There is a singular moment. I am lying in a bathtub in a very small but very sunny room with a slanted, wainscoted ceiling above my head. It is more than 16 years ago, and although most of those years are cross-referenced in my neocortex under such headings as burnt toast, squeaky bed, cocaine, Bad Religion, tincture of methiolate, Padanaram, mescaline, Public Enemy, linguica & eggs, Josef Škvorecký, Miles of Coltrane, every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain, and millions of antediluvian smells, tastes, and dialectics of pleasure and pain, all or at least most of these files are inaccessible from here. This day, however, and I should not say "day", since no other minute of whatever date this was is within my cognizance, this moment I am listening to one particular passage of extemporaneous compositions by keyboardist Keith Jarrett on a recording of his solo concerts in Bremen/Lausanne (and, as difficult as it is not to devolve into a dissertation on Mr. Jarrett's low stature with me at that time contrasted with the obvious influence of Paul Bley, it is nihil ad rem) which moves me to tears, to abject crying that is at once all of the sadness I have ever felt to this point and pure joy. The moment, inextricably bound to the music, extant in the music, exists now like a photograph or dream that can be accessed at will, but still has such poignancy as to require only rare visits.
Perhaps it is the fact that the warm bath, cleansing and womblike, and all manner of hierarchical psycho-sexual symbolism amidst a personal historical period of shame, or at a minimum, difficult transition, that this singular moment is imprinted with such clarity. No. What this illustrates is the asomatious power of music; transformative, evocative, metaphysical, spiritual, cognitive, emotive, and unique. I'm not talking simply about how Sly Stone's, Hot Fun in the Summertime either brings one back to the beach, or a school parking lot, or an inamorata's back yard, although that may be part of the connection. It is the singular experience of hearing a piece of music as though for the first time. And, if one is truly listening, it is always the first time. An Eric Dolphy solo, (listen to the bass clarinet solo on Something Sweet, Something Tender, from Out to Lunch, on Blue Note 1964) when it meets the right ears at the right time has the potential to deconstruct and reassemble an entire lifetime of priorities. Who knows, potato chips could fall to number three or four and the need for a cool hat could become priority one.
Of course context, mood, surroundings, and whether or not the experience is solitary or not will have an affect on one's predilection toward Denilo Perez's cover of Stevie Wonder's, Overjoyed or a preference for the original. These transient propensities are amusingly denoted by Nick Hornby in his book High Fidelity as product placement:
..."Have you got any soul?" a woman asks the next afternoon. That depends, I feel like saying; some days yes, some days no. A few days ago I was right out; now I've got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it a bit more evenly, I want to tell her, get a better balance, but I can't seem to get it sorted. I can see she wouldn't be interested in my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.
In my own case, I am often surprised at the amount of soul I have in reserve at any given moment. Here I'd love to have the time to offer a counter argument to Stanley Crouch's abasement of Hip-Hop, purely on a musical basis. The cultural diaspora of his contentions are dispersed like the extrapolations on Ornette Coleman's, Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation) and stand on their own merit. True, I can not imagine being either spiritually subjugated or reaching the crossroad of a minor epiphany upon listening to Mos Def, although this is based upon cultural proximity, whereas John Coltrane's, A Love Supreme is always going to produce a state of awe. But, strangely, it would be a certain grand alignment of sentient surroundings and open mind that would allow McCoy Tyner's piano solo on My Favorite Things to change me ontologically forever.
How music reaches inside us and fires the synapses that create these major and minor epiphanies has been the subject of much inquiry. Certainly, the ability to compose music has been addressed eloquently in such books as Douglas Hofstadter's, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. But why we feel music so deeply, at least some of us, is an area of inquiry we are just beginning to unravel scientifically. Not that I need to know. Music is life; it reaches the universe inside as well as the infinite destinations of the spirit.