The Gear Page


One of my posts was quoted recently on the forum of the Gear Page. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a comment that I had made regarding technique and musical knowledge, provided a topic for such a spirited and fruitful discussion between contributors to that excellent forum.

My original comment was, “I firmly believe that only an intimate knowledge of the rules gives one the right to break them.” The comments on the forum ranged from agreement (which I interpret as an understanding of the concept which I was putting forward) to the thought that the comment was made by an arrogant, know-nothing armchair quarterback.

Well…fair enough. The comment on its own DOES sound arrogant and a bit pedantic. But it was misunderstood as being a blanket statement concerning the arts in general. I Do firmly believe in what I said…in the context of working as a musician in the commercial arena. In other words, playing music for pay. In the discussion, some famous names were used as illustrations to prove that rule breaking is important to the creation of new and cutting edge art forms. I’d like to discuss two of those names and perhaps make clear how my position is supported by these examples.

Charlie Parker, in developing his unique approach to soloing over chord changes, did indeed expand on what was, at the time, the accepted language of the jazz solo. Did he “break” the rules? or did he use the existing framework to create new rules? There is no question that Charlie Parker knew how to play the saxophone with a high level of technique. How could this come about. Did he practice? Is there a correct way to hold one’s fingers on the keys of an alto saxophone? Can one blow into any one of the many holes of a sax, or is there one particular hole that is used according to the “rules?” Charlie Parker KNEW what he was doing. He knew the existing rules, he chose which ones to break, and he created a new genre.

Jimi Hendrix changed the voice of the guitar forever. There is guitar before Jimi and Guitar after Jimi. Now, Jimi did do weird shit to a guitar. But I’m going to stay away from lighter fluid and bashing, and stick to playing. I think that one of Jimi’s biggest contributions to rock guitar was the absolute disregard he had for what was acceptable. Anybody could have turned a marshall all the way up and gotten feedback…try NOT to. But Jimi made it MUSIC. And he did it by playing with no inhibitions. He turned noise into music and forced the issue. He made the unacceptable okay. Did he break the rules? Fuckin’-A plus! He broke All of them. But Jimi, like Bird, knew what he was doing. He had plenty of gigs under his belt. Gigs that required him to play by the rules. And when he got fried on both sides with other peoples rules, he blossomed and made up his own.

Years ago, I was watching on of my kids play basketball in a six-year-old YMCA league. As the clock wound down, we were about to lose when he launched a hook shoot from the corner. Swish! We won and everyone went nuts. After the game, I had a talk with him and explained that although the shot went in, if he did that in the normal course of the game, his coach would probably pull him out for taking high risk shots. “What’s high-risk mean?” he asked me. I explained that it was a shot that would need a lot of luck in order to be successful. “But dad” he answered, ” I can make that shot all day.” And he promptly went to the same spot and made three out of four tries.

He’s in Europe now earning a living…playing basketball. What the fuck do I know…