There are some things that just don’t change. Time passes, and the unimaginative fall into algorithms of comfort and agenda. Rhythms drift into bland blobs of boring beats. Learning becomes a rubric of class schedules and multiple choice while chords pass from C to G to Am to F.
I’d say we need some jazz.
The Pepperdine persona is to find a structure and climb to the top — a worthwhile endeavor if you ask me. Impressive, even. Unfortunately, we do so with the insipid tedium of a tired jellyfish. Jazz teaches just the opposite — that plagiarized completeness is less valuable than original peccadillo. Don’t be upset when you can’t sustain harmony. Make something beautiful anyway. This obsession with completeness is a crutch.
Living well shouldn’t be a computable enterprise. The calculus of life should have jagged edges and upside-down loops. No dark alleyway should be left uncharted. Don’t just repeat what you already know. The greatest ideas are never where they are supposed to be.
Miles Davis sifted through the blues of life, grasping for meaning in a world of show tunes and major chords. Albert Ayler uncovered ghosts and Duke Ellington slashed through a Money Jungle. Coltrane meditated on The Love Supreme.
The future will be legislated by those who take risks and tear through preexisting structures to build their own. We as Waves (ironically a symbol of constant change and shifting sand) often choose to go to class, study, go to the Caf, attend formals, listen to 2Chainz, drink out of red Solo cups and fill our resumes with extra-curriculars. And yet we don’t allow those things to change us. They are just steps on a ladder heading toward zeros on a paycheck.
This is not a call to revolution or dissent but a (rather hypocritical) call to create the beats that dictate your life and decide your steps. Eat oysters. Read Plato. Hike to the cross at 2 a.m. Write poetry you don’t show to anyone. Discover new colors and sounds.
Jazz is the mantra of Socrates and Jesus. It’s the canon of education and the vehicle of an examined life. My favorite jazzman, Charles Mingus, plays a tune called “Myself When I am Real.” Constant change, fluttering changes of pitch are where the self is most evident. Don’t be caught in the monotony of a ticking clock. Rebel against repetition. Even walking, after all, is just a constant state of catching ourselves when falling.
When I recently visited New Orleans, I sat listening to a jazz band in the famed French District. The tapping of my foot was a slapdash cadence of charisma that didn’t conform to notes on a page. The rhythms didn’t make sense. The melody seemed nonsensical and weird. But the lyrics swooned: “Yes I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
To borrow from Cornel West— we begin with catastrophe — even in Malibu. The process of creating something of value from the broken glass of romanticism and harmony has a name. It’s called education. It’s called jazz. And it’s our hope for collectedness and meaning and redemption.
Follow Nate Barton on Twitter: @The NateBarton
As published in the Nov. 7 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.