Emotional range- the musician as the actor

I see music as an art form that requires the artist to be highly emotionally expressive. One of the things that is usually lacking in younger players, no matter how burning they are technically, is deep emotional expression. Many players never develop this type of expression no matter what their age. The old saying,"You need to live the blues before you can play the blues", is very true. How can a suburban teen know great sorrow or other deep emotions without years of living a hard life? How can we express a complete range of emotions if we are narrow unexpressive people? It takes living a full life to really understand how to express certain deep or subtle emotions in your music. I think that this is true up to a point. In certain cases no amount of wood shedding will do as much for your music as getting your heart squashed and burnt by a lover will, and in a shorter amount time. We can consciously speed up this growth process if we really focus on this aspect of our playing. Like everything, it takes practice to be emotionally expressive. The Jazz musician has quite a lot in common with the professional actor. The actor becomes the character he portrays by taking on a different personality in his mind. Even though the actor may not feel sadness or joy while working he takes on those emotional states until they feel real to him. If he has a scene where he cries the actor might think about when his puppy got flattened by the ice-cream truck at six years old. He relives that sorrow until he cries real tears. The actor's entire instrument (facial expressions, voice, body language) then expresses the emotion or sorrow. To the audience it is real, what they don't know is that the actor is really crying about Spot. We all have certain emotions that we are comfortable with and others that we don't understand or have a hard time expressing. We may have no problem feeling angry but can't express tenderness, or vice versa. We need to learn to use the full range of human emotion in our music even if we aren't use to expressing all these emotions in our daily life. Jazz musicians in general have a tendency to have 'dry' or unemotional personalities. This is a hindrance to being an expressive artist. It is possible to cultivate the ability to work with unfamiliar emotions but it takes some amount of disciplined practice. Maybe only an 'appearance of an emotional state' is possible for the actor or the musician, at least this is better than nothing. The first step toward this kind of emotional range is to try to purposefully take on emotional states before playing. Think of the time you accidentally ran your kitty over with your Big Wheel, or the first time you got dumped. Look at the tune and try to determine what is appropriate. What are the lyrics about? What is the general tone of the melody?

Here is list of emotions to consider in relation to playing music. You don't
need to understand how they directly relate to a way of playing. Just trying
to feel them while playing is enough to affect your music:

Abandoned Abhor Ablaze Abominable Abrasive Absorbed Absorbed Absurd Abused Abusive Accommodating Acknowledged Acquiescent Acrimonious Admonished Adoration Adored Adventurous Adverse Affected Affectionate Afflicted Affronted Afraid Aggravated Aggressive Agitated Agonized Agony Agreeable Airy Awkward Alienated Alive Alluring Alone Altruistic Ambiguous Ambitious Amenable Amorous Amused Anger Anguished Animated Annoyed Anxiety Apathy Appealing Appeasing Appreciation Apprehensive Ardent Arduous Argumentative Armored Aroused Arrogant Astounded Attentive Avoidance Beaten down Bemused Betrayed Bewildered Bewitched Bitchy Bitter Blah Blessed Blissful Blunt Boiling Bored Bothered Brave Breathless Breezy Bright Broken Bruised Buoyant Burdensome Bursting Callous Calm Captivated Captivating Careless Caring Celebrating Chagrined Charmed Chastened Cheerful Cherishing Clandestine Clear Cold Comatose Comfortable Compassion Competitive Complacent Composed Concerned Confused Congenial Content Cool Cornered Crucified Crushed Cursed Cushy Dainty Defensive Dejected Delectable Delicate Delighted Demure Depressed Desirable Desired Desolate Despair Despondent Devoted Devoured Discomfort Discontented Disgust Dismal Dispassionate Displeased Disregard Disregarding Distracted Distressed Disturbed Doldrums Doomed Droopy Dull Eager Earnest Ecstatic Electric Enchanted Endearing Enuring Engaging Enjoy Enlivened Enraged Enraptured Enthused Even tempered Exasperate Exultation Fanatical Fascinated Fearful Fervent Fervor Fiery Flared up Flushed Flustered Fluttery Foaming at the mouth Forbearance Fortitude Frantic Fretful Frigid Frisky Frustration Full Fuming Fun Funny Furious Galvanized Genial Giggly Gleeful Gloomy Glowing Gnawing Grateful Grave Grief Grieving Grim Griped Grounded Gushing Gusto Haggard Half-hearted Hardened Harsh Having Fun Hearty Heavy Hectic Hilarious Hopeful Horrific Horrified Horror-stricken Humorous Hurt Hysterical Impetuous Imposing Impressed Impressionable Impulsive Indulgent Inept Inflexible Infuriated Insatiable Insensitive Insouciant Inspired Interested Intimidated Intrigued Inviting Irrepressible Irritated Jealous Jittery Jolly Jovial Jubilation Languid Laughingly Lethargic Light hearted Lively Loathe Lonely Lonesome Long-suffering Lost Loving Lukewarm Luxurious Mad Manic Martyr Meddlesome Melancholy Melodramatic Merry Mindful Mindless Mirthful Miserable Moderate Mopy Mortified Moved Nervous Nonchalant Numb Optimistic Over the edge Overflowing Over-wrought Pain Panic Paralyzed Passionate Passive Patient Peace of mind Perky Perplexed Perturbed Petrified Piquant Placid Plagued Pleasant Pleasurable Pride Protected Proud Provocative Quarrelsome Quenched Quiet Quivering Quivery Radiant Rash Raving Ravished Ravishing Ready to burst Receptive Reckless Reconciled Refreshed Rejected Rejection Rejoice Relish Repressed Repugnant Resentful Resentment Resigned Resistant Romantic Safe Satiated Satisfaction Scared Secretive Secure Sedate Seduced Seductive Seething Selfish Sensational Sensual Sentimental Serious Shaken Shame Shielded Shocked Shutter Shy Silly Simmering Sincere Sinking Smug Snug Sober Sobering Soft Solemn Somber Sore Sorrow Sorrowful Sour Sparkling Spastic Spicy Spirited Spry Stoic Stranded Stressed Stricken Stung Stunned Subdued Subjugated Suffering Sunny Supportive Surrender Susceptible Suspended Sweet Sympathy Tame Tantalizing Tantrumy Temperate Tender The blues Thick-skinned Thin-skinned Threatened Thrilled Tickled Tight Tight-lipped Timid Tingly Tolerant Tormented Tortured Touched Tranquil Transported Trepidation Troubled Twitchy Uncomfortable Unconcerned Unconscious Uncontrollable Under pressure Undone Unfeeling Unhappy Unimpressed Unruffled Used Vexed Victim Victimized Vivacious Volcanic Voluptuous Vulnerable Warm Warmhearted Weary Welcomed Whining Winsome Wistful Woe Woeful Worked up Worried Wounded Wretched Yearn Yearning Yielding Zealous

These emotions are tools to the improviser, just like whole tone patterns or 3-tonic lines. Work with them, make them your own, mix and match until you find something you like then make them part of your personal musical language. Remember, these emotions do not have to reflect your personality in any way, wear them like masks! In certain spiritual traditions this practice is called conscious invocation- certain scents, colors, shapes also helped to put the practitioner in tune with the energies called upon. We don't have that luxury on the bandstand, unless cigarette smoke is what you need to tune in....... ;)

Think about this, practice and then FEEL and PLAY........


Tim said...

I have to say I'm very moved by this entry. It's much more "method" (as in method acting) than I'dve though you'd be. It makes me think a little of Kenny Werner or "Way of the Hand." More impressionistic or organic.

I actually use metaphor as the driving force behind what I do, what Jack McDuff used to remind me of: make sure you always establish the scene of the crime. In addition to the emotional triggers, it's great to think about cinematic metaphors, geographic/narrative strategies--where am I? (out in the alley, in orbit, on a grassy knoll) What sensations am I experiencing? Stanislavkian awareness, man. I think openess to possibility and foundational knowledge of history of your instrument and tradition are keys to a good free player and a resourceful, fresh bop player. It's a lot of confront the "fear-based" ideas that Werner goes on about. I think I'm a good free player because I'm not afraid to either play inside when it's a so-called "out" gig, and not afraid to take risks and bend expectation when it's an alleged straight date.

This is a great vehicle for you.

Anonymous said...

I love that list. I will try to be in touch with most of the emotions Tuesday at the Makeout Room with my band The Donts.

Hope all is great.

Anonymous said...

that's a wide ranging list.

it must be a liberating experience for actors, they get to be different people.

not just getting deep into yourself.

David Carlos Valdez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Carlos Valdez said...

I totally agree with your take on inside/outside playing. Fear is major force in the make-up most improviser's playing. They fear most of all that the audience won't like what they play. They also fear that the other musicians won't think they're hip enough and they fear that the club owner won't hire them back for another gig. I've been on so many gigs where the bandleader thinks that he is catering to what the client or audience wants and instead strangles the music by tune choices or just by being stiff. It's hard to feel comfortable incorporating totally free playing into a straight ahead gig. Garzone is an interesting case in point.
For years his playing was like a case of split personality disorder. He had a highly developed free personality and a highly developed straight-ahead personality. The two would never be heard in the same night! As he has gotten older the two halves have intermeshed and merged. Yes, he still plays free AND straight-ahead gigs but his playing isn't as different in each situation. I think that this is the true evolution of Jazz; to break down the rigid barriers between styles. This is true freedom music....

Anonymous said...

I totally relate to the split personality thing. . .I love straight playing, but need the free playing. I only wish I had more balance between the two. Billy Mintz (and Gross) are also good examples of that.

It's funny that a music soo reliant on innovation and risk ends up being so fixated on playing it safe or within a small set of parameters, just because so-and-so did it that way. How else does one find one's voice?