The humanizing voice and vision of place in jazz and Daoism.
In Martha C. Nussbaum's phenomenal book Love's Knowledge, Essays on Philosophy and Literature, jazz is explored as an indispensable analogy as she explains not only the hard-to-miss, but also the ineffable quality in Henry James's novels, especially his perceived Aristotelian emphasis on improvisation and his peculiar responsiveness to particularity and context. In Peter D. Hershock's thought-provoking work, Liberating Intimacy: Enlightenment and Social Virtuosity in Ch'an Buddhism, jazz illustrates the subtle but crucial distinction between an ideal Ch'an master and quintessential Confucian sage, with the former compared to "a master of free jazz," a "true man of no rank" who embodies the "unhesitating and unhindered responsiveness," and the latter analogized as a jazz artist who remains "firmly embedded within the definitions of his place and develops a virtuosity akin to that of be-bop stylist" (Hershock 1996, 96). In Katharine C. Purcell and E. Taylor Atkins's article in this journal, "Korean P'ansari and the Blues: Art for Communal Healing," jazz is persuasively explored to enrich our understanding of the undeniable communal healing power inherent not only in jazz, but also in P'ansari, the unique Korean national opera. (1) Thus, as these authors' show our understanding of what jazz is must also be understood in terms of how and why jazz has been frequently analogized, since jazz is not only a significant musical and social institution, but also an indispensable trope of social, cultural, and literary discourse with enormous pedagogical significance.
What is there in, or of, jazz that makes it such an indispensable trope or analogy? There is in jazz a certain unique quality of infinitely intimate responsiveness to the ever-present challenges arising across an open-ended field of experience that inspires dialogue between creativity and adaptability, freedom and restraint, as we may see and feel in almost all kinds of jazz, particularly Miles Davis's "cool jazz," which is the focus in this paper. It is this peculiar responsiveness as so often enriched and enlivened in Davis's music that should partially explain why Davis's visit to Warsaw (then still a part of the Eastern bloc with the Berlin Wall standing between two separated worlds) for the annual Jazz Jamboree on October 23, 1983 turned out to be such an extraordinary event. (2) The infinitely intimate responsiveness of jazz represents a dialectically and dynamically humanizing voice and vision of place that has the peculiar power of reconciling the irreconcilable and transforming the irreversible. While born out of the African-American experience of slavery and reconstruction, jazz nevertheless embodies a vision of hope and optimism in its enriched voice of the unpredictable vitality of life. (3) As I also see it myself in Davis's music, especially in terms of its dramatic coolness, jazz is indeed a uniquely dynamic vision and responsive voice to and of the place, which ultimately stands for the "human condition." According to Ian Carr, the author of Miles Davis: The Definite Biography, "all art, if it is any good has something to say about the human condition ... All true art is also a process of self-discovery for the artist" (Carr 1998, 563). While Davis's music may sometimes sound cool with its evocation of remoteness and aloofness to suggest a touch of otherworldliness, what most characterizes Davis's music is his unique and universally appealing responsiveness to the ever mutating and constantly becoming "human condition" and the unending process of "self-discovery."
This infinitely intimate responsiveness personified in Davis's music is first and foremost his critical and creative response to the ever-changing rhythms of place that he captures on the spot, the trends that he feels here and now, the drama of life yet to come, and the lingering of personal sentiments. Davis, as many critics point out, "always embraced change and was always looking ahead" (Cole 2005, 8). Amid his stubborn "refusal to look back, to pay any homage at all to the past or even expend much time exploring it, and the utter absence of nostalgia," he has, indeed, as Jack Chambers puts it, a kind of "Heraclitan obsession with change and flux" (Chambers 1998, 3). Often, he is bent on "tak[ing] his music in this [or that] new direction" that "he had to face not only the critics, club owners, and record producers who didn't like it, but his family and friends as well" (Szwed 2000, 303). Behind and beneath the apparent obsession, refusal, or his cool form of "middle-aged hipsterism," is Davis's unique responsiveness to his times, "a gut reaction to growing up black in mid-century America." No matter how cool the music is, or however much Davis "has avoided talking about [his past and his feelings] as far as he can," since "expressions of sentiments are considered signs of weakness" and "talking openly about the past invites the flow of feelings," the very coolness of his music often suggests his insatiable passion and nostalgia. Yet, as Chambers explains, "in his art Davis has never been successful in submerging his feelings, no matter how cool and detached the surface of the music, so in his life he has not been able to avoid talking about the past entirely" (Chambers 1998, 3). This is, for instance, what happens in Kind of Blue, in which Davis tries to catch "le temps perdu" or the "ungraspable phantom" of his childhood (Davis 1989, 234).
His cool music is undoubtedly the offspring of his critical and creative responsiveness to the influences of his place, the very "human condition" that enriches his childhood memory and intensifies his response regarding when, where, and how he is motivated to grow up as a human being and a jazz musician confronting numerous problems that challenge the very survival and future of jazz. Davis has become responsive to the historical, social and cultural environment of "race, milieu, moment" that he appears "enigmatic" with a "public image" that was refracted, like an object catching the sun in a clouded pool" (Chamber 1998, 205) or as a "musical chameleon" who "would readily adapt to new musical environments" (Cole 2005, 19). Indeed, his personal response to cool jazz is another example. Initially started as a collective "reaction against the frenetic excesses of bebop," with its "urbane sound, the subtle innovatory scoring, and the calm, unhurried solos" (Carr 1998, 557), cool jazz, as Davis believed, had become too cool or tamed so as to appear lifeless. Cool, according to Davis, had "no melodic line, wasn't lyrical, and [I] couldn't hum it" (Davis 1989, 271). He thus responded to the situation by bringing the music back to life with its lyrical and melodic dynamo while maintaining its restraint, calmness, and subtleties.
Quite often, Davis's responsiveness reveals his skill to turn crises into opportunities as well as his particular care of the unchangeable--the indispensable human elements of his music. Whether confronted with the rising popularity of rock and roll and electrical instruments amid the predicted decline or demise of jazz in the 1960s, or whether jazz had become too "hot" or too "cool," he knows how to respond by creatively adjusting the temperature to make the music refreshing and rejuvenating. Handling crisis regarding whenever and wherever they occur, Davis adapts to the changing tide. This is why he takes on electric instruments and makes a new type of jazz with his recording of Bitches Brew. "Bitches Brew and the follow-up album, Jack Johnson," as Cole points out, "saw Miles forge jazz and rock, but now he was about to add another element to his music--funk" (Cole 2005, 24). No matter how much he responds to the changing situation, Davis never seems to lose sight of the human elements that he finds central to his music. He understands how important these human elements really are. He thus emphasizes, "Bad music is what will ruin music, not the instruments musicians choose to play. I don't see nothing wrong with electrical instruments as long as you get great musicians who will play them right" (Davis 1989, 295). He also understands how personal attachment to music is crucial when he writes, "I wanted to change course, had to change course for me to continue to believe in and love what I was playing" (Davis 1989, 298).
This may also help to explain why Davis can afford such a "privileged position" to be simultaneously involved in and exempted from the controversial trends that define or determine the destiny of jazz as an "exception." Davis, for instance, "found himself in a privileged position among some of the anti-boppers, who began to cite him as an exception to all the things they found wrong in the other." For John Hammond, the renowned discoverer of both Count Basie and Billie Holiday in the 1930's as well as many other great jazz musicians,
Bop lacked the swing I believe essential to great jazz playing, lacked the humor, and the free-flowing invention of the best jazz creators. In their place it offered a new self-consciousness, an excessive emphasis on harmonic and rhythmic revolt, a concentration on technique at the expense of musical emotion. Instead of expanding the form, they contracted it made it their private language. I extend this judgment even to such giants as Bird Parker, Monk, and Coltrane. The superlative Miles Davis is exempted. (Chambers 1998, 118, emphasis added)
Similarly, Davis also remains engaged in but exempted from the problems that people complained about when jazz "became too cool--too effete and emotionless." The "cool period," which, "musically speaking," according to Dizzy Gillespie, "always reminded [him] of white people's music" and devoid of the "guts" which define "this music, jazz" as what it is. Even if Davis's role is undoubtedly that of "the patriarch of cool music," Gillespie insisted the music "wasn't cool like that, anyway" (Chambers 1998, 180).
The exceptional responsiveness that Davis personifies in his music is the freedom of wuwei as expressed from a Daoist perspective because wuwei means an exactly critical and creative human response to whatever challenging circumstances or places that arise in the field of experience. Davis's music exemplifies the dynamic wuwei as actively activeless action, or participatory absence that is so characteristic of Daoist philosophy. Very much the cornerstone of Daoism, the concept of wuwei suggests a philosophy of response and choice in accordance with varying circumstances despite the fact that the term has been translated and misunderstood as "doing nothing." Simply put, Daoism is a philosophy of place and of placing oneself, of how to choose one's position and how to decide where to fit in through being responsive, spontaneous, and creative. In the Daodejing, "the Master," for instance, is described as the one who "sees things as they are, without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle" (Mitchell 1988, 29). Such a simple matter as "letting go" and "residing at the center" also suggests the strategic importance of choice: where and when to fit in, which automatically implies how to fit in--whether at the center or in the "marginal spots," the "low places," or "back positions." The idea of wuwei emphasized in the Daodejing is closely related to the crucial sense of place and "placing," as suggested by the very word place itself. At once a noun and a verb (transitive and intransitive verb), it which involves passive and active tenses and also implies a choice not only of how to act, but also how not to act in accordance with where we are. While listening to jazz and reading Daoist philosophy, place is synonymous with responding, relating, and re-integrating. It means "fitting in," "letting go," "flowing with," or "floating along." What this means for human beings is to be positioned in a self-enriching and enlivening condition where the I is simultaneously transformed into a We, that is, to become part of a contextualized relationship. (4)
With his "self " critically and creatively placed, situated, or saturated, in wuwei, amid the often quite conflicting trends of his time, Miles Davis's responsiveness can be further appreciated with regard to his obsession with improvisation. For Davis, real music really just happens or, as Chambers puts it, "Davis's real music happened in live performances" (Chambers 1998, xiv). This is also what Davis tries to emphasize himself: "I didn't write anything for me to play; I just play what I feel like at the time" (Carr 1998, 149). Davis knows how to place himself in strategic positions in order to let his music happen or "let things groove." This is exactly what "happens" with the recording of Silent Way, for which "Miles seems to have gone about the organization ... in his usual casual manner. Once again, he seemed to be delaying all final decisions until the last possible moment" (Carr 1998, 244). For Davis, improvisation, as in Kind of Blue, is also his responsive means to revive his most cherished emotions and memories, which would otherwise remain utterly inaccessible. With improvisation, he is "trying to," as in his own words, "get close to" the "feeling that [he] had when [he] was six years old, walking with [his] cousin along that dark Arkansas road" (Carr 1998, 234). No matter how freely Davis would improvise, he never allowed himself to stray from the human elements into which he registers himself emotionally. Whether it is the musicians he plays with or the musical range of his own performance, Davis is always consciously responsive to the vital relational and contextual elements. However far he lets himself go along his improvisational line, he always stays close to the human-enriching and enlivening position of his music. This is reflected even in such a simple matter as managing or maintaining the actual range he would play with his trumpet because his "trumpet's middle register," according to Ashley Khan, is often "notably in the same aural range as a human voice," from which Davis never "strays", even when he "languidly [speaks] in succinct, lyrical phrases as in 'So What's' over almost two-minute duration" (Khan 2000, 116).
Davis's responsiveness can also be understood at this point as his responsiveness to his own place defined or configured by the best combination of musicians available for his music to "happen." Indeed, as it has been so frequently testified to in various biographical accounts in addition to Davis's own autobiography, Davis's music "happens" because he adeptly places himself in the best combination of musicians for the best live composition he wants, "a band that was creative, imaginative, supremely tight, and artistic" (Davis 1989, 198). He knows the "trick" of how "to surround [himself] with musicians who don't play the regular run-of-the-mill cliches." According to Cole, "another of Miles' great strengths was his ability to assemble a cast of musicians who would get together." Quoting Robert Irving III., Davis' musical director for five years, Cole adds, "Miles looked for certain qualities in musicians" such as 'confidence without egotism, enthusiasm about the music, a sense of humor, and a willingness to work hard to perfect the music' plus 'a willingness to accept criticism and had an open-minded disposition regarding change, with regards to new approaches to one's instrument and the music" (Cole 2005, 9).
For Davis, improvisation means "collective composition," a natural outcome of the best possible combination of musicians. As he confesses,
During this time and for the next five years I was using a lot of different musicians on my records (and in my working group, too) because I was always looking to see which combinations played what best.... The sound of my music was changing as fast as I was changing musicians, but I was still looking for the combination that could give me the sound that I wanted. (Davis 1989, 312, emphasis added).
Davis reminds us, "You got to remember that the people in a band, the quality of the musicians, is what makes a band great. If you have talented, quality musicians who are willing to work hard, play hard, and do it together. Then you can make a great band." (Davis 1989, 273, emphasis added). Indeed, a jazz musician's commitment to the tradition and his fellow musicians is the bond that grants him the unique freedom for conversation and dialogue. As Wynton Marsalis stresses, "In jazz, it's important for you to listen to how we interpret the rhythms a different way and carry on a musical conversation. The musicians talk to each other in jazz. That's what we do" (Marsalis 1995, 108). Once perfectly situated with his musicians in the fluid relational and contextual setting, clashes of personalities dissolve and dissipate. In the case of Davis, wuwei suggests not how little we can ultimately accomplish but how much we can accomplish with whatever slight adjustments we may need to make in accordance with the fluid relational and contextual setting. However much or frequently Davis might have been justly or unjustly accused of being "hard to get along with," he is undoubtedly a "relational" or "together" person as far as his music goes. Otherwise, it could be inconceivable that his music would happen in the way it does.
The unique responsiveness to change that Davis' music personifies also creates a unique wuwei situation or hinge-like state where we as the audience, along with the musicians, can break free from normal restrictions or predictability so we are in a position to let our spirits freely flow and soar. It is in this state that everything otherwise fixed, definite, or unrelated becomes instantly fluid, indefinitely related, and mutually transformable. There is, in other words, no mundane "this" or "that" to tear apart or to patch up our experiences with, but a harmonious fluidity of oneness and wholeness to soothe, smooth, enrich, and enliven our senses. This is also what happens in Davis' music. Listening to Davis, we understand why Zhuangzi, with his deadpan seriousness, pokes fun with our either "this" or "that" mentality that only allows us to see trees but not forests and why he wants us to break free into a hinge-like state "in which "this" and "that" no longer find their opposites. Zhuangzi calls it "the hinge of the Way," the way of the Dao, because "when the hinge is fitted into the socket, it can respond endlessly. Its right then is a single endlessness and its wrong too is a single endlessness" (Watson 1996, 34). What we often find in Davis' music is this cool hinge-like state where we come to feel our "self " melted away, re-shaped, or re-defined with the free flow or fluidity of composition through the best possible combination that his music embodies.
Obviously, Davis' music is cool, but it does not simply mean that he cools it down when music, as in the case of bebop, becomes too hot. Neither does it mean that he heats it up when music becomes too cool as in the form of West Coast cool jazz. Instead, with himself situated in a responsive vantage point amid the fast changing musical environment of his time and with the creative responsiveness, or wuwei, he makes the cool jazz truly cool, not because of being devoid of passion, dynamo, drama, or life but full of it in the most measured, spontaneous, lyrical and melodic forms often enlivened with reflective pauses, eloquent silence, and contemplative rhythms. Such occasions are exemplified in compositions such as "Blue in Green," "All Blues," and "Flamenco Sketches." Davis' music is indeed the music of wuwei. His wuwei music is "cool" because in its performance all opposites are brought into a uniquely harmonious composite that reconciles the irreconcilable for the substantial appears elusive, the elusive salient, the noisy peaceful, or, in a moment, it's all the other way around in his cool jazz way.
It is in this state where everything audible also becomes simultaneously visual and vice versa. I cannot count how many times while listening to Davis what instantly emerges in my mind are the various and vivid images that I have long forgotten, or that may otherwise appear totally irrelevant. To reverse this process and move to the visual and then the auditory, this is particularly true of the photograph Moon and Half Dome by Ansel Adams. One can see silence quietly frozen or eternalized on the edged textures of the silver colored moon-lit cliff. One can hear timeless whispers of eternality fleeting or floating around the perfect stillness of the moon suggesting the immeasurable immensity, immediacy, and intimacy of nature, and, at the same time, the unutterable motion, mood, and moment of silence, life, and drama. This perfect life of stillness and silence indeed often sounds suggestively distinct or visual even to those who just started their aesthetic journey. Such is the case with my students Chris Emerson and Ryan Wolfer. (5) One responded to this experience by saying that he felt the magnificent "work of God captured by man" and another claimed he could not only hear, but also see the majestic silence in it. In this magnificent image of life and nature, the silvery coolness, velvet roughness, and moonlit shades and shadows vividly suggest the rhythm of nature in its frozen music and fluid solitude. Miles Davis reverses this process--yin becomes yang and yang becomes yin,
With such awakened imagery, the irresistible beauty of Davis' cool rhythms constantly brings one within the eternalized instance presented in Adams' photography, a picture of cool jazz par excellence. Davis' cool music not only encourages, but also enables us to see all through its sensuous beats, substantial elusiveness, elusive salience, noisy peacefulness, chaotic harmony, gentle roughness, lively lifelessness, sublime solidity, and cool warmth of life in and around the little moon amid the immeasurable depth of the eternity of life. This distinct musical effect of transforming the audible into visual could also be understood in terms of his confessed obsession with drawing and painting: "More and more I've been drawing and painting. I get obsessed with it like I do with music and everything else that I care about (Davis 1989, 103). Is he consciously or unconsciously pursuing in his music the visual quality that he is now obsessed with?
How can cool jazz make us see things in such a different way? What is revealed to us in both cool jazz and Daoist philosophy is the most fundamental human aesthetic experience, "synaesthesia," as the ancients called it; it means the union of the senses. As we often experience in Davis' music, synaesthesia indicates the unusual (but undoubtedly universal) aesthetic or human experience wherein ordinary sense experiences dissolve as the audible becomes visual and the visual becomes audible. (6) Synaesthesia is a rather common phenomenon, but since it is so common or familiar we scarcely notice it. For instance, in everyday situations we often run into expressions such as "it looks hot" or "it sounds cool." In his poem "London," William Blake suggests that he not only hears, but also sees "... the hapless soldier's sigh/Runs in blood down palace walls." (7) In Nostormo, Joseph Conrad describes how "the solitude appeared like a great void, and the silence of the gulf like a tense, thin, cord to which [Don Martin Decoud] hung suspended by both hands," and how "the cord of silence snap[s] in the solitude of the Placid Gulf " with the self-inflicted gunshot that ends the passionate misanthropic or nihilist's life (Conrad 1974, 498-9). In "Tong Guan," Qian Zhongshu discusses how a little apricot flower sticking out the yard's wall suggests the "noisy" color of the coming spring and how severely this wonderful choice of word "noisy" is ridiculed by the straight thinking critic Li Yu as "illogical" (Qian 1984, 21). Qian also refers to the mystics Saint-Martin who confesses, "I heard flowers that sounded and saw notes that shone" (Qian 1984, 28). In both "Tong Guan" and Guanzhui Bian, Qian mentions interesting cases in the Liezi, an ancient Daoist text, in which one's eye can hear like an ear, one's ear can smell like a nose, and one's nose can taste like a mouth. All things are interconnected with one's mind and heart in concentration and in synaesthesia the apparent distinction between the forms of things dissolves.
The synaesthetic quality of Miles Davis' music further characterizes his infinitely intimate response to life. Sensitive and responsive as he is, Davis often tries to catch the meaningful void, the profound silence, or substantial emptiness through his music via a practiced spontaneity and improvisation. By strategically placing himself or communicating sometimes only through "cryptic comments," Davis and his band mates become active in playing not only what is there, but also what not there. In his autobiography, Davis writes about how they changed what had been written "In a Silent Way" by throwing out the chord sheets thereby eliminating all the chords that had become too cluttered for the melody to come out. As a result, their music is of silent way, "beautiful and fresh," with everyone "deal[ing] with the situation and playing around what is there and above where they think they can" (Davis 1989, 196). Actually, what they play and what comes out are not only what's there, but also what is not there or what is above where they think they can go: the infinite and immeasurable possibilities and paces of humanity, life, or Dao is creatively suggested by the finite, defined, measurable, or cryptic musical comments. Of this, Holland has a solid explanation.
What he means is ... 'Don't play what's there. Play what's not there' ... He's saying, 'Don't play what your fingers fall into. Don't play what you would play on an E minor 7th. Don't play that. Play something else. Don't play what you go for. Play the next thing.' He was always trying to put you in a new space where you weren't approaching the music from the same point of view all the time, or from a preconceived point of view. Usually, he would say those things just to put you in that space. It was almost like a haiku thing--or a Zen thing where the master says a couple of words and the student gets enlightened [of the infinite]. (Carr 1998, 247)
To play or capture what is not there explains Davis' covert nostalgia with the "ungraspable phantom of life," or "le temps perdu," despite his commonly noted desire for change. In Kind of Blue, particularly in "All Blues" and "So What" he tries to capture, "what that music sounded like and felt like" as he heard it while walking home from church as a child or "the exact sound of the African finger piano up in that sound."
Simultaneously nostalgic and anxious for change, what Davis tries to do is not simply about things in the past or changes in the present, but involves responding to things that are both there and not there, things that are so elusive and essential in which he always falls short of capturing. Therefore, what he actually tries to do, as Szwed suggests, is to let what's not there shine out" by "shifting the relationship between the rhythm section and the melody instruments" and thereby "alter[ing] the perspective between ground and figure, and the ratio of elements within jazz." He wants to create, as Brian Eno suggests, "a powerful context for his music, one larger than jazz, and it was that context which was listened to" (Szwed 2000, 405). This is exactly what is happening in the famous "So What" solo, which is, according to Khan, "a brilliant illustration of two other aspects of trumpet sound with regard to, first of all, his genius for simplicity" and, secondly, his "almost exaggerated economy to his approach juggling long tones and silence to achieve a disarmingly causal effect, and a palpable sense of drama" (Khan 2000, 116, emphasis added). Davis' simple cool notes thus tell us how to visualize the invisible but essential "void," "emptiness," or "hollowness" in ways suggested by the often elusive/illusive fluid and stillness of their rhythms. In these rhythms, unpredictable and disruptive, we are constantly and instantly jerked from the dangerous path of normalcy and predictability into soul-redefining abysses of indeterminate non-being or placed into a timeless past awaiting an unpredictable future. The cool notes keep us in the process of "change, mutation, and becoming" because thinking to be worthy of the name of thinking, as Nietzsche would emphasize, "has to be learned in the way dancing has to be learned," which means to be learned through a musician's live "fingers for nuances" and from our primal experience with "subtle thrill" that "the intellectual light feet communicates to all the muscles" of our ever-present being and non-being (Hollingdale 1990, 47, 77).
For the full flavor of that "Zen thing" so characteristically suggestive of Davis' music in terms of his intention and endeavor, we may need to take another turn to Chinese philosophy, toward the philosophy of Seng Zhao, who was a short-lived, but gift ed Chinese Buddhist-Daoist monk of the early 5th century (384-414). In Zhao Lun, his epoch-making treatise, he weds Buddhism to Daoism. In the process of rendering Buddhism Chinese, Zhao reconciles the irreconcilable: the antimony between thing and relation, motion and rest, being and non-being. He accomplishes this by weaving into his argument the Buddhist concepts of "double truth" and "middle path" in accordance with his re-interpretation of motion and rest, being and non-being. Following his beloved teacher, the famed visiting Indian monk Kumarajiva, Zhao avails himself of the rich tradition of Daoist and Buddhist philosophies, particularly of the Mahayana tradition of Nagarjuna, the most crucial and widely studied founder of Madhyamaka, which is a skeptical and dialectical analytic philosophy.
What is immediately relevant with regard to our understanding of Davis' music, however, is Zhao's fundamental idea that things can be exposed of their substantiality and emptied of the relations that make them things or what we consider to be "conventionally real," (8) especially our perceived and assumed ideas of cause and effect. Relations, in other words, while substantial in making things things, also become, at the same time, the very cause of their own inability to establish a new understanding of substantial emptiness, a kind of Dasein. In his two volume version of The History of Chinese Philosophy, Fung Yu-lan emphasizes how Zhao make us see that "being and non-being do not involve an antithesis" and how "the true aspect of things is that they neither exist nor non-exist, or [that] they both exist and do not exist" (Fung 1953, 265) despite "the popular view of 'non-being' that there is nothing there, and of 'being,' that there is really and truly something there" (Fung 1953, 263). As a matter of fact," Zhao makes us see "there are things there, but they are not real. They exist in one sense but not in another" (Fung 1953, 265). Even more central is Zhao's argument concerning freedom--Davis enjoys this kind of freedom when entangles antimony or antithesis, which enables him to negotiate for a "privileged position" that is simultaneously involved in and exempted from the controversial trends that define or determine the destiny of jazz as an "exception," as well as letting his music happen in a passionately cool fashion that is often full of emptiness.
What Davis calls "the Zen thing" can be understood in terms of Zhao's approach. The sudden or jerky motions or rhythms along with the abrupt and prolonged pauses characteristic of Davis' music could be appreciated with regard to how often they tend to empty his music of certain "conventionally real" things or predictable flow that "metonymizes" the music with a kind of soothing, smooth, and sweet "nextness" to reveal the bare fullness or naked emptiness. It is the kind of coolness that cannot be simply understood as, or in terms of, a simple antithetical relation, but rather substantial bareness itself. Is it a kind of naked Dasein or "primordial experience" which we may suddenly be exposed to or thrown into as in the second part of Goethe's Faust, which, in C. J. Jung's words, "rend[s] from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world, and allow [us] a glimpse into the unfathomed abyss of what has not yet become" (Dell and Baynes 1933, 155)?
We can also understand Davis' music in conjunction with William James's radical empiricism. To emphasize how his philosophy is radically different from the positivist spirit of ordinary empiricism, James stresses the high importance, or the very basis, of his philosophy as the immediately felt life in the "connection of things" (my emphasis). James' sense of life in things are also reflected or represented in things by such trivial and/or commonplace words that are indispensable but easily overlooked in their functions: "with, near, next, like, from, towards, against, because, for, through, [which according to James], designate types of conjunctive relation arranged in a roughly ascending order of intimacy and inclusiveness" (James 1996, 45). (9)
Zhao's argument is also what is great about Davis' music. It is exactly his often abrupt suspension or disruption of the smooth flow of nextness, with which his music also cultivates an enjoyable sense of conventional realness or the actual sequence of life that James values as crucial to our experience of life as it is. With such abruptness in ways that Zhao might also suggest, Davis' music also makes us feel the other equally crucial life experience indicated by such words as: besides, behind, beneath, or beyond that signify nextness or in-betweenness. It makes us feel a kind of empty fullness, or a substantial void in the conventionally connected and felt flow of life. We can thus feel motion in quiescence, hear soundless but loud silence, enjoy a unique sense of freedom out of the cycle of simple antimony, or see a road not taken within the road well-trodden and the other worldliness in this world--the Zen thing.
With Daoist philosophy illuminated by the analogy with cool jazz, or cool jazz elucidated by Daoism and Buddhism, we can learn how to see not just a world that is certain, tangible, visible, measurable in the form of substance, but one that is uncertain, intangible, invisible, and immeasurable in the form of both being and non-being. We should then try to observe the world not from a familiar point of view, but from a different point, one that may not be what we are used to or to which we feel comfortable. Thus, I want my students to learn how to appreciate not only what is there, but also what is not there through what is there, that is, the beauty of the invisible, the grace of open space, the eloquent silence or what Han Shan, Matsuo Basho, or John Keats would all suggest as the beauty of the unheard melodies that are sweeter than those heard. When I hear Daoist philosophy in cool jazz, I am confident my students will also see things that they otherwise do not see; I am confident they will see the significantly ethical, aesthetic, kinesthetic, and synaesthetic ways--the Jazz and Daoist ways--of life.
What we can learn from Miles Davis' music and Daoist philosophy with regard to what we teach in the humanities is self-evident--to be responsive to what is human and to be sensitive to the humanity defining and challenging place or condition. Such an often quietly responsive and sensitive voice and vision is indeed personified in Davis' music, the art of expressing the hot "cool."
As Carr suggests, "all art, if it is any good, has something to say about the human condition ... All true art is also a process of self-discovery for the artist." For Davis, undoubtedly, the best art exemplifies, defines, and personifies this notion of "art" in general and "true art" in particular. It is not only because "Davis' work in recordings and performances has always had these wider terms of reference on human conditions, but also because "Davis traveled further down the road than almost anyone else in jazz" (Carr 1998, 563) through his responsive action of wuwei. Miles Davis's greatest feat is personifying or humanizing his jazz with such "unflagging intelligence, great courage, integrity, honesty and a sustained spirit of inquiry [that is] always in the pursuit of art--never mere experimentation for its own sake." It is because "artistic life, whatever its faults or failings, was a triumph of vision and will. His serious commitment and superb achievements have enriched and dignified the music and its audience and we musicians have been magnified by his example" (Carr 1998, 563). Miles Davis, the man and his music, is the great metaphor of humanity that shines through its ubiquitous and universal appeal. (10)
If Dao can mean "way-seeking" and "way-making" at the same time, as Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall suggest, (11) Davis's jazz, with its remarkable spontaneity and responsiveness, is way seeking and making. Such way-making or "Dao-carving" not only illuminates the seemingly elusive Dao, but it also indicates the importance of teaching not in jargon but by analogy. It might be thought the spirit of the ungraspable phantom of Davis's cool jazz in parallel with Daoism could be better understood or appreciated in the watery images that characterize the soul of Daoism. But the spirit of jazz indeed resembles water that incarnates itself in the forms of a stream or steam; it celebrates its mercurial existence in the form of falls, rivers, lakes, seas, or oceans; it may creatively shape itself into any conceivable geographical form that resists, retains, or otherwise contain its flows. The unique sense of freedom through improvisation exemplified in the form of cool jazz also characterizes the concept of wuwei as actively action-less action. If we can teach or to be responsively and responsibly interpersonal and improvisational in the ways of both jazz and Daoism, we should then accomplish our goals of teaching the humanities as an indispensable part of education in the cultivation of well-rounded beings who are not merely manufactured specialized "tools" (Confucius), or bred as a specially trained dogs. As Einstein emphasizes:
It is not enough to teach man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquires an understanding and a lively sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he--with his specialized knowledge--more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person ... He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community. These insights are conveyed to the younger generations through personal contact with those who teach, not--or at least not in the main--through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the "humanities" as important. (Einstein 1982, 65, emphasis added)
Indeed, the mission is never to be accomplished without crucial "personal contact with those who teach" in the humanities. What this means is that through an instructor's crucial "personal contact" his or her professional and personal strengths enhance, enrich, and enliven students' critical and creative perception, judgment, and understanding not only in terms of their own cultural traditions, but cross-culturally as well. In this increasingly incorporated and fragmented world of ours that is caught in the irreversible processes of globalization such an education is now a must. Thus, education requires teaching students not only to think in terms of logic, familiar premises, and/or useful common senses, but also to perceive and understand things-in-the-complex-world out of the usual habits of their minds. They need not only to know how to recognize the road not taken, but also how to detect the road not taken within the road that is well traveled. A good teacher should be, in this sense, like a jazz musician and a Daoist, or like a Daoist who is also jazz musician.
Ames, Roger T. 1989. "Putting the Te back into Taoism" in Nature in Asia Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. J. Baird Callicott and
Roger T. Ames eds. Albany: State University of New York. Carr, Ian. 1998. Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press.
Chambers, Jack. 1998. Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis. New York: Da Capo Press.
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(1) See East-West Connections: Review of Asian Studies. Volume 2. No.1: 2002.
(2) In Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography, Ian Carr offers an extended account of this event: "This Warsaw concert turned out to be an extraordinary event. Poland was still a part of the Eastern bloc, the Iron Curtain was still in place, though somewhat eroded, and glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were some years away. It has to be remembered that during World War 11, jazz was banned in Germany and Japan, partly for racial reasons--the African and Jewish elements--but also because small-group jazz can be a perfect metaphor for democracy and liberty, as opposed to license. This occurs when the bandleader is a central authority under whose auspices each member of the group can develop his or her own identity and creativity. The greater each musician's individuality, the more potent the collective identity of the group, and all the qualities necessary for jazz--individuality, spontaneity, autonomous control, trust in one's chosen associates--have always been anathema to totalitarian regimes. During World War 11, jazz became an important part of the Resistance in countries all over Europe during the Nazi occupation, and after the war it became a form of resistance and a symbol of the assertion of the individual in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite countries" (405).
(3) It is very much like the "wall" in Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," a symbol of institutional nuisance at first sight, which functions not only to separate humans from nature and humans from one another, but also it brings the two otherwise totally unrelated strangers together both to recognize each other as neighbors and to construct a communal and collaborative relationship.
(4) For contemporary interpreters of Daoism, such as David Jones and John Culliney, wuwei means both where and how we place our "self " because "self " is emphatically relational as well as contextualized because the "Daoist approach ... has always yielded a contextualized self, a self that realizes its being as a self through its integration with the other myriad creatures and things" (Jones and Culliney, 1999, 1). With its emphasis on the unusual intimacy and interdependence among things, the self of Daoism, as the authors see it, becomes relationalized and contextualized so as to produce a particular kind of "butterfly effect." Roger T. Ames also emphasizes self as relational and contextual from an aesthetic perspective. Ames' aesthetic view of the Dao not only brings back the sagely agency of de, but also further emphasizes the interconnection between participatory elements within a given system or composition. He proposes an "aesthetic composition," in which de and wuwei could have myriad ways of functioning. Like Jones and Culliney, what Ames emphasizes is also a system or model which is "immediately distinguishable from transcendent formalism in that there is no pre-assigned pattern" (Ames 1989, 117). Wuwei is thus a natural outcome of this system within which "the organization and order of existence emerges out of the spontaneous arrangement of the participants" (Ames 1989, 128). Similarly, the unmistakable sense of response and freedom in jazz also revolutionizes or refreshes our understanding of place, which is no longer a word that denotes something fixed but connotes live fluidity of content, context, process, and position. It is this unmistakably local or peculiar and yet universally appealing fluidity in jazz and Daoism that make both the authentic voices of the places and cultures each represents.
(5) Chris Emerson was in my Introduction to Humanities (1:00), Fall 2001, and Ryan Wolfe was in my Introduction to Humanities (2:00) class, Fall 2005. Both students responded in their daily five minutes written responses that they must complete for themselves to use as outlines for class discussion on a given piece of artwork and for me to collect at the end of class and bring back to them next class after a quick check.
(6) For a vivid discussion of cases concerning "synaesthesia" in classical Chinese and Western literature, see Qian Zhongshu, "Synaesthesia" in Zhang Longxi and Wen Rumin eds. Comparative Literature Studies: A Collection. 1984. Beijing: Peking University Press.
(7) Laurie G. Kirszner, et al. 1991. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 3rd ed. New York: Harcourt. 899.
(8) I borrow this from Jay L. Garfield. 2003. Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 24. The term best describes what I refer to in accordance with Seng Zhao, as Garfield uses it in the following context: "Nagarjuna relentlessly analyzes phenomena or processes that appear to exist independently and argues that they cannot so exist, and yet, though Jacking the inherent existence imputed to them either by naive common sense or sophisticated realistic philosophical theory, these phenomena are not nonexistent; they are, he argues, conventionally real."
(9) As anyone who speaks Japanese may recall that what makes Japanese Japanese is not those extendedly borrowed kanji in the form of nouns, verbs, and even adjectives, but those functional words, e.g., *(o), *(ni), *(wa), *(ka),*(ga), *(no), and *(mo), etc., which define grammatical order and verbal relations.
(10) Personally, I know little about Miles Davis, the man behind the music, or person beneath the big name, nor am I at all motivated to know about him until I have become so engrossed with his music that urges me to approach the man who has now appeared to personify and humanize the music. I then started reading various biographical accounts of Davis in addition to his own autobiography. Why should his music have such an appeal to me, a Chinese native, as it does to millions of others? An answer to this question, other than jazz as the now generally recognized and appreciated symbolism of freedom and democracy, should be highly significant with regard to our efforts to understand any peculiar human condition. It should also be important for us to look further into this potentially infinite "process of self-discovery regarding who we are and why we the way we are as humans," if this is, as Carr emphasizes, what "all art" or "all true art" is meant to convey.
(11) For an extended argument see Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall. 2003. Daodejing "Making This Life Significant": A Philosophical Translation New York: Ballantine, 13.
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