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I was intrigued by a letter to The New Yorker by Douglas Dunn of New York City who responded to an article by Joan Acocella in a previous issue (The Playful Legacy of Merce Cunningham).  Dunn writes:

“I was in Cunningham’s dance company from 1969 until 1973; in the seventies, I was a founding member of Grand Union, a group that chose not to rehearse – we would walk into performances with no instructions and build forms as we went along. At the time, reviewers took Cunningham’s choreographic process using “chance operations” to mean improvisation onstage. But Cunningham did not favour improvisation. He set every step. He was wont to say,

The trouble with improvisation is, you repeat yourself.

This intrigued me. It is as if there is a tendency toward monotony when we are left to our own limited improvisations. It is as if we can’t help but enter a kind of cul de sac of  reiteration unless something newly creative or intentional dislodges us from playing on repeat.

Kind of Blue

I wondered about the relationship between dance and jazz? The now legendary Kind of Blue album is considered one of the finest forms of the art. Great musicians led by Miles Davis at the top of his craft, play off each other in improvisation.

Kind of Blue session: seen here is John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans.

Ashley Kahn, author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, explains why Kind of Blue tops the list of best Jazz albums ever:

“How does one properly gauge impact? There’s no smouldering crater in the case of Kind of Blue, Miles’ melancholy, modal-jazz masterwork. The 1959 disc didn’t arrive with a thunderous clap, yet for decades later, at the end of the millennium, there it was at the top of any and all “best of” lists, nudging aside so many rock, pop and hip-hop recordings…

But perhaps Kind of Blue is better measured by the sum of the constituent parts. Five tunes, exceedingly simple in construction, exceptionally deep in evocative power, played by seven post-bop masters, all in their prime. A once-in-a-lifetime line up that makes the term “all-star” seem inadequate: trumpeter Davis, plus sax men John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb…”

Source: “The 100 Jazz Albums that Shook the World.”

And then that’s it. Never attempted to be re-performed again because it couldn’t be. The improvisation was unique – a creation in its moment. The ensemble didn’t take it on the road I suppose because once you’ve created perfection… well then don’t overdo it.

Do It Again!

But then… there is this observation by G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy):

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again to the moon… it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.

It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

The Creative Impulse

No wonder Augustine confesses, “late have I loved you oh Beauty so ancient and new”. No doubt he knew something of this creative Beauty who paradoxically co-inhabits the ancient and the new; who is from everlasting yet younger than we; who is the creator of creativity yet can do it again and again. Perhaps Augustine knew something of the eternal appetite of infancy of the One from whom we all inherit the creative impulse.

A Blessing of Presence:

May you be present with the creative impulse of the One who made you for Himself.

May you know your own status as a child – the object of infinite amazement, wonderment, and gratitude.

May you dance, draw, sing, or play to your heart’s content with the improvisation or the monotony of the eternal appetite of infancy.

This is more enigma than dogma.