Keep Time in Your Heart, Head

SKF NOTE: Driving about an hour ago, listening for the first time to Charles Mingus’s Jazz in Detroit – Strata Concert Gallery – 46 Selden album. This is a live album. Mingus’s band is Roy Brooks (drums), John Stubblefield (tenor sax), Joe Gardner (trumpet), Don Pulled (piano), and Mingus himself on bass.

The opening track is Mingus’s Pithecanthropus Erectus. A familiar tune from listens to many other Mingus albums and concert performances. But on this drive I’m hearing this version, and this Mingus quintet, for the first time.

My right hand is tapping time on my steering wheel. But then there is a moment, a few seconds, when the band enters the controlled chaos (my term) section of Pithecanthropus Erectus. I’m still keeping time. Or am I? No one in the band is keeping strict time. I fight off the self-doubt of, “Maybe you’ve dropped the time! When the chaos ends and the band is back to normal swing time – you’re going to be lost. The time you’re keeping on your stupid steering wheel won’t be anywhere near the real time.”

There were times – many times – I had the same doubts on a bandstand. But, lo and behold, when Mingus’s band moves into swing time I’m right there with them. Phew!

That’s a good lesson, a good drumming skill. Always know in your heart and head where the time is. That way, when you and/or the rest of the band is in free form, you will remain centered.

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