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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Blind Improvisation

I've been playing piano for over 40 years, never professionally, but I'm a pretty decent player. During that time I've always been amazed by artists such as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. I had every right to be amazed, of course, since they are excellent artists. But I was amazed for the wrong reason. I was amazed because they could play piano without the use of their eyes. Instead of being amazed at that, I should've considered that it might actually be an advantage.

Over the past couple of years, I've learned to play with my eyes closed. Obviously, it's a little tough to read music with closed eyes, so I stick to improvisation. It turns out that the keys don't move. They stay exactly where you last played them. You can count on it. And speaking of counting, when I close my eyes, I've got rhythm, and keeping the beat used to beat me up, and still does when my eyes are open.

Playing the piano and improvising with my eyes closed has become a transcendental experience. Sometimes, I get so lost in the notes and textures that I forget where I am, even who I am. I know it sounds hokey, but I become one with the piano and the sound waves. If some external event occurs, for example the phone ringing, it often takes me many seconds for me to realize what that sound is and take action. It's like a drug experience. Er, well, I wouldn't, of course, know what a drug experience is like, so let's just say that I imagine it's what a drug experience would be like. But, of course, much better, especially since I don't seem to be developing an addiction to the piano.

While my playing sounds good to me, I have no idea whether or not it sounds good to anyone else. While my family (they have no choice but listen) is very kind, I've learned from recording two CDs that what you think you sound like when playing has only a very vague relationship to how you actually sound. The recording device is the most cruel critic of all. Eventually, I'll turn on the recorder just to get an idea of what I sound like. But not yet - I don't want to deal with that disappointed quite yet. I'll just keep rollin' along and improvising with my eyes closed.

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