SIDEKICK’S PHILOSOPHY 2
SIDEKICK’S PHILOSOPHY 2:
THEY CREATED CREATION, MAN,
BUT OTHER THAN THAT…
PHILONOUS: Does the reality of sensible things consist in being perceived? Or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears no relation to the mind?
HYLAS: To exist is one thing, and to be perceived is another.
PHILONOUS: I speak with regard to sensible things only: and of these I ask, whether by their real existence you mean a subsistence exterior to the mind, and distinct from their being perceived?
HYLAS: I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and without any relation to, their being perceived.
PHILONOUS: Heat therefore, if it be allowed a real thing, must exist without the mind.
HYLAS: It must.
(Berkeley, G. (1979), Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, p. 11)
We are in 1958 in some venue somewhere. The conditions are always about the same as in Sidekick’s Philosophy #1. In four years from now, the conditions will still be about the same also. The marvelous orchestra in which Paul GONSALVES and Russell PROCOPE have the honor of playing will then (1962) have the opportunity to perform in a semi-promotional motion picture titled GOODYEAR JAZZ CONCERT: DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA. A certain number of shots will then be extracted from that movie and circulated for advertising. One of these shots shows the orchestra on the film set-up, in the mist of a performance. Everybody is very elegantly dressed in white suits (except the Duke, who is in black). The attention is quickly caught by that enumerative listing of the musicians present, one usually see underneath such group photographs. Under that specific picture, it reads as follows:
Above: Ellington, Jimmy Hamilton (cl), and Harold Baker (tp) in front
In the back (l.-r.): Sam Woodyard (dm), Aaron Bell (b), Paul Gonsalves (obscured), Ed Mullen (tp), Johnny Hodges (as), Chuck Connors (tb), Bill Berry (tp), Lawrence Brown (tb), Russell Procope (obscured), Cat Anderson, Ray Nance (tp), Leon Cox (tb), Harry Carney (bar)
In other words, on that crucial picture, Paul GONSALVES and Russell PROCOPE, the two protagonists of the current philosophical dialogues, are obscured. Of course it could simply mean that the shot was considered good, was kept, and was edited despite the fact that these two sidemen where not visible on it, being hidden by the other musicians. But one could also argue that that (quite minor) fact has a more universal significance. What if Paul GONSALVES and Russell PROCOPE are obscured per se, i.e. simply because they are the lowly successors and/or accompanists of more renowned musicians, such as Ben WEBSTER, Barney BIGARD, Johnny HODGES?. What if these more renowned musicians are themselves nothing other than the modest, dependent, and transitory creatures of an eminent director who is the major figure of so-called Mainstream Jazz? What if that eminent director himself, despite his importance and originality, eventually lost the vivid elements of his creativity by 1943, but continued to pile up compositions and concerts until his death in 1974? Consequently, what if this musical genius, Duke ELLINGTON, is unavoidably considered today as just one figure in one of the multiple streams of that complex style of music called Jazz? And what if Jazz itself is a strictly 20th century faded musical mode of expression, slowly dying out, just as the millennium itself, and already totally outdated in the raging furry of the cascade of contemporary music? What if Music itself is just one among the countless fields of activities in which human existence is engaged? What if human existence is just a limited, tiny and minuscule feature of the polymorphic movement of the totality of the Cosmos? What if the number of cosmos is infinite, in that huge Universe? Wouldn’t we have here some very serious reasons for infinitesimal sidekicks such as Paul GONSALVES and Russell PROCOPE to end up obscured in, let say, the broader picture? Whatever the answer, that does not stop them, back on that evening of 1958 somewhere on a stage of the Western World, from philosophizing freely and casually as they usually do, at what they ironically call ragtime, namely that precious and transcendent moment when they ostentatiously rag their instruments before the beginning of the gig.
GONSALVES (shining his saxophone): Hey, Russell, I have been thinking.
PROCOPE: It’s always a good thing to do, cat.
GONSALVES: Remember the other night when we were talking about the reality of an object in our mind or in the world.
GONSALVES: There’s a fourth possibility, my friend.
PROCOPE: If you say so, Paul. What where these three possibilities again?
GONSALVES: One: a reality can be in my mind alone. The beautiful unknown hip chick I dreamed about, and whom I never met. Two: a reality can be in the world alone. The hidden face of the moon, the heat at the center of the earth. Nobody saw or felt them, but they are there.
PROCOPE: Yes, yes. I see you.
GONSALVES: Three: a reality can be in the world first, and enter my mind afterward. My saxophone, which existed before I opened its case and see or touch it, and continues to exist when I place it back in its case.
PROCOPE: Yes, yes. Good memory, man.
GONSALVES: And we forgot a fourth possibility.
PROCOPE: Which is?
GONSALVES: A reality can be in my mind first and enter the world afterward. A good improvised solo takes shape in my head, I feel it taking form in my mind a couple of seconds, sometimes a couple of minutes before I blow it in the reed, man. It fully exists in my mind first.
PROCOPE: You say that with the purpose of humiliating me, cruel beast?
GONSALVES: Not a minute, where did you get that idea?
PROCOPE: Please remember, with your brilliant solos existing in advance in your mind, that you’re having this conversation with one of the less creative elements of that line-up.
GONSALVES: That is not true! That is not fair, Russell! You’re very creative. You’re far more organized, and more documented than I am. You’re very reliable. Solid as a rock. You’re just a little less… less…
GONSALVES: Well, yes. What is wrong with being less innovative a bit, when one is as knowledgeable as you are. Look at Bigard when he was with the All Stars, Look even at Pops himself. They played night after night. They couldn’t re-invent music at every single gig. It’s simply not possible.
PROCOPE: That’s exactly the problem, cat.
GONSALVES: The problem?
PROCOPE: The problem. The problem is not with my music, but with your idea here. And it’s not a musical problem, cat, but a problem about existence itself. So let’s inquiry into your aphorism four: a reality can be in our mind first, and enter the world afterward, did you say?
GONSALVES: Yeah. In good symmetry that fourth possibility has to exist.. Our locus for a reality are then: One: mind alone, Two: world alone, Three: slipping from the world to the mind. And then we need four: slipping from the mind to the world. Doesn’t it make perfect sense. (Looks at Procope) I see from your strained grin that it doesn’t make perfect sense… somewhat…
PROCOPE: I’m the living incarnation of the inaccuracy of that little symmetric system, my Paul. That bird is pretty, nicely feathered, but it cant fly.
GONSALVES: OK. How come?
PROCOPE: Well, my violin teacher used to say: Any musician is nothing but a songster. And that piece of wisdom governed my life all the way through.
GONSALVES: Did I ever mention to you that your violin teacher makes me feel lucky that you became a clarinetist… A songster, frankly…What can I say… Maybe he was saying that just to cover up his own lack of creativity. Didn’t you consider that hypothesis?
PROCOPE: By all means I did. But facts are there.
GONSALVES: Which facts?
PROCOPE: The facts of my life, Paul. I play composed and improvised music since decades. The elements of improvisation I introduce in it are preconfigurated patterns. Everything I combine with my instrument pre-existed in the world. I dont create. I know it.
PROCOPE: No Paul. Relax, my man. This is not about my music specifically. It is about any music. It is a claim on your so called aphorism four. You do not create either. Nobody does.
GONSALVES: What? Nobody creates? I mean… Not even major artists?
PROCOPE: No. There is no creativity in any arts.
GONSALVES: I dont get it (shakes his head and whips the air with the rag). I dont get it.
PROCOPE: Look my friend. Do you want to understand what I suggest here? Or are you completely fanatic about that creativity stuff?
GONSALVES: Russell, You’re an inventive and imaginative thinker. I admire your capacity to open me to new and unexpected deep stuff, cat. You’re a beautiful mind-stormer to me. If you say that… enormity. No creativity. As crazy as it may seem at first sight, I want to hear you develop on it, my brother. I am open to your vision of the world and you know it. So hit me, cat. I listen.
PROCOPE: Please, follow me carefully.
GONSALVES: I’m all ears.
PROCOPE: The Duke is a superb artist. We agree on that.
GONSALVES: He’s a genius. He’s so hip, so beautiful. He’s my man. We can assume that as an axiom, my friend.
PROCOPE: Fine. The year is 1940 or so. The Duke is back from a trip in Oregon or something. He was very impressed by the immensity, and the majesty, and the giganticness, and whatever, of the mountains and landscape over there. It was like if he had driven through some gargantuesque postcard. His mind is full of perceptive impressions. He is stuffed with it. That makes emotions flow in all his being. Until the tip of the fingers. Do you see that.
GONSALVES: I see that. Crystal clear.
PROCOPE: Then that day, he sits at the piano. With plain music sheets and a fountain pen not too far. Did he scribble first? Did he plunk first? Beat me.
GONSALVES: The maestro’s mystery recipe.
PROCOPE: Exactly. And at the end, a new composition is crafted. In reminiscence of his late trip, the maestro titles it WARM VALLEY.
GONSALVES: (Hums the first notes of Warm Valley and smiles). I see that.
PROCOPE: Now tell me Paul. Where is the eighth note in WARM VALLEY?
GONSALVES: What do you mean the eighth note?… the eighth note in the melody?
PROCOPE: No! No! Listen. You, the champion of creativity have to admit that there is no creativity without creation. Do you admit that?
GONSALVES: (Hesitant) I… suppose so.
PROCOPE: So are you ready to entertain a couple of questions on the act of creation?
PROCOPE: How many notes in the scale, Paul?
PROCOPE: And You’re telling me that the Duke used only seven notes to write something as superb as WARM VALLEY.
GONSALVES: Sure… he…
PROCOPE: (interrupts him) So there is no new notes in that composition. The Duke did not create an eighth or ninth note in order to write it. That miracle did not happen. Agreed? Now, how many white keys on a piano.
GONSALVES: About fifty I suppose.
PROCOPE: Exactly fifty two. And the Duke composed WARM VALLEY without even adding a fifty third key to his old piano keyboard! Is that possible? How many black keys?.
GONSALVES: Just a minute. I think I’m beginning to see where you’re attempting to bring me here. The same old piano keyboard, the same old set of seven notes. And why not: the same old fingers of his…
PROCOPE: The same old car ride. The same very ancient valleys of Oregon…
GONSALVES: This is bogus man. Totally phony. You’re being very weak here. Of course he is using the old bag of musical and emotional tricks. But the result is totally new, different, innovative. Hmm… what’s that word again? Idiosyncratic.
PROCOPE: Not Idiot-shite-hectic! Oh wow! What a major jazz critic you make here, Paul. But you know what? I’m totally ready to admit the effectiveness of that I do-shake-crazy, that beloved baby of all the heralds of so-called creativity, who make such a career of reiterating with a pen…
GONSALVES: Oh! Well, I close my eyes on the crudeness of its formulation, and I express my sincere and genuine appreciation for such a generous acknowledgement of the reality of idiosyncrasy by a free-thinker like you Russell. May I ostensibly thank you for it…
PROCOPE: You’re totally welcome. But now please consider this, Paul. With your usual free mind, as a matter of course… All you’re proving me here with that jazz critic buzz-word of yours is that WARM VALLEY is new. But in no way does that testify that this new object was created, was produced ex nihilo.
GONSALVES: Ex nihilo!
PROCOPE: Yeah. Because de nihilo nihil, my good brother.
GONSALVES: So you can jargon too, hey! We’ll go back to that jargon in a minute. I think I begin to see where you’re coming from. WARM VALLEY is a new combination of piano notes. Hmm… like a new tulip growing in the garden. Or an extraordinarily idiosyncratic snowflake.
PROCOPE: Nicely said. If idiosyncratic snowflake means that there is no snowflake totally identical to another one, I am with you all the way.
GONSALVES: But, if I still follow your piece of reasoning here, that does not make the new tulip, the snowflake, or WARM VALLEY a creation. I am not convinced at all. But I see how your logic is unfolding here. After all, the tulip and the snowflake are also brand new and equal to none, but they come necessarily from somewhere.
PROCOPE: Good. From a grain of tulip and of nothing else. From a specific combination of microscopic ice slivers. From whatever, but not from nothing. Very good. Now, do you accept to entertain some more question, then?
GONSALVES: Sure, but just before. What’s that Nihilo Mambo Jambo?
PROCOPE: DE NIHILO NIHIL. A Latin motto. It means Nothing comes from nothing. There is always a departure point, an origin, a source.
GONSALVES: An origin to everything. A source, even to nothingness. All is an annihilation fountain. Is that what you’re telling me?
PROCOPE: In a sense yes. Nothing is created and nothing is destroyed. There are only transformations. Some French chemist said that long ago too… Ready for my other set of questions.
PROCOPE: Let’s toss aside for a moment the problem of trying to know if the Duke created WARM VALLEY. Let’s focus for a minute on its newness.
GONSALVES: It is totally new, my brother. Fresh as a rose.
PROCOPE: Or a tulip, or a snowflake… Well let’s talk about that for a minute. Take three of the Duke’s major piano standards: IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, PRELUDE TO A KISS, and, say, SOLITUDE.
GONSALVES: I hear them in my head, good boy. Great music.
PROCOPE: Genuine Duke Ellington stuff, hey…
GONSALVES: At its best. He really got the touch for capturing that type of melody.
PROCOPE: These three other tunes are really from the author of WARM VALLEY. Aren’t they.
GONSALVES: Absolutely, cat. One would recognize that touch among millions.
PROCOPE: So these four melodies have something in common, dont they?
GONSALVES: Sure. Absolutely. They are carved in the same pure and precious delicate metal.
PROCOPE: That element they have in common, what is it?
GONSALVES: (meditates) I dont know exactly… Its the touch. The twist in them. The texture. The languor too. The… well the Duke Ellington style of composition is what it is. Russell. You know that better than I do.
PROCOPE: So you admit that IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, PRELUDE TO A KISS, SOLITUDE and our current object of investigation WARM VALLEY have a lot in common.
GONSALVES: I do, my friend. Heart and soul.
PROCOPE: This leads you directly to admit that WARM VALLEY is not completely new. That it is part of a set of lookalikes, which constitutes, say, a style, a mode.
GONSALVES: (meditating the argument) I hear what you’re saying.
GONSALVES: But wait. This is about Duke Ellington’s creativity. If the notion of creativity applies to four of his tunes rather than only one, it remains creativity nevertheless.
PROCOPE: OK. Let go to the next question now then. Ready?
GONSALVES: By all means.
PROCOPE: It is an aphorism followed by a question. The aphorism I overheard a couple of years ago from a conversation between two jazz critics, among the aficionados who were crowding the wing, after the gig, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
GONSALVES: Oh, jazz critics, you know…
PROCOPE: I know, but wait, wait. Listen to this. It goes: Ellington’s solo piano compositions are usually written on a mode which is a minimalist version of the stride piano idiom. Sounds cool hey?
GONSALVES: Superb. You really have a fantastic memory for quotes, my man. And it means?
PROCOPE: Simply that the Duke writes for piano in the idiom, the style, the tradition, the heritage of the stride pianists. Willy the Lion Smith, James P. Johnson and others less renowned ones influenced him. But he is less lavish than them, more sober, more minimal, more personal.
GONSALVES: That is my interpretation of that statement too…
PROCOPE: And what do you make of it?
GONSALVES: I tend to agree with it. Even the Duke admits it. Then what? Every artist experiences influences. No music is just there in the middle of the air, hanging.
PROCOPE: That is exactly my point, cat. And through the Lion and James P., and the Duke himself, it all goes back to Negroes singing on the streets of Washington, and wherever else. A crowd of anonymous songsters transmitting sounds and emotions to each others, and to the future senior artists of their tomorrow.
GONSALVES: OK, just a minute. Creativity would not exists because…
PROCOPE: Creativity does not mean a lot to me, to put it flatly. It is supposed to simply be the aptitude to creation in a person. Creation is what I am after. I deny the existence of any form of creation.
GONSALVES: Creation… OK, OK, creation…
PROCOPE: WARM VALLEY is not a creation de nihilo. It was inspired by the Oregon landscape. It was captured on a specifically crafted musical instrument, with a certain system of scales coming from a tradition, and written in an idiom, a style resulting from the influence of previous musicians, the majority of them mere unknown citizens, street singers. That WARM VALLEY is the point of convergence of several complex and tangled streams. And there is a beautiful musical term to describe what I mean here.
GONSALVES: And it is.
PROCOPE: Yes, Paul, composition. Like in musical composition and also like in composition of pre-existing elements.
GONSALVES: I dont know, Russell. All that sounds very conservative to me. I must say.
PROCOPE: Why conservative?
GONSALVES: Well you know. All comes from previous configurations. Nothing is really new. I dont know…
PROCOPE: It is not a business of nothing really new. The tulip and the snowflake are new indeed. That is not where the problem stands. It ‘s rather: nothing independent.
GONSALVES: Nothing independent. So these solos I create in my mind a couple of seconds before I play them…
PROCOPE: They are brilliant solos, cat. Your capacities as a musician are not in question here. They are quite new too. You’re far more innovative than me, and several other cats in the reed section. Your talent is not the issue here, my man. Only your independence, your capacity to create from nothing, your freedom vis-a-vis the rest of composed music, of instrument crafting, of Negro singing, of semi-improvised orchestration, of record industry, of American civilization, of mere existence.
GONSALVES: No freedom to create?
PROCOPE: That goddam crap freedom is a hoax man. Listen carefully to this: men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are conditioned. Their idea of freedom, therefore, is simply their ignorance of any cause for their action.
GONSALVES: No creativity resulting from the active will?
PROCOPE: Whoops… whoops! I’m not finished. (raises a finger in the air). Ahhh… As for their saying that human actions depend on the will, this is a mere phrase without any idea to correspond theret. What the will is, and how it moves the body, they none of them know…
GONSALVES: Who said that? Your babysitter, to stop you from climbing out of your crib?
PROCOPE: No. Spinoza…
GONSALVES: Ah.. but of course.
PROCOPE: …in his masterpiece THE ETHICS. But forget for a minute who said it. Just think about the content of it. If you believe that you create freely, it’s because you dont know the determinations and connections that make you pop things out of yourself. You know of your actions, but you dont know of their deep causes, so you believe you create…
GONSALVES: I see the logic of it. But, I dont know, man…
PROCOPE: Of course you dont know.
GONSALVES: So, if I follow you here: my little symmetric system is crooked. aphorism four doesn’t fly.
PROCOPE: Let’s bring your system back in symmetry. Aphorisms one and four dont fly!
GONSALVES: What? The object in my mind only? That hip chick I dreamed about… That pure fly-floating product of my imagination..
PROCOPE: Is wonderful, extraordinary, superb, lovely, and is not a creation of your mind.
GONSALVES: What! She exists then!
GONSALVES: What? She is not a creation of my mind, and she does not exists either.
PROCOPE: Exactly, cat. Sorry to break your heart abruptly like that, but I’m not promoting premonition dreams and other garbages of that telepathic nature here. I’m just telling you that despite the fact that she was totally new, unmet, undiscovered, unidentified, that oniric love of yours was not a creation of your tormented mind.
GONSALVES: (outloud) Well what was she then?
(The musicians of the reeds section make gestures in the direction of GONSALVES to make him silence. The room is now filled with the audience. The gig is soon to begin)
PROCOPE: A synthesis, a rearrangement, a new combination, a reconfiguration of all the physical and psychological features you met in several women of the world, which you dreamingly blend together for your own oniric jubilation. A very limited and fugitive synthesis.
GONSALVES: A synthesis…
PROCOPE: Yope. A Frankenstein of love, you mentally built from sparse elements. An oniric mayonnaise you emotionally cooked from subtle ingredients. A multicolored patchwork you sewed in an instantaneous flash.. A mental and emotional collage…
GONSALVES (after a moment): Thinking about it freely, calmly, without the usual constraints of preconceived ideas…
PROCOPE: As you always do.
GONSALVES: Digging deep in that very moving memory. Yeah. Maybe that woman in my dream had features of other women I actually met, or saw. Even of men actually… If I may say… She had Alec Guinness eyes, for instance. I’m quite sure of that… Sounds strange, hey. Dont laugh at me, you dog.
PROCOPE: I wouldn’t dare. Guinness is a superb actor, and a dream is a dream. But… do you see what I’m saying…
GONSALVES: OK OK. Let me see that new symmetry here. One and four are out. So we stay with: reality is in the world alone, or in the world and grasped by our mind.
PROCOPE: There you go. A thing is alone, or is and is being grasped. No other option. Heat is either irradiating alone at the center of the earth, or irradiating from these spotlights here and warming up your fingers on that piece of brass. Consequently, nothing comes from the mind independently, to go down to the world. No heat pops out of your mind. Just the memory of it, or the hope for it to chill up or warm down. But the idea of heat is no heat. All the mind can do is to grasp, and regurgitate what it grasped. But your grasping mind is active, cat. Very intensely active, and proactive. It jigjags and reshuffles everything it received from the external world, and constitutes incredibly complex new combinations. At the same time, it forgets several of the thousands of sources of inspiration one encountered in one’s lifetime. The mind does not know what the mind does, you know. So it sincerely and genuinely believes it creates…
GONSALVES: (scratches his forefront with the mouthpiece of his instrument) But to obtain new configurations with what is simply laying there… I mean… how is that only possible?
PROCOPE: But very simply, my friend. Ever played cards? Ever played chess?
PROCOPE: Look at the player shuffling cards. He ends up with a brand new combination of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades in his hands. Every time. Nobody calls him a creator for that. Look at two cats playing chess. After twenty minutes, the configuration of the game is totally… idiosyncratic, as you would say. One game is different from any other game. We dont label it a creation for that. Individually or collectively, our minds produce the same type of action as the individual card shuffler and the collective chess player of my examples here. But simply that action is mental rather than material.
GONSALVES: I hear you, cat. I hear you. But it’s terribly tough to admit.
PROCOPE: Just because it’s new. You’ll get used to it. What’s so tough to admit in this anyway?
GONSALVES: No creation, man. No freedom of will for that regurgitating mind of ours…. We are just like some drunk crooks shuffling cards. That is damn tough on the ego, brother. It’s like if we were denied a good part of the control on our intellectual and artistic activity. Barely humiliating.
PROCOPE: Well, Paul. When you perform your famous series of successive choruses. Would you dare to tell me that you fully control what blows out of your instrument?
GONSALVES: No, no. I wouldn’t dare to say that. Sometimes it seems to just happen. But isn’t that what creative inspiration is all about?
PROCOPE: Isn’t that rather the confirmation of the existence of what Spinoza called ignorance of the causes?
GONSALVES: Maybe. I am forced to admit that a huge amount of whatever artistry I may have the chance to possess is a major mystery to me. Maybe I am presumptuous to believe that I create anything. Maybe we all are. Agree with your shocking doctrine or not, it is a lesson of modesty you’re teaching me here my friend, And I owe to honesty to admit that I bitterly relate to it, when I think of what the Duke said of me when he hired me to join the boys in the line-up…
PROCOPE: What did he say again?
GONSALVES: He said, very genuinely and candidly, not to me directly, but to another cat, to Quentin… Quentin Jackson. And it is strictly forbidden to laugh… He said…
GONSALVES: This so-and-so sounds just like Ben…
PROCOPE: See. Forget your sadness for a minute, Paul. Stick to the piece of reasoning we are working on here. Ben Webster played just like others too, you know. His synthesis was simply more complex, less straightforward than yours or mine. So it looked superficially like creation to the bamboozled audiences, you and me included. That filiation between Ben and you is very accurate, good pal. You’re raising an excellent example of my point here.
GONSALVES: (sighs) Yeah… your point about the non-existence of any form of creation. Yes, I can partly understand that for individual activities. Nothing out of nothing, hey… And… But… Hey wait a minute. What about the creation of the universe?
PROCOPE: Oh, that mere nonsense…
PROCOPE: The universe was not created, Paul. How is that for a scoop?
GONSALVES: What? Impossible! Wow… Hey… What do you make of the classical argument claiming that any cause needs a previous cause to generate it, so we need an initial cause to all existence. For all the shebang to start, it takes some form of cosmological creation, doesn’t it?
PROCOPE: You’re serving me the so called law of the adequate cause, good fellow. Well, I know it’s tough, Paul, but let me give you another quote here. The law of the adequate cause applies only to pictures made by the human mind. In our logical pictures of the world everything must have its adequate cause. But the original, the universal cosmos, has no cause, it is its own cause and effect. To understand that all causes rest on the causeless is an important dialectic knowledge which first throws the requisite light on the law of the necessity of an adequate cause.
GONSALVES: Get out of here! Who is the dopey, this time?
PROCOPE: A modest German shoemaker, and amateur philosopher, by the colorful name of Joseph Dietzgen,
GONSALVES: Shoemaking philosophy… Very amateur indeed… I dont buy it… It’s absurd.
PROCOPE: Well, You’re the one who is being conservative now. If I may serve you what you served me earlier. You dont buy it, you call it absurd, just because it does not correspond to your preconceived ideas, and would force you to face newness. Now, Paul, do you want to…
GONSALVES: (monkeying PROCOPE). Do you want to understand my argument on this, or are you completely fanatic and conservative about… just about the creation of the whole goddam universe. Piece of cake. Gnagnagna. Go right ahead. Tell me.
PROCOPE: Well. First I want to tell you. You’re a real prince.
GONSALVES: Oh thanks.
PROCOPE: No sincerely, Paul. You’re a real open minded aristocrat.
GONSALVES: Oh its too much. The sonofabitch reminds me cruelly that I’m nothing other than Ben Webster’s copycat, and he calls me a prince. He is methodically destroying every single idea the simple existence of my own intellect is grounded on, and he calls me an aristocrat. What a sweet pie.
PROCOPE: No you are. You’re really empathic. You’re a real free-minded pal.
GONSALVES: So tell me.
PROCOPE: OK. Where did you get the idea of a created universe?
GONSALVES: Come on, cat. Its everywhere.
PROCOPE: Everywhere where?
GONSALVES: Well, for instance, at church they told us about the genesis. And so on and so forth.
PROCOPE: Yes. At church. Did you hear that argument in other contexts than the religious context.
GONSALVES: Well… Now that you’re asking me. Probably not… Cosmology does not pop out in the day-to-day conversation as commonly as, say, meteorology. Didn’t you ever notice, Mister genius?
PROCOPE: Somewhat… So, let’s suppose that the idea of a created universe is an heritage of the religious tradition, and let’s toss this one aside for a moment.
GONSALVES: If you wish. But I want you to know in advance that I do not believe in the creation of the universe only because the preacher said so, but also because it is logical to believe so.
PROCOPE: Fine, fine with me. But we agree to toss aside the religious tradition, genesis, world created in six days, break taken on the seventh day, and so on.
GONSALVES: Sure. Sure why not. It changes nothing to the problem, but sure. Let’s keep the Beardy Walker, Adam, Eve, the snake, and the apple for the kids at bedtime.
PROCOPE: Excellent idea. Now, are you sweet, generous, and a good empathic prince to the point of accepting to remove any notion of God, and of a supreme being of any form from the reflection also? Tossing it aside with the rest of the religious heritage? Do you allow God to stay out of the picture I will try to draw of the universe here?
GONSALVES: Yes. I accept that, for the purpose of the demonstration. And since I know I am the very generous prince I am, dont reiterate it, and please jump right in that picture itself. I’m waiting.
PROCOPE: Very good. A prosaic question about the universe for my excellent friend Prince Paul.
GONSALVES: I listen.
PROCOPE: Is the universe finite or infinite?
GONSALVES: Infinite of course. (Hesitates a moment) You will not challenge that, I hope.
PROCOPE: Not a minute. We totally agree here. The universe is with no limit in space. It unfolds in all directions endlessly.
GONSALVES: I am happy to see that we agreed on something so… cosmological, if I may dare to say. It gives me the hope that maybe our previous disagreements are not so huge after all. And certainly smaller than the infinite universal object of our agreement here…. Encouraging, to say the least…
PROCOPE: So since we admit that the universe is with no end in space, are we ready to admit that it’s also infinite in time. Namely, that it will last forever.
GONSALVES: I am totally comfortable with that.
PROCOPE: Now assuming that It will last forever, we apply the notion of infinity in time forward. I mean by that that the line of time going in the direction of the future is to unfold ad infinitum, i.e. forever.
PROCOPE: All I ask you here is to proceed in good logic, as you would say, and to apply that same notion of infinity in time backward.
GONSALVES: (jumping) You mean?
PROCOPE: The universe has no limit in space, no end in the future, and no beginning in the past…
GONSALVES: No… no… wait a minute here… I…
PROCOPE: (puts his instrument on his lap, and raises his two hands in the air) Sorry my friend, but logic is logic, and infinity is infinity. You can’t fool around with infinity. If you try to limit it, you loose it. The minute you admit the universe is infinite, you have to have it infinite on all its features and facets, meaning, at least: space and time; and also in all directions, meaning, unavoidably, as far as space is concerned: in the three dimensions equally; and as far as time is concerned: forward and backward. This means no end…
GONSALVES: Oh man…
PROCOPE: And no beginning.
GONSALVES: But how is it possible?
PROCOPE: The universe simply unfolds. A gigantic metamorphosing maelstrom… endlessly. No end, no start. And the only cause of the universe is the universe itself. It is self-causative, if I may say.
GONSALVES: (rubs his forefront with the palm of his hand) Oh man… just that…
PROCOPE: It’s tough, Paul. But it’s the only solution if you want to handle the infinity of the universe logically. The same way it has to be infinite in the three dimensions of space, it has to be infinite in the two directions of the line of time. It’s that, or scrap the infinity…
GONSALVES: Real tough. Merely mind-buggling.
PROCOPE: No beginning, no limit, no end, Only transformations. No destruction, and… no creation. Forget the preconceived ideas on that matter… Free yourself…. Think logically on the implication of being infinite all the way, and you’ll see it… Picture the universe as a mass rather than as a strip. As a swamp rather than as a road.
GONSALVES: A swamp indeed!… Oh Russell… But the concept of creation itself exists, cat. We created the word, and the notion. It must correspond to something.. If it is neither the composition of a short piece of music, nor the genesis of the whole universe, what the hell is it?
PROCOPE: A picture made by the human mind…
GONSALVES: Dietzgen. The German shoemaker, hey…
PROCOPE: Himself, in person. Think Paul. How many musicians do you believe my violin teacher managed to discourage in his long career?
GONSALVES: Oh quite a lot, I would say! But what does this have to do with the current issue?
PROCOPE: Well, why was my violin teacher such a talent choker? Mainly because he was speaking the truth. Any musician is nothing but a songster, did he dare to constantly say to his staring pupils. He dissipated a lot of illusions, and consequently broke a lot of dreamful talents.
GONSALVES: I can imagine that.
PROCOPE: Of course! Musicians, as all human beings, are little sidekicking prima donnas. They love to see what they crafted being valued, admired, respected, lionized, pedestaled.
GONSALVES: I can imagine that too.
PROCOPE: So, to admit that they are simply reshuffling the same old cards around the round table of existence, would shrink their ego to the side of the one of a laborious ant. Lots of them would let their instrument in the case, if that idea of the non existence of creation was only to really sink in. The legend of creation and creativity is far more encouraging, inspiring, fluffing, buzzing… Think also about the powers. Primitive powers, priests, tribe chiefs, leaders of all sorts. And modern leaders as well. Politicians, teachers, factory bosses, chaplains…
GONSALVES: Orchestra directors…
PROCOPE: There you go. They all need their troops and followers to believe in them. To believe that they incarnate the breakthrough of a new truth. That they create something.
PROCOPE: So the human mind wraps up, simplifies, eases things up, and gives itself the short-sighted notion of creation. The human mind skips the burden of understanding its own activity, while performing it. It can’t do everything at the same time, you see. So, it crafts itself a handy fetish, and nails it everywhere on the walls of its obscure workshop. Creation, creation, creation. There is no lie or slyness in this, Paul. Everybody is sincere here. Sincere and sincerely misguided.
GONSALVES: We create creation in a sense. In order to cope, and for all the other minds to bare with that global mystery.
PROCOPE: There you go, cat. They created creation, man. But other than that…
(Duke Ellington enters on stage. The complete orchestra stands up, ready to play. Applause)
GONSALVES (covered by the noise of the applause): But hey… you screwed up somewhere, my friend. If de nihilo nihil, how can we end up with an uncreated universes? (places the mouthpiece of his instrument in his mouth, staring at his alter ego).
PROCOPE: Its a major contradiction, but nevertheless its a fact. That’s what Dietzgen meant when he spoke of an important dialectic knowledge… (places the mouthpiece of his instrument in his mouth. The applause fades out. The line up starts to play slowly, and very low. Pure ellingtonian languor).
ELLINGTON: (while the band is playing in background) Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’re very hip, and we love you madly. We would first like to introduce, in world exclusivity tonight, our most recent creation…
The picture from the GOODYEAR JAZZ CONCERT mentioned in the epigram, on which both Paul GONSALVES and Russel PROCOPE are present but obscured, can be seen and meditated upon in a voluminous commented filmography of Duke ELLINGTON published in Denmark at the beginning of the nineties of the previous century. The enlightening photographic document is on page 454.
Stratemann, K. (1992), Duke ELLINGTON day by day and film by film, Copenhagen, JazzMedia ApS, 781p. – ISBN 87-88043-34-7.
Russell PROCOPE quotes SPINOZA in the 1883 Bohn edition, reprinted three years before his current gig. His quote on the illusion of freedom is on pages 108 and 109.
Spinoza, B. de (1955), On the Improvement of the Understanding – The Ethics – Correspondence, New York, Dover Publications, 420p. – ISBN 0-486-20250-X – initially published in 1677, English edition of 1883.
He quotes Dietzgen from the original 1906 edition. The quote on the universal cosmos with no cause is on page 391.
Dietzgen, J. (1906), The Positive Outcome of Philosophy, Chicago, Charles H. Kerr & Company, 444p.
The quote from Duke Ellington: This so-and-so sounds just like Ben is veracious. It is reported by Paul GONSALVES himself, in a 1961 interview realized and edited by the eminent British historian of jazz Stanley DANCE. The quote is on pages 171.
Dance, S. (1970), The world of Duke Ellington, New York, Da Capo Press, 311p. – ISBN 0-306-80136-1 – initially published in 1970, reprint.