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On The Grind

Alexander P. Brown
Contributing Writer
alexanderparisbrown[at]gmail.com / @RelaxAndAspire

Being a cultural critic means that in my head I make extrapolations of from what is presented in the media into a more philosophical meaning. For example, I could say that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would make a horrible band leader as he is impossible to work with anyone who doesn’t completely agree with him. Or, as I posit today, the world could take notice of jazz today as inspiration to the great challenges in the western world; that we all need to act like friggen adults from time to time and do what we have to do before we do what we want to do.

It’s difficult to get that message across, doing out of necessity rather than pure want. Mainstream rap continually holds up artists who are the “next big things” who have spent a blink of an eye in the regional touring or mixtape circuit and quickly releasing corporate-pushed LP’s amongst mass publicity. Pop stars seemingly arrive out of nowhere, decked out in full regalia with complicated choreography and who’s who list of eager but seemingly mystified collaborators.

But of course this is all make-believe. Jazz has little such stories. There’s a seeming lineage when it comes to jazz artists, even the freshest face can reach six steps to Miles or their tutorial family tree can trace all the way back to Kid Ory. Like most occupations in the world there’s a set number of steps one takes to become a jazz performer, something that takes away from the mystique, the larger-than-life press bios that come from most stars. You grow up thinking of these people as super-heroes, and the sparkle rubs off if you find out they were curiously lucky, but maddeningly determined.

Take Wes Montgomery. If the publicist of his day were as ardent as in our time the story would’ve been he was fiddling around on his guitar looking for new sounds and then came up with playing with his thumb in a stroke of genius. Rather the well-told tale has it that the guitarist was working hours opposite his wife before he was a career performer and thus had to practice as softly as possible while she slept. It isn’t exactly the Hollywood mystique artists have long since cultivated.

So when I think about the current realities of life, the fact I want to be a career writer, I have to remember that life is more jazz than the pop identity fabrications. That for most of us, becoming a new rising star in our respective industry means years of specialized study, hundreds of hours in free labor, thousands of hours in under-valued work and then recognition that somehow proves value. Very few of us appear on Youtube one day and then are heralded industry-Jesus the next. Most of us have to work so we can work for a living; jazz is working music.

Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work can be found at his blog Relax and Aspire.