Monday, July 21, 2014

Your brain on jazz: a not so sudden realization

I was driving to work the other day and some dumb-ass pulled out in front of me and proceeded to make a right turn about 400 feet up the road, keeping me at about 20 m.p.h. on a 55 speed limit road, all when there was nobody behind me for at least a mile (because that’s how far you can see down this particular road that I drive on every morning). A few years ago, a stunt like that would have made me give you the finger, probably a honk of the horn, and maybe even a flash of the brights. This particular day, I didn't even react, other than to note that I was not reacting to something that would normally have badly pissed me off.

Last year, when we were putting up new blinds and installing hardwood floors throughout the house, I was nervous that things wouldn't turn out well, but I consoled myself with the thought that, if anything didn't work out, we could always buy another solution. Maybe it would be a waste of money, but if it was, so what? It’s just money. So, when one of the new blinds ended up being not quite right, did I storm back to the store and demand a refund? Nope. I just put it up, fixed it as best I could and left it, and will wait for a better solution at some point in the future. It doesn't bother me a bit.

At work, some of the staff have been decorating the office with cheesy pictures, plastic plants and new modular furniture, all in anticipation of the boss’s arrival for a visit this Thursday. In the past, I would rant, make comments, and generally try to undermine their efforts. I would lecture them about how we are running a business, this isn't your house, and quit wasting the company’s money on that junk. Now, I actually helped them hang a bunch of pictures and I assembled their furniture for them. Yes, I made a few comments about my potential bonus being wasted, but nothing biting or acerbic.

As all this has been happening, I stopped and asked myself: What gives? What happened to the driven, obsessive, get-it-right-at-all-costs me that I was so used to? Why am I so calm and why is my short temper now so long (if it exists at all)? In short, what happened to the real me?

I look different, but feel the same.
I think certainly age figures into it. At 50, you begin to see how much closer you are to your mortality as opposed to your nativity. Small things fade away to nothing, big things fade to small things, and life is much easier. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. I honestly think that listening to jazz and playing the piano with a mind to play jazz music has rewired me. Since taking up jazz seven years ago, I realize that I get excited playing the piano. I’m happy just looking at my baby grand. I’m fascinated by pieces of music I haven’t heard before, or subtleties and nuances in songs I’m well familiar with that I didn't notice before. I don’t just think “cool”, I feel “cool”. Putting on one of my hats makes me look jazzy, and that makes me feel, I don't know. Free, maybe? Music has released me from the tedium of working in a factory and gives me a specific thing to look forward to at the end of each day, whether I’m going to a concert, going to a piano lesson, or just going home to dinner with Wynton Marsalis or Bill Evans playing in the background. Pull out in front of me and slow me down, that’s a few more minutes to explore Milestones or Maiden Voyage. Set me up with some appliance to install or a garage to clean or a bookshelf to build, the iPad and speakers will be Blowin’ the Blues Away, unless I need to Take Five. Decorate the office with some plastic bamboo, and I will forget all about it when I’m looking at the clarinet I’m going to hang on my wall at home. I’m the new Alfred Neuman: What, me worry?

I really believe that jazz has completely changed my brain and the way it works, which in turn has changed my life. If you don’t want to sweat the small stuff, try some Ellington or Basie. Like the guy on that commercial says, “It worked for me!”