“Even now it feels like the performers are the only ones who understand what’s going on, and the audience is just a witness,” Sammy said in our interview. “That never made sense to me because the audience is there, and to pretend like they’re not there is to not include them in the experience. So we try to make them a part of every step.”
It would not be an overstatement to say Morrison provided the soundtrack to my freshman year. Other musicians certainly contributed, often thanks to me seeing them at the Mondavi Center, but none had the same staying power as Morrison, and especially his 1968 album, Astral Weeks, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its release this month.
In a previous post, I wrote about two definitively American musicians, Bob Dylan and Sammy Miller. In keeping with that post’s comparison of American and British music, I now turn to two definitively British musical groups, the Beatles and the Kinks.
With the right outlook, nonprofits should be able to provide commissioned artists not with a rigid set of expectations, but a nexus and an impetus to create art on their own terms and with their own idiosyncrasies. SFJazz showed me the power of that potential. With the infinitude of the universe for inspiration, how could musicians find the act of being commissioned anything but liberating?
What is “American music?” Here is what Sammy had to say. “The bands…that I come back to time and time again are the ones that are trying to work through their struggles. And I kind of love that in American art. There’s sort of a hopefulness in spite of whatever the situation is.”
It may sound like a truism, but music really is a universal language. For instrumental compositions in particular, the notes that a musician reads on the page are the exact same as the notes that the composer put on that page (barring, of course, the occasional emendation or error that may be introduced over the years). Nothing gets “lost in translation,” so to speak, because there literally is no translation.
I am certain that without my class on Latin American racial dynamics, I would have been unable to appreciate the full implications of projects like these; similarly, without my seminar about 1950s jazz, I couldn't have put Charles’s boundary-pushing music in its proper context. But without the experience of that live performance in April 2017, my academic perspective on the music would’ve remained just that—academic. The Mondavi Center made it personal.