Outside Music, Inside Voices
by Garrison Fewell
Saturn University Press
I view spirituality as a quest for a flexible divinity who can offer comfort if not salvation yet doesn’t demand you attend Voter Meetings or Bible Study. Author Garrison Fewell uses it differently; he sees it as an explanation for what happens when musicians and other artists improvise: they make up something new and transient on the spot, not to be recorded and not likely to ever be heard again. In this massive volume he interviews over two dozen jazz musicians, and begins each conversation with a question along the lines of “What do you see is the relationship between spirituality and improvisation?” The answers are as varied as the interviewees: Wadada Leo Smith sees it as an event trapped in a specific time and location, Pheeroan AkLaff sees it as searching for both known and unknown information and Baikida Carrol finds improvisation connects himself to himself. All valid, and all expanded upon in details that are beyond this short review.
The texts are in many ways like jazz itself, seeming unstructured but with a purpose needing study to reveal. They can be complicated reads, you feel wound around and disoriented sometimes, yet occasional flutters of “aha!” and o-ho!” and “I feel exactly that way!” appear often enough to give hope of enlightenment. The interviews are foot-noted, half page bios make for a useful appendix, and Fewell’s lengthy introduction set the field for what is to follow. This is a book for the jazz theory fan without the manifestos we so often see, but if you’re not already thinking about jazz on a daily basis, this might be an overwhelming read.