Posts Tagged ‘gene lees’

Why do people create music?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Are you a musician? Can you tell me, why do people create music?

Never mind that music seems to help our egos quite early in life to figure out who we will be. Forget that our favorite music will, in later years, magically transport us back to those particular times, events and people that we associate with it.

Remember your parents telling you to “Turn that down!”? Well, your music just didn’t sound like theirs did. Now, of course, It is my turn to wonder what is the music that our kids will find sentimental as they rock on the veranda of the assisted living place 50 years from now. Will the whoomp of the subwoofer paralyze the caregivers as high volume rap favorites waft through the halls?

Why do people create music in the first place? In my case, improvisation, albeit usually over some kind of structural form, was always more interesting, rather than reproducing music that had already been written.

In the liner notes for the Miles Davis record “Kind of Blue” pianist Bill Evans wrote about the art of improvisation.

Bill said about those who would improvise that they “… must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.” The full quote may be found here

In my own life, music has been much like breathing, it is just something that came in and out of me from a very early age. I cannot take any special credit for it, it is just a gift that was given. But why did it seem like such a good fit and change the shape of my life so drastically?

Let me share a favorite verse of mine, crafted by the great jazz lyricist, Gene Lees. Here he describes what he thinks is real about the madness that causes some of us to live and breathe the alchemy of music. This is a man who reportedly took a year or more to write the exquisite lyric to the jazz chestnut “Waltz for Debby”

For years I had lost two lines in the middle of this wonderful verse. I emailed Gene and, after searching, he couldn’t find them either. Finally I came upon my original note, written with my music calligraphy pen from decades ago, and here it is. A tiny fragment of exquisite verse encased in a poetic form from another age.

This may not explain why people create music, but it is certainly a most eloquent expression of appreciation for the phenomenon.


Music is a strange and useless thing.
It doesn’t offer cover from the storm.
It doesn’t (really) ease the sting
of living; nor nourish us, nor keep us warm.
And men expend their lives in search of sound,
learning how to juggle bits of noise,
and by their swift illusions to confound
the heart with fleeting and evasive joys.
Yet I am full of quaking gratitude
that this exalted folly still exists,
that in an age of cold computer mood,
a piper still can whistle in the mists.
His notes are pebbles falling into time.
How sweetly mad it is, and how sublime.

Gene Lees

Not used with permission.
Gene, I know you won’t mind.