I’ve been listening to a lot of Bach lately. It started last month when I decided to break out my trusty old Dover edition of the Well-Tempered Clavier and follow along with Keith Jarrett’s recording. (And if you haven’t checked out Keith Jarrett playing classical music, particularly Bach, you owe it yourself to find a recording. He approaches the music with a certain buoyancy that could only come from a world-class jazz pianist, and he manages to refrain from making his Keith noises. But I digress.)
Despite the fact that the Well-Tempered Clavier is written for keyboard, I decided to try playing through some of it on my bass. I mean, why not? Navigating it on the instrument presents a unique set of challenges, but it also seems to lay in a surprisingly accessible way. That seems to be one of the real beauties of this composer – his music can be transferred to practically any instrument, and it will work. Because it’s Bach. I had no idea at first that this little experiment would become an obsession. I just figured it would be a great way to shake things up a bit and try something new. “Let’s play!” I thought to myself. “It will be fun!” I thought to myself.
Now before I go any further, I’m not here to talk about how cool I am playing the Well-Tempered Clavier on the bass. If you could sit in and hear one of my practice sessions, you’d probably cringe. I’m literally putting on a recording of Keith, opening the book and hanging on for dear life. Sometimes I’ll go back to a passage to work out a fingering for a nice little technical exercise, but for the most part it sounds like squeaks and squawks as I surrender the notion that I’m actually supposed to be able to play my instrument. I must keep up with Keith! There is no turning back! No stopping! No soup for you!
I continued this musical punishment for a couple of weeks, not really knowing why I was doing it, but knowing that I couldn’t stop. And then one day…it happened…I was at a jazz gig with a guitar trio, playing standards. I noticed my bass lines felt a little bit different. They were spinning themselves almost beyond my control and perception, and it was effortless. I could almost SEE my note choices before playing them, each one leading logically to the next and to the next in hyper speed….I started to laugh with the realization that I was essentially creating counterpoint the entire time. “Haha! Bach, you sneaky little bastard, I GET YOU.” I was surrounded by a sudden feeling of warmth, as if his spirit were descending to say, “There, there, you small, ignorant child.” And then…
I was left in the cold. Just like that. Once my brain had been alerted to the fact that it was doing something REALLY COOL, it proceeded to ruin it. I TRIED to play contrapuntally. I failed miserably. I became frustrated. Instead of just reveling for a bit in this clairvoyant moment, I let my ego trample all over its beauty. “Stupid Kim,” I berated myself, “You know NOTHING.”
So I’ve decided that maybe it’s time to stop listening to Bach for a bit. I’m getting too close to the sun and flirting with disaster. I think if I just get out of my own way and let the experience sit, it might actually grow. And hopefully the next time I do something really neat, I won’t realize it. I’ll keep you posted.