cutter charts. Nothing slick for the sake of being slick. And I'm happy for it. I don't like when people tell me to listen to big band chart "X" because it's really cool. I don't want really cool. I want real.

So, I believe the principle of wabi-sabi will reflected in two ways in the Re-write Of Spring project. First, I believe that paring the work down to it's essence was exactly what I tried to do as I arranged and orchestrated this piece for jazz orchestra. Actually, it's probably more like it is what I had to do. We simply didn't have the instrumentation to start with. There was no way we could cover everything going on in the orchestral score. And why would we even try. Jazz is all about stripping things to their essence and then creating something new and unique on top of that. Jazz has often been called the sound of surprise. If we tried to deal with everything, where would the surprise be? We've taken the piece, stripped it down and re-dressed it. The work is very recognizable yet unique.

Second, we are definitely embracing cracks and scratches. There are a few places in the arrangements where I realize it could have been better with a few changes to what I wrote. But I've never been one to do lot's of re-writes. I fix the obvious mistakes, but the parts that were weaker or lacking I don't try to perfect. I leave it as a testament to what I was doing at that time and simply try to learn from it so that I don't repeat the same "error" later on. And we are also embracing cracks and scratches in the performance. The is live music performed by live musicians. And it is difficult music. (I believe I've said that at least a few time before.) 17 people performing music over the course of 75 minutes is bound to make for a few flubs. And so be it. We could take and over dub and do all kinds of pro-tools fixes. But we've chosen to do no overdubs and the number of pro-tools fixes we've done could be counted with your fingers with some left over. And that's how it should be. This is a document of what took place at a given moment in time. And everything about it makes it beautiful.

Wabi-sabi. You should try it. It is a breath of fresh air in such a plastic world of plastic entertainers and plastic products. And you should sample a good batch of it when the CD of The Re-write of Spring comes out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go as I suddenly have a craving for some Japanese food. Some sushi with a good dose of wusabi sounds just right.

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