Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an ancient Hebrew diagram that maps the cosmos as well as the human psyche. Most esoteric scholars who study this system are unaware that it is also a map of the overtone series and of musical intervals. Every Hebrew letter represents a whole number ratio which is also a musical interval. This is a logical and rational system for classifying the fundamentals of musical acoustics as well as a mystical map of the subtle planes of the universe. In most ancient alphabets each letter represents a number.
In fact there aren't separate numbers and letters, only letter-numbers. This means that each word is a sum total of letter-numbers. This offers a way of understanding what each word means and what elements make it up. In English words do not have exact relationships with other words. With Hebrew (or Greek for that matter) each word has a very specific relationship with every other word.
Some words have the same total numeric value and are considered to be different aspects of the same energy. This study is called Gematria. Each word has it's place in a mathematical continuum. This type of esoteric study associated musical theory with astrology, geometry, cosmology and qualitative mathematics. Music bound the other esoteric sciences together into a coherent whole. Music has long since been disassociated from these other sciences to the detriment of them all. Musicians today aren't taught that musical harmony is also a system for mapping the innermost reaches of the human mind and for organizing abstract thought processes. The laws of harmony and acoustics are also the laws of vibrational interaction on every plane of experience. I've hardly begun on this subject and could fill many more pages were I to allow myself. Most musicians will not have the patience to delve deeply into this dry and esoteric subject and most esoteric scholars will not have the musical understanding to grasp the tonal significance of it as well.
Click on the graphics for a larger view of the diagrams.

Interactive Tree of Life

QBL as a spiritual path
Tree of Life article
QBL links
Letter as hand gestures
Role of the hand in evolution of language
Sonic theology


The controlled freak out- outside/inside playing

Improvising over changes takes many years of dedicated practice to master. It is a highly intellectually demanding act that requires knowledge of music theory as well as an excellent memory and quick thinking. Once players get a basic grasp of Jazz improvisation it is often hard for them to let go and play by ear again, as they did when they first started to improvise. Long before they were thinking about symmetrical scales or tri-tone subs they just followed their ears and let their fingers do the walking. Once they are blowing bebop lines through changes with some proficiency they find it hard to trust only their ears to navigate for them. I often try to get my students to move outside by disengaging their rational minds for just a moment at a time. It's almost harder to get an intellectual player to play by ear than it is to teach an ear player to learn Jazz harmony.

I like hearing bebop players who are able to step outside without using set harmonic formulas. There are many post-bop players who use harmonic devices in order to take it outside, fewer who are able to play freely by ear and then drop right back inside. It can be hard to convince a student who has worked hard to play over changes to ignore them, even if it is just for short periods of time. I may cross out a few chord changes and tell them to just blow whatever they hear over those bars. I tell them not to play anything that is directly harmonically related to the changes that the rhythm section is playing. They should land on the next written chord change with a strong chord tone. I try to get them to feel comfortable with playing totally outside by ear for just a bar at a time. This is like popping the clutch in a stick shift vehicle. The rational mind is forced to disengage from its calculations and computations while the ears and the fingers momentarily take the reigns. When the 'clutch' is re-engaged the rational mind takes over again without losing it's place in the tune. After the student is comfortable with one bar of cosmic freak out I'll have them try for a few more bars at a time.

It's also nice to work your way outside and then work your way back inside using chord substitutions. For example let's take the first five bars of the bridge of 'What is this thing called love?'

The written changes are:
C-7 /F7 /Bbmaj7 / /Ab7 (b9) /

Let's try playing the first chord of the bridge and then work our way out using strong resolutions, then right before the Ab7(b9) we'll play a few changes to get us back inside. So.....

C-7 B7 /E7 A7/FREAK /OUT! E-7Eb7/Ab7 (b9) /

By beat three we are starting to head outside, culminating in a six beat cosmic freak out in the third bar and the first half of the fourth bar. Beats three and four steps us back inside where we land on terra firma in bar five. Unscathed!

This example shows how we can gradually move outside using standard diatonic harmony, play free for a few moments and then step back inside without anyone knowing what hit them. This way the psychedelic freak out is woven into the tonal harmony seamlessly. It doesn't come as so much of a shock (which isn't always bad) to the listener and the transition outside and back will be much smoother. You'll be able to play like Archie Shepp even at a Bar Mitzvah or your hotel lobby gig!

Listen to George Garzone or Ellery Eskelin for their ability to step across the line between inside and outside playing with ease. Free playing doesn't always have to drive the grandmothers out of the room (my grandmother used to ask me when she came to my gigs if I was going to play any of that 'drive the grandmothers out of the room music'). Grandma won't even know that anything's wrong before you're back from your full fledged FREAK OUT.


Reply to a researcher on New Orleans music

Hi all, I got your email addresses from the Portland Jazz Jams website. I'm a senior at Portland State University and I'm doing a project about the musical history of New Orleans and the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. I'm hoping you have time to answer some questions. Anything you have to say would be helpful. If you could briefly tell me if/how the hurricane has affected you, your music or anyone you know? Also, what do you think has been the greatest musical loss caused by the hurricane? Any other thoughts? I'm going to be compiling these interviews within the next week. Thanks in advance for anything you have to say; it is very much appreciated, Erica Reininger.

My reply:

I'm not from N.O. You may want to talk to Devin Phillips. He can refer you to the other refugees in town from New Orleans.

I know a few folks down there. They have had to relocate, mostly to Texas. I think the greatest loss is all the long term musical projects that were ended because of relocation. I am affected in a positive way, in that I get to play with these refugees here in PDX. The hurricane has affected my music by introducing the New Orleans scene here in in PDX. It has made me more focused on the blues, on swinging, trying to tell more of a story, and playing to the audience more. These are elements that the New Orleans players have brought with them. I'm sure the dispersion has had this same effect on musicians everywhere the refugees have settled. This is bad for the city of New Orleans, butprobably good for the musicians of the host cities.

I always viewed New Orleans as a musical backwater, kind of stunted. Great players lived there and came from there, but I didn't think much of the Jazz world felt like New Orleans was still a great scene. The biggest thing there was Dixieland and that was for the tourists sake. There was also a strange blend of old bebop, brass band music and blues. The thing that really put it on the modern musical map was the Marsalis family and they were never very forward thinking (except for Branford). So I didn't really have much respect for New Orleans. To me it was a dirty, racist, straw hat and suspender wearing, drug addled, poor, hot, humid, boozer's Disneyland. I thought all the really great shit was happening in NYC and that Wynton was a throwback that had hurt the industry.

After being exposed to these players I have come to appreciate the New Orleans style much more. I can see just how NYC has strayed from real swing in favor of freaked out chord changes and odd-time signatures. In NYC psuedo-hipsters stroke their goatees in high-brow martini bars while listening to slide trumpet players playing avant-garde Jazz over world-beat techo-jungle grooves. In New Orleans they always try to connect with the audience with hard swinging and bluesy Jazz. They usually aren't hipper-than-thou, like so many NYC bands. One of the New Orleans musicians told me," I just want to play some jazz, drinks some drinks, and talk to some ladies. All night, all the time." That sums it up right there! In New Orleans they're not so worried about getting written up in the Village Voice, or scanning the audience for Blue Note A&R reps. They aren't trying to take the Jazz world by storm. They just want to play good music and have some fun. There is always the possibility of getting called by Wynton. Devin told me that you don't go audition for Wynton or try to get on his band. Wynton will hear about you if you're happening and then he'll call for you. No one counts on that there.

In the end, I think the elements from an earlier era of Jazz that New Orleans has preserved will re-invigorate the greater Jazz scene. We don't necessarily need a resurgence of Dixieland :-) , but we always could use more swing, more wailing blues and more gravy.

I guess Katrina has profoundly affected my musical outlook. I'm starting to let go more of my need to always play the most harmonically advanced lines that I can possibly come up with. I'm also trying to make my lines swing more and I don't feel as self conscious about playing simple (and sometimes cliché) bluesy phrases.

More modern isn't always better. Usually more modern means less swinging. Less swinging is never good. I hope enough New Orleans musicians relocated to NYC to effect players there the same way that I have been affected.