playing from nothing

The concept of playing from nothing, often associated with "Zen piano," revolves around the idea of spontaneous musical creation, deriving directly from the artist's current emotions and meditative state. This style is characterized by a profound sense of immediacy and presence, with the musician engaging directly with the instrument in a deeply personal and unpremeditated conversation.

Keith Jarrett, an American pianist known for his improvisational prowess, is one of the most notable figures in this realm. His performances often start with no predetermined theme or structure; instead, he allows his feelings and the ambiance of the room to guide the flow and form of the music. This process is akin to a musical meditation, where the player becomes a conduit for the direct expression of the moment's essence.

This approach to music is deeply rooted in the philosophy of Zen, which emphasizes being fully present and connected with one's current activity. In "Zen piano," the player isn't just playing notes but is rather expressing the here and now through every touch of the keys. The resulting music is often unique and unrepeatable, a one-of-a-kind expression of the moment's emotional and spiritual landscape. It's a pure form of artistic expression, free from the constraints of pre-composed material and traditional structure, aiming to connect the performer and listener in a shared, intimate experience of the present.

Early in my life I discovered Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, and the joys of playing from nothing. If my parents are correct, my initial attempts were more pounding on the piano than playing it. But over the years and decades I like to think I've improved a bit. I just love the excitement and thrill of improvisational piano, of trying to channel my emotional energy through my fingers and into sound. The hardest part is trying to keep out of my own head while I am playing. When I start to listen I am more prone to making mistakes, so an ideal performance will have me finish a piece without really even knowing what was actually played.

And so, I record. What you hear is what I created at that moment in time and space. While I have lots of studio equipment around, I most often just record to phone. This gives a raw, lo-fi feel to my performances--some of which feature the creak of my piano bench, a bark of the dog, or even the sound of a notification on my computer. Just more signs that the improvisations are real.