Emergent Properties - by: Ben Leifer

photo credit: Angie Jennings

photo credit: Angie Jennings

Emergent Properties

Submitted by: Ben Leifer

Why is it that every other week we have a debate in this city about what Kansas City Jazz is, as if any of us get to decide? I know folks who think it is their prerogative to prescribe a style, or a methodology to this title. And yet the wheel keeps turning on this city and our scene. 

 Clubs open and close, musicians move away, some come back. New faces come in and some local icons pass away. Magazines, websites and social media continue to air out this discussion, and most of the conclusions are either reductionist, or so broad that any true meaning is lost to the breeze. If it were so easy to define something like this I would think we all would share the same viewpoint. 

 In science, the concept of emergent properties has always fascinated me. For example, our brains are basically a gelatinous blob of neurons and cerebrospinal fluid with some blood vessels and a handful of other important cells. How is it that something this basic can do something so magical as take in massive quantities of information, distill it into input and output signals, record memories, experience emotions, have five senses, operate a living body, and possess consciousness and all that that entails? Consciousness is an emergent property of our brain function. It is greater than the sum of its parts. Take a brain apart cell by cell and you have nothing even remotely capable consciousness. This is a good metaphor for this discussion.

 I think we can all agree that “Kansas City Jazz” doesn’t lie within the purview of singular artists or even stylistic traits, but is an emergent property of the entire history and present of the music that was/is created by artists who live here and create here. It’s bigger than any of us and the only thing you can to do effect it is to put your stamp on it. That said... you have to earn it. You have to show up and participate.

 There are those out there, in this scene and the global community, that say that Jazz is about innovation and so you must always be doing something new or else you are faking it. I call BS. That is a recipe for trite, undefinable confusion that you see in the “art” community all the time. There are others who say that you must adhere to the tradition at all costs and not stray or else you are not playing jazz. That is also foolish, because even the most stringent traditions allow for growth from the practitioner. However, we need both of these goofballs to tie down the boundaries of radicalization so we have any structure at all to work within. If you think these structures are superfluous and you are above them, then you are just another drunk fish in the ego ocean.

 Here’s the point, as I often have trouble getting to... who gives a shit? I’m super bored by this conversation and certainly any music fan could give a damn. It’s 2019! Every day is Halloween.  We should all just STFU about it and play: Hearts out, asses off. So many of us are struggling, and so many need good music and to have their thoughts provoked as a matter of healing. Start bleeding on the outside and let them in. 

 Have you ever seen a band do that thing where the melody sounds great and everyone’s energy is open and inviting, and then the solos start and they all scrunch into a tiny ball smaller than a Planck Length, with their entire lives just crushed into a shadow? What the hell!?

I didn’t pay a cover to... oh wait... hang on... 

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this Jazz clu... oh wait.... damn... 

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this bar that has music sometimes to listen t... dammit...

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this bar that has music sometimes to talk to my friends about how much we hate work while you don’t pour your entire heart out to me and then I’ll chastise you for not playing what I wanted…Kansas City Jazz.