Someone asked how long I’m going to keep up this “music thing”. I think for a while. I find so many links, connections, and inspirations between jazz and writing. Lord knows – there are days when I need all the encouragement I can get.
So here are two interesting stories for today.
First – the musical story. Once again, a new sound caught my ear and I wanted to learn more. The name, Alex Skolnick, meant nothing to me. The title of the album was interesting – “Goodbye to Romance: Standards for a New Generation”
Looking for “Goodbye to Romance” I kept running into mentions of Randy Rhodes and Ozzy Osbourne. Soooo not the song I was looking for. Doing some more digging I discovered Alex is well known in the rock music world. He played with the thrash metal band Testament. Just clicking on that link should give you a clear indication how far from jazz their music is on the genera scale.
Poking around on YouTube I found his version of “Still Loving You” which is an old Scorpions tune. A billion years ago I actually attended a Scorpions concert at a “Day on the Green – Bill Graham Presents” concert (boy am I dating myself) and I was even more intrigued how his work was linked to these metal bands.
Seems Mr. Skolnick became a guitarist because as a very young teen he was fascinated with the rock group Kiss. Playing lead guitar with Testament led to other gigs with Megadth, Slayer, Judas Priest and White Zombie. Yet all this time – something else was rolling around in the back of his musical consciousness. An encounter with a Miles Davis tune at 19 sent him on a different quest – learning how to be a jazz guitarist. He earned a degree from New York City’s “New School University” jazz program – and that is where the Alex Skolnick Trio began. It’s also interesting to note he’s a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which I think is a perfect blend of “Metal” stage production and the lush orchestral arrangements you often find in big band jazz standards. If you want to find out more about him, here’s his website.
Why do I find this fascinating? Because to me it speaks about taking a natural talent, guitar playing, and learning how to be a better technician, a jazz guitarist. Kind of like writing. It’s not enough to have natural talent (although it helps) you also have to learn the basics and the building blocks of writing and story telling. I kind of hate having people ask, “How’s the book going?” ‘cause there’s not a lot of volume or progress on the “story”.
Yet I am spending a lot of time learning this craft. I believe it’s showing up in many small ways. When I first started blogging I didn’t understand what other people were talking about when they said revisions took so much time. I thought, "I know what I want to write it, I write it, and I’m done. What the heck are they revising?"
Oh – of course there were, and still are, tons of grammatical and punctuation mistakes in my writing even after I think I've got it right. I doubt any amount of revising will ever rid me of those mistakes. But I’m beginning to see more and more how word choices, usage, and line editing can benefit my writing. I’m also discovering how to line editing for continuity and action development make my stories and characters stronger. What I’ve most discovered is an admiration for editors. Those people who can give specific reasons, not just “I don’t like this” or “this doesn’t work”, as reasons for the changes. And they're not just picking at commas and semi colons and dangling participles. One of my favorite places to learn and see this in action is the Edittorrent page.
Here’s the second story. In the back of my mind I worry that all the little arcane details of my story – the principles of hydraulic energy, the science of mining, irrigation, and flood control – and the federal and state laws that frame my story – are only of interest to me. I worry that because I’m not a lawyer, or an engineer, or a historian I’m not going to be able to bring an authoritative voice to this piece of work. And even if I do, it will be so “text-bookish” no one will want to read it.
Last night, when I went to pick up our CSA weekly share, I bumped into a local author, Scott Huler. I’ve never met him before. Nor even read one of his books. He was just another CSA customer, standing in front of the Celebrity Dairy cheese stand as far as I knew.
Then someone asked him what he wrote about. He started talking about his book “Defining the Wind” which is about the Beaufort Wind Scale. It’s about how this scale is a scientific classification of wind velocity AND a piece of poetry. It was such a relief to hear him talk … I finally spoke up. I voiced my concern about my writing. He said he’s heard that too. From critique groups and from “the cocktail party” crowd. “Who’d want to read that? Who’s your audience?” He says he doesn’t worry about that anymore. He keeps finding topics that interest him and his agent and publisher keep paying him.
I’m not looking for a second career. I’m not looking to earn boatloads of money. I just want to write detailed stories about fascinating events in our history. Little, tiny, obscure parts of our history. I’m feeling encouraged today. Encouraged that obscure can be interesting and learning the craft and taking longer to write something is the right path for me.