Thinking of Miles

Miles Davis is quoted as having said that a note or a musical idea isn’t wrong until you play the next note. His statement was about context – it is the relationship of that note to the music that follows it that makes it wrong or right. This concept is very important to an improviser, a composer and I’d guess probably a painter or any other artist as well.

I was doing some thinking in my favorite sanctum for thought – the NYC subway. Miles’ quote came to my mind. Now I don’t know if he intended it to be interpreted in the fashion I plan to explain – but his thought about notes and context inspired me to entertain some ideas.

I work with a group of people who are going through some difficult issues. The issues are all different, but we share our struggles. We commiserate. We give advice. Occasionally we even call people out on their internal struggles and arguments. I’ve seen a lot of joy as well as pain. Mostly what I’ve seen is a lot of little boys in men’s bodies struggle to come to terms with the reality of life.

What does that have to do with Miles?

I started to see the construction of a jazz solo like the construction of a life… It is a series of choices. You might slip and play a wrong note – but sometimes that note can be a happy accident and lead you onto something you may have never found otherwise. Sometimes it is a God awful clam of a mistake and there is just no denying it. And even then, maybe you’ll find some kind of meaning in that clam that change the way you do it next time.

Someday in the future when we’ve all parted ways I’ll look back on my group of guys. I may boast of some brilliant insight I had that changed someone’s life. Or I may look back and think I was a colossal ass for thinking I could get past my own bullshit enough to be there to help someone else. Whether I’m a genius or an ass, the significance of this time in my life will be defined by what follows it.

I don’t have any proof – but I strongly suspect that the most successful people (and I mean the happy ones, the ones who’ve stood the test of time, and the ones who’s head is firmly on their shoulders and not up their bum…) are probably the ones who have made the most mistakes. It only stands to reason. Try more, fail more. Try more, win more.

Charles Mingus took Miles’ idea even further and said simply, “There are no wrong notes…”

I guess we may have to see how that turns out. But I think this is a pretty good start.

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