You are on page 1of 164

Ways of the Hand

This page intentionally left blank

Ways of the Hand
A Rewritten Account
David Sudnow
foreword by Hubert L. Dreyfus
The MIT Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England
1978, 1993, 2001 David Sudnow
All rights reserved.
This book was set in Sabon by The MIT Press and was printed and
bound in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sudnow, David.
Ways of the hand : a rewritten account / David Sudnow ; foreword
by Hubert L. Dreyfus.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. )
ISBN 0-262-19467-8 (hc. : alk. paper)
1. Improvisation (Music). 2. Hand. 3. JazzInstruction and
study. 4. Phenomenology. I. Dreyfus, Hubert L. II. Title.
MT68 .S89 2001
786.2'16593dc21 2001044330
To my extraordinary wife, Cathryn
The hand reaches and extends, receives and welcomesand not just
things: the hand extends itself, and receives its own welcome in the
hands of others. The hand holds. The hand carries. The hand designs
and signs, presumably because man is a sign . . . the hands gestures
run everywhere through language, in their most perfect purity precisely
when man speaks by being silent. And only when man speaks, does he
thinknot the other way around, as metaphysics still believes. Every
motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through
the element of thinking, every bearing of the hand bears itself in that
Martin Heidegger
The meaning of a sentence appears intelligible throughout, detachable
from the sentence and finitely self-subsistent in an intelligible world,
because we presuppose as given all those exchanges, owed to the
history of the language, which contribute to determining its sense. In
music, on the other hand, no vocabulary is presupposed, the meaning
appears as linked to the empirical presence of the sounds, and that is
why music strikes us as dumb. But in fact . . . the clearness of language
stands out from an obscure background, and if we carry our research
far enough we shall eventually find that language is equally uncommu-
nicative of anything other than itself, that its meaning is inseparable
from it.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Foreword by Hubert L. Dreyfus ix
A Rewritten Account xv
Acknowledgments xxi
Preface 1
Beginnings 5
Going for the Sounds 37
Going for the Jazz 73
Notes 131
This page intentionally left blank
This unique, challenging, and rewarding book speaks to many
different constituencies of readers: sociologists, linguists, cog-
nitive scientists, musicologists, teachers, and philosophers, to
name a few. It has something to say to all these disciplines
because it is not a theoretical book. Rather, it grapples with the
task of articulating the relevant details of a paradigm case of
the phenomena to which all these disciplines are ultimately
responsible: the ways embodied beings acquire the skills of
giving order to, or, better, finding order in, our temporally
unfolding experience. It is a phenomenology of how we come
to find our way about in the world, whether it be the world of
jazz, discourse, typing, tennis, or getting on and off the bus.
As a study of how our bodies gain their grasp of the world,
Ways of the Hand is in the tradition of Merleau-Pontys Phe-
nomenology of Perception. Sudnow writes:
Sitting at the piano, trying to make sense of what was happening, and
studying Merleau-Pontys discussions of embodiment, I found myself, in
his own terms, not so much encountering a new philosophy as recog-
nizing what [one] had been waiting for. A copy of his Phenomenology
always remains close at hand.
Like Phenomenology of Perception, Sudnows work has impor-
tant implications for those who want to understand the nature
of skillful performance. Sudnows detailed description of his
x Foreword
acquisition of the skilled hands of a jazz pianist shows the limi-
tations of a cognitivism that thinks that having a skill consists in
interiorizing the theory of a domain.
Sudnow starts, in Beginnings, by hunting for particular
features, in his case the notes on the piano keyboard, and prac-
ticing following rules, such as the typical jazz scales, until they
become second nature.
After much experience such a novice progresses to the stage
where he finds himself able to reach for gestalts, like chords or
scales as a whole, without having to think about them, and
then to begin to apply maxims, such as repeat this melodic
cluster, as in his Going for the Sounds. Next, at a level one
might call intermittent competence, the student has to form a
strategy to get from one situation to the next, as Sudnow
begins to do in the first part of Going for the Jazz. Finally,
this too becomes something the hand can do, so that now there
is a strategy without a strategist, although such proficiency is
still interrupted by the occasional need to thematize aspects of
the performance. After years of accumulating specific experi-
ences of many thousands of ways to move, he gradually mas-
ters the essence of improvisational play with the development
of a finely shaped (and herein closely described) rhythmic coor-
dination that synthesizes such movements into true jazz sen-
tences. As Going for the Jazz reaches its climax, there is
finally no longer an I that plans, not even a mind that aims
ahead, but a jazz hand that knows at each moment how to
reach for the music.
1. In the course of his detailed phenomenology, Sudnow implicitly
corrects a subtle but surprising error in Phenomenology of Perception.
Merleau-Ponty occasionally characterizes the lived body as an I can,
whereas Sudnow is clear that it is not he but his hand that reaches for
the jazz, as, in the Odyssey, Homer says of his heroes that, when they
sat down to a banquet, their hands went out to the food in front of
Foreword xi
Sudnows detailed description suggests that the cognitivist
theory of skill acquisition, taken for granted from Socrates to
Descartes to Kant to Husserl to Piaget, has the phenomenon
upside down. Rather than moving from specific cases to
abstract principles, skill acquisition seems to move in the oppo-
site direction, from principles followed until they are interior-
ized, to the possession of so many types of concrete cases paired
with types of responses that each situation leads fluidly to the
next. This doesnt prove that the cognitivist is mistaken, but it
shifts the burden of proof to those who think of skill acquisi-
tion as the acquisition of more and more refined rules.
Likewise, empiricists, who think of skills in terms of associ-
ations of experiences or the formation of linear neural connec-
tions (what Merleau-Pontys contemporaries called the reflex
arc), would have to defend their view in the face of the phe-
nomenon noted by both Merleau-Ponty and Sudnow that one
can transfer ones skills from what one hand has learned to the
other hand, or, as Sudnow notes, from playing on an adults to
a childs keyboard.
But Sudnows work moves in the opposite direction from
Merleau-Pontys. Like any philosopher, Merleau-Ponty pro-
vides only enough detail in his description of action and per-
ception to motivate his move to generality and ultimately to
ontology, whereas Sudnow purposefully restricts himself, in
what he calls a production account, to reveal only the con-
creteness of situated relevant detail. And in articulating one of
the most subtle, rich, intricate, and inarticulate skills human
beings have developed, Sudnow provides new insights into
them. The only way to account for Merleau-Pontys misleading char-
acterization of the egoless agency of the skilled body involved in a task
is that, for reasons we cannot explore here, he took over the expres-
sion I can from Husserl, who did think of all action as produced by
an egos aiming at a goal.
xii Foreword
how the body takes over a domain and, most particularly, how
it uses varying styles of pulsation to coordinate the temporal
unfolding of skilled activity, whether it be music or speech.
This adds flesh to Merleau-Pontys analysis and implicitly
develops further Merleau-Pontys critique of the subject/object
account of being-in-the-world.
Sudnow is able to describe how complex temporal skills are
organized because he is a unique hybrid. By the time we are
able to reflect, we are already living in our language, and as
linguistic beings we are in a poor position to offer a phenom-
enology of how speaking works. Sudnow, however, began to
learn jazz improvisation at the age of thirty, before which time
he had been trained as a social anthropologist. Thus he is a
unique combination of skilled observer and professional musi-
cian. His pathbreaking work in this book not only gives us an
insight into all skill acquisition by following the development
of a particularly subtle skill; it puts him, as such an experi-
enced hybrid, in a special position to attempt to articulate the
hidden achievements of a mature speaker, as he is now aiming
to accomplish with studies of his own experiences in learning
a second language. We can look forward to his report.
Meanwhile, this new and improved version of Ways of the
Hand will continue to reward readers who want to catch a
2. Research that comes from another directionfrom such broad details
as that the body moves forward more easily than backward and has to
balance in a gravitational fieldcan also lead to new understanding of
what Merleau-Ponty calls motor intentionality and thus of the body
as a way of being that is neither subject nor object, but the discloser of
the spatiotemporal world. See Samuel Todess Body and World (MIT
Press, 2001). Sudnows and Todess work carry forward and go beyond
Merleau-Pontys phenomenology of the active body. Together they are
uniquely at the forefront in doing Merleau-Ponty-inspired research on
embodiment, and not, as so many others do, merely interpreting
Merleau-Pontys philosophy.
Foreword xiii
glimpse of the magic their body performs every moment as they
find their way about in the world.
Hubert L. Dreyfus
Professor of Philosophy
in the Graduate School
University of California, Berkeley
This page intentionally left blank
A Rewritten Account
The constant rereading of a manuscript before publication may
yield a discomfiting sense that theres not that much at all to the
tome on which youve worked for so long. And when in 1977 I
could read every word of this report in a half hour, I had to
force myself to turn it in to the publisher quickly and forget
about it as best I could.
Nearly twenty-five years later I decided to wrap up the
nationwide music teaching program Id developed over most of
the time since this books completion, and return to full-time
writing. My first goal was to be a volume on the basis and
implementation of my keyboard learning philosophy, a music
training method that gradually evolved out of some findings
first reported here.
That would bring closure to a long chapter
of my life. The chance arose for an extended stay in Europe,
and I decided to work on this project there.
With the exception of a few yearlong visiting professorships,
Id had very little contact with the academic world I left in 1975
to write about and then teach music. So on little more than a
lark, I posted a notice on a bulletin board I came upon by
chance on the Web, a couple of weeks before leaving the States.
It was an international site for a specialty within social science
that studies ordinary commonsense thinking, a group with
xvi A Rewritten Account
which I was associated during its formative years in the sixties,
and from which some of my early thoughts for studying music
My posting simply said I was coming to Europe and
would be happy to give some talks at universities if there was
any interest in that.
After such a long hiatus, only a few contributors to this site
were familiar to me, but apparently many knew early sociolog-
ical research Id done,
and this book itself had gained the
ambiguous reputation of being some sort of a classic. The
response to my posting was unexpected. Over a dozen invita-
tions were emailed within a few days from universities through-
out Europe. By the time my flight left, I had a tight speaking
schedule up ahead.
As time neared for my first talks, after about two months
abroad, Id been busy outlining my intended report on training.
But it would still take much more thinking to firm up a fully
bookworthy plan from the collection of notes and incomplete
essays written in my scarce spare time over the past decades, as
I was developing a philosophy of education while needing to
make a living with it.
At the last moment I decided to talk about Ways of the Hand,
instead of my efforts with pedagogy just yet. I figured Id be on
firmer footing, and that my audiences would as readily wel-
come a discussion of this book.
At the first two lectures, in Oxford and Wales, I had such an
awkward time summarizing a thesis I assumed Id recall in
close detail, despite the passage of so many years, that I knew
Id need to reread this book for the first time since its publica-
tion, and do so soon, in a five-day break before my next talk.
I found a paperback copy in an Oxford bookstore and spent
those full days trying to decipher what in the world it was
about in detail.
A Rewritten Account xvii
At the next presentation I was only slightly better prepared.
It was a difficult description to thematize briefly. As the lecture
tour progressed I got a bit better at speaking about it, but there
were still some critical places in the study that I couldnt easily
summarize because I couldnt easily follow them. My last expe-
rience with the book, that half hour of reading when it was
done in the seventies, had been clearly artifactual. Then, I knew
its details like the palm of my hand, and it wasnt so much a
matter of reading a book as scanning the score for some music
or the script for a part thats already been well memorized.
There had been differences of opinion about the study. Some
reviewers called it poetic, and there were universities where it
was assigned as an example of especially intricate description.
But it also captured other imaginations as the most convoluted
writing in print, and some professors assigned it for students to
see just that. In any event, it was a dense dissertation to digest.
The book had become one of those works that are widely pur-
chased because of certain mass media reviews, but so esoteric
that theyre seldom read closely enough to yield aneven approx-
imately accurate synopsis.
In a phone call with my editor at the MIT Press, the books
paperback publisher, I mentioned the idea of a rewrite, and my
reservations about such an odd notion. His quick enthusiasm
was startling, exciting, and a bit disconcerting. It would mean
postponing my intended project for some months, but more
importantly, I now worried whether I could really justify rewri-
ting an earlier published work simply because it was hard to
I knew I couldnt alter its form because the developmental
narrative was essential, and a reorganization at that level ran
the high risk of a total unraveling that might be impossible to
reweave. If I augmented the account in other than an arbitrary
xviii A Rewritten Account
waytaking this or that occasion to say moreit would evolve
into a different book. A revision being out of the question, some
sort of an edit seemed the sole sensible solution.
I put out the request to friends for any cases they might rec-
ollect of an author essentially rewriting his own published
work, citations I could at least invoke to help somehow warrant
the effort, if only to myself. I got nothing back of any relevance.
Of course the decision came down to one issue: did the book
offer a perspective and findings of sufficient import that pro-
viding for their greater accessibility might amount to more than
a possibly pleasant yet rather self-indulgent and potentially
embarrassing enterprise?
I obviously decided that the gains are worth the risks. So,
alaswhile Id have preferred it if another could have done the
jobIve reedited my own book, and the MIT Press has been
bold enough to publish it.
Some small sections have been eliminated and others added,
many pages touched up, and many left almost as they were. But
in some places, particularly, the original descriptions were so
intricate that I clearly hadnt rights to fret over a lack of serious
As I recovered the detailed sense of it all by starting to rewrite
the book, I felt I could trim down and clean up these more dif-
ficult sections with some success, and that minor changes would
increase the clarity throughout. Trying to avoid gratuitous
remarks that might take on a diversionary life of their own, I
found it essential not so much to translate the language into a
different one, as to try to clarify it on its own terms at its own
Surprised to find myself as engrossed in the findings as when
they were first reportedwell, that convinced me it was worth
the effort. The book proposes some possible discoveries about
A Rewritten Account xix
how certain detailed aspects of improvised conduct are orga-
nized. I intended it as nothing more or less than a descriptively
close account of some essential problematic tasks faced in the
production of a three- or four-second spate of sensible linguis-
tic gesturing. Twenty-odd years of extensive piano playing later,
I find that its descriptions of key aspects of musical-linguistic
skill remain sufficiently valid, and so far as I know not chal-
lenged, that I can simply restate them. And perhaps more
The report is about jazz piano playing, and most particu-
larly so. But by the time it was done, I also saw it as a sort of
prolegomenon to the study of talking. There is so much in
common between ordinary speaking and musical improvisa-
tion that, at the least, not to expect descriptions of experience
at producing one to inform approaches to the other is plainly
The body makes rapid and finely articulated moves from one
place to the next on time, proper places and timings very closely
defined by cohorts of fellow speakers. The body finds its way
from place to place in the course of moving, and, certainly in
general, not by figuring out places to go in advance. It takes
years to become a mature speaker and listener in each domain.
I came to see my passable first phenomenology of aspects of
jazz piano performance as a suggestive preface for the phenom-
enological description of articulated gestures of all sorts, talk-
ing included.
But now its your book, not mine, a study of speaking jazz at
a piano, and Im gratified if there are any other useful meanings
you might find in it for yourselves.
In light of its form, I think youll gain a best first access to the
phenomena it reports if its read in full sections, with chapters
or numbered section headings as pause markers. Occasional
double spaces within sections might best first warrant little
more than a coffee break. For what its worth, the book was
written with a good deal of reading aloud.
Im sorry that its still difficult, yet hopefully enough less so
than before.
David Sudnow
July 4, 2001
Tbingen, Germany
xx A Rewritten Account
First Id like to thank Larry Cohen of the MIT Press, for having
the boldness to support this unusual enterprise. Second, my
appreciation goes out to Matthew Abbate, my editor at the MIT
Press, who undertook a major task with a difficult book. He dis-
played great diligence in dealing with its complexities, grasping
every last detail carefully, and exhibited truly remarkable edito-
rial skill at every turn. Third, Im grateful to all of those who
invited me to speak of my work at universities in Great Britain
and throughout the continent, a lecture series that set in motion
my decision to redo the book. Fourth, I thank the many thou-
sands of students of my piano course who contributed in innu-
merable ways to my continued studies of piano skill over the
past decades. I trust that the many students, from all walks of
life, who were especially important to me know who they are.
Last, and most of all, is my profound indebtedness to Jack
Kroll of Newsweek, who first reviewed the original Harvard
University Press edition of the book in such glowing terms. I
was most fortunate to have been his friend over the many years
since we met after the books publication in 1978, and his
recent death not only occasions my continuing grief but is a
gigantic loss to quality journalism. Newsweek will search far
and wide to match the contributions Jack made to its magazine
and the public it serves.
This page intentionally left blank
Ways of the Hand
This page intentionally left blank
From an upright posture Ive looked down at my hands on a
piano for some years while learning to play jazz, and when I
look at them now my look is deeply informed by its history.
When I watch my hands on a typewriter I dont recognize
their movements, startled by their looks as Im surprised by my
profile in the mirrors of a clothing stores dressing room. Its as
though I were watching an interior part of my body do its busi-
ness. But my piano hands are familiar indeed. I not only know
their looks in the intimate ways we all know our hands looks,
but Ive also come to see jazz-making ways of the hand.
When learning to play, for quite a while I was busy watching
my hands and the keyboard to avoid trouble and find places to
go. Jazz students spend a good deal of time practicing move-
ments along rule-governed paths on the piano, like various
scales, to have ways to keep on going with the music. Such
pathways can be vital when youre first trying to improvise and
not follow a musical score. Youve got to know just where
youre headed in order to get there correctly, not tripping up
along the way, not hitting two keys together out of uncertainty,
for instance. In most playing situations you must keep the
action moving, cant stop and think about good next places to
go. These routes, ordered sequences of keys one may describe
with simple arithmeticlike go up 1 note, come down 2, now
2 Preface
up 2 and down 3, then up 3 and down 4, to create one
sequence from an infinite pilesuch paths become clearly
staked out keyboard places that are eventually seen at a glance,
paths along which you can sustain your movements and keep
up a more or less continuing flow of articulations. Without a
score, when faced with the task of making up melodies such
paths are invaluable.
For a long time I guided my hands on the keyboard by moving
along all kinds of routes and scales that I conceived in my
minds eye, and, when I did look at the piano, I was so involved
in an analytic mode of travel that I didnt see the hands affairs
as I now do. Their affairs and my looking were different.
Now I dont expressly use pathways to make melodies, but
discover good-sounding places to go, from each note to the next,
in the course of getting there, singing improvised jazz. And from
my upright posture I look down and see what I never saw
before. At last I see jazz pianists hands, and there was a critical
time, not long ago, when I had the most vivid impression that
my fingers seemed to be making the music by themselves.
As I watch letters coming up on the page when I rapidly type
out a note to myself, watch them lay down as smoothly as a
competent flycaster places his lure on a trout stream, I wonder:
had I a similar history of looking at my hands at this keyboard,
would I now see fingers thinking?
I intend my descriptions as indications for how one might
eventually speak methodically and rationally, if only crudely for
now, when saying things like: the handin music, eating, weav-
ing, carving, cooking, drawing, writing, surgery, dialing, typing,
signing, whereverthis hand chooses where to go as much as
I do.
I offer a first portrait of the handicraft of jazz piano impro-
visation, an extraordinary domain of action for the closer study
of the body and its works in general. In jazz piano play we have
Preface 3
an arena of conduct of the most elaborate dimensions, an espe-
cially apt place for portraying one of our distinctive organs
ways of assembling orderly activity.
The aim isnt explanatory but descriptive, a phenomenologi-
cal account of handwork as its known to a performing musi-
cian, without consulting the expert opinions of other
practitioners, analysts of practitioners, or other professional
students of conduct. The goal is to describe jazz from a players
perspective (without which it wouldnt exist), the player reflect-
ing on his skills with no one but himself to consult, to quote
philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Ive found that thus far unanalyzed aspects of the bodys ways
can be closely depicted, for all to see, by the performer, and per-
haps no one but the performer, especially one who self-con-
sciously takes up a complex activity with as strong an intention
to master its accomplishment as to try to reflect rigorously upon
the experiences of doing so. Guided by neither an introspective,
mentalistically inclined consciousness nor the methods of ana-
lytic science but only by the concrete particular problems faced
in the course of learning jazz piano, Ive pointed to various crit-
ical tasks faced when sustaining orderly articulated movements.
Such a production account might lead to the precise looks of
things, eventually contributing to a differently grounded modal-
ity of rigorous inquiry, only if the finest of details are sought.
Ive tried to make the account both accessible and minute,
building a specialized language, where needed, to bring into
relief some features for mapping an uncharted territory.
Following the report will be substantially easier if the reader
is willing to take just a bit of time to roughly emulate the
essence of critical keyboard examples by, say, using ones hands
on a tabletop. This will quite sufficiently concretize the account,
and one with no formal or other musical background will thus
find it all manageable.
This page intentionally left blank
When I went for piano lessons this time around, I was fully deter-
mined to learn jazz. About fifteen years earlier, some lessons had
amounted to pretty nearly nothing. An exceptional blind jazz
pianist had me watch him play a ballad, pausing as he struck each
chord; with a notational system that I worked out for myself, I
wrote down the names of the notes depressed by each of his fin-
gers, went home, and duplicated the song. I gained a repertoire of
a dozen tunes in my last term of high school this way, but I didnt
know what I was doing. I couldnt improvise, play other songs or
those Id learned in another way, teach another without using
exactly the same method. Still, I played the songs well.
My new teacher had me show him what I could do. I pro-
duced some remembered bits and pieces of these rote-learned
tunes, the only music Id played, most infrequently, throughout
college, graduate school, and the years of university teaching
that followed. I explained how theyd been acquired, and he
readily saw that I negotiated a keyboard fluently. I knew how
to place and move my fingers, how to engage in some maneu-
ver once it was pointed out to me, and do so more or less
smoothly. Skills acquired with a year and a half of classical
lessons at age nine, which were taken very seriously, hadnt
been lost, perhaps even somewhat solidified by the high school
song experience that may have kept the keyboards spaces more
6 Beginnings
alive for me. So the little my hands could do looked as if done
by a real pianist. Not doing much, they looked the part, a wide-
spread possibility because of extraordinarily ubiquitous piano
lessons, and a massive failure to get far with them that nonethe-
less may produce easily reactivated potentials for those who
once upon a time practiced diligently, if only briefly.
My instruction went rapidly. After seven or eight months of
three or so hours of daily practice, I briefly held an afternoon job
with a bassist in a yacht club bar, just playing standard songs
standardly. Doing improvisation was an entirely different matter.
My first lessons had me gain working ability with a simple
nomenclature. To play jazz I had to learn again what scales were,
and about chordsclusters of certain scale notes sounded simul-
taneouslyand how such chords are best spaced and arranged
on the keyboard for jazz play. Then there were simple facts about
song structure. I was told that once chords were well handled in
their progressions in songs, improvisation could start.
For the jazz musician, a song is regarded as a sequence of
chords with an originally written melody thats only performed
the first time through; the same chord progression is then cycli-
cally repeated as improvised melodies are substituted for the
original one. When jazz players improvise, they play on the
changes (chords), generating melodies laid over their underlying
progression. When several musicians perform together, they gear
their respective actions by using the same tune, this successively
repeated cycle of chords and metrical structure that defines the
song for them, to stay on track together. And when musicians
take turns soloing, each managing a bit of play and giving a next
section over to his fellows, a songs required chord changes fur-
nish a continuing format, a series of benchmarks delineating
turn-taking places and unifying the ensembles progress.
Please read the next few pages that sketch relevant basic facts
about music. Dont think of memorizing anything. One reading
Beginnings 7
straight through will suffice, even for one with no keyboard or
other instrumental experience. And dont be at all concerned
about what the places sound like; the goal is only to gain a rough
first visual grasp of a keyboard. Imagine casually perusing a map
to sense just the overall lay of the land for an upcoming trip.
A keyboard has black and white notes, the blacks arranged in alter-
nating groups of twos and threes:
The distance from a note to the immediately adjacent higher one (to
the right, of higher pitch), or lower one (to the left, of lower pitch),
treating blacks and whites equivalently, is called a half step. Two half
steps make a whole step:
The major scale, the only scale needed to understand song and jazz
basics, is a path of eight notes, described by this formula:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2
!"#$ &'()* +,-#( &'()*
8 Beginnings
Starting on any note at all, a major scale is formed by moving one
whole step up from this starting place to a second note, then a whole
step up to a third note, a half step to the fourth note of the scale, and so
on. The eighth note of the scale takes the same name as its starting note,
an octaveeight noteshigher. Within the scope of a one-octave range,
there are twelve different places, counting blacks and whites equally as
we do. And this half step/whole step rule yields twelve unique major
scales, many quite similar, yet no two identical (hardly a coincidence,
since the layout of the keyboard and this scale evolved hand in hand).
Notes on the piano are given alphabet names. White notes are
named A through G in series, then duplicated through each successive
octave, with A designated as the white note between the second and
third blacks in each black threesome. Black notes are named in refer-
ence to adjacent white notes. A black note is termed a flat (

) when seen
from the perspective of a white note a half step above it, or a sharp (

when seen relative to a white note a half step below it. Black notes thus
take either of two names (this is also true of white notes, in certain con-
texts, which we neednt consider):
Scales are spelled by a convention minimizing awkward names (usu-
ally calling black starting notes by their flat names and adhering to an
alphabetic order). There are twelve major scales, one beginning on
each of the twelve notes in the scope of a one-octave range, usually
named and always comprised as follows:










. / . 0 1 2 3 4





Beginnings 9














Some of the major scales:

A chord is a group of notes struck, and thus sounded, simultaneously.
Three basic chord types are most prevalent in jazz (and nearly all mod-
ern western music): major, minor seventh, and dominant chords, each
built in reference to a major scale. A major chord is comprised of the

10 Beginnings
1, 3, and 5 notes of any scale. We say One three five is major. For
example, a C major chord (symbol C) has the notes C, E, and G:
A minor seventh chord (symbol Cm7) contains the 1, flatted 3 (third
note lowered a half step), 5, and flatted 7 (seventh note lowered a half
step) of a major scale. We say One, flat three, five, flat seven is minor
seventh. C minor seventh is C, E

, G, B

A dominant chord (symbol C7) is made by adding, to a major
chord, only the flatted seventh note of a scale. We say One, three,
five, flat seven is dominant. C dominant is C, E, G, B

! $ # %

! $ # %

! $ #
Beginnings 11
There are twelve major, twelve minor seventh, and twelve dominant
chords, each named in reference to some first note and the major scale
starting there.
Chords may be produced in various ways. They may be played in
different positions on the keyboard (C, E, G, left to right; or E, G, C;
or G, C, E, for instance), and, as is common in most modern music,
numerous additional tones are added to the basic chord tones to pro-
vide a fuller sound. Jazz musicians seldom play chords using the defin-
ing notes alone, closely spaced on the piano, but spread chord tones
between both hands, or play them all in one hand with various other
notes added to each chord type to enrich its texture. The particular
way a chord is executed and colored is referred to as chord voicing.
Such considerations neednt be musicologically reviewed here.
In most jazz play, the song is used as a basic formatting device. A song
is a more or less fixed pattern of chords, with a written melody laid out
in a metrical structure, with so many beats, in an evenly articulated
pulse, organized into a set of measures, or barsgroups of accented
pulses: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3, or far more commonly, 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3
4 1 2 3 4, etc. Most popular songs have standard formats, and tunes
with 12, 16, 24, 32, and 36 measures are most common. Heres the
first half of a typical 32-measure standard:
| E

| A

7 | E

m7 | A

7 |
| Fm7 | D

7 | E

| E

| A

m7 | Fm7 | A

m7 | Dm7 G7 |
| Cm7 | F7 | Fm7 | B

7 |
This chord chart, without a notated melody, furnishes a diagramof the
structure of the song Tenderly, in the key of E

. (A key essentially
means that most melody notes fall on a certain major scale, here E

, and
that the songs harmonic movement usually heads to a final rest on an

major chord, the group hum if you will. Any song may be played
in any of the twelve keys.)
Nearly every song has a more or less unique harmony (chord
sequence), but progressions from one chord to the next follow nar-
rowly defined rules, so that most tunes share many common chord
12 Beginnings
sequences. Gaining experience in playing many songs, one learns such
common patterns, and eventually comes to find good chords to har-
monize a melody without a chord chart. There are various ways of
speaking of relations between a melody and its appropriate harmo-
nization, musicological ways that neednt concern us now. I will dis-
cuss such relations in quite different terms.
In early lessons with my new teacher the topic was chord
construction, or voicing, playing a chords tones in nicely dis-
tributed ways. However a chord may be described as a group
of named notes on a keyboard with geometrically measured
properties, during play a chord is a grabbed place. Whats
involved in such grabbing?
Anyone whos witnessed or been a beginning pianist or gui-
tarist learning chords notices substantial initial awkwardness.
Lots of searching and looking are first required. The chord must
be detected as a sequence of named notes with a look that
reviews the terrain up and down, finding the chord as a serial
ordering of these and those particularly identified tones, going
left to right or right to left, consulting the rules to locate the
places. Then some missing ones in the middle are found. And
along with such looking are hands that behave correspondingly.
I would find a particular chord, groping to put each finger
into a good spot, arranging the individual fingers a bit to find
a way for the hand to feel comfortable, and, having gained a
hold on the chord, getting a good grasp, Id let it go, then look
back to the keyboardonly to find the visual and manual hold
hadnt yet beenwell established. I had to take up the chord again
in terms ofits constitution, find the individual notes again, build
it up from the scratch of its spoken parts.
Over the course of my first days, much time was spent doing
initial grabbing, trying to get a hold on chords properly, going
back and looking at them as named notes, grabbing again,
Beginnings 13
repositioning the hand to get into a chord with a comfortable
hold so it could be grasped as a whole; finding ways of sinking
into a chord that didnt involve the sounding of neighboring
tones; arching the hand appropriately so the fingers came
down with a correct spacing and trajectory relative to the
shape of the chording hand; balancing the different intensities
of pressure so as not to lose balance, the edges of neighboring
notes not extraneous spots to be avoided but edges whose tac-
tile appreciation became part of a natural hold on a settled-into
chord; arching the hand and arraying its fingers with the sort
of proportional spread that, when the chord was grasped, let
the fingers not only come into the right spots but with equal
intensity, so its tones sounded simultaneously, and not clumsily
serialized (the way the high school band often slightly serializes
the voices of the opening chord of a marching tune).
As my hands began to form constellations, the scope of my
looking correspondingly grasped the chord as a whole, seeing
not its note-for-noteness but its configuration against the
broader visual field of the terrain.
Its not enough to get into a chord. It was essential to get
from one to the next, playing progressions smoothly. And a
host of expanding skills, ways of looking, moving, and think-
ing were needed to execute such successions. It took a short
while for individual chords to be properly grabbed, and in a
couple of weeks I could smoothly produce all dominants,
majors, and minor sevenths. Turning to chords, to songs, pro-
ducing successions of clusters with a melodythat was now
the task.
Theres chord A and B, separated from one another, this one
a way down the keyboard from the other:
14 Beginnings
As production entails a tightly compressed hand, Bs an openly
extended spread. As involves coming at the keyboard straight
ahead, as one comes at a typewriter to make contact with the
home position, while Bs involves a shift in the axis of the hand
relative to the keyboard, the little finger moving much farther
from the bodys center than the thumb. And A is played for
counts 1 2 3 4, and when the next 1 arrives, B must be
Beginners get from A to B disjointedly. The grasp of A may
be at hand, and B too, but theres a distance to be traveled, and
what happens, at first, is that after doing A, a novice sets out
for B without going for it in the right way from the start. One
moves to the left for B, but doesnt reach for all of B. Heading
out for Bs rough place in the keyboard, one still has to reshape
the hand upon reaching its vicinity. To go correctly from A to
B, grabbing for the whole of B, is to be directed from the start
not just to where B is, but in shape to play it on arrival. And
Beginnings 15
doing that means preparing all along the course to reach the
goal in productional form.
The experienced hand lifts off of A, and as it moves toward
B it changes its configuration as a smooth and not jerky unfold-
ing. No sooner does a liftoff from A occur than the movement
is already toward all of B, a proper transition requiring that
manifold realignments of the hand occur simultaneously.
Adherence to a steady pulse is a critical resource. With an
upcoming time of arrival preestablished by former beats, one
knows just when to reach B, having lifted off from A.
Fluent chord production for song play must meet other
requirements, for its not enough to grab chords cleanly, or only
to move smoothly in tempo from one to the next. To play a
song well, one cant do more than peripherally monitor the key-
board, if at all, to handle chord transactions. At the outset, and
for some while for beginnersthe more so the more complex
the sequence and rapidly changing the chordsone must fairly
closely survey the left side in order to move from place to place.
But before songs are well played, and surely before one can try
improvised melodies, one must transcend this tilted viewing.
Lookings work load progressively lightens for finding dis-
tances, the gaze at the keyboard progressively diffuses in func-
tion, as places gradually become places toward which the
appreciative fingers, hand, and arm are aimed. As I reached for
chords (and reaching for chords in song contexts always
involves reaching for recurring patterns of them), I was gaining
a sense of their locations by going to them, experiencing a rate
of movement and distance required at varying tempos, thereby
developing an embodied way of accomplishing distance.
Our symmetrical stance toward settings is striking. Sit down
at a dinner table and, without thinking about it at all, pull your
chair up to eat. Your nose is most likely exactly over the center
of the dinner plate. Go before a bathroom sink to wash your
16 Beginnings
face and find that nose smack in the vertical middle of the mir-
ror. Sit down at the bench of a piano and position yourself as if
to play, even if you never have. Chances are high that your
navel (and nose, assuming the usual alignment) is facing the D
thats one note above the C closest to the middle of the key-
board (middle C), this D nearly the true center of a piano,
where all navels end up, halving beings that we are.
From this middle of the piano, the beginner gradually acquires
an incorporated sense of places and distances, incorporated, for
example, in that finding the named, visually grasped place-out-
there by theoretic looking becomes unnecessary. The bodys own
appreciative structures serve to find places. A grasp develops of
the setting of the keyboard and its dimensions relative to the
hands and arms moving extension from the bodys center, and
in time this skill becomes so refined and generalized that precise
alignment at the center isnt even needed.
Only after years of play do beginners attain the sort of com-
petence at place finding that a jazz pianists left hand displays in
chord execution. Reaching the point where, with eyes closed, I
may now sit down at the piano, gain an initial orientation with
the merest touch anywhere on the field, if at all, and then reach
out to bring my finger precisely into a spot two feet off to the
left, where a half-inch off is a very big mistake, come back up
seventeen inches and hit another one, go down twenty-three
and a quarter inches and get there at a fast clipa skill a great
many competent players havethis takes a lengthy course of
gradual incorporation.
After three or four months of practice I was no longer doing
too much looking to make chord changes on time, and soon
was able to perform a growing repertoire of songs without
watching the left side especially. Once chord progressions were
preliminarily at hand, the full song was relatively easy for me,
since I had no trouble finding melodies without a notation. (Id
Beginnings 17
picked out melodies at a piano since I was a young child.) And
I had no special difficulty coordinating both hands use, playing
one chord every two or four beats say, with more events of
varying time values articulated by the right hand. Fresh begin-
ners struggle over this coordination.
In six months I could read a chord chart and play the melody
of a new song after a few moments of review, gaining an
increasing number of standard tunes with nicely voiced, jazz-
sounding chords, played at a relatively steady tempo and with
more or less appropriate feeling.
When my teacher said, now that you can play tunes, try
improvising melodies with the right hand, and when I went
home and listened to my jazz records, it was as if the assign-
ment was to go home and start speaking French. There was this
French going on, streams of fast-flowing strange sounds,
rapidly articulated and crisscrossing, an enormous amount of
intricate windings, styles within styles in the course of any
players music. There were rising and falling intonations, con-
stantly shifting accents, and I started listening in a new way
for answers to the question, how are they doing that?
I didnt need an analysis. I needed advice. How could I now
learn to do it? That it was certainly first done mostly by black
men? That was beside the point. That it was done in a musical
tradition with a particular history and the evolution of various
devices for constructing chords and melodies? That mattered
only if I had to become involved in this history. That the history
entailed increasing demands for technical expertise, corre-
sponding to an increasingly refined instrument for which such
technique was geared and from whose aspirations it was fash-
ioned, as well as an increasingly professional position for the
musician, a growing gap between amateur and pro and the
development of an orientation toward the definitive perfor-
mancehowever interesting the sociology, this all mattered
18 Beginnings
only if I had to take up with the technical training much jazz
now seems to require. These jazz musicians were doing things
very quickly. Were my fingers agile enough? Any theorys rele-
vance depended on its possible bearing for my practice.
However one might describe what may be heard on the
records, the first relevant question about this music for me was:
what notes are they playing? The music had a rhythm, an
assortment of intensities, an intonational structure, subtleties of
shading, and much more. But when it came to sitting down at
my piano it was a rhythm of something, intensity of something,
intonational structure of something, subtlety of something, and
the something that first mattered was: these and those particu-
lar notes being played.
I could bring my hands to a piano and do things in a jazz
rhythm, as Id clapped hands to this music for years. I could sub-
tly shade a contact with the keyboard, touching keys very softly
or loudly, with nuances in between. Given a handful of notes I
couldve moved my fingers quite fast or slow. I could do all this
as many can, but sitting at my piano, playing a songs sequence
of chords, and trying to follow my teachers instruction to make
up melodies with the right hand, the main question was: where?
Not everything the melodic right hand was doing in playing
these notes seemed relevant. I didnt figure the looks of players
hands could be consulted as a guide for learning what I needed
to know. When I looked at my teachers hands, I looked past
them to the places they went, not how they were going about,
but where. I sat at my piano and had to bring my fingers to par-
ticular notes. I could more or less get them to any particular
notes I wanted to, given my well-trained hands, but I didnt
know where to go. It seemed impossible to approach this jazz
except by finding particular places to take my fingers. And my
teacher encouraged that approach.
Beginnings 19
I got a first taste of the magnitude of problems I was in for
when I tried to listen to a piece of jazz melody on a record and
go to the piano to play it. While I could perfectly well hear a
simple melody a few times over and attain it as a singable
accomplishment with voice and hands, these jazz melodies were
by no means simple. A three-second stretch of play within a
course of improvisation Id listened to for years now engaged
me for several hours, unsuccessfully trying to grab the real
details so as to bring each of its tones to singability and then get
the strip down at the keyboard. The sheer looks of several sec-
onds of transcribed jazz are suggestive:
(Charlie Parker, My Little Suede Shoes)
When taking a melody from a record whose improvisations I
figured I knewand recording gives improvised melodies a rad-
ically new status they didnt formerly have, as they can now be
learned at a level of detail that a one-time hearing cant achieve
I discovered a symptomatic vagueness in my grasp of these famil-
iar improvisations. I apparently only knew the melodies in
certain broad outlines. Particularly with respect to the rapid pas-
sages, I found that when singing along with a Charlie Parker
recording, for instance, Id been completely glossing the detailed
particularities of the pitches of melodies that I figured I knew
well, since my introduction to this jazz as a young teenager. I
grasped their essential shape perhaps, but hadnt ever really sung
them with a refined note-to-note precision. And it was very par-
ticular notes that needed to be at hand now, at the piano, if I was
20 Beginnings
to reproduce this music in its particularity. I wondered: what had
I been listening to as a jazz fan all these years?
The extraordinary difficulties of a first solo-copying attempt,
trying to find the tiny spot on the record again and again, end-
lessly rehearing the same minuscule passage to narrow in on its
notes, finding those places on the piano, working out a finger-
ing solution that didnt just play the right notes but with the
right time valuesafter a major struggle I sensed this wasnt the
way to go, at least for me. And, as I thought of it at the time,
perhaps because of frustration with the difficulty of such copy-
ing, I wanted to improvise my own melodies, not the recorded
or transcribed ones of others.
I told my teacher I didnt know where to go, how to even
begin to make up melodies as one plays. There was no problem
striking several notes over and over again and keeping that up
throughout the course of a song cycle, but this was no more jazz
than noinoinoinoinoinoinoinoinoinoino is writing, which I can
do forever and in various tempos.
Here was the problem. There is this song, its melody has been
played, and now the tune is to be sustained as a continuing
cycle of chords. If I was to do jazz it would mean playing
melodies over these song chords, not just this little snatch of
melody notes and that, but playing on the changes for sustained
periods. The changes keep changing, say one chord a second for
about a minute through one complete cycle of a typical
medium-tempo ballad. And one must continue playing
melodies while handling the chords at the right times, cycle
after cycle of the song.
But my right hand had nothing to say in this language. It
might as well have gone anywhere, but once it did there was
nothing next to do. And if you dont know where youre going
you cant go anywhere correctly. The hand has to be motivated
Beginnings 21
to very definite next keys to depress, and when theres nowhere
for it to go youre immobilized.
My teacher dealt with my problem by giving me routes to take.
He started by noting that with this particular chord you can get
a characteristic jazz sound by playing this particular scale. We
looked at a particular chord and particular scale, examining their
respective constructions. Heres how he spoke of it:
Take a dominant seventh chord, for example. Say F dominant:
With it you can play a so-called diminished scale, a scale con-
sisting of alternating half and whole steps:
And, he pointed out, you get a characteristic jazz sound because
of various dissonances when the sustained chords sound is
heard alongside various notes of the scale.
The second note of this scale is a half step above F of the
chord; the scales third note, A

, is a half step below the chords

A. The B, fifth note of the scale, is a half step below the C of the
22 Beginnings
chord, and the seventh note of the scale is a half step below the

of the chord.
These half step dissonant concurrences, in particular, have a
slightly grating sound, a husky, bluesy quality very common in
jazz melodies. Of course to talk of this characteristic jazz sound
is like saying a certain r is characteristic of French. Learning
that sound is one thing, and having a native-sounding chat in
Paris another.
In the case of a diminished scale which he furnished at first,
feeling it was a particularly good starting place for jazz, there
isnt one path but three, depending on the opening note, and
whether you count your first move as a whole or half step
(prove that to yourself: choose any note; go up a half step, then
a whole, then a halfor a whole, half, wholealternating like
this, and write down each spot you reach; no matter where you
start, youll find only three unique arrays).
Because of these dissonant relationships and rather simple
parallels between all chords, the three different diminished
scales, he explained, each go well with four of the twelve dom-
inants (each scale produces precisely the same dissonant half
steps with a different four of the twelve dominants). Given a
need to do melodies that accorded with a songs harmony, hav-
ing these three scales was thus to have jazzy-sounding places to
be going for a full third of all the thirty-six chords!
It was a great-sounding path. I excitedly went home with the
step rule written in my notebook, identified the three dimin-
ished routes, and then did what having a linear array almost
asks for: I learned to play them fluently as scales, as rising and
descending successions. Though he furnished a route without
directions, with no beginning and end but only a collection of
what could be regarded as arrayed places, I first took up with it
as a left-to-right and right-to-left path. Having such places to
go, I had to pick some means to go there, and doing scales as
Beginnings 23
scales was a useful means of travel. Id learn to do them fast,
and since they duplicated themselves at each octave, there was
a long string of action at hand, starting low and going way up
or the other way around. Hed in fact displayed these charac-
teristic sounds by doing just that, demonstratively playing the
scales fast, as up and down paths. It was very jazzy.
Using the paths involved working out fingering solutions.
Heres the solution I found best suited to a smooth rapid pro-
duction from low to high over the range of several octaves
along this particular diminished scale (1 = thumb, 2 = index,
3 = middle):
I worked out comfortable fingerings for the three routes, prac-
ticed their fluent production as scales, and soon it wasnt nec-
essary to consider their theoretic constitution. I could produce
them rapidly without looking, and then set about practicing
each with its corresponding dominant chords, type X fitting
these four, type Y those, and Z the others.
In my first weeks of improvisation, whenever a dominant
chord arose (and nearly half the chords in most songs are dom-
inants) I now had places to go. Id play one of my diminished
scales, characteristically beginning it in a region where I could
sustain a long run. Id have two beats of time to fill, for
instance, a second or so in a moderate-tempo song, and these
jazz melodies were fast. So I had a long stretch of swift notes.
' (
& ' ( &
24 Beginnings
When I first learned a scale, I consulted the rule and regarded
the scales individual notes by way of it, seeing an arrayed
course of keys. Soon a gestalt of the route as a whole was
detected, and I saw the path as a figure against the background
of the terrain.
But the scale wasnt seen apart from how Id first played it,
and when I looked at a scale I especially attended to the left-
most starting note, from which the scale takes its name. This
scale seemed to be arrayed specifically from one F up to the
next. Practicing the scale from bottom to top had focused my
look, and now, during play, the ways I looked often directed
my hands. Analytic inspection had evolved into a usable
When I first learned scales, I gave attention to each note and
the finger whose use on each produced the most fluent produc-
tion. But once a course was mastered, it became a way of my
scale-playing hand, as chords had passed from being individu-
ally fingered to handfully grabbed places. I went for each scale
at a particular place, a finger-by-finger orientation now sup-
planted by a whole-handed entry. Having scales available this
way made it difficult at first to start the scale in the course of
play on a note other than the starting note from which it was
learned. Only after much practice at upward and downward
movement did I get decent at entering other points. Consider
the same scale again:
' (
& ' ( &
Beginnings 25
At first I started on the F with my thumb and went up. But then
I came to play the scale by starting with my fourth finger on A,
coming down with a 3, 2, 1 fingering over its first three notes,
then going back up, as shown above (on a tabletop, try moving
4, 3, 2, 1 from right to left with your right hand, or left to right
with your left if youre left-handed, 1 being a thumb; that can
be done extremely quickly by everyone, while moving the other
way1, 2, 3, 4is somewhat less fluently fast, for everyone).
Using the fourth finger on A allowed for a very rapid down-
ward course and quick turnaround into an upward run. Using
a thumb on the A, as in a bottom-to-top fingering, was a much
less fluent way to start a fast downward course.
Going for this particular diminished scale seldom involved
me starting on B with the second finger, say, not because I cant
move around fast when starting there, but because (as the scale
was known as a handful and not an individual note/individual
finger affair) I didnt know that, for this scales production,
my second finger was used for a B. It was initially learned that
way; once learned, just as the finger-character responsibilities
on a typewriter are forgotten as conceptually available facts for
the touch typist, so which finger played the B in the course of
this particular diminished scale was unknown to me (when
teaching scale fingerings to students today I must play scales
slowly to rediscover best fingers; if youre a decent touch typist
' (
26 Beginnings
try calling out the names of letters on the second bank of char-
acters without looking down).
My maneuvers with the diminished scales (one of many sim-
ilarly jazz-sounding structures) were initially most limited. Over
the course of the first year of play, nearly every time I played
this one of the three scales, I either started it on F with the
thumb or on A with the fourth finger, moving quickly down to
F and then back up, this move to become my most common
early variation on that particular route.
In years to come there were many sorts of orderings with
which Id experiment in using such scales. Consider the nu-
merical typewriter characters. One may go directly up,
1234567890; one can go up 123 234 345 456 567 678 789, or
132 243 354 465 576 687 798, ad infinitum. The teacher
afforded me only a pathway, not particular instructions for its
use, and manipulations like these are common in melody mak-
ing. There are far more intricate possibilities, of course: 1354
2465 3576 4687 . . . 13423 24534 35645 46756 57867 . . . all
sorts of series achieved by maneuvers that employ some order
of interdigitation and intervallic transposition.
I didnt work over these scales this way at the start, because
what I needed wasnt merely one path to use with a given dom-
inant chord, but a host of them. Having learned diminished
scales, I usually played each in one or two first-acquired ways,
gaining facility at matching them with their corresponding
dominant chords. My attention was mostly given over to gain-
ing numerous places to go, practicing different pathways with
the chords, engaging in an analysis of the keyboard in search of
ever-new routes.
No matter how many manipulations I performed with a
given scale, the use of such a scale was something I heard as a
constant repetitiveness in my play, but at the same time, and
Beginnings 27
more importantly, I was being encouraged to find other solu-
tions to the various chords. My teacher was preparing me to
play jazz of a particular sort, the song-based bebop tradition
with melodies winding through fast-changing chords, rather
than styles of modal jazz where sustained improvisations can be
made for an extended period on a single route and one chord.
I went to my lesson each week, my teacher would have me
improvise on the chords, and I played little pieces of melody
using such first-acquired scales: up would come this chord and
down would go this melody, then a next chord and a scalelike
device used for it, then on to the next. It was terribly awkward
at first, for it took some time before I could easily and rapidly
pick a run to use with any next chord.
Although my teacher provided readily accessible instruction
on chord production, voicing, and song play, offering construc-
tional rules that were easily followed and quickly produced
quite wonderful-sounding results for just playing and arranging
those standards I loved so much, when it came to assistance
with improvisation the lessons became increasingly unsatisfy-
ing. Id play for a while, and hed offer some advice that struck
me at the time as altogether vague, hardly affording clear guide-
lines for the weeks practice, like try to get the phrasing more
syncopated. But then, after I did some playing, producing my
halting little melodies, chord by chord and run by run, each
starting at the same points, each going more or less fast because
going more or less fast made them sound jazzy at least, hed
attempt to demonstrate a way of phrasing by doing improvisa-
tions himself.
As he was winding all over the keyboard, producing the music
I so much wanted to make, all I could see was that whatever he
meant by phrasing, he wasnt simply using the few scale devices
Id used for each chord. He was going many more places and
28 Beginnings
producing all sorts of melodies which, looking past his hands
ways to where they headed, revealed other patterned courses.
Id spot him going over what I could detect was an orderly
path. Here was a little downward run I could vaguely see to
involve some sort of a regular intervallic array of notes, as the
diminished scale does. Hed go many places where this couldnt
be seen, involving interweaving intricacies that seemed puz-
zling, but I figured they were constituted as all the rest, and
within his play many little spates of seemingly orderly passage
could nonetheless be spotted.
Id ask what was that? Hed ask what was what? That
little figure you just did over the G minor seventh right there.
And hed have a hard time finding what hed just done. Hed at
times remark, Im not following rules so I dont know what I
just did, and, on occasion, I just improvise and cant tell you
how; youll develop a feel for it. Id ask him to play some
more, or Id try to produce some portion of a happening Id
been able to spot in his play. Given a piece of some possibly
orderly array, hed accommodatingly do a jazz-sounding figure
with it, but it wasnt what hed originally done. He found that
almost impossible to reproduce. Only if an express intention to
do some play for its reproduction was sustained in the course of
a first production was it possible for one to play it again.
But the new little thing hed do when I indicated a course I
wanted him to recover was good enough for me, and Id write
it down, not necessarily in its details as notated pitches, but
extracting a principle that could be generatively used. For
example, hed do some line and, to offer it as an instructable
maneuver, wed together speak of its constitution in theoretic
terms. Id spot some possibility, hed take what it seemed I
mightve seen and do a quick melody which hed then analyze
as an arrayed, frozen pathway:
Beginnings 29
Well, here, on a dominant chord, you can get a nice sound
by playing the notes of a major chord built on the second note
of the dominant chords root scale. Having another character-
istic jazz-sounding piece of melody, my stockpile increased.
And so it went for a course of some months. Id practice a
growing collection of runs, things to do fast jazz melodies with,
spend a short while nervously playing for him at the start of
each lesson, and hed then do lots of playing as I spotted things
he tried to recreate. A negotiation took place over the sorts of
structures he could extract and state as principles. At times I felt
he was keeping secrets. Hed beg off the procedure while offer-
ing little in its place, as Id request access to this and that path-
way, seeing he was after all taking more routes than I was.
Reluctantly hed come up with yet another analysis, giving me
an ever-expanding vocabulary of possible words. I acquired an
increasing mass of principled solutions for knowing where to go
with the various chord types: arpeggios (serially rather than
simultaneously struck chords) to be taken, scales to be linearly
played, various melody fragments constituted by certain orderly
intervallic relationships.
Heres a dominant chord:
and, just for the sake of a visual appreciation, here are only
some of the innumerable routes that, articulated more or less
! $ # %

30 Beginnings
evenly and quickly, yield a characteristic jazz sound with this
At first the problem of finding places to go was posed as
which notes go well with which chords? It became apparent
that any of the notes may be played with any of the chords
(this true not only for dominants but for majors and minor
sevenths too):
Beginnings 31
This chromatic scale, traversing every adjacent note on the
keyboard, could itself be made to yield a characteristic jazz
sound. But finding that any note might do was tantamount to
having no paths to take save the above one, whose extensive use
amounted to little more than baby talk from me.
After about six months of instruction I had a host of places
to go, melodic resources of named notes, a vocabulary of silent,
still sights to be seen, places to go in a theorys terminology on
the surface skin of an untouched piano, ways of looking and
talking that could be remembered, hosts of licks, written down,
told by teachers to students, traded off between students, pro-
fessional shoptalk, routes without speed limits from no one
place to no other place in particular, melodies to be seen at a
glance, wheres without hows, places you can make music with
on a soundless, practice keyboard.
And there was their use in learning: arrayed places to go,
elaborate ranges of possibilities for lending organization to
manipulations they themselves told me nothing about, visually
detected and then tactilely found fields and crisscrossing vectors
for practicing maneuverability, instantly available potential
courses to be seen at a glance while trying to keep up the play
as the changes went by.
And their use in pathway playing, contrasted with ways of
negotiation which in fact make jazz happen: their utility as an
architects drawing fully serves a worker in actually hammering
up a framing; as the map of a city shows you just how to
32 Beginnings
browse, hurry, avoid bad neighborhoods, or ride subways
whose entrances are depicted on its intersections; as a book on
how to play chess can teach you to win; as your attempt to say
Vil du ud mig mi i aften? will achieve its intended result in
After around six months of instruction and practice on many
chord charts with my corpus of melody-making routes, I found
some chances to play with other musicians. I frequented local
jazz clubs and became well acquainted with many players in the
community, both accomplished musicians with long professional
experience and other students in various stages of progress. I
wanted to play in a group, and on occasion was invited to sit in.
In one nightclub in particular there was a weekly jam session,
when musicians from the area took turns throughout the
evening. There were a bassist and drummer, often several horn
players, and aspirants would literally line up, preferential rights
distributed to better ones. Novices like myself were eventually
given a chance to play a tune or two, and then quickly shuffled
off the stand. Accomplished players wanted to play with those
of their own caliber, and the club owner needed to keep real
music happening. But beginners were given a chance.
Id learned the chord charts for many jazz standards, quite
anxiously took the stand when invited up for a turn, called a
tune to be playedprerogative of a pianist in the trio situation
establishing a tempo for the song with that one, two, three,
four Id seen done by others, and we were off and running. I
was in a rodeo when the gate opens and a steer takes over.
Recall Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line in Modern Times:
the conveyor belt continuously carrying a moving collection of
nuts and bolts to be tightened, their placement at regular inter-
vals on the belt, Chaplin holding these two wrenches, falling
behind the time, rushing to catch up, screwing bolts faster to
Beginnings 33
stay ahead of the work, missing one or two along the way
because the upcoming flow seems to gain speed and he gets fran-
tic, or because it actually does speed up, eventually caught up in
the machine and ejected onto the factory floor in his hysterical
epileptic dance.
The music wasnt mine. It was going on all around me. I was
in the midst of the music the way a lost newcomer finds him-
self suddenlyin the midstof a Mexico City traffic circle, with no
humor in the situation, for I was up there trying to do this jazz
Id practiced nearly all day, there were friends Id invited to join
me, and the musicians Id begun to know. I was on a bucking
bronco of my own bodys doings, situated in the midst of these
surrounding affairs. Betweenthe chord-changing beat of my left
hand at more or less regular intervals according to the chart,
the melodic movements of the right, and the rather more
smoothly managed and securely pulsing background of the
bass player and drummer, there obtained the most alienative
I got through the opening section reasonably well, playing the
tune with its originally written melody. Then came the solo por-
tion. For each of the now passing chords thered be a pathway
selection, and though at home Id executed these runs smoothly,
under pressure of the situation they were very sloppily pro-
duced, and there were many errors.
A chord lasts for two beats, a second say, and the melody is
played rapidly, with four or more notes for every beat in a four-
beat measure. Now a run for chord A was started near the mid-
dle of the keyboard and rose up, while the path I knew best for
chord B started at the middle also. So I began going up with a
fast, sputtering, and nervous scale course, and the next chord
came up and I had to shoot back down to the middle of the key-
board to get the thing I knew how to do well done for it, and
then came the next chord.
34 Beginnings
My hand jumped around from place to place like Chaplin
stabbing with his wrenches. Chords would be missed altogether.
Id draw a blank. An upward-moving line would more or less
end when the chord had to be terminated, no matter where it
was. Or, in order to get to the next starting place, Id play the
first chord just a bit sooner to give myself time to relocate, feel-
ing the upcoming chord as an encroaching presence whose
necessity was fixed by adherence to the chord chart of the song
we were after all playing together, so what the left hand was
doing in its preset ways was guiding what the right was obliged
to do. The pacing of the chord productions would become
jagged as well, and I tended to rush the time, changing chords
a trifle before they were due, missing a beat here and there,
occasionally having one too many, and really sweating it out all
the way, trying to get some lines down nicely, checking out the
faces in the crowd and trying not to seem too besieged, attempt-
ing all the while to produce the most intricate maneuvers Id
learned, to make the full-blown complex jazz those before and
after me in line would do, charging around in the swarm of the
music, trying to hold on to the time, wishing things would stop
for a moment so I could catch a breath.
My right hand became enormously tired and stiff and would
almost freeze up, so while Id struggle not to let errors occur,
where an error meant playing wrong notes in the course of a
paths traverse, thered be moments when I was simply immo-
bilized and nothing would come out. Then Id stab for some-
thing else that had gone well at home but now couldnt be
smoothly taken up the line, so it disintegrated. My improvising
hand went not so much for a sequence of individual tones as
for a sight all at once. The notes of the run were notes to be
gotten over with, the hand setting out on a familiar course that
wouldnt end particularly here or there, but would start out
and keep going up along the route to wherever it happened to
Beginnings 35
get before the next chord arrived. The hand set straight out
into a course, going for the whole of it, once committed to its
onset committed to its unaltered continuance as that course in
particular, so that the selection occurred at the outset, and for
a while all further matters were predetermined.
Each of the runs I tried had been more or less smoothly mas-
tered at home yet were much less fluently done now, and while
I could do lots of playing without watching the execution in
detail, Id scrutinize the field anyhow, and my looking, an
appeal to the keyboard for answers, was party to a theoretic in-
course analysis I did over the keyboards sights, trying to keep
the terrain under regard to aid large leaps and get from one
path to another, a looking that was altogether frantic, like
searching for a parking place in a very big hurry. The music was
literally out of hand.
This page intentionally left blank
Going for the Sounds
Over the next several years, committed to learning jazz but for-
tunately not needing to make any money at it, I played for the
most part at home and alone, seldom looking for settings where
I couldve joined in with musicians. Whenever I did, perhaps
four or five times a year, the results werent substantially better
than at first, and Id come away sadly feeling that my inade-
quacy resulted from nervousness and a lack of experience.
I was now and then advised to start working as a musician,
that getting a steady job would help my playing come together.
Too vaguely formulating that as possibly useful for learning to
relax, I frankly wasnt attracted to work situations where one
of my level would be first compelled to play. I saw no real point
performing on bad pianos in noisy bars where no one listened
to the music, when I could practice alone, on a good one at
home, and all at my own schedule.
Id been making what I thought was real progress on many
fronts, sensed I had a decent grasp of the shape and feelings of
jazz, and, with lessons that gave me a good understanding of
the keyboard, I figured I was in position to learn the rest in soli-
tary practice.
38 Going for the Sounds
I did things for two or three hours a day that seemed more or
less reasonable. I practiced certain well-known technical exercises
that I heard many musicians had used, spent lots of time investi-
gating the keyboard to discover new sorts of melodic configura-
tions, found ever-new intervallic relationships, evolved more
pathways constructed on principles similar to those Id been told
about, with their characteristic jazz sounds, listened to a growing
collection of records, seldom trying and always quickly abandon-
ing the horrendous task of solo copying, and aimed for what I felt
to be the most sophisticated and intricate examples of contempo-
rary jazz piano. For the most part, my playing sessions were
devoted to a handful of songs, doing improvisations, the particu-
lar handfuls contents changing entirely every several months, as
some tunes became more enticing and others a bit less so.
Fluent manipulation on these paths produced a semblance of
competence, and I was able to sustain long playing sessions,
going for this rapidly articulated music, sensing I was on target.
I knew my play left qualities to be desired. When I recorded
myself it sounded disjointed, frantic, and wanting in other
respects. I knew I wasnt making music like what I heard. But
by virtue of the sheer extent of what I could do at the piano, the
large collection of songs at my command, and what I felt to be
increasingly an insiders perspective on the music I listened to,
after a couple of years I thought of myself as one with nearly
competent basic jazz skills.
In some respects that was warranted, in others pretentiously
premature. I was in some ways as far from the mark as could
be. Of course this was only clear in retrospect, as deficiencies in
earlier efforts were made transparent by acquisitions gained
later. But this delayed appraisal allowed me to sustain motiva-
tion to play a good deal without feeling too far off base.
I was learning to play in what can be loosely termed a back-
ward direction. In first language acquisition, one initially gains
Going for the Sounds 39
facility with restricted little movements, then heads for ever
more extensive gestural trajectories. But I was aimed from the
outset, and nearly always, for the most complex of doings, as
though trying to speak a new language by ridiculously plunging
into a serious conversation at the usual adult pace. This with-
out really knowing how to say any words properly, only
making little bits of sound that could here and there be heard
to fall within the language. All this without regularly interact-
ing with other speakers, where a give-and-take provides ongo-
ing encouragement and a need to speak properly.
These pathways allowed for this peculiar possibility, as if a
typewriter keyboard and corresponding language were arranged
so that by following a rule like go up every other key youd
produce numerous sights characteristic of some actual adult
text. Having a visual/conceptual means for going to reasonably
acceptable places, now incorporated into a tactilely managed set
of maneuvers with varieties of dexterities at the keyboard, I
could at least sustain large streams of conduct at a fast clip from
early into my training. Moving along paths, going repeatedly
through a chord cycle, I produced enough overall jazzness in my
play that I felt I was basically doing what jazz players do.
In the first years there were very few moves like this:
the book, the book, the book book book
the book, the book, the book book book
I was, instead, in pursuit of the most magniloquently organized
affairs, each day the bulk of my practicing spent roaming all
over the keyboard, rather than lingering in a delimited territory
and mastering ways to deal with a sparse course of melodic
My isolated situation was so skewed in this backward direc-
tion that it was nearly two full years before I had an experience
40 Going for the Sounds
with the keyboard that would seem altogether essential to mak-
ing music from the outset. It wasnt until the start of my third
year that I thought of myself as going for the sounds.
I specifically recall playing one day and finding, as I set out
into a next course of notes after a liftoff had occurred, that Id
expressly aimed for the sounds of these next particular notes,
that their sounds seemed to creep up into my fingers, that the
depression of the keys realized a specific sound Id gone there to
make, as if when walking one brought intentional regard to the
sounds of ones steps, expressly then doing each and every one
of their successive sounds, as in a march. I wasnt only going for
good places. I was aiming for sounding spots.
Of course I hadnt really been going only for good places for
two years, playing some game at the keyboard, cultivating skills
at rapid visual detection or merely gaining manual dexterities. I
was going for music. I listened to my records and aimed for that
jazz, intentionally directed to a course of sounds. It wouldnt
have done in the least to have only played an electric piano with
the amplifier off. I filled the room with sounds.
But these so-called sounds had various qualities for me, and
I couldnt form a practically usable description of sound that
would help seize hold of this new acquisition, and describe it in
detail as well, without considering just how these sounds were
being produced.
I knew what these paths sounded like, wasnt surprised by
them as one is startled by accidentally leaning on an open key-
board. Hardly! But how the paths sounded to me was deeply
linked to how I was making them. There wasnt one me listen-
ing, and another one playing along paths.
I listened-in-order-to-make-my-way, to find that as I played
each day I was doing this jazz. I recognized the pathways
sounds, to put it way too mildly. But its one thing to recognize
familiar sounds that youre making, and another to aim success-
Going for the Sounds 41
fully for these and those very particular ones to occur, and just
when you want them to, especially if youre trying to find new
notes in course and not following a score. Very different direc-
tionalities of purpose and potentials for action are involved
when you set out to make these and those sounds in particular.
I first felt myself going for the sounds when I now sensed I
was making up a melody. Id been striving for these fast-
flowing, characteristic jazzlike runs, with quickly articulated
streams of broad-ranging highs and lows. Armed with devices
that of their own accord furnished a high frequency of jazz
phonemes, one would hear some jazzness to a sequence in their
recurrent useas, when one mimics another language, some
characteristic quality of the sounds might create a certain vague
resemblance to the real thing.
And my listening also discovered other qualities. One doesnt
stay in a territory for too long, but moves up and down the key-
board. One doesnt often go fast and suddenly make an extreme
change in the pace of a melody line, but for reasonable stretches
of play maintains a more or less constant rate of articulation.
One doesnt often play the same note over and again, but many
different ones. And there were a host of attack and decay qual-
ities and rhythmic features of jazz phrases that Id gradually
incorporated into my play. Jazz, Id long heard, was comprised
of melodies with shifting metrical patterns. So it wasnt a mat-
ter of playing series of evenly spaced notes1 1 1 1 1 1 1. Some
characteristic pacing variations had become almost a stock
approach to certain runs. A long sequence would very often be
preceded by a spate of three or four notes taken quite rapidly,
for instance111 1 1 1 1 (did-di-ly bop bop bop bop;
why-dont-you come with me now). The melodic turnaround
referred to when I described how Id played an F diminished
scale, coming down very fast on a bit of it and then going up it
more slowlyit was usually paced this way.
42 Going for the Sounds
But, as regards the finely textured note-to-note nature of my
statements, an order was mostly guaranteed by the paths for-
mal construction, like the diminished scales alternating half
steps and whole steps, or a superimposed arpeggio.
I wasnt really doing much note-to-note selectional work at
all. I decided where to start every run, which to choose, how
fast to play it. But, wed say, no intended aim was given to each
and every particular next pitch.
I began to enter melodically into the play when I started try-
ing to do something that related back to something Id just
done, and/or play something that Id then try to restate, in rela-
tion to a new next chord. Such successively shifted replications
make up a family of practices that generate a large percentage
of melodic gesturing in all music.
Imagine that a course of several notes is played during the
tenure of a particular chord and, when a next chord comes up
in a couple of beats, say one second, a new sequence is done
that relates to this new chord just as the first fragment related
to the first. Such a practice helps characterize essential features
of this interim stage in my development.
In my earliest pathway play, what I did on any chord was
decided by the choice of an appropriate fitting run de novo, one
chord at a time. Now there was a change. I first did things like
this, playing notes from here:
Going for the Sounds 43
to here:
Regard the dotted notes on melodic right sides (dark verticals divide
the hands) as if played in sequence, left to right say, not simultaneously.
The melodic fragments are identical: notes of major chords built on the
second note of the scale starting on each chords root, i.e., on the low-
est note in the left hand. (G, lowest right-hand note in the first picture,
is the second note of the F scale, F being the root of the chord played
in the left hand. In the second picture, C is the second note of the B

roots scale. So we have G major chord notes over F, and C major

chord tones over B

. The chords are skeletally played, using just the

root and the flatted seventh while omitting the third and the fifth, a
common left-hand form used when improvising.)
As a melodic intentionality emerged, as I began taking up
with a course of notes as I proceeded, notes whose relations I
aimed now to repeat, I had gained much experience that
enabled me to try to do something congruous with what went
before. At first, and for some time, this was a largely conceptual
process. Id think: major triad on the second note of the scale,
now again, then diminished on the third and a repeat for the
next, doing hosts of calculating and guidance operations of
this sort in the course of play.
A small sequence of notes was played, then a next followed.
As the abilities of my hand developed, I found myself for the
first time coming into position to begin to do such melodic
work with respect to these courses. I had been able to pick out
44 Going for the Sounds
song melodies before, but for a long time I couldnt grasp the
details of a pathway course I was doing and then do something
further with this course of sounds, operate upon the arrange-
ment of particular note-to-note series of which it was formed,
especially with more complex figures. The notes of the path
seemed to go by too fast to take hold of them; my hand hadnt
developed the sort of grasp over their working constitution that
permitted taking up with them in ways such repetitional
melodying required.
The emergence of a melodic intentionality, an express aiming
for sounds, was dependent in my experience upon the acquisi-
tion of facilities that made it possible, and it wasnt as though
in my prior work I had been trying and failing to make coher-
ent note-to-note melodies. Motivated so predominantly toward
the rapid course, frustrated in my attempts to reproduce
recorded passages, I had left dormant whatever skills for
melodic construction I may have had. The simplest sorts of
melody-making work entailed a note-to-note intentionality that
had been extraordinarily deemphasized by virtue of the isolated
ways in which Id been learning.
The new experience with sound illuminates one difficulty
among many Id formerly had. Compounding the general des-
perateness of my first session-playing attempts, there was a
frustrating inability to hear myself. On a small bandstand with
a small spinet piano, a bass player over one shoulder and drum-
mer over the other, I continually felt I was being drowned out
and often played with excessive force in the attempt to hear
myself (my complaints about the acoustics were probably
ignored by other musicians, since they sounded like a weak
excuse for a poor showing).
Yet it wasnt a question of simple concentration on the
sounds, of their loudness as that might be measured on an oscil-
Going for the Sounds 45
loscope, of a deficiency of my hearing. Other players seemed to
have no trouble in this respect. What was really involved in my
inability to hear, in these earliest sessions, was that there was so
little courseness to my play, so little developmental unfolding
with which I could be prospectively and retrospectively
A symphony orchestra in an outdoor amphitheater may
sound disappointingly faint from far away, until ones partici-
pation with the unfolding course of the melody is heightened;
then the volume seems to increase, so much so that the very
notion of volume becomes problematic. Or listening to a con-
versation at a nearby table you cant clearly hear whats being
said; but if you grasp a phrase or two, some details of the con-
tinuing talk may then come within range.
One Saturday morning I used a tuning hammer to totally
untune my grand piano, and then spent among my most aggra-
vating weekends, with a few necessary tools and a manual on
How to Tune Pianos, trying to put it back into a shape that a
tuner accomplished in about an hour on Monday morning. The
manual described a procedure for tuning that involves a sys-
tematic course of adjustments to make, regulating tensions on
the tuning pins around which the strings are wrapped, using
this hammer-sized tool with a socket for these pins at its end.
Two strings are brought into desired alignment by so tightening
or loosening one relative to the other that a certain wah wah
wah wah sound, a pulsation said to be perceptible as a result of
differing vibrational frequencies, is brought to a proper rate.
When two notes, say a fourth apart (from C to F for example),
are sounded together, theres to be a pulsation of approximately
one beat for every two seconds. The two notes are simultane-
ously and continuously sounded, one listens to this beat, and
adjusts the rate by turning one of the pins with this tuning ham-
mer. Then theres a three-century-old method for proceeding
46 Going for the Sounds
through a cycle of strings, tuning each to the others with elab-
orate checks along the way, since minor errors quickly become
terribly cumulative.
I never made it past the first page of the manual. I spent lit-
erally all day Saturday banging away at two notes and trying to
find a beat. I put my head in between the location of the two
strings, figuring that since the beat was a function of some sort
of distance between the two, it might be found in the middle. I
hit the notes hard and soft. I tried to listen at the very decaying
end of the sound. I pretended to listen to something else. No
wah wahs wahs to be heard, let alone one every two seconds!
I later learned that piano tuners first spend months of appren-
ticeship working with limited pairs of strings, practicing hear-
ing beats. This consists in gaining such a delicacy in the
employment of the tuning hammer that a style of movement is
acquired with itstrings under very great tension requiring
very refined pressure, for examplethat elucidates a beat by
ever so delicately varying the tautness of the strings.
The piano tuner doesnt hear the beats between vibrating
strings by developing a finer ear, not at all, and these pulsations
are detectably present to an oscilloscope whether I strike the
keys or he does. He learns to hear beats by learning to ride on
the sound waves of a pair of pulsating strings with shoulder,
arm, and hand artfully engaged with a hammer and this firmly
entrenched pin. I couldnt hear a beat because I so clumsily used
the hammer as to never elucidate it by my movements, sub-
stantially over- or undershooting it all the time. It wasnt really
oscilloscopic sound about which the manual was practically
speaking. It was the sound of piano tuning as a skillful arm-
and-hammer enterprise.
As attempting to pay attention, to concentrate, didnt bring
the sounds of the small spinet piano into relief in my earliest
Going for the Sounds 47
group play, so hearing a beat between two sounding notes was-
nt achieved by focusing my listening, as thats colloquially and
otherwise conceived. In both cases, a manner of bodily engage-
ment describes how listening and sounds must be first described
in the context of an activity at hand.
For an improviser, its melody making thats done, and if I
engage myself with such sounds of the piano as the tuners tasks
require, which would take a third arm to move a hammer, I
cant take up with a course of notes to do jazz. Melody sounds
are different from the sounds of vibrating strings, which is to
say that making melodies is a different business from designing
pianos, tuning them, or teaching a course in physics.
Look to what my hands were learning. As I found next
sounds coming up, it wasnt as though Id so learned about the
keyboard that by looking down I could tell what a regarded
note would sound like. I dont have that skill, nor do many
other musicians. I could tell what a note would sound like
because it was a next sound, because my hand was so engaged
with the keyboard that through its own configurations and
potentialities it laid out a setting of sounding places right up
ahead of itself.
To clarify this way of being engaged, consider the instance of
playing a series of notes over one chords duration, and then
traversing a similarly constituted path in the nexts. There are
obviously innumerable variations possible. A second run could
duplicate the first one exactly, starting on a tone standing in the
same relation to a new chord as the first run of melody did to
its chord, then following precisely similar continuing pitches.
Or a second run might only repeat certain essential shapes of
the first, glossing over specific intervallic distances. Still again,
a second run might duplicate the first in terms of its pitches,
48 Going for the Sounds
while articulating the individual notes with an altered time
spacing between some or all of them.
Corresponding to such varied continuity practices, I culti-
vated ways of the hand that were more or less suited to manage
such maneuvers. My hand had experience with the keyboard
that allowed repetitions of all sorts to be sustained without
errors, but at the same time there were sorts of courses whose
intact or even essentialized replication was something I wasnt
able to handle. Heres the hand frozen in three different config-
urations over places with the same internal relations in each
locale. Imagine the fingers moving left to right over the notes on
which theyre posed for the camera, from one note to the next
to the next:
Going for the Sounds 49
To aim for swift repeats of this sort required rapidly shifting
configurations and realignments.
My earliest melodic efforts often attempted exact repetitions,
bringing a particular course into another sector with notes in
precise correspondence. Here a wrong note stood out like a sore
thumb. When an equivalently pitched and paced transposition
was clearly what a next run started to look like, so that one
heard the attempt at a repeat, there was the clear possibility of
wrong notes. The keyboard had come under the sort of control
where I could try such moves in ongoing rapid play, and I did,
with some confidence.
But many errors occurred. I had become quite fluent in the
pathway playing described above, a mistake having a different
status in that way of negotiating. My beginning melodying was
filled with errors, now defined by a heard grasp for an exactly
pitched-spaced repetition.
I would play a rapid and intricately winding passage and seek
its reiterated production in an upcoming chordal context; and
while many such attempts would come close, a good number
fell enough off the mark that there was a distinct sense of strug-
gling to make it happen. I began to sound like someone trying
hard to say something.
50 Going for the Sounds
In a setting of movable parts so easily having a voice of their
own with only the slightest slip of the hand, I made quite
sophisticated lunges for melody, aiming for highfalutin sayings.
Rather jazzlike strips would be played, asking for longevity. As
I reached for one of them, I knew more or less where it lay.
Spatial capabilities had developed to the point that I was able
to move up to a good next position for a repeat. And pathway
playing made the terrain available as a setting of places known
in terms of a shifting course of chords. As I played a chord and
then a next, the new one furnished an overall field of engage-
ment, an overlapping and crisscrossing range of axes, in which
the hand going for a saying could locate itself. And between the
chordal hands pose and the melodic stretch for reiterative
action, there was no longer just a strict relationship of theoretic
Id get to a good place to begin a next statement, and at first
go for a precisely corresponding pitched duplication. With one
class of places there was no trouble. With others there was
plenty. I was often close to where a correct repeat would be, but
at a rapid tempo there was no time for checking things out, and
Id try to make the restatement happen even while making mis-
takes, mistakes that stood out as errors in the very attempt at
least to get the rest of it right. There was an ambitiousness of
the aim unmindful of the difficulties, a reliance upon locational
facilities and configurational shifts that would suffice for much
of the replication, but an imprudence at the same time with
respect to fine details of the new locale with which the intended
passage had to continuously cope.
My hand was able to get to a good next arena, finding har-
monically consonant nodes for arrival and orientation along the
way, established by an acquired togetherness of the chordal-
melodic engagement. Much of the replication got done. Shifting
Going for the Sounds 51
lumps on the surface were under a general mobile and reposi-
tional control. But my efforts to reiterate the fully intact frag-
ment at a never-changing tempo, especially with more complex
forms than the major chord arpeggio, met resistance.
Nonetheless, the hand came into the new territory for a repe-
tition, found a concordant locale for its sensible restatement
there, found the doing could be well done there, and came into
the sector ready to play there. Putting down there, knowing
what there would be like as a setting for it in its axial relation
to the topography, it came in as a hand only partially in trouble.
Moving up to a space, the breadth of the place being aimed
at, its extensiveness or compactness, the edges to be contended
with there, the layout of highs and lowsthese had been placed
in operational scale by a hand that had its bearings. It was a
hand that had a bearing with respect to the contours and their
respective distances, for in its very constitution as a hand at
home on the keyboard, it appreciated what keys were like any-
where. From high off the keyboard, a field of keys lay present
beneath the fingers, to be engaged by a spread and arched,
pointed configuration. It was a field of keys whose stability and
horizontality relative to the body was assured in the hands rela-
tionship to the arms and shoulders angularities. It was a field
of keys whose straight, rather than encircling, horizontality was
found by arms and hands that extended outward from the
bodys center at the same time as they managed a proportion-
ally proper extension away from the trunk. It was a field of keys
whose dimensions throughout were stable, so that, however the
hand was spaced over some part of it, a precisely correspond-
ing relative spatial configuration had to be sustained through
extensions and contractions of the arms lateral movements.
The arm moved far off to a side, while the hand retained that
keyboard as its field for engagement.
52 Going for the Sounds
In an appraisal of the space, the thumb takes a bearing, as in
this photo,
appraising the crack between two keys as a crack occupying so
much space against that thumb; appreciating the magnitude of
the crack as a breadth of contact along its surface, a presence
is gained to the size of things at hand throughout the territory
as an extending field. And more than this, the thumb is capa-
ble of participating in a rescaling for the hand (as each of its
parts can do for the rest), should the crack be somewhat
tighter, as in the small scale of a childs toy piano, which in a
moment of adjustment becomes a familiar keyboard again to
hands with generative ways of knowing how to be at home in
a setting of keys.
Striving so intently to make a saying happen, Id often go for
a reiteration by lunging for the general shape and ordering of a
prior figure. The first course had a particular intervallic con-
struction, with highs and lows within the gesture, and a manner
of pacing. Sometimes the second course would not aim for a
precise pitch duplication in terms of whole and half step dis-
tances, but would move up and down more or less where the
first did, retaining various essential nodes of the fragment. And
a hand had been fashioned that could come into the chordally
Going for the Sounds 53
implicated sector and get itself into particular notes so as to
possibly realize these essential similarities.
Through extensive pathway play, as the hand developed ways
of being in a sensible scope without a strictly duplicating aim, I
gradually grew able to do such work because my hand could
find, in how it could now enter a sector, actual, real live keys-
at-hand there.
Keys were at hand in a sector for me in ways that displayed
my hands growing improvisationality in its overall approach.
The classical artist operates under constraints of a score to be
articulated just so. He operates within a social organization of
professional certification, excellence, and competitiveness dif-
fering from mine as an avocational jazz aspirant, his situation
placing great demands on faithfulness to the score.
For jazz, note-to-note selections were what I wanted. Having
the hand touch the surface with a broad-palmed appraisal,
saynot now as a means of groping for notes as a beginner
with closed eyes might employ such a contactthis was, at
first, a way of securing sorts of places in which sorts of action
could be taken.
A broad-palmed appraisal may be part of the hands sense of a
territory for variously shaped maneuvers, which would have to
54 Going for the Sounds
proceed through particular keys. And this extended, sector-sur-
veying hand not only finds particular keys, the placement of dis-
tances of actual depressable spots, but broad contours of the
territory whose relevance fits within the conduct of classes of
gestural maneuvering.
Consider extended fingers appreciating the twosome-threesome
layout of black keys. As I was now aiming for continuities, the
hand moving for sequences of action essentially implicated by a
preceding figure, abilities with the twoness-threeness aspect of
the terrain entered into newly organized activities. The hand
would appraise the twoness-threeness layout in order to find,
for instance, how much space was available for doing noted
work in a sector, how the sort of crossover pivoting needed to
be essentially true to a prior remark could be managed with
respect to available space at hand in a new locale.
I was now beginning to appreciate more than a number of
particular notes for particular fingers, grasping for where some
named note should be. Under a melodic guidance toward the
essential reiteration of a prior gesture, the hand needed to find,
in an amount of space, that there was the sort of room to be
moved about in, to carry out a desired course; a sort of space
into which a thumb could be taken, say, so you could get up
higher in getting a thumb down around there; a sort of space
beyond which there might be a path to fall back on; a sort of
space to be avoided were I only going slow enough to avoid it;
a sort of space somewhere in which was probably a usable note.
The twoness-threeness appraisal had differing significances
within these classes of actions; and in much of my melodying
efforts, along with good things I was finding to do beneath the
hand, there was the discovery of a stretch of rapids coming up,
as it were, too fast.
It wasnt any longer a simple matter of taking up something
and precisely repeating it in an upcoming sector. There was a
Going for the Sounds 55
way of entering the topography with both key places and gen-
eral arenas for classes of improvisational action accessibly
there. A hand was developing that was possessed of mobile
ways with the topography that allowed a reasonably hopeful
attempt, at least, to make the best of things.
But, still, at this phase of my studies there was a struggle to
achieve an expressly determined melody, with an adherence to
chord-specific prior shapes. As the hand moved to a next sector,
shapes were given their historical integrity (and the complexity
of continuity practices increased) with a working-to-make-it-
happen. Only later would there emerge a sort of making the
best of things, a way of being with the keyboard that would be
continuously prudent rather than struggling to get about sensi-
bly. Here I was very much backward-looking and reparatively
forward-going, still engrossed in continuous analytic thinking,
looking back at that passage Id just done and striving to repeat
it. My hands didnt know how to stay more involved within the
shorter and steadily moving framework of only several particu-
lar next notes at a time.
Id head into a new territory for a next chord, do a gesture
that replicated the prior sequentially intricate move, and find I
could preserve some of its features, sometimes exactly, some-
times glossingly. And Id find that a bit of this got done in the
next chordal context and thered still remain a period of tenure
for the chords duration to be filled with melody. The hand fin-
ished parts of the preceding that it could melodically manage,
some of whose sounds it could prehear on the way down
because there was an assured path-implicated note target for its
aim in the new sector. The hand thenthis fast jazzy player I
always sought to behad more to do. Not playing seemed to
make the music stop.
As the hand did things it was seeking to do singingly, it had
all the while been becoming a hand able to do all sorts of things
56 Going for the Sounds
everywhere. Id play a figure, go for its repetition, get some way
into it, and stumble. To fill what I felt to be the remaining
empty space and keep the jazz going, Id do something quite
unrelated to the explicit continuity Id partially achieved. Id
accomplish the beginning of a reiteration (transposition, inver-
sion, exact or approximate repeat, etc.), and then, for example,
use up a remaining allotted chord time by taking on any notes
that were thereabout to take.
There were the familiar pathways, and these could at times
be gotten onto, but with respect to the integrity of the sought
continuity of the statement they were any notes thereabout
that would keep the action under way. Not quite that, however,
for they were often filled with their characteristic jazz sounds.
The originally sought replication had its characteristic jazz
sounds here and there within it. And there was a melodying
being done with them, aimed-for continuities so that strips were
being brought together into statements of a sort. There were, as
well, particular chordal sounds, and these other characteristic-
sounding little afterthoughts stuck on the end of a gradually
evolving coherence. From a virtual hodgepodge of phonemes
and approximate paralinguistics, a sentence structure was
slowly taking form, sayings now being attempted, themes start-
ing to achieve some cogent management. But at the same time,
courses of action were being sustained that faded and disinte-
grated into stammerings and stutterings, connectives yet to
become integrally part of the process.
These any notes thereabout werent only places on actual
pathways that I tried to stick at the end of a gesturally guided
continuity, for thered developed ways of moving around that
couldnt, at this point, any longer be described in terms of a
paths traverse.
Theres a chromatic scale in its theoretical organization, to
take just one example. The scale contains every note on the key-
Going for the Sounds 57
board. It can be played in a strictly orderly progression,
expressly as a chromatic run, from bottom to top or down-
ward. But then there was a manner of proceeding that had been
gained through manipulations along it and paths like it, a way
that involved a general style. Take the index and the fourth fin-
gers, touching two black notes, the hand in that sort of posture
adopted when chromatically situated and engaged:
Or, for instance, there was this way, with the hand broadly
where distances required to move about between the second
and third fingers may be known since a known kind of course
is taken.
58 Going for the Sounds
Theres a globalized appreciation for the fourthness of a
course (a possibility in this second photo), or for a courses gen-
eral chromaticality, and now my hand didnt always come into
the keyboard for a first note and then a second one in particu-
lar, but would, as well, enter the terrain to take a certain essen-
tial sort of stride.
Two years of pathway manipulation taught me a chromatic
style of engaging the terrain, and coming into this chromatic run
the hand assumes a unique posture, with the fingers bunched up
into a preparatory shape. Where notes lay along the chromatic
path was anticipated in the hands posturing for a sector to be
chromatically taken. The second finger finds a place relative to
the fourth and the fourth relative to the second, as they together
find themselves spaced within a chromatically configuring hand.
In a chromatic pose, my hand could be aimed toward any
sector in sufficiently prepared shape, precisions then to be toned
up as the contact is made. As one finger in this chromatically
poised hand makes contact, it finds where in the depth and
width of a key it is, and the hands chromaticality becomes cor-
respondingly toned for the sectors dimensions running off in
both directions from the point of appraised contact. In such a
chromatic approach, the thumb stays back away from the black
notes, so that a directed course can be taken regardless of where
the starting point of a setdown happens to be.
I gained a host of such strategies for entering into the key-
board, postures like the chromatic one. And when I got into
trouble with specifically sought, soundful melodying, it was
through the availability of such general styles that any notes
thereabout could begin to be errorlessly handled, at least in the
sense that no tripping occurred, for instance, when a reiterative
attempt ended with time still left to be filled up with activity.
Styles of being had developed, becoming more generalized,
done everywhere, modes of moving first gained from pathway
Going for the Sounds 59
play yet now freed from the specific routes on whose travel
they were acquired, freed by a striving toward melodicality.
There were scaling ways, and up-a-little-down-a-little ways,
rocking ways and every-other-finger ways, and skipping ways,
hopping ways, rippling ways, ways to go a long way with, and
In the availability of such shaped means of approach, I had a
capacity to keep the action going in a sector, making streams of
notes, while still doing a great deal of unthoughtful, weakly
gearing aiming for sounds. Nonetheless, these general styles of
moving were gradually evolving into a connective tissue of
action, with attempts to tie up courses taken with one chord to
those played with the next; and, more importantly, facilities
were emerging that would enable maneuvering about in a quite
different manner over my next year of studies, a way of making
the best of things continuously.
In this phase of play I aimed for sounds with great inconsis-
tency. If that note shown beneath the thumb (B) here is played,
I might know what the note beneath the first finger, E

, will
sound like:
60 Going for the Sounds
if the finger is aimed to that place along with a quiet or loudly
singing me also directed to it as a place that will sound just so.
Sing a small sequence of notes, exaggerating your expressive-
ness for the sake of illustration. Your head, torso, and the inner
structures of the mouth noticeably rise and fall. Face a mirror
and sing some tones. Mark the opening position of your nose
vis--vis the mirror with a chalk. As you then pass through sev-
eral sung steps of a well-known song, similarly mark your
noses location at the arrival vicinity of each tone. With an
insignificant degree of exaggeration that easily feels natural,
several conscientious passes over a five- or six-note melody will
yield a vertical array of resultant chalk marks isomorphically
corresponding to the vertically spaced arrangement of discrete
pitches in a musical score, or the horizontal array of spots on a
Theres a system of concordantly pitched and shaped move-
ments, most crudely put here, between vertical movements of
the head and the horizontal spread of fingers on the terrain. To
know what a next place will sound like is to be somehow syn-
chronously directed along these dimensions. A sustained orien-
tation to a melodic course of sounds consists in a togetherness
of such aiming. Voice and fingers seek the selfsame and thus
known sounding spots.
And this is most intricate indeed. The contours of a sung pro-
gression can outline its shapes with a very miniaturized line of
action, while the synchronously linked hand is moving across a
fixed-sized grid, possibly akin to the accomplished pianists
ability to adjust his hands sense of the scale of a terrain so as
to actually play well on a considerably shrunken childs key-
board. Akin too, perhaps, to the fact that the selfsame hand-
writing, with very particular details, can be seen whether one
writes with large arm and shoulder strokes on a blackboard or
tiny fingered ones on a small piece of paper.
Going for the Sounds 61
Further, there may be an absence of any sense of motion in
the mouth and its parts, the rising and falling pitches that
singing entails readily transferred into a lateral head move-
ment, as if the very head and shoulder were doing high and low
when moving sideways. This coupling of aimthe sort of
coordinational, rescaling, gestural shrinking, transferring
(from one place to another) capabilities of a synchronously
aimed bodywas variously refined and ragged at this point of
my play.
Its not that, being with a thumb, in particular, on this B, Id
know the E

was a place to melodically go. In a reiterative

attempt, let us suppose, such an interval had been previously
played and I was now heading for this distance again. In a new
mini-landscape this distance resided in a new contour, and these
two fingers were part of a hand that was establishing its over-
all shape, by, for example, the other fingers appraisal of my
general location within the keyboard where this particular
desired interval would be.
The pinkie, in the above photograph, may anchor a hands
spread, feeling an open space, finding the significance of this
open space by reference as well to the fourth fingers apprecia-
tion of the outer edge of those three black-note mounds. The
feel of how much key is under an extended finger likewise aids
in the hands sense of the E

s place, not only along a horizontal

axis but as a spot whose depth and size are present as well.
For many actions, such appraisals may not be necessary,
however, and indeed only the beginners hand regularly makes
contact to aid in place finding. But when shifts of ranges occur,
when a broad leap is taken, a slight touch may tone up the
But if it wasnt a matter of finding a single intervallic trans-
position, the repetition of a third, as with these fingers, but one
of winding with the hand into a new arena for continuing
62 Going for the Sounds
melody making, where transactions entailed much more than
keeping the terrain and its contours in tactile regard, many pos-
sibilities arose for imprecisions in the manual-vocallic unity of
the gesture.
Id go for a reiteration, beginning with an interval like this B-E

pair, its location assuredly sought and known, prehearing its

forthcomingness with a definitely known distance as a (possibly
repeated) third, for instance, allowing a meshing of voice and
fingers. But with respect to a continuing course, I couldnt man-
age to preserve a pitched-spaced duplication because of how I
was moving. Essential contours of the gesturehighs where
high, lows where low, the same number of notes, a bunch of
notes that sounded as dense, a similar relative pitchmight
come off reasonably fluently. But notes beyond a two-note
opening, I may accurately say of myself, werent often definitely
implicated next spots. And instead of really knowing what they
would sound like in detail, Id be saying some of them particu-
larly and definitely, and others would, as it were, be speaking
back to me. Making melodies, going for certain pitched trans-
actions in this phase of play thus had a characteristic uneven-
ness, me trying to have the hands say this in particular, the
hands saying some of what I took them to say, but not all, then
saying things of our own jointly inappropriate choosing.
There was a recurrent piece of advice in the jazz subculture
when the discussion was of ways to develop skill at improvisa-
tion: sing while youre playing. In pathway playing I was
singing what I played only after the fact, and felt foolish, like
trying to speak in unison with anothers talk. I was only very
intermittently playing what I was singing. My singing had
something of a life of its own. Sometimes its aims were real-
ized, often only their essential shapes, and at other times a
much greater discrepancy arose, with a total lack of synchrony
between moves toward good next sounds that I would
Going for the Sounds 63
project and those moves the hands had to be making toward
good next spots.
It was as though the enterprise of melody making now too
often came under the jurisdiction of an artful listener, and had
I been able to jump into the keyboard with my tongue, things
wouldve been smoothed out. By now I had developed a capac-
ity for melody in jazz ways. It wasnt really that I needed more
practice to gain still more complex scale-shifting skills (though
much more would be had). It was, instead, that I had yet to
develop ways of melody making where the sorts of well-inten-
tioned reachings that were now getting me into trouble would
be replaced by an altogether different way of moving.
If I strike a first note and reach for a second, I may or may not
know what itll sound like. In manifest or minute bodily move-
ments accompanying the fingers journey, I may find I vocally
appreciate only the vicinity of places where a finger will settle.
If someone plays a note on the keyboard and Im asked to
sing another thats pointed to nearby, I can generally do it, but
often most easily by singing some orderly path (like a major
scale) that links the two notes, and whose steps I count until I
reach the indicated target. I havent had that sort of very spe-
cialized music-dictational training that prepares one to make
such visual-aural identifications.
If someone calls out a notes name, I cant sing it, nor can I
name a note thats played, a skill much too loosely termed per-
fect pitch. But if I sing a tone, or listen to one on a record, I can
then go to the piano and play it on my very first touch of the
instrument about eighty percent of the time. So my hands, arms,
and shoulders (for, like other pianists, I can do this while stand-
ing up, off center from the middle, reaching down to the key-
board with one finger, and often without looking)they have
almost perfect pitch. My thoughts dont.
64 Going for the Sounds
When I say I know what an upcoming note will sound like, I
mean that Im moving along a course that will provide for that
notes sound, in providing for precisely targeted next moves.
I would, for instance, make a statement and then go for its
exact repetition, and thered be notes in addition to the ones Id
played that might be soundfully attained, if Id managed to do
more notes in the transformation while going fast. When I
played a figure like this, to use the simple example of superim-
posed major chords discussed above,
and aimed for its replication on a new chord, the fourth note
below (the higher F),
for instance, might be soundfully approachable. The major
triad (a three-note chord, here F major: F, A, C) establishes a
territory of related sounds. If I play a major triad I can aimfully
attain the octave, the fourth note in the picture, and know what
3 . 0
Going for the Sounds 65
itll sound like. This is because Ive learned a soundful way of
moving around all the positions of a major triad: I can always
precisely aim for any of its tones from any of its others, fingers
and voice together. Its tones are soundfully given in having very
specifically known distances from any finger to any finger, in
every sort of mutual relation to one other, because, for exam-
ple, Ive done all sorts of arpeggios, with all manners of order-
ing throughout the keyboard with these major chord triads,
using all kinds of fingerings, many thousands of times; because
the distances to get to and from any of the notes in a triad to
and from any others have become known in the most thor-
oughly intimate way.
I can play a major triads notes (here shown simultaneously
depressed for the sake of illustration) with these fingers:
66 Going for the Sounds
And the reach from the C (the third depressed key from the left)
to the higher F can be securely aimed for, as that sounding place
in particular. I dont know distances between keys in general,
but always in a context of unfoldingly handled moves. I dont
know the distance from this C to F:
because I specifically know how to move up in fourths (this
interval), with that sort of turnunder. Abstractly speaking, as a
matter of anatomy and the corresponding geometry of a key-
board, its actually an awkward maneuver. But, in the context of
a hand engaged with an F major triad, such turnunders can be
quite securely targeted because that triad is part of an intended
presence at the keyboard: an F major triad way, within which C
has been enunciated, and from which C can be a launching pad.
Going for the Sounds 67
The distance from the C to the F here isnt known because my
fourth and little fingers can span such a distance in general, nor
because my third and little fingers know it as well. While these
fingers are at home with such spreads, the reach from the C to
the F here, doable with various digits, is informed by the course
thats (possibly) being taken by the hand. And its by reference
to this course possibly at handhere major-triadnessthat
such distances are known and attained.
As another example, with the middle finger on the C below,
the amount of spread required for the little finger to reach the
F is assessed by reference to how the other fingers are engaged,
and by the way the unused fourth finger informs the shaping of
the hand:
The reach to get to F here isnt at all unrelated to how the sec-
ond finger feels itself situated, the axial position of the right side
of the hand being quite different in this pictured minor triad
(F A

C). Where F then lies, relative to C, becomes more than

some distance along a strictly linear horizontal scale. In ongo-
ing play, aiming for a next sound within a course, one must
reach a note so as to depress it, and without improperly touch-
ing any neighboring tones, while going on to and coming from
other places. And how high the rest of the hand is, the contours
68 Going for the Sounds
the hand as a whole assumes, and the shaping of distances run-
ning along every dimension are critical.
In the course of doing a major triad, to say I know where
notes of that triad definitely are, that I can be aimed to them
synchronously with voice and hand, is to say I have a secure
way of going to them, and going to them to play them. For
an improvising pianist, having a known upcoming sound
means being able to aim securely at a very definite location
thats fully implicated by a context of deeply incorporated
routes. If I project a sung sound, going upward, and can bring
a finger-within-the-routing-hand to that destination, I find a
placeful realization of my aim as a concerted manual-vocallic
Its important to note, as well soon see, that in doing com-
petent jazz improvisation now, I never project sung sounds
independent of how my hand finds itself situated. But in this
phase of play Id often go for a next place that wasnt clearly
targetable by a hand firmly in command of itself on such a
course. My overly self-conscious melody making had me reach-
ing about for places indefinitely, and not just to places whose
distances were clearly implicated by a particular handful course
that locates the specific whereabouts of thereby soundable
places. I wasnt often wayfully engaged on a path.
If I play some notes on a major chord, I know what other
notes of the chord sound like. That is, I know how to get to any
other chord place soundfully. But it aint necessarily so. Its
hardly just a matter of playing notes that happen to lie on a
chord which delineates clearly implicated next distances,
according them a particular known sound.
I must be major chord-oriented with these notes, before its
places will lead me to others. These selfsame notes might arise
while I was doing some other manipulation, along other routes
not necessarily related to a major chord way of moving. From
Going for the Sounds 69
the standpoint of play, a major chord way isnt a collection of
isolatable spots with their sounds. Its an intended arena of
well-aimed maneuvers.
And to be wayfully oriented on a path, it isnt at all necessary
to play every note on it, any more more than a competent dri-
ver always has to pass through fourth and third gears to down-
shift from fifth to second, as a beginner might.
Another detailed example. First lets have two longer arrays
of scale paths in view:


Id play a relatively rapid figure like this (here the numbers indi-
cate the sequence of the notes being played):
5 6 7
8 9 :

70 Going for the Sounds

and the D

would not, well say for purposes of illustration, be

soundfully approached. It would, instead, have been among
those any notes thereabout, tagged on to fill out the remain-
ing time. Id be involved in a course of struggling maneuvers
that didnt handfully provide for that space having its known-
in-advance sound. It wasnt a wayful place.
Note that while this is an empirically likely but perhaps hypo-
thetical example, its so typical of my negotiations at the time,
involving troubles so vexing, long-standing, and recollected in
fine detail, that it can be reconstructed with a plausibility ade-
quate for the needed observations.
How might its soundfulness have been assured? I possess a
huge number of courses within which its a secure there. For it
to be securely there isnt, for example, to say I can move to the
first black of a twosome from the second, or that I can come
squarely down into the center of a note without slipping. Its
securely there if within a context of places at hand in the
intended ways Im moving.
Most simply, D

couldve been aimed at from E

, as if on an

major scale way used from the very start. E

and D

both lie
on an A

major scale path, and all prior notes in the sequence

fall on it too. But I was, well say (here reconstructing my con-
duct), oriented, instead, on a sequence along one intended E

way, an E

major scale. I had that scales feel in hand all along

the way until I got to the D

. Tones 15 are on an E

scale. D

So oriented along an E

way from notes one to five, for me to

have used D

wouldve meant I was switching paths. But at this

point in my play it wouldve been most unlikely for me to have
smoothly shifted from a figure like this right onto some other
way. Such extended continuities had yet to contain a critical
missing ingredient, main topic of my next chaptera manner of
Going for the Sounds 71
At this point in my play, such a D

wouldve been a mere

sound careless afterthought, an any note thereabout with-
out a known sound. This means that neither an A

major scale
way nor any other sound-giving course with these places on it
would have been intendedly at hand in the move between these
notes (and there are a very great number of other paths that can
here provide for a soundable location, like a diminished scale,
to take just one, where a D

could follow an E

A definiteness of aim, a synchrony of a pianists vocal and
digital intentions, is never merely a secure aim toward a place.
A gestures confident aim is assured in its being a movement to
a key which at the same time is a movement past that key. And
one behaves wayfully singing with the fingers if every key is
entered with its future and past wheres securely present in a
route-finding hand.
The sound-there-routing hand is one that finds places with a
definiteness of aim continuously toned up as the articulation
unfolds. If, in a path switch, D

was intended, from E

, as a move
then possibly oriented to a C, B

, and A

to come, successive
lower tones on an A

major scale (which might now be a likely

switch for me), where that D

really is, for a hand going to it, is

defined by the shaped course that brings the finger into it.
A finger taking a D

in such a downward A

way would be a
finger taking a D

to be then potentially followed by a thumb

and crossover rotation, the usual way D

is passed through in
descending an A

scale. And such prospective orientations of the

hand toward upcoming spots provides for the finest detectable
details of a particular kind of D

landing, where, say, youd typ-

ically see a thumb already well turning under, anticipating
movement down along the new way.
The way a finger comes into a key is an intrinsic part of how
one must speak of where a key is. Theres no single place called the

place (except in analytic thought). Productionally speaking,

72 Going for the Sounds
there are many different D

s a hand may wayfully achieve. This

selfsame locale, objectively speaking, is in fact a spot for actions
that define it as many possible places in reference to wayful
Getting to a D

, in the context of this figure, was, at the time

for me, to get to a place where I just happened to land. Striving
for melodies in the ways I did, merely happening to land on
keys was responsible for most of my mistakes.
To go for D

definitely isnt at all a matter of doing so

strongly, or with firm pressure, but with the confidence of an
intended-sounding aim. It would be to come at it from within a
course of movements that locates a particular D

, grounded by
the locations and configurational requirements of other places
on that course with respect to which it is being wayfully
A finely integrated aiming for places, giving soundedness to
keys by reference to a wayful series of moves, would only
emerge as a continual possibility in the next phase of my stud-
ies. And such notions as the definiteness of an aim, a provision
of soundedness, and the very idea of a way at handthese
must await fuller clarification as I describe an essential change
in my play.
Going for the Jazz
More than any other single experience, it was listening to
Jimmy Rowles play the piano that marked the crucial turning
point in my fourth year of study, when very significant changes
began to occur in my path to improvisation.
Rowles was known as a musicians musician, and at the club
in Greenwich Village where he often performed, jazzmen from
all over New York City would drop by on their off evenings to
hear his marvelous presentations of ballads. A renowned
accompanistfor Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra,
et al.Rowles often also played as a soloist or with a bass
player, and here his forte was a most lilting, casual, yet very
swinging way of playing standards like Over the Rainbow,
Body and Soul, All the Things You Are, The Man I Love. To lis-
ten to him was to relish each and every place of a luxuriously
lingering song. He was a fine improviser and superb accompa-
nist, but it was especially the way he played ballads that com-
manded professional respect.
Rowles had a way with the instrument. He sat rather low
down and stretched back, as relaxed with the piano as the very
competent driver is nonchalant behind the wheel on an open
74 Going for the Jazz
road. Still, there was a supreme caretaking with a melody, a
caressing of it, giving each place its due. He was never in a
hurry. In fact it was as if hed fallen behind the beat. But it only
seemed that way. It was late-at-night music, and the song would
take its time.
For months, night after night Id watch him move from chord
to chord with a broadly swaying participation of his shoulders
and entire body. Id sympathetically feel him delineate waves of
movement, some broadly encircling, others subdividing the
broadly undulating strokes with finer rotational ones, so that as
his arm reached out to get from one chord to another it was as
if some spot on his back circumscribed a very small figure at the
same time, as if at slow tempos this was the way to bolster a
steadiness to the beat.
At times Id watch his chordal hand coming in gently for a
landing, and even while it stayed depressed for a bit he still
always appeared to take a chord in passing, never seeming to
reach a totally final rest, as the elbow and arm elliptically
rotated around the engaged keyboard hand. Looking very
closely, one could see that his fingertips themselves were never
really fully stationary, always smoothly gliding over the tiniest
of distances to pass from their points of first contact to those of
disengagement. And along with his almost strictly linear foot
taps, a small head gesture circumscribed the arms same
accented temporal path. In an anchored heel youd only see up-
and-down movements of the foot, but in his slight head rota-
tion and shoulder swaying, youd see an undulating flow of
motion, a pushing, releasing, thrusting, and relaxing.
At live performances I often watched fast players whose
records served as my models. But their body idioms in no way
seemed connected to the detail of their melodies, and adopting
the former had absolutely no bearing on the latter. This one, for
example, had a little shoulder tic, but mimicking that, as I found
Going for the Jazz 75
myself quite unselfconsciously doing after an evening of watch-
ing him, didnt begin to produce his sorts of improvisations.
Another sat tightly hunched over the piano, playing furiously
fast, but assuming that posture had no apparent consequence for
getting my jazz to sound in the least like his.
But over the course of several months of watching and lis-
tening to Jimmy play, and starting to play many more slow bal-
lads myself, which Id earlier done mostly when first learning
chord voicing, I found that for getting a song to feel like his, his
observable bodily idiom served as a roughly useful guide. In the
very act of swaying gently and with elongated movements, the
lilting, stretching, almost oozing quality of his interpretations
could be at least vaguely evoked.
I couldnt emulate his intonations and phrasing with genuine
success, capture the richness of his way of moving, pacing, and
caretaking. His special skills in handling pulsation, indeed
Rowless entire manner of looking, walking, talking, or laugh-
inghis way of temporally being in the worldthis was dis-
tinctive enough to make him a quite difficult player to copy
realistically. But I found I could get some of his breathing qual-
ity into a songs presentation by trying to copy his ways.
Listening to him, paying special notice to a manner of mov-
ing, playing many more ballads myself, bringing attention for
the first time (clearly the result of my peculiarly long isolation
from the occupation) to a caretaking regard for the overall pre-
sentation of a song from front to finish, trying to shape a beat
like Jimmy did, I began to develop an entirely new way of being
at the piano.
And while at first it was particularly in playing slower stan-
dards that I found a payoff from these new attentions, progress
slowly started to appear in the faster improvisational play at
which Id still spent most of the time.
76 Going for the Jazz
Now, within my practice sessions, little spates of that jazz on
the records surprisingly showed themselves to me. Then they
were gone. No sooner did I try to latch onto a piece of good-
sounding jazz that would seem just to come out in the midst of
my improvisations, than it would be undermined, as, when one
first gets the knack of a complex skill like riding a bicycle or ski-
ing, the very attempt to sustain an easeful management under-
cuts it. You struggle to stay balanced, keep failing, then several
revolutions of the pedals occur, the bicycle seems to go off on
its own, you try to keep it up, and it disintegrates. Yet theres no
question but that the hang of it was glimpsed, the bicycle
seemed to do the riding by itself, an essence of the experience
was tasted with a this is it feeling, like a revelation.
And a long-term conversation with myself now began to take
a particular form. Looking down at these hands of mine, at
their ways, at my ways of employing them, seeking practically
useful terms for conceiving my relationship to their ways, think-
ing of the particular things I could do for this music to happen
regularlya thoughtful scrutiny over such matters and over the
very consequences of such thinking itselfthis became the
essence of what practicing now entailed.
It was an all-or-nothing affair. Id see a stretch of melody sud-
denly appear, unlike others Id seen, seemingly because of some-
thing I was doing, though my fingers went to places to which I
didnt feel Id specifically taken them. Certain right notes played
in certain right ways appeared just to get done, in a little strip of
play thatd go by before I got a good look at it. And while I cer-
tainly did these notes in these ways, a practically relevant obser-
vation, for ways of moving Id come to develop, was revealed in
this odd sort of first observation. Watching from above and see-
ing a stretch of action occur in a way that almost prompted me
to exclaim some jazz just came out! prophesied a way of doing
these notes so theyd appear just to come out. A sense grew of
Going for the Jazz 77
finally being onto something, and Id search for just the way to
proceed. Small indications became targets, glimpses of what the
way of being would somehow have to achieve.
It wasnt that a sort of jazz line would appear, somewhat bet-
ter than another, then one a bit better still, with gradations that
revealed readily detectable shifts in a range of isolatable com-
ponents of my ways. The distinction wasnt as between a street
corner conversation and a passage of Rilke, a typically compe-
tent jazz pianists solo and the exquisite elegance of a Chick
Corea improvisation. It was like the difference between an
aphasics or stutterers or new foreigners attempts to put
together a smooth sentence, and a competent three-year-olds
flowing Daddy . . . come see my new doll. Former ways were
lacking at that level of difference, between features of action
that all jazz on the records shared and the sorts of struggling
amateur efforts that didnt really count as competent talk at all.
This level now becomes my descriptive concern, as it was then
an obsessive practical one.
What happened, suddenly appearing and disappearing in this
way, was dramatically different from what my former practices
had achieved. For a brief course of time while I played rapidly
along, a line of melody interweavingly flowed over the duration
of several chords, fluently winding about in ways Id not seen
my hands move before, a line of melody whose melodicality
wasnt being expressly done, as in my reiterative attempts to
sustain continuity. Somehow, a sequence of notes flowing from
one chords jazz-related ways to the nexts, singing this jazz, was
achieved. And it was clear that these ways of interweavingly
singing jazz with my fingers, first so difficult to sustain with any
satisfying frequency, were the ways of the jazz on the records.
There was no mistaking it. No recording was needed to verify
my perception. I was quite certain about it without inviting a
78 Going for the Jazz
musicians confirmation. And I was right. I could hear it. I could
hear a bit of that language being well spoken, could recognize
that Id done a saying in that language, in fact for the very first
time, a saying particularly said in all of its detail: its pitches,
intensities, pacing, durations, accentingsa saying said just so.
The particularly said jazz saying would get done, and then Id
lapse into the usual lungeful, unsinging path-following ways.
My practical theorizing, searching for instructions that would
work, now made up a course of several months of almost con-
tinuous playing, getting close and not wanting to let the changes
recede, trying to nail matters down firmly so I could always do
it again. At first, many days of regular playing might not pro-
duce a single instance, and many months went by before I could
play anything like an entire song-length chorus of this jazz on
the records. My protracted struggle kept alive various problem-
atic aspects of the task, making possible their study and descrip-
tion here, a payoff that, I assure you, came only after the fact.
I clearly knew when the right appearances were displayed,
knew it in the deeply familiar sounds on the records, and in the
looks of the hands. I saw my hands as a jazz piano players
hands, a bit at a time, and would oddly recall the looks of other
players hands. My hands looks looked like theirs had looked.
Things passingly seen in the others hands were now clarified in
hindsighthaving been seen but not watchedthrough looks
mine now passingly revealed to me.
And this remembrance itself gradually proved most helpful.
The puzzling interweavingness of my teachers fingers, whose
order I couldnt formerly see, looking beyond their conduct for
rules about their destinationsthis, for example, I now spotted
in mine. I recognized modalities of movement previously wit-
nessed in others hands, with noticeably variegated detail, so
that regularly emulating such non-note-specific memories gen-
erated many new possibilities for my own hands.
Going for the Jazz 79
Playing the piano now, by myself, for friends, students, or in
a nightclub, within a minute I usually find myself softly singing
(though youd surely prefer to call it middle-aged, hummed
grunting). I sing with my fingers. One may sing along with the
fingers, one may use the fingers to blurt out a thought, and one
may sing with the fingers. Each is a specifically different way of
Instructions that helped achieve this singing with the fingers
began to figure into a mode of guided presence at the terrain,
integrating with other helpful practices I could begin to locate,
features of my play I could understand and instruct my hands
Consider using ones fingers to blurt out a thought, the promi-
nent feature of my earlier repetitional lungings. Finding that
problems of improvised writing inform and are informed by prob-
lems of improvised piano playing, I did some casual yet revealing
studies of typing, involving this, among other practices:
I typed rapidly, without a text, striving to make real sayings,
sensible ones, expressing ideas, as language likes to put it
about itself, seeking to sustain a pace that approximates that of
rather slow but not too terribly stilted talk (at about 120 wpm).
Doing such typing and trying to continue without undue
pausing, exploring improvisation in this terrain, it often hap-
pened that Id come to places where I couldnt reach farther
ahead. My movements werent broadly aimed forward, lacked
ways of going on in certain malleable, improvisationally flexible,
accentually targeted thrusts. And at such times I simultaneously
found myself sensing that I couldnt find what to say next.
Id try to keep on typing nonetheless, continuously aiming to
produce sensible sayables for a viewing audience, sayables that
come and disappear as talking comes and goes, purposefully
constraining myself with a video camera focused on a movable
typewriter carriage, so that one only saw a few words come up
80 Going for the Jazz
and go off a TV screen. And I gave a dozen televised lectures,
seated at an old carriage-moving IBM typewriter with a video
camera over my shoulder in front of a large class of (bewil-
dered) sociology students, who watched my talks on monitors
under instructions to prepare for an exam on their content.
In such finger talking, Id feel myself coming upon a loss for
words as my hands began to falter and lack certainty in their
forward sweep, and, sensing such difficulty just up ahead, Id
frequently say a group of words to myself, trying to get out of
trouble, trying to do this while still typing fast.
I felt compelled to prefigure a little stretch of places to aim
for, going rather foolishly fast with a continuing aim to stay
cogent this waythe better to study itand, feeling an impasse
arising, Id take an inner course of action to help the outer one
out, metaphorically speaking. In such a search, a course of
words can be given in a flash, with that sort of rapidity think-
ing to oneself can have. Doing such thinking while typing along,
attempting such prefiguring without pausing as other places
were being handled, Id often lunge for the imagined group of
words all at once.
Lunging for a group of words all at once, roughly possible in
thinking, would only work interactionally in a world where lan-
guage somehow occurred with the sorts of actions a postal clerk
takes when stamping Air Mail Special Delivery on your letter in
one blow. But talking, writing, and melodying at least currently
require sequential articulations of the body, and to lunge for a
group of words all at once is to produce garbled-looking
sayables or garbled-sounding sayings.
Gestural productions must be serialized. I may think in sev-
eral words more or less given at once, doing whats called
monothetic thinking (not that its without duration itself). But
when I move my fingers over the typewriter doing finger talk-
Going for the Jazz 81
ing, or move my mouth to speak, I must say each next sound in
a progressively unfolding way.
Finding myself in a jam, trying to do a thoughtful saying,
finding trouble flowing backward through the ill-aimed for-
ward reach of the hands, Id lunge for a group of words and
produce a garbled-looking sayable that often contained bits and
pieces of the words that were lunged for scattered around
within it over a several-second struggle to get back on track, as
the fingers reached to stamp out a thought. Many errors
And in that form of being singingly present when I tried to
use my fingers to blurt out an elaborate note sequence, in ear-
lier reiterative attempts to duplicate a prior melodic figure, the
consequences of the lunge produced, for the music, an order of
disarray equivalent to the disarrayed sights I got in such lung-
ing gestures at the typewriter.
Then theres a way of typing where, for a while, one sustains
an ongoing course of thought as the typing, without any inner
sayings or imaginings with words apart from the fingers move-
ments, when a strict synchrony is sustained between any sayings
you may be saying to yourself and the movements of the fin-
gers. That sort of typing can occur with few pauses on occasion,
and quite fluently, however slowly; one is then singing with the
The things I formerly had to say werent the sorts of sayings
to say, for lunging wouldnt work. Better said, the brand of jazz
improvisation on the records that I aimed for isnt filled with
lunges of the sort I made, with so many notes merely landed
upon. Its instead made up of sayings that are particularly artic-
ulated, each and every next-sounding note expressly aimed for
and arrived at. My play was full of sounds that resulted from a
very unevenly sustained singingness.
82 Going for the Jazz
A good first instruction was to take directions from the locale
and readiness of the hands, when choosing notes to say. With
my hand in this position:
I have a host of soundful places to aim my fingers, for all the
chords of a song, without venturing. Before, Id proceeded in
little chord-by-chord strips, and while Id practiced some runs
that accorded well with a progression of a couple of customar-
ily adjacent chords, there were only very few of these at hand,
few worked-out solutions for continuously and rapidly traveling
from one smoothly available and characteristic jazz-sounding
path, like the diminished scale, onto another one. Perhaps Id
expressly practiced only three or four such switching routes.
Playing along fast on one path and feeling a next chord com-
ing up, I needed to change paths, and while I could by this point
employ some of the routes from various starting pointstop to
bottom, coming in at the middle, playing every other note from
the top, bottom, or middlestill, going fast, in the ways I went
fast, it always felt essential to prefigure the configuration of a
whole route onto which Id switch, as the next chords statement
was imminent.
It was a while since itd been a frantic searching ahead, as in
my first year, since Id experienced an explicit conceptual pro-
Going for the Jazz 83
cedure of chord route matching as a naming process. But there
was still considerable imagining of arrayed routes while I
played, and visualizing where I was in the terrain; and these
images were, on occasion, up ahead of where my fingers were,
to aid in a transition when moving along rapidly and feeling the
encroaching arrival of a next chord.
Now I can play along rapidly, singing the jazz with my fingers,
fully involved in a singing being particularly said, totally caught
up in the music. And without looking at the keyboard I can visu-
alize the notes being played, their names and spellings, each next
one at a time while I play, just as I can, but only synchronously,
conceive of the spellings of the words as I speak running across
an imaginary teletype screen, for instance. The same sort of syn-
chrony, it can be suggested, between visualizations and singings
occurs here at the typewriter, in relations between what I may
say to myself as I type and the movements of my fingers.
If I say something up ahead of where the fingers are, Ill
surely make an error. And if I speak aloud, typing along with
my sayings, I find that the fingers move through just those
places on this terrain that correspond to the places my mouth
parts traverse in voicing the sayings that are being typed.
As I type a long word, speaking aloud at the pe cul iar ly
e long at ed pace involved in speaking while typing or writ-
ing longhand, I enunciate the various syllables and stretch the
course of my mouths movements in slow motion right along in
strict synchrony with the movements of the hand and fingers.
The two go precisely together as two hands together reach for
a package, each hand getting to its side of the parcel, however
differently distanced the two sides are from the hands locations
when the move begins, going together toward their destinations
and arriving on time together.
Looking down at my hands and finding a spate of jazz com-
ing out, Id find I was looking to the hands themselves, not their
84 Going for the Jazz
destinations, now seeing ways of travel over and above those
particular notes being chosen. While before Id looked past the
hands ways to their destinations, when a spate of that jazz was
now spotted my look at times shifted back, the focal plane
seemed closer, and I saw a configuring hand, in a certain over-
all stance with respect to the keys, whose shaping was being
watched, whose shaping and moving became gradually
I began to see and find use for further work in the observa-
tion that I neednt lunge, that usable notes with any chord were
right there at hand, that there was no need to find a path, to
imagine one up ahead, get ready in advance for a blurting out.
Indeed, conceiving particular places up ahead seriously under-
mined the singing I sought to sustain.
Good notes were everywhere at hand, right beneath the fin-
gers. While it had before often seemed necessary to reach for a
big path for a chord, foreseeing its locale and organizational
requirements with a monothetic hand thinking thoughts all at
once, a single note would perfectly well suffice to make up a
melody over several chords duration.
Melodies in most western music certainly arent only charac-
terized by successions of many different notes, but contain plen-
tiful portions of only one, a couple, or a few of them (an
exquisite popular song example is Jobims One Note Samba). I
could take my time in going for a long run, or linger, finding
right beneath a nonventuring hand all sorts of melodic possibil-
itiesif I lingered in the right ways. And when venturing in the
right ways, I could move fast and take my time, both together.
One note could be played during one chords duration and
another right next to it for anothers, and melodies could be
done that way. Of course I knew that as a child, picking out
tunes like Jingle Bells. But jazz had more than anything
appeared as a fast-flowing rapidity: to do that was to be a jazz
Going for the Jazz 85
player, and in the solos I listened to it was always the hardest
passages to which I attended, never those plentiful examples on
the records of sparsely textured, nonventuring melodies.
I began to employ the melodic hand in ways to let it speak to
me, about the sort of shaping it was in, the sort of stance over
the sector being adopted. I could take directions from the fin-
gers about ways of moving and where to go, avoiding lungings
troubles, and at the same time, because of this caretaking and
my characteristic sounding routes, jazz melodies began to be
seen and heard. I could venture when ready, or not if I wished,
making jazz melodies both ways, such variability to my play
being part of what using the hands requires for the sounds of
this music.
A new sort of hookup between the singing me and my hands
was developing, as next sounds Id project began to come under
the hands jurisdictional review of their own positional readi-
ness, as where we were going together slowly began to integrate
into an altogether different way of doing singing at the piano: a
new way for intentions to be formed, a more refined synchrony
and bidirectionality of linkage being forged between my heads
reach for sounds places and my fingers reach for singable ones.
Recall my lungings, getting part of a saying definitely said and
then merely happening to land on any notes thereabout. In an
important sense all was amiss. Id play a figure and reach for a
reiteration, move for restatement in another setting, one I felt
was appropriately located for the figures moves in concordance
with the chord progression. It had been a sequence of articu-
lated movements to be accomplished in a chord-allotted time.
Then a new chord came up, with its durational tenure, and the
pitching shape of the first sequence was reached for in the next
86 Going for the Jazz
place, to be accomplished during this chords duration. The
chords go by: 1, 2, change, 4, 1, 2, change, 4 . . .
The movement traversed thus and so many steps, and I tried
to transport it in its entirety to the new place. Id set out into
the reiteration with a very particular number of notes to get
done there, often get the beginning well placed, and then feel
obliged, transporting the strip in its entirety, to say as many
more notes as were required. It had so many notes to it, this
number now to be done again. Try tapping six, seven, or ten
fingertaps on the table, counting and going up and down with
your whole hand; then pause, shift places, and tap out the same
number again at the same pace in the new place, with the same
internal time relations, each tap to the next: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . .
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Id go for such a specific number of notes, but, as we know,
I was often in shape to get a beginning part successfully reiter-
ated but not singingly aim for all of the rest of it, voice and fin-
gers going together to particular next known, handfully
implicated sounds. I lost grasp of its shaping because of config-
urational changes required to do it equivalently in the new
territory, new fingerings that I couldnt accommodate to in
rapid-course, turn-under arrangements posed by the new place.
With a moments reshifting, I (my hand) might have been able
to take account of the new place, had I given myself a moment.
But I didnt. I usually went into the repeat with a paced course
of articulations whose successive timings were established by
the very pace of the opening two moves, a pace that committed
me to the whole of it, with just so many notes in the allotted
chordal time. And losing handful grasp over its restatement,
having set up that sort of pace that committed me to the whole
number of notes of it before the new chords tenure expired, Id
often play any notes thereabout to finish up the whole of it,
with just so many of them.
Going for the Jazz 87
Having set out in pacing ways that wouldve made stopping
short of just so many of them often likely to have made me trip,
the hand going faster than it could keep its composure in the
new sector to get those pitches done, setting out in paced ways
that wouldve compounded the experienced loss of grasp over
the attempted saying with a stopping-short trip, Id instead often
produce a just-so-many string of unsung notes. Id get the fingers
down somewhere, to preserve at least the whole of it, without
tripping up on top of everything else. Often itd go like this:
Id start into a reiteration just a bit late, perhaps if a lunge
was a large one, or involved a slight preparatory reconfigura-
tion to get to a new locale in possibly workable form. Or the
prior figure itself, being paced from its beginning to predeter-
mine that a certain number of notes got achieved in its reach,
lasted a tiny trifle longer than its chord duration, delaying the
transition, or requiring an even faster shifting movement to the
new place. Id often start out just a tad late into a new sector,
sometimes speed up the pace to get the whole of it down before
the new chord; or, starting late, Id run a little over into the next
chords temporal reign.
At times a grab for a next chord would be held up ever so
slightly, the left hands reach trying to accommodate the rate of
the rights articulations, so that the two might participate in
stating some beat together, keeping the song tempoed. Such an
accommodation didnt often lend an impression of a beat
missed altogether, wasnt pronounced enough to sound like I
couldnt keep time, but was enough to throw the flow of the
proceedings out of kilter ever so slightly. And when a flow of
articulatory proceedings is ever so slightly out of kilter, whats
said is thrown into a disorganized mess. An ever so slightly ill-
paced reach may not be at all recognizable as that melody, may
produce placed and paced statements so disfigured as to make
it unclear that theyre of any particular language at all.
88 Going for the Jazz
The joint reachings of my left and right hands were usually
out of kilter because of the pacing character of the rights artic-
ulating moves, as I seldom made the left hand accommodate
much to the right, feeling the songs harmonic intactness was to
be maintained at a steady beat at all costs.
The left hand would reach for its chords, and the right hands
melodic sequences would start out and end as best they could
during the necessary interims. Despite my intentions, the left
hands reachings were often less than really rhythmically solid,
the right hands movings having their ways of upsetting the lefts
(and vice versa).
The out-of-kilter relation between the two hands at times
resembled two workers moves in lifting a heavy package,
where, if they mistime their respective uplifting thrusts, the
object comes off the ground tilted down at the heavy end, for
instance. The worker at that end, having to heave with more
accentual force than the other, perhaps not having assessed the
parcels weight or the distance to be traversed, is usually the one
who shouts: Hold it a minute. Lets start over, OK? Get ready
. . . get set . . . and go.
Often the trouble occurs in the first instance because their
ready, set, go lacks the sort of pacing shape, as a course of
moves in itself, suited to coordinate the tasks of the respective
hands; or because while it has a workable thrusting form for
one workers task it doesnt for the others; or a ready, set, go
suited to both is done just a bit too privately by each, and is not
adequately concerted.
Id reach for a course of places for each chord at a time, the
forward extent of my reach abbreviated as a course of articula-
tions that would come to an end, somehow, somewhere, for
each chord. The reaching was toward an ahead that was posted
before or upon the next chords arrival time, to enable a switch.
I reached for interim, ill-defined arrival times, rather than for
Going for the Jazz 89
long stretches of melody that would wind through a sequence
of characteristic jazz sounds for a succession of chords. I
reached for melodies as beginning toddlers get across the room
by lunging first for a leg of the coffee table, then mothers, then
to a bottle at the end of the couch.
As for the left hand, the chord-grabbing reaches were
securely targeted, moves whose places were set by the fixed
chord chart of the song. But there wasnt really a doing some-
thing with something already done down there in the left hand;
the chords sang only as the sounds of your feet might sing as
you walk while talking with another, not as when you walk to
expressly make a march happen in the taps of your steps. Only
when interconnected right-hand melodying occurred did chord
progressions themselves gain a true sounding status.
So along with these sometimes ragged chordal walking grabs,
rather than marchingly sung steps, I reached with the right hand
for hunks of articulations, batch by batchfrom the coffee
table to mothers leg, from this intersection only to that one,
from this phrase to this one and to this.
I reached step by step, rather than the way one moves right
through the production of a sentence like the one I am now typ-
ing, were you able to see it, very quickly, moving straight ahead
as I proceed, finding myself in difficulties but knowing at the
pace I am now moving, however little is being said well, how-
ever rambling things are going . . . (I lost it).
You can lose the thought in very rapid typing or very rapid
talking (and in slow typing and talk as well, of course), depend-
ing on the kinds of interwoven courses you try to generate. And
you may have to take stock. But with the format of a fixed set
of chords always coming up, you dont lose your place in the
same ways. Theres always an orderly chord sequence to unite
the proceeding, a format that specifies places toward and
through which to reach, these chordal landmarking targets.
90 Going for the Jazz
Having a chord progression is in certain general respects like
having the task of giving a stranger instructions on how to get
from here to there in the hometown you know so well: through
the course of the instructions there are places you must sayingly
lead the other through to get to the end; theres the destination
the instructions must come to, with benchmarks along the way
in the best intersectional course you outline to get from here to
there. And, in such sayings, you find those actual spoken move-
ments to lead him from this standardly employed intersection to
that one, in and through the course of these gestures.
But my reachesaphasically targeted step by step and not
broadly moving along through several sounding chordal land-
marks, to bring off a course of jazz-ordered, sentential inter-
weavingsmy reaches were in their own ways spastic. And
articulationally spastic reaches produce coordinational troubles
in making any next step go well. They are movements with tem-
poral disarray throughout, akin to that of the workers lifting
their package, and they may well arise, as they did in my piano
playing, out of an ill-formed shaping of a ready-set-go, of con-
tinuously maintained ready-set-goes.
So many notes had to be played, and these so many notes lay
in a terrain whose shaping and dimensions were known, by the
hands territorial and distancing commands, as a setting of
places-at-hand. So many places-at-hand had to be played in a
course whose pace was established at the outset by the attempt
to reiterate the preceding melody in time. And the places werent
at hand in ways they needed to be for a specifically preset num-
ber of them to happen by then. Places werent approached in
the first place with a way of moving that enables reaching just
exactly so many places singingly selected in course by then.
The problem was that instead of trying to stamp out bunches
of melody, I shouldve been getting the then-ness of my reaches
together, using ways of managing a pulse that would allow for
Going for the Jazz 91
travel to get so many singable notes found in course. I shouldve
been moving toward a together-then-ness.
The most relevant instruction generated out of my early
observations, the single thought most helpful for getting mat-
ters under consistent control, was to get the beat into the fin-
gers and not let it merely be the foot and left hands work. More
broadly conceived: establish a firmly recurrent accentual beat
everywhere, not just a somewhat straggling though timekeeping
tap of a foot, a course of rather rigidly grabbed reaches with the
left hand, while the right hand races around jazz-a-maniacally.
I needed a firm sense of upcoming arrival times, just as the
workers need a firm pulse, to know just when go will hap-
pen, when that next node of the pulse being bodily implied in
the shaping of a ready and a set is to be done, so they not
only know where theyre going, but exactly when theyll arrive.
Knowing when they must get there enables them to pace a
course of the differently distanced movements toward there
smoothly, smoothness always defined in terms of the require-
ments posed by the tasks at hand.
To get the time into the fingers, hands, shoulders, every-
where, was to begin to develop such mobile ways that commit-
ments to arrival times could be continuously altered and shifted
about while moving along, a steady beat as a whole sustained
all the while. It was to aid in having sayings always at hand for
any pace, always known to be singingly right up ahead in any
move, without having to know a whole bunch of particular up-
ahead-wheres through prefiguring. It was to permit nonstutter-
ing and nontripping disengagements when a saying wasnt
really at hand, disengagements that wouldnt now seem to
make the music stop, but would instead be silences of the music.
Watching Jimmy Rowles, Id come home and begin moving
by setting a tempo in new ways. Before, in group play or alone,
Id counted a 1, 2, 3, 4 that was really more suited for counting
92 Going for the Jazz
from 1 to 20 than for making music. Now I began to do a 1,
and a 2, and a 1 2 3 4, setting a tempo with rotating cyclical
movements, with strong forward thrusts. Now, instead of keep-
ing a beat as one may tap with rigid up-and-down finger-con-
fined moves on a tabletop, I began to count off the time with
finger-snapping, head-bobbing, arm-and-shoulder rotating
moves that had little elliptical shapings: push and push and
push and push. More than that, I began to state a beat, as the
forward thrusts of my body, with a 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2
3 4 (bold figures getting greatest emphasis, underlined ones less,
plain type less still)with an accenting and not merely a pulse.
I began doing at the piano the sort of accentual moving most
listeners do, the sort of accentual thrusting Id certainly always
done in listening to music, be it jazz with its class of ways,
Beethoven with his, or the Beatles with theirs: whether a strong
thrust or gentle sway, a syncopated or jointly aimed move, an
abrupt thumping or gliding flow of ups and downs, the thrusts
of marchings aims or of minuets, reaches for a very elongated
course of melodic sayings all the way up to and through an
accentual thrust just now, or for Daddy, come hereall with
a firm grasp of what would arrive next, and when.
For improvisational negotiations, it wasnt enough that the
beat be my foots work. It had to come into the hand. Id see it
there when I came home from an evening of watching Rowles
and got lazy and low down with the piano, finding my entire
right hand beginning to do accentually thrust, pulsating moves.
During pauses I sometimes watched the tempo being tapped out
with little forward thrusts on the front of very tiny circles at my
fingertips, above or even ever so slightly on the keys, never
sounding one, eventually, unless I also sang it, with thus and
such an accented and paced gesture into the terrain, sprung off
those tiny circles at the fingertips; unless I sang it just so, just
now, just then.
Going for the Jazz 93
It would be foundthis accentually multifaceted pulse
coming into the arms and shoulders as well, the shoulders, for
example, in light of relations between the hands. The chord-
grabbing reach must do its stretch with correspondingly firm
accentual thrusts, as the fingers skip an accent, which theyd
come to do, heading instead for a longer succession of notes.
And the hand now found, without looking ahead, that it was in
shape to take a longer reach, for just so many yet largely
unknown places singingly up ahead until some further accen-
tual node.
Expanding the temporal prospectivity with a deemphasis in
one accent, elongating the move toward an accent farther up
ahead (1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4skipping accents in a
reach for a longer stretch), the chord-grabbing and now sound-
ful left-hand reach would begin to breathe for the right. And a
solidly swaying back and shoulders helped tell it, as the two
hands lifted this package together, when and how to take a
breath, and where a breath could be taken quickly, without
upsetting the right hands accentually targeted and elongated
achievements of place.
Watching Jimmy Rowles doing things like that, pieces of that
jazz would appear in my emulations. But before describing in
detail what this new mobile hand would do and had become, as
an improvisatory organ under my instructions as I was under
its; how this strongly established, prospective accentual node
would figure into soundful place finding in course; would fig-
ure into doing long reaches toward further-ahead accents;
would enable systematic ways of skipping and shifting accents
about that were firmly there; would figure centrally into
singable reaches for long interchordal passagesbefore com-
pleting a first description of the jazz-improvising hand, I offer
some observations about pulsing and accenting.
94 Going for the Jazz
Trying to get a closer view of the work pulsation did, I did
some amateur science.
I draw two dots:

and set myself the task of connecting them with a line drawn by
my right hand, while at the same time I regularly tap a left-hand
finger on the table. The goal is to move smoothly from the first
to the second dot, and reach it exactly as the evenly tapping fin-
ger touches the table again with a next in its series of already
established regular, evenly timed taps.
I must set out in one of two ways to achieve simultaneity. I
may begin the movement of the line exactly as the finger starts
to rise off from a prior beating:
or when the finger is at the top of an upstroke, as it starts back down:
(Here, however, to insure coincidence, somewhere in the body one
sympathetically first rides with the upstroke, to know when the down-
stroke starts and its pacing.)
If I begin when the finger is already on its way up, or some-
where in the midst of its downstroke,
Going for the Jazz 95
I cant possibly bring the line to the next dot in conjunction
with a finger tap in a smooth way. I dont know how fast to
move, and must hold up one or another hands movements and
thoughtfully bring the two into temporal alignment. For a coor-
dination to happen unselfconsciously, I must employ a common
pulse to unite the two differently distanced moves (the reader
may very easily verify this observation).
The line starts quickly, as movements from standstills must.
It then reaches a nearly constant speed for a short time before
it begins decelerating, lest it overshoot its destination. The fin-
ger tapping likewise reaches a turnaround from its upbeat to its
downbeat phase. Each hands gesture has a distance to traverse,
a speed to attain, changing rates of acceleration to attain that
speed, and of deceleration to reach the next target. And the
speeds and rates of change vary from one gesture to the other.
But they share a maximum-speed turnaround phase at the same
Differently distanced reaches arrive at their respective tar-
gets together because of a pulse they share, an acceleration-
deceleration pattern with a common turnaround phase.
I space dots on a piece of paper:
A ( - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - )
B ( - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - )
and with two hands set myself the task of connecting those in
each pair, going left to right say, a pencil in each hand, starting
together and reaching both right-side dots at the same time
96 Going for the Jazz
(constraining the moves by adhering to the edges of rulers ren-
ders a cleaner description and easier measurement).
First I establish and continue a steady tap1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4with my foot on the floor. The line drawings start
exactly as the foot starts rising from a tap. The two move ahead
at different rates of acceleration to attain different speeds to
reach the goals together, A going slower than B. Both lines gain
their maximum speed and attain a constant speed at the same
point in time:
(Each slash represents one unit of time, these produced by filming line
drawings with a high-speed motion camera, using a frame-by-frame
analyst projector on a blackboard, marking and measuring intervals of
time and distance.)
The example of the workers suggests the interbody work of
pulsing. Each worker adjusts the thrust of his movements by
aiming toward an upcoming time of arrival, established by a
preceding count, appraising the speed required to manage the
weight and the distance to be traversed, adjusting the force and
extent of the move accordingly, holding these variables in a del-
icate bodily balance. And their joint pulsing joins their respec-
tive moves in accord with the same phasing structure that unites
the drawing of two lines of differing lengths, although the par-
ticular patterns of acceleration and deceleration always vary
with respect to the tasks at hand.
In one context, for one variety of a move, one accelerates
quickly and slows down at the last moment. In another, accel-
Going for the Jazz 97
eration is slow at first and increases after a while. But whenever
two or more moves are coordinated toward various destina-
tions for simultaneous arrival, turnaround phases from acceler-
ation to deceleration are shared in common by the variously
relevant solo and/or multibodied movements.
Consider this situation. I play some notes, beginning as my
foot comes off the floor and moving until it reaches the floor
again, with a pulsing rate established by a series of prior taps,
so a time of arrival of the projected next tap is prospectively
given. Instead of drawing a line, I enter the keyboard. And the
last note in a series of several articulated notes, the hands final
reach, let us say for the sake of illustration, must coincide with
the foots arrival at the next beat. A reach is present, with a
string of individual articulations situated within it.
Look at this last note. A reach will have to be made for it, tra-
versing a distance, and the spot must be attained just as the foot
returns to the floor. The same basic organization is present as in
the line-drawing suggestion. One cant start this last reach
except by integrating its organization within the flow of the
beating. If I begin a reach for a last note after the foot has
already started its final downward thrust, for instance, I wont
achieve a simultaneous arrival.
If I sustain an even and nonaccented pulse, one that doesnt
stress a downbeat more than an upbeat, I take a course of
movement that may be conceived as follows:
98 Going for the Jazz
Counting with this beating, I wouldnt stress the first beat
alone but would count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and . . . , giving
equal stress to each swing. My tapping has the regularity of a
pendulum. This isnt a rhythm, with recurring forms of dis-
tributive accents, but only a pulse. To accent is to move with
some thrust, and when I reach for a note I strive toward a
desired intensity of sound, coming in with a strong stroke, or
with a letup that will reduce the intensity. Heres a schematic
portrayal of an accenting on the upbeat, and one with a down-
beat organization:
Or we may have a trajectory like this:
where a course takes an apparently uniform turnaround (in
cases when a change of direction occurs) and the accelerational
thrust happens just before contact occurs. Theres a long even
stretch . . . with a hurry-up-at-the-end.
To say I must begin my reach for the last note of a sequence,
articulated between two beats when the downward thrust
begins, is to say it must occur right along with the onset of an
accelerational thrust, at point A above, for example. Elsewise,
destinational coincidence isnt achieved.
Going for the Jazz 99
A sequential course of articulations is paced by reference to a
prospective time of arrival at the completion of a phase. All
reaches are given their smoothness and internal pacing layouts
by reference to prospective arrival times. The ubiquity of
rhythmic pulsation for finely organizing gesturing of every vari-
ety, perhaps most highly refined in the unfolding articulations
that constitute music and speech, is profound.
When I say word, my mouth parts stretch forward to the
end of their movements, establishing an orderly flow of dis-
tanced, resonating, breathing reaches toward completion at a
foreknown time. And the internal durational spacings of the steps
along the paths of moves that word is are molded by that tem-
poral prospectivity, set before reaching for word by, say,
breathing in at a certain pulsed pace before speaking, or ever so
slightly nodding back for a ready-set, and then slightly forward
for go, with word. Perhaps very slightly. But very essentially.
In jazz play, when my hand begins a sequence of notes with a
certain pacing, it commits itself to a certain specific number of
notes to be executed up until some prospective arrival node. If its
to play six notes, or seven, three, or twelve, a pacing is established
for the reach, is determined at the outset with a pace set with the
opening two moves, and is internally modifiable only in an orderly
fashion. If the first two notes are set for a six-noted passage, with
a set termination time, the hand cannot set out fast and then slow
down within the course and still reach the destination on time.
A course of paced movement is undertaken that implies a
number of notes to follow and implicates a manner of forward
movement for the hand, a manner of movement that must be
brought to the necessary sort of completion if the gesture is to
proceed smoothly, without faltering or tripping.
There are various qualifications. The hand may begin very
rapidly and allow a pause prior to reaching for a final note in
conjunction with the beat. But even if a break of this sort occurs,
100 Going for the Jazz
a course of notes between one tap and the next therefore not
equidistant, which is of course very common, the first notes will
be articulationally aimed toward the top of upbeat phases; a vir-
tual standing-still of the foot tapping, for example, will consti-
tute a pause in the succession, perhaps even over several cycles
of pulsation, and then a reach may be finally realized.
Or a reach forward on a downstroke may be bypassed alto-
gether, the upswing phase providing a prospective segment, and
a next course may then be taken in an orderly fashion with
respect to a still later cycle.
Every once in a while the time would get into the fingers, as I
sat and tried to move like Jimmy Rowles, setting a beat first by
getting my shoulders going elliptically around just a bit, as I
tapped my foot and snapped my fingers before play, counting
off the time with a care Id never before taken, a care for the
jazz and the listener and the others with whom Id have been
coordinating my moves, had I not played in isolation, for that
bass player and drummer who were never around.
Taking the role of the other with this caretaking beat, every
so often the time would get into my fingers. One of the ways Id
try to keep it there was to stay in a place for a while, playing
the same few notes over and over again, thrusting moves gain-
ing an ever more stable shape, saying this same thing over and
over and over, so all of me would stride into the song together.
And the song was already under way, the improvised jazz song,
with a handful of notes said again, again, and again, and then
a slight bit differently yet again, expanding matters somewhat
and getting the time into the hands more thoroughly, gaining a
nice grasp of the places, a good jazz tonicity and mobility for
the hand established. The hand had so many digits. There was
Going for the Jazz 101
so much to the terrain, so fast or slow to go, singing a song as
I moved along, and I had to gain a strong sense of the hands
numerical capabilities, the numbers of upcoming known places,
and its own fingeredness, as the typist who digs in for a partic-
ularly unfamiliar sight becomes especially attentive to the fin-
geredness of the hands and field of action.
Taking first breaths between phrases, getting the time into the
fingers and shoulders, my hand would often find itself posi-
tioned on the keyboard in such a posture,
just before entering a passage of play, and were you to view a
film of the jazz pianists hands, youd see such poised stances
frequently assumed prior to a noted part of the musical action.
So, too, this photo could well have been taken at a slow shutter
speed during rapid ongoing writing,
102 Going for the Jazz
for during the course of a carriages return, say, the hands may
posturally ready themselves at times to pick up again with a
thought under way. And here a word may be known in advance
of a renewed entrance into the terrain, as a handful readiness to
almost say the word but never quite do so, pursing the lips to
say it as I purse the fingers to do it, holding onto the thought
during this breath and never saying it until it can be articula-
tionally said with sequential movements as a soundful sighting.
Or a words beginning may be handfully anticipated, a begin-
ning whose opening movements will receive proper gestural
development, improvisational writing hands having ways of
traverse that produce good-looking sayables through and
The improvisatory jazz piano hand, alive to ranges of possi-
bilities in its grasp of good ways always present, may hover over
such spots as the places shown above, tasting possibilities here
and there, doing the jazz that way. Having to keep the action
under way, long pauses for reflection being never very judicious
in jazz, music gets improvisationally made out of exploratory
movements akin to the alternating back and forth between shift
keys that I may do here, as I pause for reflection in the course
of finger talking, bouncing back and forth with the little fingers
from one shift key to another to allow the other hand to reflect
in its hoverings for a good next move to get the wayful reach-
ing ready again; feeling a This or a Here or an As to
open the sentence; finding in such bouncing back and forth that
a ready reach may be just exploratorily hit upon, without pre-
figuring apart from these hoverings at times, as the basketball
player dribbles the ball first with this hand then that, ready to
respond to an opening in the line of defense and a course for
setting off into the running action.
Such explorations as a typing writer may undertake are inac-
cessible in what you see on the page, of course, the work of
Going for the Jazz 103
writing not recoverable from this, the activities of most writing
not requiring that the action be kept under way that way. Shift
key work isnt a publicized part of writing, the way a course of
individually stated piano notes bounced back and forth
between two digits is part of the music, the hand getting itself
situated on a good way to move at a certain pace into a longer
Now as I found myself taking breaths between phrases, emu-
lating Jimmy Rowless shoulder breathing, the hand would find
itself situated in such poised positions. And I began to tell it to
linger, tasting possibilities, to find ways of traverse singingly
available right there at hand: known to be at hand right there
as routes for thus and such a pacing course, as routes quickly
traversable when at hand this way there, as routes not usable
without venturing when at hand this way there, and so on.
Staying on a way at all times, remaining singingly aligned with
the fingers, I started to expressly appreciate the ways as terrain
courses at hand for classes of pacing possibilities.
With the hand poised over a passage of notes, a particular
digit ready over a particular key, lots of melodying was sound-
fully possible, going up and down quickly over this course. The
hand was able to take an array of notes beneath it with pacing
moves from left to right or right to left, or one way then the
other then the other, for example, with a rocking course quickly
paced to where the mobile hand aimed, reaching for a good-
sounding place, for good-sounding and yet not prefigured
places ahead.
The hand had a safe way for knowing what next notes
sounded like, through repetitions over the same places, these
first times through establishing sounds for a gearing in with the
fingers: a way to stay singingly on that route for variously num-
bered, paced sayings, without venturing, not a way to be overly
used, a way among many for appraising the whereabouts and
104 Going for the Jazz
paceable presence of ways, such appraisings making up this
strategically accomplished music at the same time.
Taking a breath between phrases, I began to assume such safe
stances, as emulating Jimmy Rowless means of setting a tempo
gave me pause for thought. I discovered the jazz happening in
the looks of the hands and familiar sounds of the music, in ways
I began to use frequently, at first too frequently, for they were
so productive. Moving from such a handful:
onto a diminished path, say:
from one chord-specific, jazz-sounding route to another, such
safe-stancing-after-shoulder-breathing began to afford handful
means for interchordal melodying. And this particular switch,
Going for the Jazz 105
characteristic of many such maneuvers, is a particularly pro-
ductive example for elucidating the essence of the practice.
Moving from chord to chord, I would, for instance, under-
take a course aimed toward a next downbeat for the second
chord. The left hand grabs the first chord (G minor), then
reaches toward the next, a C dominant, while a series of indi-
vidual notes now traverses these paths, from one possible G
minor way (the notes D, F, A, C comprising one known G
minor way) onto this C dominant way. And I would tell
myself quite explicitly, seeing the jazz in the hands looks and
familiar sounds, to use such safe stances as jumping-off
I started into a left-to-right, or right-to-left (or mixed) reach-
ing, with a rocking movement over these four places beneath
the hand on a G way. And I stretched toward a next accent that
I could come down upon after a high liftoff, the hand finding a
way, through such accenting, to disengage and get up off the
keyboard before the downthrust.
I would find myself able to now aim toward a C way having
its assured rapid availability, and I began using such spring-
board actions for path switching. Going left to right over four
notes for example, my hand would follow an arc, so if I drew a
line aimed toward a next dot, tracing the shape of the moves, a
pace like this would be portrayed:
106 Going for the Jazz
By simply lifting off the keyboard, getting an undulating time
into the fingers, Id find myself coming back down into this
(diminished) run in such a way that my hand had that path
available for rapid travel; found myself able to do a path-
switching maneuver in ways Id not previously known.
The import was profound. Finally, my blurted, aphasic stabs
for hunks of melody would now, in the critical achievement of
continuously interchordal articulations, be just like that jazz on
the records. A means to get from way to way began to show
itself, I learned from it, and I expressly began doing spring-
boarding as an instructable maneuver.
How is this diminished scale, one C dominant way, available
for rapid traverse? I had the route available for quick movement
with a fingering solution long ago worked out as a best way to
handle this one quickly:
Now going up the four-noted Gm7 way, aimed to a next
downbeat, in the reach for a next note, as the chordal grab
achieved its destination, lifting high off the keyboard there was
this C way approachable with a second finger on F

, to give one
example among many possibilities.
Aiming for this way, aiming for a melody opening that
started this way, getting the second finger onto F

was to get
8 6
5 5 5 5

Going for the Jazz 107

onto this path in such a way that I had it available for rapid
movement in either direction.
Its not that I cant play this scale with other fingers, for I later
learned to organize more complex articulational moves in a
pacing manner that enabled more in-course digital reorganiza-
tion. But I then had it firmly available as a C way for rapid
upward or downward travel with my second finger on an F

And coming up high, after a liftoff, without venturing or lung-
ing, I found a new way of having room to align the hand to start
a fast word beginning.
The hand rose with a high liftoff, the upward course of four
notes started after the G minor chord had been stated, and the
chordal hand was already on its way toward the statement of the
next beat, its landing on the C dominant chord. The foot rose up
after the tap, and a slight configurational alignment was smoothly
occurring during the silent music above the keyboard. And the
melodic hand would come down into the C way like this:
ready for taking the way rapidly up or down, a melody beginning
thats now anticipated before the engagement, an articulational
course back down into a way with an almost chordal stance.
Heading into a course of articulations toward a beat the next
chord was now part of, being interchordal now this way, the
108 Going for the Jazz
hand took room to breathe, its arm and shoulder undulations
temporally synchronized with the left hands reach and a foots
participation. Getting somewhat high off the keyboard, at first,
became part of an unfolding posture that would have the C way
coming into reach through the course of the turnaround and
downward accelerational thrust. The C way would be poised
for, as in a melody-beginning configuration, with the F

turned-under thumb, prepared for as a C way for continued
upward melodying.
The melodic reach back down into a C way was now quickly
available from this F

, among my first (actual) new interchordal

accomplishments. Id then move rapidly up this way but would,
at first, run into difficulties as a still next chord was approached.
Broader nodes for accentual targeting werent well set yet, as
a time in the hands, shoulders, everywhere. And I would, getting
springboardingly onto the C way there, often proceed quickly
up the keyboard without that knowing where you are going
thats continuously modifiable over its course, with a small strip
of targetable places moving right along just up ahead of unfold-
ingly prefiguring sequences.
Instead, Id proceed with an unsinging continuation, the C
paths layout given as a long layout that would bring me to
some any notes thereabout, as a next chord now came up. So
Id fall out of singing touch with the hands in falling off a way-
ful aim toward still a farther wayful routing, out of gear with a
specifically paced saying said just now and then. The jazz would
fade from control on this fragile precipice, the temporal-spatial
synchrony of my singings broken, the rest of the passage not
that interweaving music on the records.
But by taking such breaths, starting late into a run of hand-
fully available, rockingly swift moves, over notes digitally pres-
ent, after the left hand had already settled into its now sounding
Going for the Jazz 109
place, swiftly pacing a move toward a firm prospective landing,
able to rock up and down or doubly over such a handful, find-
ing I could move from familiar way to familiar way, with a secu-
rity of aim experienced in that fact, the jazz seen and heard in it
too, a singability enabled, at least, in being thoroughly wayful
finding this, I did springboarding in many ways, as here:
Lifting high off after a four (or seven or ten)-noted passage, for
instance, in a pacingly smooth move up to a new sector, I was
prospectively aligned toward the C way a bit higher up, with-
out thumb turnunders for smooth interchordal transitions.
And the hand could configurationally shape toward the C
way come upon in this fashion, with new latitudes for rout-
ings, a deeper improvisationality present in the ways of its
prospective movement toward a variously handleable array.
Springboarding up to a higher register, I found myself coming
down to the C way for more than just upward-or-downward
Coming upon the C way from above, moving down toward
this little bunching of good-sounding places, moving from one
unfolding posturing to another through the springboarding arc,
I would take it as a bunching for manifold directed courses.
110 Going for the Jazz
Now not only present for the hand as a C way to go long ways
with, but as a segment of a C way to go many short ways with,
in the very fact of this after-the-beat sector jump Id begin to
employ such a way as a ready-at-hand cluster for varied articu-
lating use.
Not doing lunging but smooth springboarding, Id find
myself moving from poised stance to poised stance, sequentially
unfolding on the way down toward the higher little bunching.
And Id find (as a finding smoothly made on the way down, as
a sequential readiness pacingly molded toward that arrival
time) which of a number of directions and ratings to employ as
a noted saying.
The hand unfolded from the peak of the turnaround, for this
sequentialized preparation:
Going for the Jazz 111
for a little upward, or up-then-down, or up-then-down-then-up
course; or this way:
for an opposite maneuvering, or these:
112 Going for the Jazz
for interdigitating possibilities Id formerly seldom employed in
my pathway practicing. And a more familiar jazz ordering
began to be seen and heard here, as my instructions to do
springboarding, do interweaving, change directions frequently,
change paces frequently, took notice of first happenstance
orderings and employably instituted them, each interacting
with the other, in my conversation from above.
Getting the time into the fingers and hand, coming down
for a saying to be said just so, having a soundful way right at
hand in these first rather cautious yet increasingly smooth
sector shifts, I began to find, in the undulating nature of my
entrance and pacingly tuned interdigitations, that I could
undertake new shaped and rated courses with well-at-hand
route segments.
While the C way in such a sector-shifting jump was at first still
come on as a C way for rapid traverse, a segment of the way
quickly known for the hand digitally ready for its notes, new ways
of moving and assessing and pacing and fingering began to emerge.
Moving now from way to way without extensively long
stretches always in hand, the hand would sequentially come
into the way with an unfolding realization of its stance. And
this stance might entail the hand over the new sector like this,
with a little finger targetable toward an F

Going for the Jazz 113
The little finger is now part of a handful engagement with the
C way nonlungefully present, but not just for long scalar
melodying. Taking breaths, letting time go by, I did consider-
able posturing at first, ways became reconstituted as right there
at hand, and Id come upon this C way with a prospective
stance ill suited for a long upward rapidity, say, but well suited
for opening anchored negotiation.
Doing after-the-beat springboarding toward the C ways
places this way, with a little finger coming toward a place in the
unfolding encounter that hadnt been a place for it before, I was
coming to freshly appreciate routes with new digital placement
possibilities, new directional possibilities, the time in the hands
to permit pacings through ways with digital placements appro-
priate for such fingerings. The hand learned more about
fingering-pacing relations.
My hand already knew the ways not merely as spatial affairs,
but as ways for the digits relative to particular note assignments
for classes of action. So the C way under consideration would
not be scalefully ascended farther up the line with a little finger
on the F

, at least not for a rapid and evenly paced course

involving a turnunder of the thumb beneath that fingerinto a
G, A, and B

of the C way for a scalar risenot without appro-

priate prior measures.
Id come down into the keyboard with prospective sequen-
tialized decision. Starting with a pace entailing so many further
notes, I would, for example, go quickly up the course of the
way to the F

, and quickly back down again. The hand would

find the availability of the way present for such a maneuver and
find, through the course of a quick rise, the generation of a
commitment to a mode of traverse that would involve that F

not. If so, it was involved as the upward boundary of a course,
at least a first time through.
114 Going for the Jazz
A first time through, at least, because on a second pass I could
either do that turnunder that was customary for continued
upward travel, getting the thumb down on the preceding E, to
bring the second finger to the F

; or, quite significant among my

new discoveries, Id now manage a turnunder beneath this newF

In a first pass, the hand could now assess how that scale could be
taken in this new way, a sharpening of precise digitational acuity
gained by an exploratory pass, securing the places attainable that
way, with the time in the fingers, and a strongly set prospectivity
from early into the ascent for a longer, under-reaching thumb
stretch, toget the hand under the little finger, just there, just then.
And starting with a pace that implied so many notes, where
whether and how to use this F

was decided in the course of a

quick rise and not in advance, involved a hand whose many
specific finger sequence possibilities were now thoroughly
appreciated. It wasnt that a layout in advance was needed to
match the available fingers to the number of notes. It was that
the hand was on a way where it knew that an order of fast-
ness could be soundfully managed.
For the hand knew its ways so that, say, entering this dimin-
ished bunching with one sort of unfolding, it could go up or
down within one range of speeds. Going with alternating (e.g.,
1-3-2-4) rather than left-to-right digitation could be done
within some other, perhaps partially overlapping range. But in
such a case, for instance, going like this:
8 6
8 6
;))(< =;>?(< @ =-'( -<A(<
#-B(< =;>?(< @ $C=D(<
Going for the Jazz 115
the hand knew this alternating-fingered passage couldnt be
prospective to places farther up this C way, not that way, not
without appropriate prior measures.
This C way, known this way, for alternating digiting, was so
appreciated that such actions would be kept bounded before I
ventured away from the bunch without a pacing shift, without
reconfigurational breathing. And it would be bounded, here, to
the bunch itself. This array had a known range of paces for
alternating fingerings that could be rapidly sustained this way:
or with multiple repetitions of alternating moves, as one possibility.
This knowledge of the paceable use of kinds or parts of ways
was by now generalized, for the hand had the terrain every-
where known for possible pacings relative to its skills. Being
over any bunching, for example, was to be in some known
range of paces for rocking moves back and forth; being spread
over handfuls of a certain sort was to be in a pacing range for
rocking moves, and also for however-paced actions of a large
number of classes. There were outer-inner rockings, rockings
with repetitions for part of the way always extendable in con-
tinuous pace into a rocking over all or more of it, and so on.
To know these ways as paced and ranged places at hand was
to be temporally able to afford an unfolding prospectivity to my
numerical appraisals. A rapidly paced entry into a way thus
known could take it with a sure availability for a numerical
;))(< =;>?(< @ =-'( -<A(<
#-B(< =;>?(< @ $C=D(<
116 Going for the Jazz
articulational commitment, and with no prefigured digit count-
ing. Its paceable availability, here and now, afforded securely
paced entries whose soundfully targeted particular places
would now be found in course, doing improvisation.
This paceable appreciation was a manual understanding about
classes of postures with the keyboard: for a spread hand, a
bunched hand, a poised and digitally note-targeted hand, a hand
doing rapid scale ascensions, a hand doing arpeggiated turnunders.
Still, of course, the note specificity of a very particular array
interactively participated with this generalized knowledge. I
cant do any arpeggiation with any particular degree of fastness.
The extensiveness of a prospectively committed pace always
takes each particular ways known (and often idiosyncratic)
pacing possibilities into caretaking account.
An overall sense with which I can come assuredly fast into
any bunching, say, knowing I can play fast in such quarters, still
must handle a particularly spaced jazz-making bunch. Though
I can do alternating-finger patterns in familiar jazz-paced ways
on my tabletop, at the piano the C way, from here to there in
particular, poses unfoldingly revealed requirements specific to
its unique digitable contours.
And appropriate prior measures, like a shoulder breathing,
afforded a precise digitational acuity to be formed, getting the
time into the hands. It afforded movements into a course that,
with a shift in a means of approach and toning up of the hands
destinational presence to a precisely shaped sector, could now
be taken with a manner of continued alternating digitation up
the line. It afforded an ascent that, in former unbreathing play,
might have been attempted in the new sector, but trippingly
The time would have to be solidly in the shoulders, hands,
fingers, arm, everywhere, for such acuities to be gained in
maneuvers such as with a little-fingered F

turnunder, after an
exploratory first pass:
Going for the Jazz 117
I undertook such practices as first-pass assessing and even the
explicit use of wrong fingers, maximizing now, it might be
said, not the most efficacious way to move fast but the most
jazzful way to be at the piano, the musics looks and sounds
seen and heard as instigations and payoffs.
But using wrong fingers, and doing repeated passes so as
to do finger solution jazz, initially productive as express cog-
nitive practices, were only preliminarily so formulated by refer-
ence to the context of their emergence, regarded and
undertaken this way against a background of correctly fin-
gered paths. In that same way Id at first instruct myself to do
fingering changes as a practice in its own right, as here:
where, going up a G way, Id purposely pace toward the B

of this
C way with a fourth finger, aiming for it as the next accentual
118 Going for the Jazz
nodes landing. Id aim there, then hold there as a place to land,
coming down into this C way this way intentionally, to afford
an opportunity for a finger change.
Soon bouncing off that B

and setting back down on the mid-

dle finger, doing more melody this way, Id now head with a
pacing aimed fast toward a time of arrival farther up ahead,
quickly aimed down along a diminished scale, say, my custom-
ary third finger now on B

for this way. And while, in earlier
play, finger changes arose on occasions of trouble, they now
began to arise as of the music, holding onto a soundful way by
staying soundful, rather than trying to pick up the pieces of an
already disintegrating saying.
I began intentionally to do fingering changes, using wrong
fingers and struggling fingers from the standpoint, perhaps, of
how a very competent sight reader at the piano does fingering,
but right jazz fingerings. The competent sight reader, having to
take in a long passage, foresees that passage with a looking at
the score thats as finely integrated with the movements of his
fingers as the looking of the competent text-reproducing typist.
Foreseeing it that way, having to foresee it that way to do that
work (an often strong constraint in live sight reading), foresee-
ing its fingerability he will seldom if ever find himself in a situ-
ation he might be disposed to see my hands as merely finding
themselves in.
For I would not just undertake finger changes for the express
sake of realigning my way onto a route particularly prospective
beneath an entering reachwith a sense for the path as a whole
present in such motivated realignmentsbut would also under-
take such changes as would appear to amount to nothing.
But though they would appear to amount to nothing, a gen-
eralized improvisational mobility was amounting to that jazz
on the records. Staying in a particular sector, the time well into
the fingers, hands, shoulders, everywhere, shifting on the same
Going for the Jazz 119
note from the fourth finger to the second, posturing upward,
then back on the same note extending downward, then doing
the saying midhandedly, now I might go into a multiplaced
course begun with the finger Id originally employed as a same
starting place.
In such dancing about, extending downward or upward, my
hand was not feeling its way about in the dark, not spreading
out to gain contact with the terrain to assess a ways paceable
at-handness by taking an anticipatorily explicit spatial stock,
touching a particular way for example. My hand was now in
fact extending upward or downward as here:
and while a new preparatory stance was often assumed during
fingering shifts, the wayfulness of the terrain as a place for jazz
120 Going for the Jazz
singing was being everywhere taken into continuously thematic
account by a continuously jazzful organ: spreading out for an
unfoldingly explicit commitment to a fast saying, shifting essen-
tialized fulcrums of extensions as a very jazzful way to do sparse
sayings, singing with the fingers.
Two-chord-long melodying was occurring through such prac-
tices as springboardings and finger changes, for example, but
that jazz on the records was spoken in sentences, and a longer
reaching was required. Many of my short phrases were now
well formed, in being pacingly well placed, and new orders of
paced placing began to emerge as these well-said phrase and
sentence fragments became part of adult jazz utterances.
As I began doing breathings, getting off the keyboard and
down into a run in pace-assessing shape for a farther move up,
I would at first come into the switched-onto path with a strong
accentual thrust, pacing an articulation over such a handful as
examined above, aimed toward a time of arrival up ahead coin-
cident with the hand-grabbing chord reach, coincident with its
participation in the very next beat.
Coming down on F

with a second finger,

I came down with an accelerating rapidity, striking it hard,
doing the very next beat as an assertive just-then opening.
Going for the Jazz 121
The aim of the articulational reach proceeded in concert with
the aim of the chordal reaching toward a strong downthrust in
common, as the foot struck the floor on that next beat, and a
more solidly systemic synchrony between left-hand reachings
and right-hand articulational aims was being gained, through
my emulations of Jimmy Rowless shoulder breathing.
Now such prospectively synchronous reachings became
increasingly expansive in scope, for, as I would reach into a
familiar routing, had at hand for a long stretch, finding its avail-
ability at hand for a long stretch in ways indicated, I would
soon now often set out fast up the line in new ways.
In my beginning discoveries of springboarding, with the insti-
gations and payoffs of these looks and sounds, I set out for a
long stretch on that familiarly fast C diminished way (to con-
tinue with this example), often at first setting out fast without
regard to where it would end up. But as the establishment of a
stably thrusting beating became an increasingly consistent way
of being at the keyboard, all my melodying practices began to
come under the jurisdiction of opportunities for wayful and
synchronous negotiation that it facilitated.
This beat becoming the way of the arms and shoulders, its
stable accentualities and deaccentualities of cyclical thrusting
afforded an increasingly fluid, in-course molding of prospectiv-
ities for my articulational moves. The use of a way for rapid
traverse, the use of all ways, negotiatively proceeding through
the course of an improvisation, now happened like this.
The left hand would reach from chord to chord, and the right
would sequentially traverse the terrain. And a course of contin-
uously firm rotational moves was defining the beats, and subdi-
vidingly defining the beats, and expansively defining the beats.
For as an articulational course was being taken up or down,
interweavingly through the keyboard, entry into the terrain,
shiftings of pacings of noted work in the terrain, disengagements
122 Going for the Jazz
from the terrain, refingerings and reconfigurings in the terrain,
springboardings in the terrain, moving up a line beat by beat
and then breaking into a multi-note-per-beat flurry through the
terrainsuch pacings off the tips of the fingers thrusting could
proceed in the following ways.
The articulational course could now take up in downbeat syn-
chrony with the foot; now in upbeat synchrony with the left
hands rise toward a next chord; now in top-of-the-turnaround
synchrony within one-shoulder-sway-per-four-foot bounces; now
jumping in on the upbeat phase of a chordal reaching arc, and
taking a soundful traverse through thus and so many places to a
foot downbeat, one that was located within the course of the
broader-reaching arc of the chordal stretch; now extending fast
from within the chordal reach to a farther-ahead downbeat,
simultaneously making contact with some good note as the chord
grasp finally reached the goal it would reposingly pass through.
Now the hand was reaching out for a fast run through a
course of ways, aimed toward a periodically modifiable series
of accentual landmarks, prospective periodicities of jazz hands
paceably wayful sayings, sayings that would traverse the dura-
tion of multi-landmarked left-hand reachings.
A gesture through several left-hand unfoldings was inter-
weavingly now of an accentual patterning that involved the
chordal reaches themselves. This chord was passed through with
an accelerational deemphasis, the right hand stretching further
ahead around the bend of a turnaround, or through an attenu-
ating intonational ascent or descent, the next punctuated in syn-
chrony with a strong melodic landing. And with this chordal
articulating of a slow melody down there, said just now and just
then, just this hard and just this soft, right-hand reachings were
interweavingly giving jazz presence to a progression of land-
marks through places traversed since the seventeenth century.
Going for the Jazz 123
As the left hand would pass over a chord, the melodying
hand would, for example, making its in-course appraisals, slow
down slightly as it did a little springboarding turnaround that
was hardly a diving board sort of operation, but rather a little
puddle-jumpingGene KellySinging in the Rain step.
And springboarding of the sort described above can be con-
sulted as indicating the temporal essence of mobilities and
appraisings that were thoroughgoingly present, in continuously
unfolding, in-course accentual modifications, within the span of
a broader shoulder breathing.
As the time got into the fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, every-
where, altogether new relations between chords and paths were
being fulfilled now, my analytic choices of good notes gradually
evolving into a handful choosing. And soon my jazz sayings
brought my full vocabular resources, my full range of wayful
reachings, into the service of that jazz on the records, into the
hands ways of paced traverse, not from route to route but
doing singings.
Standing outside my play and looking down at my hands,
watching a moment of action and searching for paths to iden-
tify as I had over my teachers shoulder years before, one might
speak of my new modes of traverse by identifying note order-
ings in terms such as these:
Coming up a diminished path for four successive notes, he switches
into a three-note chromatic turnaround, and then up in fourths three
intervallic steps, down into a major triad that accords well with the
next chord about to be played, and passing through this triad as the
next chord is already announced, he arpeggiates up and then down a
seven-note course of minor sixth intervals; taking a quick major triad
that wouldnt accord well with this chord in Bach, but accords fine
124 Going for the Jazz
with this chord since Beethoven, he proceeds over this dissonant path
into a resolution by landing on the third of a next major chord on its
second beat in the measure, and with a next chord he plays a dissonant
scale starting on the major second degree relative to the chord, which
goes up the keyboard in stepwise fashion and then doubles back over
that scale, going down it in fourths . . .
Had I filmed and slowed down my teachers play so that such
identifications could be made, so those mysterious interweav-
ings could be reduced to such ways of talking, an enumeration
of namable places and namable devices producing these char-
acteristic jazz sounds, Id probably have given up right then and
there, encountering a nomenclature and intricacies of structure
that wouldve made practicing the piano impossible.
Was I now to practice a diminished scale, or practice a dimin-
ished scale followed by or interspersed with chromatic half
steps? Should I call it a diminished scale in the first place, or
seek ways of looking that would yield broader classificatory
principles? Should that movement down in fourths be generally
practiced, or ought it be a movement down in fourths along cer-
tain particular paths? And what was the movement down in
fourths a movement along, for multiple paths could be said to
be fourthingly traversed? Should I find an alternative back-
ground route being alternatingly traversed, assuming there was
one as I did, which would then make it not down in fourths but,
for instance, down the suspended dominant chord on X degree
of the new route?
When my teacher extracted a piece of melody under my urg-
ing and spoke of its construction, he was affording me a text of
practices, ways of speaking I could carry around in my images,
looks, and fingers ways, a phrase book of pictured melodies.
And saying you can use a diminished scale here, extracting a
namable route to formulate his doings for my sake, he gave me
a way to formulate mine each day at the piano. And it worked
Going for the Jazz 125
to get me started, started on a route toward ways he didnt tell
me about.
Having that path, having its insufficiency continually leading
me to do more with it, having that record collection, it worked
to sustain daily practicings, to allocate my time at the keyboard,
to find this and that to practice in particular, all the while see-
ing some progress taking place. And through improvisationally
motivated practicings with a sizable corpus of such routes, Id
gained handful command over myriad varieties of paths, now
awaiting syntactic synthesis through jazz temporalizations.
Were it not for my interest in writing an account of the devel-
opment of the hands skills, Id probably now say, as he felt
obliged to urge, at the same time as he was obliged to teach: I
dont think at all about where Im going. My hands make it up
as they go along. Had he more explicitly urged me to get the
phrasing right, or had I been more inclined and perhaps occu-
pationally compelled to learn by first getting some simple sen-
tences together, a different course of socialization might have
The notion of a melody, for example, formulated above as
the doing of something with something done before, with such
practices as exact repetitions, inversions, and essential repeti-
tions, descriptive of my ways of being musical at that point
those ways of talking require a proper perspective.
In mature play, any repetitional intent exists as a general-
ized caretaking so that one always does things with things done
before by having consistently jazzful hands. It is an intent
manifest in such handful practices as staying in a territory for a
while, being jazzfully caretaking by lingering, establishing a
strong wayful point of departure for further venturings, doing
such handfully strategic melodying, doing jazz competently.
And, staying in a territory, the same notes get played again and
126 Going for the Jazz
again on occasion, and repetitions could be thus said to be sus-
tained. But if an express repetitional intent arose during
ongoing play, it could cause trouble.
When a repetition can be said to occur, there are now such
incidents as: a little fragment repeated at twice its original speed
followed by another fragment of a preceding figure played at
one-third its former rate; a melody fragment repeated much
more rapidly than the preceding as a way into a longer course
of reachings; a melody fragment inserted into a longer passage
that repeats a portion of some preceding figure; a melody frag-
ment turned upside-down, said twice as fast, leading into
another fragment that says what was said long before, at half
speed, in alternating steps rather than sequentially precise
And such a list, with all sorts of structural differentiations,
can go on as endlessly as a terminology of keyboard paths, and
presents exactly the same problems of nomenclature, defining
pieces of melody as units for analysis, a conceptually mislead-
ing rather than productionally relevant way for describing
For there is no melody (or talk) as an objective structure,
existing in nature. There are practices of melodying (and talk-
ing), of soundful, articulated reaching. And theres no shortage
of dubiously useful ways for characterizing structure in the
frozen object called melody, given possibilities of transcrip-
tion, recording, and terminological classification.
Consider the so-called parts of speech, for instance. Theyre
entirely misnamed. They are parts of sights, like those before
you, right here, extraordinarily refined little signposts for mov-
ing along with a body of text. But how can their pictorial analy-
sis, as sedimented speech in its textual formthese articles,
verbs, objects, subjects, nouns, phrases, utterances, speech acts,
Going for the Jazz 127
turns at talk, and the restever teach us about speaking? How
can we possibly learn about our bodys ways of movement by
analyzing still sights? And what might a part of speaking look
I learned this language through five years of overhearing it.
Overhearing and seeing this jazzin a terrain nexus of hands
and keyboard whose surfaces had become known as the sur-
faces of my tongue, teeth, and palate are known to each other
I came to see that this jazz music is, first and foremost,
particular ways of moving from place to place. Without that
motivated, skilled accomplishment, theres no jazz for anyone
to otherwise address.
Little bits and pieces of jazz handlings showed themselves to
me, revealed as that jazz music in my hands ways, and I would
nudge myself: Springboardget the beat rightkeep the hand
loose and flexiblebounce around on a placego for a long
reachbreathe deeplyinterweaverelaxdont go fast till
readylet the hands say where and how to gobe careful
remember Jimmygo for an opening chord by theoryjust get
started talkingget those shoulders movingkeep that hand
from trippingtheyre listening to youyoure playing fast
bebop, with lots of interwindings in tight quarters, so get espe-
cially bebopicalplay beautifully.
Little bits and pieces of jazz handlings showed themselves to
me, and particular nudgings worked, especially in the begin-
ning, as I took notice and told myself about ways of moving,
with an instructional nudge translated into a practice, a quasi-
worded reflexive spark turned right back down into the key-
board, dissipated as an inner saying into a singing.
Without getting the beat right, without establishing those
prospectivities for articulational reachings, without assessing
128 Going for the Jazz
the paceably available presence of ways for classes of rated trav-
erse, without essentializing command over these paced pres-
ences in and of the terrain nexus, jazz handlings did not and
cannot appear. For, and I speak generically, it dont mean a
thing if it aint got that swing, and the swing of jazz handlings
was at first shored up by thinking.
But the instruction is now embodied in the ways of my hands,
just as listen carefully to the beats is in the ways of a piano
tuners arm and shoulders; as wait for the dial to return,
advice a youngster must explicitly follow, is in the adults way-
ful, sequentially unfolding hoverings with a rotary phone; as
be careful in the typing test is in the strongly established
upright posture; as reach ahead is in every undertaken course
of talking.
And to say remember Jimmy is a way I have of saying get
the time into the fingers, which I can translate as: Keep strong
forward prospectivities, get especially bebopical, relax, with a
big etc. I can institute jazz handlings by telling myselflooking
at my hand and composing its appearance over the course of
play for a pose to satisfy a look which askslet me see jazz
Telling myself let me see jazz hands works as a nudge in
that it instructs and notices everything else at the same time.
And my instructions that work, born of my history as explicitly
required and consequential noticings, can best now be regarded
as a usable compendium of caretaking practices for toning up,
separably usable because each speaks of all the rest, each
another way of saying the same thing; and now and then doing
a saying to myself has useful instigating payoffs in my current
But for the most part I now unselfconsciously follow one
piece of adviceheard a long time before from jazz musicians,
Going for the Jazz 129
perhaps their most oft-voiced maxim for new improvisers,
literally overheard through my years of pursuing those notes
on the records, always regarded from my standpoint as novice
and ethnographer as nothing but the vaguest of talk, and
finally accessible as the very detailed, practical talk it was only
when a grasp of those details to which it pointed were acces-
sibly at handnow my central instruction: Sing while youre
A speaking I is struck by the awesomeness of finding
myself singing as I play, singing right along with the movements
of my fingers, reaching for next sounds with a synchronous
reach of two body parts, an achievement formerly quite impos-
sible. How do I know just what each of these little slices of
space will sound like, as a joint knowing of my voice and fin-
gers, going there together, not singing along with the fingers,
but singing with the fingers? How is that possible? I take my
fingers to places so deeply mindful of what they will sound like
that I can sing these piano pitches at the same time, just as I
make contact with the terrain.
Are the singings merely given to me as some payoff to keep
me engrossed, my fingers really operating only through inde-
pendent mechanisms that are essentially beyond my awareness
or comprehension? Am I really singing along right behind the
sounds with a lag in timing I dont notice, some split-second
neurological delay? Is the overwhelming impression of an inter-
twiningly formed voice just ignorance about my real bodys
From an upright posture I look down at my hands on the
piano keyboard during play with a look thats hardly a look at
all. But standing back, I find that I proceed through and in a ter-
rain nexus, doing singings with my fingers, so to speak, a single
130 Going for the Jazz
voice at the tips of the fingers, going for each next note in say-
ings just now and just then, just this soft and just this hard, just
here and just there, with definiteness of aim throughout, taking
my fingers to places, so to speak, and being guided, so to speak.
I sing with my fingers, so to speak, and only so to speak, for
theres a new being, my body, and it is this being (here too, so
to speak) that sings.
1. Further information is available at
2. See:
3. Especially my Normal Crimes: Sociological Features of the Penal
Code in a Public Defender Office, Social Problems 12, no. 3 (1965);
Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1967); and my edited collection, Studies in Social
Interaction (New York: Free Press, 1972).
4. I offered some entirely programmatic remarks about language and
music in Talks Body: A Meditation between Two Keyboards (New
York: Knopf, 1979).
5. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behavior (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1963), and its sequel, Phenomenology of Perception
(New York: Humanities Press, 1962), originally published in French
in 1942 and 1945, respectively. I began to document my piano skills
when I encountered problems in thinking about sound, the prime con-
cern of my second chapter. And it was at just about this time that I
also came upon the writings of Merleau-Ponty. His Phenomenology of
Perception, in particular, soon became a singular source of intellectual
inspiration. Sitting at the piano, trying to make sense of what was
happening, and studying Merleau-Pontys discussions of embodiment,
I found myself, in his own terms, not so much encountering a new
philosophy as recognizing what [one] had been waiting for. A copy
of his Phenomenology always remains close at hand.
6. My preoccupation with a production account and the practi-
tioners perspective derives from my most fortunate personal associa-
tion with three leading figures in twentieth-century sociologyErving
Goffman, Harvey Sacks, and Harold Garfinkel.
132 Notes
Goffman, from whom I earned a PhD at Berkeley, transformed my
adolescent Bronx street smarts into an adult ethnographic facility. His
lectures and writings made it clear that a glance or handshake could
be as systematically described as a class structure or the concentric
zone theory of urban growth. Erving first showed me what mundane
sociological detail could be. His many extraordinary books are widely
Sacks, a lawyer, sociologist, and founder of the discipline of con-
versation analysis, was a close friend and then teaching colleague,
from graduate students days at Berkeley in 1961 until his fatal auto
collision in 1975, while on the faculty at UC Irvine. Its impossible to
attribute particular indebtedness for particular inclinations, so perva-
sive was his influence. But especially important were his elegant meth-
ods of warranting the relevance of social facts as matters that are
methodically known about and produced by the members of a soci-
ety, first and foremost, well before sociology comes along; and the
sheer range of his discoveries of orderliness in the most minute forms.
Goffman first showed us what details might be like, but he was a sort
of ethologist, while Sacks was the microbiologist. Notwithstanding
my misgivings about using transcripts to study the activities of talk-
ing, as he did, whatever acumen I have for appreciating the possibil-
ity of order in the tiniest details was substantially nourished by my
long association with him. His monumental, two-volume, posthu-
mously published Lectures on Conversation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell,
1991), brilliantly sculpted from his tape-recorded Irvine lectures by
Dr. Gail Jefferson, is unquestionably among the most innovative,
comprehensive, and rigorous documents of twentieth-century social
Garfinkel developed a sociological perspective called ethno-
methodology. Its theoretical speculations furnish a useful point of
departure from which to simultaneously address the classical prob-
lems of an objective social order while affording the actors perspec-
tive a definitional priority. I owe the general concept of a production
account to him, and my initial thoughts about ways to study music
were influenced by our conversations. See his Studies in Ethno-
methodology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), and
Ethnomethodologys Program, Social Psychology Quarterly 59, no.
1 (1996), 521.
7. This and the diagrams to follow are necessarily crude. In fact,
keyboard topography is characterized by a very rarely noted and yet
extremely consequential feature: the distances from each white key
Notes 133
to the black key just above (or below) it are unequal. A more accu-
rate rendering (but one inconvenient for small diagrams) looks more
like this:
Whites are all of one width, blacks are all of another width, and the
strips of whites between blacks are all equal, too; but distances from
each white key to the black above or below it are idiosyncratic. For
example, its a good deal farther from the vertical center of an A to an

(the black note just above it) than it is from F to its corresponding
black neighbor. No two such distances are precisely the same, though
those from C to C

and F to F

are nearly so. All other distances vary

more considerably.
When this fact (a physical requirement if these twelve spots are
arranged to preserve the equal widths mentioned above) is pointed
out to others, people with piano experience are uniformly baffled.
Numerous renowned pianists were quite taken aback when shown the
irregularity, apparently known primarily to those who manufacture
keys and/or replacement ivories. One of the worlds finest, with forty
years of concertizing experience, felt compelled to sit down quickly in
vertiginous amazement, remaining silent for some while. His years of
extensive keyboard playing had never expressly revealed these imme-
diately visible differences to him.
Several observations seem pertinent. For one thing, when pianists
move from an A to the black key just above it, for instance, that black
key isnt struck with only half of the finger pad, which would occur if
the distance from F to its upper black neighbor, say, were rigidly trans-
ported to A. Instead, pianists fingers strike each black key in a cen-
tered way, making these tiny discriminations quite unselfconsciously.
Secondly, these minor differences are demonstrably central for the
development of piano technique, and yet, to my knowledge, theyre
nowhere discussed in the extensive, centuries-old literature on this
subject. It can be unambiguously proven that the pianists unwatched
134 Notes
hand continuously knows just where it is on the keyboard in large
measure because of these digitally detectable discrepancies.
The nomenclature of a keyboard, its alphabetic designations sugges-
tive of a perfect equivalence among the keys, is surely a massively use-
ful (though by no means necessary) analytic for instructing musical
action. But any description of actual keyboard conduct that failed to
appreciate such a feature as this variability of distance would be seri-
ously incomplete, at best. It is certainly startling that an analytic of
named notes is so thoroughly internalized, from ones first days at the
instrument, that one then forever sees past the actual physical keys to
their names, and that this could be so for most, it may be safely said,
even of those who spend their lives dwelling in these spaces. This fact
is surely rich with broader phenomenological implications. An analytic
terminology of note names and musical theory is only preliminarily
useful for attending to musical structure, both for musicians and in this
account, whose descriptions develop an alternative language for
regarding the keyboard terrain from a productional perspective.
8. For purposes of this account its unnecessary to confuse the general
reader with a full discussion of chord voicing. In light of my preoccu-
pation with improvisational fluidity, I give harmony relatively short
shrift. My illustrations dont clarify how a chord is actually played,
and treat only right-hand improvised melodies with simple left-hand
forms. The simplification is designed to get at certain essential fea-
tures of the single-note-at-a-time jazz melody.
9. For a description of a productional struggle with manual/visual
problems in the context of a computer game, phenomenologically
akin to this beat-hearing problem, see my book Pilgrim in the
Microworld (New York: Warner Books, 1984).
10. It isnt that were reduced to mystified conceptions of such phe-
nomena. I see wayful acquisitions as I watch beginning piano students
first gain facility in picking out a melody. Before theyve gained skill
with scales, the keyboard is a place that has its sounds, as they hunt
and peck for every next note. Students handfully ask the keyboard for
answers to a hopeful intent, rather than display a method with it.
They try to find a next note and go too high or low, overcompensate
or undercompensate for the next one, trying to narrow in on some
right tone in between; sensing that a note is higher they go too much
higher, keyboard places having that sort of vagueness which a pitch-
dark room has for one trying to find telling places for negotiating
blind passage.
Notes 135
These beginners hands display manifold hesitations, holding onto
a given note thats found to be in the melody, so as to be able to return
to it, then finding a next place, leaving it, and immediately losing that
place when it comes up right away again, and more.
As scales are incorporated, the hands searching for correct melody
tones undergoes progressive elaboration, and the single hunting-
pecking finger becomes increasingly part of a scale-oriented appraisal
of the terrain. Most melodies are constructed in terms of major scales;
acquisition of these scales gradually finds the hand arraying itself
along scale axes; choices for next notes become progressively inte-
grated with this grasp of axes of scale territories.
This change can be seen in the developing looks of searching fingers
as they come to find rather than search, the security of each reach
along a way seen as an emergent acquisition. From the beginning
use of a single stabbing-in-the-dark fingersimilar in its general ele-
gance to typing with one finger but only in that way, as the piano has
nothing written on it that tells one about its soundsbeneath a more-
or-less-high- and then more-or-less-low-reaching hand and arm there
gradually emerges a digitally fluid grasp of the contours of a scale.
And the competent melody finder immediately locates that particular
scale within which a melody resides, given some starting note. He
knows his way so as to find a well-tempered bearing with only a quick
first exploration (the well-tempered tuning of modern instruments
fashioned by and for bodies with wayful-tempering potentials). The
hand becomes rapidly posed once a scale path has been identified.
With further progress, my students hands show increasing incor-
poration, where closely hovering appraisals of places at hand are
gradually loosened. The process is not unlike the change from that
point when a beginning typist must hover over a home territory and
reach out gingerly for each digits particular assignments, to where
positions are very fluidly sustained in ongoing reconfigurational work
well above the keyboard, hands hovering over the whole terrain
One concerned with a close investigation of wayful acquisitions as
general mobility phenomena of the body may take up, as one example,
such a task as picking out a melody. A videotaping of several months
of such work can aid in a further detailing of this process, offering
appearances whose relevance is informed by what the student himself
comes to learn in solving the task at the keyboard. Appearances may
be screened for their productional relevance, with new potential details
made available through such a record.
136 Notes
11. Jimmy Rowless play can be nicely encountered in these record-
ings, among his very many others:
1. The Special Magic of Jimmy Rowles (Halcyon, 1974)
2. Heavy Love (Xanadu, 1977)
3. The Peacocks (Columbia, 1977)
4. Tasty (Concord, 1979)
5. Plays Ellington and Strayhorn (Columbia, 1981)
For those specifically interested in jazz, I offer the list of jazz piano
greats to which I refer my piano students: Fats Waller, Earl (Fatha)
Hines, Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, Bud Powell,
Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick
Corea, and Keith Jarrett. If, in this era of polls, one asked the hundred
best-known popular (i.e., nonclassical) musicians to name the twenty
most significant jazz pianists, these dozen names would almost surely
be on all lists.
12. The beginning typist may find himself spelling every word as he
types, thinking of the spellings as a step-by-step search of looking fin-
gers for correct places. The advanced typist may sometimes have to
make it through an unaccustomed passage by conceiving of the fingers
as doing the spelling, not to remember where proper characters lie
through an image of the terrain, but to help make it through a very
unfamiliar sight in the text being copied. The wheres of the fingers
and the terrain here assume a temporarily renewed significance.
Specific finger-character responsibilities arent imaged, having long
since been forgotten. But that the terrain is a place for spelling
becomes, in an especially unaccustomed passage, a part of the typists
entire way of approaching the keyboard. The hands behave spellingly,
gearing up with a precision of stance more characteristic of the begin-
ners way of staying in close hovering proximity to the home territory,
to help move assuredly through the definitive transportation of a trou-
blesome sight.
Perhaps the sights of a text-being-copied dont deserve the designa-
tion sayables. A texts sights are differently constituted for a typist
than for a reader. Ive found that in fairly short order I can type from
a foreign-language text whose sights I cannot say or understand at all,
though a productive research question may be posed: how does the
correct sayability of a sight nonetheless figure into typed reproduction?
After practice at typing Czech for some while, gaining a vague grasp
of some of its characteristic looks as spelled affairs, and moves as
typewriter courses, Im still far from my usual speed in reproducing
Notes 137
English sights. Would much more practice decrease or eliminate the
discrepancy? Word-sights-seen-to-be-typed are appreciated with a
looking reach that doesnt require that breadth needed to find an
unfolding sensibility, and, conversely, the looking that reproducing a
text requires may not be at all suited to such appreciation. Its pacing
structure, for one thing, isnt like that which makes up normal read-
ing, not because its slower, but because it has a different organization
of forward thrusting to integrate with the task at hand.
Still, the recognizability of the sights-seen-to-be-typed might well
involve something more than just a reach over a surveyable landscape
for the competent native typist. The sayability of the sights, and per-
haps their sense in the ways a sense can still be had in typing-looking,
may enter into the accomplishment in ways whose study could lead
one to learn more about reading, looking, and understanding.
13. An extensive literature search revealed no findings directly related
to those reported here. While there are a vast number of physiologi-
cal and experimental-psychological studies of timing in human and
other animal behavior, most surprisingly I found none documenting
the specific and absolutely critical role that a pulsation plays in coor-
dinating bodily movements. Should the reader know of any such
research, Id be most grateful to receive any relevant citations
14. One doesnt have to learn about places by their names to become
an improviser, though most beginners do much of that these days, and
most recent jazz vocabulary sounds like it. Melodies now often
bespeak their origin in practicings along the sorts of routes that have
been heavily influenced by the classical written tradition. To speak
colloquially, you must practice your scales; learners these days write
down pictures to aid that process, elaborate these pictures, and pro-
duce new scales, telling of conversations between musicians, jazz play-
ers with classical training, years of working over named keys. Not
inconceivably, the most complex possibilities may be attained by just
listening to records and doing no theorizing. But in modern literate
circles, where a language undergoes continuous and substantial mod-
ification over single-generational careers, where playing fast and intri-
cately has competitively come to differentiate performers in a very
tight market, where being a good musician means to be multilingual
in such a set of circumstances, speaking colloquial sociology, the days
of the young man and his horn, sitting on the edge of the bandstand
every night, practicing every day, learning to speak jazz as one first
138 Notes
learns to speak a first language without records or transcripts, are
poverty-stricken and numbered (not that affluence awaits the classi-
cally trained jazz musician!).
15. That some languages are considered nonsemantic with respect to
pitch or tone, for example, is an entirely artificial observation, based
on a productionally unwarranted differentiation of aspects of talking,
and unexplicated assumptions of what pitch and tone are in music
making as the contrastive model. I conceive talking to be paced/placed
movements. If anything is semantic, available for semantics in cobod-
ied movings, it is sustained articulational moves from place to place,
each next place to the next, just here, just there, for us together.
In my view, a productional distinction between melodying and
speaking is neither empirically nor philosophically justifiable (how-
ever much a use theory specifies rather massive social organizational
differences). Until we allow that music talks about itselfin no other
sense than we must allow that the course of movements I do in saying
the word about is, before all else, just that: a course of movements
language says that it makes about itselframpant confusions will
remain in any distinctions between fundamental features of music and
16. With an electric piano I bypass the amplifier so I cant hear what
Im playing, which is nevertheless continuously recorded by a tape
recorder. A foot pedal can instantly put the music into the room and
remove it.
Singing aloud, recording my voice as well, then comparing unheard
piano pitches with sung ones, I find that the pitch correspondence is
often thrown into disarray. Hitting the amplifier switch in the midst
of play, for a while I stay in alignment and then drift off a bit. My
singing pitches and fingered piano pitches frequently, if only slightly,
part company.
When I play a melody on a table, with ink on my fingertips, and
measure distances attained there to define a correspondence with my
voice, there are highs where high and lows where low, if I play the
game with a serious intent to get the melody accurately simulated. But
the detailed note-to-note correspondence is crude. If I do fingerings in
the air (playing air piano), the relationship between sung and fin-
gered pitches disintegrates further, with differing orders of distur-
bance. For one thing, playing the game in the air I can feel that my
interdigitations, by not being in contact with their missing parts, are
temporally uncertain.
Notes 139
I need to be going to places precisely for that jazz to happen. We
have no text here if I cant find this typewriter terrain being used with
impressional contact, and I feel like I am playing at writing if I type in
the air.
A home territory makes it possible not to look in order to be cer-
tain, the paper (or screen) mainly attended to not to detect errors but
to keep the margins aligned (though a skilled typist often reaches for
a return key or lever with margin-proper pacing and without looking).
If that jazz on the records could arise as home territory play, par-
ticular digit-key responsibilities never changing, discrepancies would
be minimized. But in adventurous play I will often reach for some note
without really knowing what it will sound like (not synchronously
aiming with fingers and singings), but, once locked in on a particular
place, I may then proceed wayfully on a path from it, one that accords
with the harmony at that point. With the acoustic sounds unavailable,
such adventures often slip from synchronous alignment. Having such
sounds sustains a continual centeredness and synchrony of singings
and fingerings. While my hands may be wayfully and securely tar-
geted, the sound-there-routing hand is only ambiguously linked with
my vocalizations when I cant hear the music, and its not really part
of a singing body knowing where it is going and properly getting