Essentially everyone likes at least some pop, that’s why it’s called popular music. At the same time, a lot of people find jazz’s unpredictability and flexibility to be frustrating and unpleasant. So it is with freedom. If you’re looking for me to pick favourites I don’t see the world that way. I like both genres, but this is a metaphor so don’t take offence to the surface details; focus on what it is I’m trying to convey about you relaxing more.
Pop’s danceability and group-shared head-bops and food-taps grow directly out of the fact that the genre asks all of the players to meet very often and very regularly. Every four beats to be specific. In this way Pop is like ego: to be acceptable, both the players and the dancers alike must agree to meet according to external rules mounted to an external framework.
There are genuine emotional rewards for pop’s kind of synchronisation and the dancing certainly makes more sense, but as satisfying as those group experiences can be they are not the same as the rewards received when experiencing the soul of jazz. In jazz people meet you because that’s what they chose to do, not because something outside of themselves instructed them to do so.
Jazz is willing to go for many more beats before the musicians meet, with some forms seemingly never meeting. Even more uncertain is the fact that the musicians can each themselves impact the others through their choices, so in this way jazz is like causality. One musician makes no demands of the others; the others are still free, and yet it behooves them to find a way to cooperate. In that way it expands the space they all get to move around in.
The pop-like ego is focused on and is all about pattern-matching, whereas the soul of jazz is more like cooperative freedom. If pop is communism then jazz is tribal. Interestingly, pop can fit within jazz, it is however more difficult for jazz to fit within pop, precisely because it challenges the mass cooperation that pop requires on a regular basis.
You can have diversions of jazz within pop, but it must be framed within the tight constraints of pop or too much of it will take the pop apart. At the same time, a lot of pop within jazz makes jazz broader and more capable of plugging into other forms, although the pop aspect cannot go as far as including those cultures that naturally use larger scales than western civilisations. Jazz has more opportunities to incorporate those additional notes, whereas the more rigid form of pop simply cannot fully make use of all of those possibilities. This is how racism can exist in ego but not in our souls.
There is nothing wrong with pop bands and dancing. These things have their place and are of great value to us. At the same time, having to tap your feet can get tiresome, and maybe you don’t want to dance or even sway. Maybe you want something surprising or unexpected or new. And when you’re ready to step out of the box of certain-acceptability, jazz–and your soul–are just waiting for you to give them the power of your consciousness.
There are times to dance and times to be free just as there are times to live James Carse’s finite game in ego, and there are other times to live in what Carse calls the infinite game, where the point is nothing more than enjoying the act of playing the song at all. There are rewards for getting along with other souls and yet at the same time science has shown us that there is nothing more like the mind of an enlightened monk meditating than one of a jazz musician improvising.
Tap your feet when you feel like it. Be free when that’s your nature. Your freedom might feel problematic to people trying to maintain the certainty and predictability of four-four time, but that won’t make it wrong, because just as the pop people will find your freedom troublesome, the friends prepared to play jazz will be happy to have another friend joining them in their exploration of freedom.
A lot of your life and work are likely to be built around pop-like forms. Do not see this is a problem, for nothing ever prevents you from enjoyably using those sections of pop within the larger framework of the free creative space in which you live your personal jazz-like life.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.