Playing the saxophone became an official addiction in 2013.
I say “official” because I had attempted learning to play a year earlier and had even bought a beginner’s sax, but something wasn’t quite right and I stopped.
A year later I decided to give it another go and thanks to the almighty Google, the Greek Fates and the spirit of Charlie Parker – I found the amazing Yakira Levi.
After 10 minutes into our first lesson I knew I had found what I was looking for and that from that point on I would be forever addicted to the sound of air kissing metal and wood.
You see, I never get addicted just to the thrill of a new skill. The critical ingredient in this potent potion is finding the right master to teach me. Yakira was kind, warm, patient, modest, flexible and outrageously talented. I was indeed a very lucky addict.
My journey began with gradually overcoming my musical illiteracy.
Step by step, note by note, phrase by phrase, song by song – my brain got used to deciphering the symbols and sending the necessary signals to my fingers, lips, tongue and lungs, in order to achieve the right sound at the right time.
Once I gained enough confidence I asked Yakira to teach me how to improvise. I was impatient. It had been a life-long fantasy of mine.
In my imagination, I saw myself playing a gig with my small jazz band (item #5 on my to-get-addicted-to before 40 list) and then suddenly bursting into an improvisation with tremendous speed, freedom and passion.
“What you, as a spectator, usually perceive as a musician on the loose with his instrument, with no discipline or strucure, is not entirely true" explained Yakira with sparkling eyes. "Musicians define their personal ballance between "going with the flow" and between making conscious calculated choices that rely on a set of "rules".
“I really like the notion of being sometimes structured sometimes free at the same time. How can I apply this in practice?"
She took a pencil and wrote down a list of notes based on the piece we were practicing. “During this part of the song, try playing all of these six notes in any manner you choose, but no matter what you do – don’t play these other two notes”. I looked at her with suspicious curiosity and gave it a go.
What happened next was amazing. My brain was telling me to stay within the confinements of the “kosher” notes I had been given and my ears were suddenly hearing something new and fresh – my first improvisation.
"Great. Now let's do this again but now allow yourself some more degrees of freedom and from time to time touch upon those "forbidden" notes". I did as instructed and low and behold another improvisation was created with a dramatically different "personality".
Despite many other ways to improvise I learned since that first expeirence, this "bi-polar" technique is still one of my favorites because of the play between ignoring the rules and embracing them, between breaking free of the shackles of notes and melody and between using the mathematic algorithms of sound and harmony to chose every note I play.
Perhaps this "split personality" is why I adore artists such as Billie Holiday because of their unique abiltiy to navigate between these two polls with so much power and emotion.