Bill Evans: “Enjoy the step by step learning procedure.”
Oscar Peterson: “Articulate it like you do in speech” (on how to accomplish ‘the two-fingered percussiveness of Nat Cole’).
Fred Hersch: “You have to say ‘Oh, that was great. Now I’m going to start fresh” (on getting too attached to great concerts you’ve played).
While on tour in Croatia & Slovenia in 2008 for Must Don’t Whip ‘Um, Philippa Thompson was telling me about a friend of hers who always photographs street art wherever she travels, because it’s a good way to know where a city’s head is secretly at. As with many other aspects of my recent trip to India, I found the graffiti in Delhi elegant, yet perplexing. For example, “DISSENT OVERDOSE” – a slogan I saw tagged on an overpass on Sardar Patel Marg on the way from South Delhi to Bijwasan – definitely caught my eye, but what does it mean, and to whom? It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one asking, and I suppose that’s the point of any good work of art, especially if it’s so emphatically and intentionally in the public eye: If we’re not asking ourselves what it means, we’re probably not even noticing it in the first place.
A week before my trip to Delhi, I dream of learning to ride an elephant. There’s no saddle to sit on, just a rough wool blanket right on the crown of the elephant’s head. I tumble off and am sitting in the dirt, defeated. Standing behind me is an Indian man, very thin and taut, shirtless but wearing a turban, who insists that I climb back on board that enormous creature and learn to ride properly. I’m afraid, but he insists. He’s a trainer of some kind – of people more than elephants. He’s all business; therefore, I do as he tells me, and when I’m seated again on the elephant’s head, I realize that the elephant doesn’t mind my being there, and that there is nothing to fear. I proceed to practice steering right and left by pressing the back of his ears with the soles of my feet. It feels good, like pressing my feet on the mat in tadasana. Not being very proficient, however, I steer him directly through the tall marsh grass and into a deep, calm, silty brown river. How can I describe the way the water feels? It’s like a grandmother’s embrace, soft and loving. The elephant is completely submerged, but I’m perched on his head, mostly high and dry, if somewhat perplexed. Again, the elephant doesn’t seem to mind at all. He knows I’m there to practice, and he has the virtue of patience.
Threshhold Lord Ganesha, Feb 2012