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Satchmo, The Philosopher

After a couple of Tuborgs, Schroedinger sighs and says, "The scientific picture of the world around me is very deficient. It puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet; it knows nothing of the beautiful."

Heisenberg sets down his glass. "Perhaps I may remind you of the second definition of beauty, which stems from Plotinus: 'Beauty is the translucence, through the material phenomenon, of the eternal splendor of the One.' "

Schroedinger, nodding, knocks down the last of his beer. "Science can describe in full detail all that happens from the moment the waves of compression and dilation reach our ear to the moment when certain glands secrete a salty fluid that emerges from our eyes. But science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, or moves us to tears."

It's that translucence, that light shining through, that brings us to tears, wherever we find it. Music notation is a blunt instrument whose limitations become most apparent when you attempt to notate the extraordinary details of rhythm, articulation, phrasing, tone color, and nuance that are part of great improvised performances such as Armstrong's two versions of "Basin Street Blues." They can only be truly understood when heard. As Sidney Bechet put it, "You've got to be in the sun to feel the sun."


More articles in this week's Voice Jazz Supplement.

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