The musical impulse that is reverberated through the sound of jazz and blues transcends racial and ethnic gaps, overcomes generational differences and personal calamity, and through its pure artistic expression is relatable by all, regardless of the time or place. Purity and freedom are the feelings and emotions which a student (the word being interchangeable with 'master', for no one ever stops being a student, all of us are on a never-ending journey of grasping at enlightening wisdom) of jazz and blues must be able to reach the full potential of in order to wholly appreciate the essence of the music and master its skill of the empowerment of its very soul. I have read/heard of the great masters of jazz and blues, as I have heard of the classical masters, as I have seen the work of the great masters of art: Elridge, Fitzgerald, Ellington, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Da Vinci, Van Gogh... For the masses, these are the masters of the aesthetics which we, as common people, turn to in desperation to escape the chaos of our daily lives and free our minds, if not our bodies; for a fleeting moment of perpetual grace in which we can endure and overcome, and in our solitary escape we join a deeper brotherhood of the many who have attained perpetual bliss through music or art. These great artists- are they masters? I cannot think of one which has put him/herself on a mighty pedestal and claimed to own the throne of jazz, blues, paints and canvases; yet we all dub them as the greatest masters of their own times. Their mastery comes from a rare nascent humbleness but also a deep commitment, bordering enslavement, to the art and music which they constantly shape and create to form excellence in its own time and space but which is also enduring. Hundreds of years from the passing of Da Vinci, people still lose themselves in the profound meaning of his religious artistic depictions; decades after the earliest and most pure songs of jazz have been created, yet people still feel a deep connection to the spell the promise of jazz and blues creates for its listeners.
Music is fleeting, it flows over our bodies, penetrates our ears, and maybe from there- if we let it, it can either consciously or unconsciously penetrate our heart and soul. At this point, the three main components of MUSIC, the creator, his/her infallible production, and the individual who seeks the wonder of music, come together to form the magic of music which makes it ever resounding and healing in the lives of many. As Ralph Ellison describes the masters which he has encountered, “these jazzmen... lived for and with music intently”, the jazz musician retained a “discipline and devotion to his art required of the artist” (Ellison 5). Rarely does genius just happen. Those of us capable of making it happen dedicate our entire lives to master whatever it is we wish to attain or create. Ellison noticed the dedication jazz performers had for their art. This unmatched dedication the jazzmen have for the creation of their music is necessary in the final product- the burning fervency their soul expresses is mirrored in the pieces of the work. Without one of these components, artist- passion- production, there wouldn't be a wholeness of the matter (in this instance the audience comes later, although a very main part of the unity of the resilient victory of jazz). James Baldwin notes in the “Mass Culture and the Creative Artist” that “art and ideas come out of the passion and torment of experience: it is impossible to have a real relationship to the first if one's aim is to be protected from the second”. Experience is what gets us through the day, at the end of which we are slightly, or very much more altered than when the day had begun. Our experiences as individuals and those in relation to others offer perspectives of our life, the world, humanity- and all these come together to stir inside of us our reaction to what these experiences turn us into in the end. The jazzmen, and others, take the seeds of life experience, take the resulting “passion” or “torment”, and transform them into a systematic rhythm, a unique blend of sounds which buries itself deep into the soul of those who open up their hearts and choose to really listen.
The purpose of jazz and blues started out and continued to be one of deliverance, and of grace. Grace in the form of deliverance, of pure pleasure and pain- release. “Deliverance was mine” (Ellison 10) says Ralph Ellison, yet it did not stop there. Deliverance was also to be had for his neighbor who united musical talent with Ralph and through a ceiling they helped one another grow within their development of music. As the power of music “released [the] beast” in Ralph (Ellison 10), the music he played controlled his actions. Music and Ellison were no longer two separate entities, but came together in a unified whole. His music was his master, and Ellison lost himself in its very deepest, raw form- he went back to the beginning of time, where savagery was key in the survival of the fittest, and he let the primitive beast take hold of his very being. For Sonny, “that music... was life or death to him...torture to them” (Baldwin 126). In the ever recurring game of the world, never ending play in life, one thing is fact: Not everyone comes out as victorious. When dealing with something so exquisite and impalpable such as music, someone has to suffer. More often than not it is the musician who values his/her music above all else and plays out every string from the hollows of his body, in a form of expression to the world. It is arduous, on some level torturous, to give oneself over fully to an art form which offers much in return, but the reward is in the moment: “Sonny moved, deep within, exactly like someone in torment. I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants us to do” Ellison 138).
A sadomasochistic affair, a love-hate relationship, all the jealousy, passion, and rage within a fiery Tango- and an instrument filled with the spirit of his Giver- unless experienced, not probable to comprehend... It is rare to see one give him/herself to his/her own passion in life, especially when that giving is done from the very soul and pure intentions. Is the giving ever enough? Is there ever a point where seething perfection is reached and the face behind the instrument walks away? Can he walk away? I do not see why the face behind a soulful musical high would step away while continuing his tune into abyss. And this is perhaps where the relationship is not based on equality anymore, for the scale tips, plunging the musician into a desperation state of musical ardor, not ever stopping. This is why jazz is true. The musician at the other end of the jazz creation is a slave to jazz, he does not ever end his attempt at taking jazz higher and higher. For him, stopping is not an option. It is suicide.
This ethereal body of music is sought after by all those who desperately seek release in a moment of immortality created by the sounds of harmony; and be a part of something greater and more pure than what the harshness of the daily world has to offer. As human beings, we are not programmed to live a life of solitude. We constantly pursue companionship, friendship, togetherness. Although it may be easier for some to admit than others, we need togetherness to thrive. Donny Hathaway's “The Ghetto” shows how we are all part of the big picture, but most importantly we are all part of one anther's lives. Our lives intertwine and overlap, we need each other. Ghetto or no ghetto, it is a reality; a reality that is part of us. Jazz and blues are a major way that folk thrived unanimously- black or white. During one such night of communal jazz playing, The Creole “hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself... He and his boys were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard... it's the only light in this darkness”(Baldwin 139).
The Creole achieved a victory that night, bringing them all together and opening their soul to jazz, offering them escape- if but for a brief moment. The world which we inhabit is a challenge in itself, a daily struggle, and the Creole overcame the daily struggle just to bring others to their knees in wonder and thankfulness at the sound of jazz and blue he set forth. As the musician is slave to his art of music, he is also bound to his listener. While the music comes alive when the musician plays, the art is revived in the listener's mind and soul, and from there, lives on. “I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours... Freedom lurked around us and I understood... that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did” (Baldwin 140).
In all the musician's acts of desperation involving his craft, the one that is most frantic is the act of trying to make his music truly heard. Being bound by the instrument, being bound by his passion of music and music itself, the audience is in control of the musician's passionate craft he is weaving, and can embrace it and live through it, or deny it and in doing so, keep the musician still enslaved. The life produced, the immortality created, is transferred from musician to audience, the experience uniting them and revealing HOPE in a destructive world. Music is wonderful. The beauty of it is that we can make it ours, we can create it, receive it, and also pass it on. The Creole “had made it his...and he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that, passing through death, it can live forever” (Baldwin 140).