TALKING PICTURES (my blog)

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  • Leading Questions - Kate Olson

    Someone once told me that the three most important things in music are time, tone, and intonation. That person was Scott Turpen, my college saxophone professor, and he then told me that I had none of those things together in my playing. It was something of a turning point in my musical career.

     

    Playing the saxophone is one way that I shut down the voices in my head that tell me things like, “you’re not good enough, you’re funny looking, people don’t like you.” It’s also one of the things that riles up the voices in my head. The ones that say things like, “you’re not good enough, you’re funny looking, people don’t like you.”

     

    Practice makes us better human beings. It allows us to know ourselves better and interact more intimately with each other. Too few people spend concentrated, focused time alone trying to get better at something. We can only know each other as well as we know ourselves, and a lot of us spend a lot of time running away from what and how and who we are inside. Practice is one way of knowing ourselves through a wide range of emotional and intellectual states.

     

    The piece of music that always resonates with me is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. It’s triumphantly beautiful and profound. It’s dedicated to his physician, who helped cure his depression and writers’ block with hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. What a wonderful tribute to health and happiness.

     

    My parents were deeply, passionately opposed to me becoming a professional musician. They were concerned that I’d become addicted to drugs, never settle down, and struggle forever to make ends meet. My relative success and sobriety is important not only to me as an individual, but as a daughter. I don’t want them to worry about me, and their opinion of me is still one of the most important things in my life.

     

    As I get older, I’ve realized that time is brief, but it expands to hold what we want to fit into it. What we truly want to fit into it. I want to see the world. I want to make people feel things with the music I play; I want to be better than I am now. I want to be THE BEST at what I do best. I want to love and feel loved. I want to eat the best food and drink the best wine and feel the sun on my skin at the top of the mountains. I have the time for that. I don’t have time for much in the way of paperwork, desk jobs, or the politics of telling people yes when I mean no. I don’t have time for low standards or excuses. I’m trying to get rid of all those things. Because the length of time is finite. But the volume of time is infinite.

     

    In the big scheme of things, what really matters is honesty. Everything else can be forgiven, repaired, and renewed. But if you lie to someone, whether it’s a lover or an audience member, you can’t go back from that. In many situations, musicians make the assumption that they’re smarter than their audiences. It’s the biggest mistake you can make. I think audiences can sense authenticity. They can sense joy. They shake their butts to joy and authenticity. They walk out on lack of emotion.

     

    I cried when I said goodbye to my dad, the last time I spent a lot of time at home in Wyoming. We both cried. We talked about how the older we get, there’s always the fear that it’s the last time we’ll get to see each other. Maybe a little morose, but life is fragile. We are fragile. And we’re all we’ve got.

     

    Music has taught me that there will always be things we don’t understand. And usually, those things are really beautiful in their complexity. Like fractals. And gravitational waves. And the aurora borealis. And Wayne Shorter’s compositions.

     

    Right now I’m interested in working out. It’s the best. I have a personal trainer. I started running. I’m also interested in electronics. I have some ideas in the works for a new facet to my solo project, KO SOLO. I have a new portable synth that I’m hoping to make use of. Hopefully there will be a gorgeous-sounding KO SOLO record out soon with a photo of me looking super fit and healthy on the inside.

     

    Discipline is making good habits your only habits. It’s hard to change your brain, but not impossible. We are what we do. So, I can choose to be a lackadasical day-drinking, iPhone ogling slouch, or I can choose to be an awakened, compassionate, weightlifting, saxophone-practicing, badass artist. And I have to make that decision every day of my life.

     

    I’m not interested in any of my students’ disclaimers and excuses. If I could get all that time back, I would have found the cure for cancer by now.

     

    Change is how we grow. Period.

     

    I chose the saxophone because I wanted to be one of the cool kids. All the cool kids played saxophone. I’m still not one of the cool kids, but I get to play saxophone, so I’m pretty sure it was the right decision.

     

    Less is more because it’s expensive to live in the city. If you’re going to commit, at my level of income, you better get used to small spaces.

     

    The thing that makes me nervous on stage is feeling like I need to live up to other peoples’ expectations. What I’ve been lucky to discover, especially recently, is that most people hire me to do what I do (some form of lyrical, pseudo-technical electroacoustic improvised soprano saxophoning….), and any idea that I get about having to do something else is totally made up and in my head. I think the cure for nerves the world over is just to BE YOURSELF LOUDLY AND MESSILY.

     

    When I’m playing well, it feels like I’m not even an entity. I transcend. Not to get all woo woo, but it’s an out of body experience. Everything flows. Everything is me. I am everything.

     

    The future of jazz is in our hands. I hope enough educators and institutions realize that we should not just be training sustainers of the tradition, but inventors and innovators also. I hope that the ecology of the jazz community, just like the ecology of our planet, stays diverse enough to maintain it’s health for many years to come. It’s our job to nurture that diversity, and see it through to the next generation of creative musicians.

     

    A sense of humor is important because if we take ourselves too seriously, we’ll stop having fun.