Jim loved duets. He felt they heightened the capacity to listen like no other form in music. Listening to each other is what we do in psychoanalytic work and what we could do more of in our every day lives. Listening to people with whom we disagree is difficult but if done in a calm and thoughtful way, it adds to our understanding. We are all capable of fighting and arguing but cultivating a listening stance is, in the long run, potentially growth promoting. I have found that listening to another point of view thoughtfully actually effects the other in subtle but definite ways. If you listen calmly to a person with whom you disagree the bluster and exaggeration diminishes and reasonable dialogue becomes possible. The person being listened to starts to hear him/herself and tones down the rhetoric, whereas challenging an idea before listening to it increases the adversarial tone. Try replacing antagonism with curiosity and see what happens. Some interesting music will be made.
Count Basie and Oscar Peterson were having fun here – fun based on mutual respect. Count Basie looks up to Peterson who could play circles around him – but that idealization has no place here as they play together. A mellow camaraderie comes through – at least for me. In fact the most beautiful thing about duets is the expression of the love that musicians feel for each other.
In these next two recordings you can see how the best of singers also know how to listen and improvise, and we can appreciate the special feeling they have for each other. First, Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, then Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Ella and Louis did a whole album of duets but this is not one of them. I chose Summertime because you can hear them listening to each other giving the song all it’s due.
These duet recordings feature Jim with a variety of musical partners. In this first tune, the section from 4:48 to about 6:40 so beautifully illustrates what listening can produce. And in live performances it is even more intense. This is true improvisation – no rehearsal – no planning – no retakes – just conversation.
In Romain, the next selection, the melody is stated by each partner after which they accompany each other. That support leads to sharing ideas with the confidence that support allows.
Jim’s kindness and empathy grabbed me the first time I met him. I hear others talk about his generosity, kindness, attitude about growing, sense of humor and play, and his deep concern about the world – and I can only agree. I have never known anyone like Jim and I was blessed to share life with him for 50 years. Sometimes our road got bumpy but we had good enough shock absorbers. He was as close to being an angel as one gets. Remembering him and listening to music we loved helps me grapple with today’s world. I’m glad he doesn’t have to see the violence and vitriol that has grown since he left. Jim was a peace loving man and I hope his legacy along with that of his peers can remind us of better times and maybe even inspire us to communicate more like musicians. Here is a glimpse of his life.