Reading about music, in general, gives me the opportunity to soak in information, opinion, ideas about culture and develop a repository from which I can draw for my own writing. This is not unusual, I am sure, for many writers. If I stay within the well of a human history of time, it is without doubt that some shred of what is important to me will remain in my brain for use later on.
When I first started seriously reading about "jazz" and improvised music about ten years ago, some books I would slide through merely picking up the gist of the content. Which was ok, because even though I did not know the implications of what I was reading, I still knew where the information was located if I needed it for reference.
The dancer, Twyla Tharp, in her 2003 book, The Creative Habit, adamantly advocates for passionate involvement when reading. She claims that if a book has no markings in it, the reader has passively traveled through the book. Marking up a book means that the reader has noted revelations that are meaningful and has learned from the text. Tharp gave me permission to mark up books. Using dull pencils, I underline, write comments in the margins, draw stars beside important passages; I turn page corners to identify important passages that I have marked or fold an entire chapter's worth of pages in half to prompt me to read the chapter again.
After I finish a book, I put it on my bookshelves in the music section, which, needless to say, has grown since I dedicated a part of my life to the music about which I write. Interestingly enough, I have returned to few books to research information. But one of those books is As Serious As Your Life by Valerie Wilmer, which, I believe is the most important book on the beginnings of the recognition of improvised music that there is. I have returned to others but have found remarkably that I absorbed more than I thought and, when I write, whatever I absorbed just rolls onto the page when necessary.
At first, I had no context in which to place myself when reading or a basis for developing a viewpoint. Lo, these many years later, the niche for writing that I wandered around to find I have established for myself: creative improvised music. Although I can listen to traditional and mainstream jazz, I hear it for what it is and what it might mean. The filters that my mind applies in listening, do the job of allowing me to recognize immediately when music has some guts to it or something to understand and think about.
At the present time, I am reading The Blue Moment by Richard Williams. Although I am only partially through it, I can say that his approach to Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue," is absolutely extraordinary and blows all previous attempts to assess the significance of this record out of the water. Williams casts a nod to Eric Nisenson and Ashley Kahn for their books presenting information about this landmark recording. But what these books did not do is surround their central theme with the shape of the world coming into the time of the recording in a way that is so sensitive to culture and the consistency of culture that reading the book is satisfying and I feel as though I am visiting a museum, rather than a newspaper stand. With all due respect, the intentions of Nisenson and Kahn may have not been to surround their subject in the same fashion as Williams does.
My reading experiences of histories and biographies are memorable when the authors give me the richness of a whole world. Quentin Bell's biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, has done that. Diedre Beir's biography of Samuel Beckett has done that. Robin D.G. Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk has done that and so has George Lewis' history of the AACM, Roxanna Robinson's biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, James Mellow's Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company, editor S.P. Rosenbaum's The Bloomsbury Group, Jeremy Bernstein's biography of Einstein and the history of earlier 20th century physics.
These books, among many others, paint pictures of eras and invite me into the interpreted experiences of the creators of art, literature, theories, music. As someone who creates, I understand the words I read, not completely because I am not in the time period nor am I the person being written about. But I am in the books. I am part of the creative energy.
copyright 2010 Lyn Horton
Photo: Lyn Horton, "Bicameral Lines," 2009 copyright 2009-10 Lyn Horton