Infinite Points – an essay by Mark Lewis
“Why do we do it?” people have often asked me. “With your talent you can play anything. You should play something that will make you some money.” After this I usually let them talk and tell me what they think I should do with my life. By the time they are finished I try not to say anything that will make them think that I am arrogant or naïve so that the conversation can be ended. You see, most jazz musicians are artists. An artist lives his or her life with one thing in mind; the success of the art. Fame and fortune do not enter into the goals of an artist. A selected few in our history have been fortunate enough to have prosperity and art work together without compromising their integrities. But most find it a life’s work to concentrate on art or prosperity, respectively, the artist or the performing showman. Both are valid as a profession, but if one has an awakening and sees something greater, the artist’s path becomes evident and a driving force.
My awakening happened while attending the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts in Seattle. John Coltrane and Rashied Ali had made an LP called “Interstellar Space” and I had just listened to it eight times in a row! I was secretly studying this type of music known as “avant-garde” or just “free” music, while in attendance at both Western Washington State College and Cornish. I say secretly because in my classes when I asked different professors about THAT music, I was not given answers to my satisfaction so I studied and listened to these musicians and what they had to say, all done in the music library.
Anyway, after listening to sixteen sides of it, I thought I wordlessly understood the essence of what I was listening to. It was spiritual.
I was already barred from practicing in the regular practice rooms at Cornish so I went down two flights into the building’s bowels; into the boiler room. It was hot but I could do my work there, or so I thought. With my new sublime knowledge I proceeded down into my steamy practice room. It must have been about 130 degrees Fahrenheit down there.
As I started playing I became entranced in a meditative state and began experimenting with time. I started stretching time out in my mind so it would seem twice as long, allowing me to play with twice the velocities I was used to. I kept the formula going and played faster and faster. It became more than an abstraction as I compressed and expanded my mind’s reference points. As this was happening, I realized that the center of my consciousness came from an infinitely small point radiating infinitely in all directions, and the angles of directions produced infinite vectors. Each angle could also be divided infinite times. I was coming from a point; an infinitely small point with an infinite amount of directions stretching to infinity. I was sensing the infinitely small and large at the same time. I divided these lines spatially like I had done with time.
At exactly the same time I reached the realization of all this, the headmaster’s first knock threw me back into our world. Dr. Friedman said I was no longer allowed to practice at all in the building. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t knocked. I might not have returned to our space-time continuum. But after that, I knew that my destiny was to develop my art and my direction was clear to me. Luckily Dave the janitor let me in after everyone went home so that I could practice at night, sometimes all night.
I finished out the school term and went to Europe, not knowing one person there and without a return ticket home. Within two months I was fortunate enough to play the music I was studying with some of its creators. Rashied’s brother (also a drummer) Mohammad and other great innovators of the avant-garde like Bobby Few, Ray Drummond, and Noah Howard let me play with them in their 1978 tour of France and Italy, which included large audiences in Paris and Rome.
The music featured this month is a tribute to them; the artists who know that they may struggle their entire lives and maybe die unknown. But they continue to, as Bobby would say, “hold on.” They do this because the Music is their spiritual homage. They are the unsung heroes who give our human existence meaning in the Universe, without whom our existence would hold less value. I humbly thank them.