Kitty’s husband Alfonso Montuori is himself an accomplished musician who is on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He is a noted writer and researcher who has thought deeply about the issues of creativity, what it is and how it works.
“That notion of the genius that doesn’t have to work to attain his brilliance is part of the old Romantic ideal,” Alfonso says. “You didn’t have to have learning. The genius needn’t practice. It was a gift from God.”
“But that is not the case,” Kitty notes. “Ever.”
“I agree," Alfonso says, "The trouble, though, is that the artists themselves often buy into that idea, and if you say that that’s the case, it sounds...”
“Sexier.” Kitty smiles.
“Right. It makes you more marketable.”
It’s true, of course, that someone can work for years and never achieve the kind of creative flowering that others achieve. There has to be a gift somewhere.
“But even in the case of someone with a great gift,” Alfonso continues. “Like Charlie Parker himself. He listened to, learned, and practiced solos by his saxophone forefather Lester Young in order to teach himself how to play. It didn’t just come to him.”
We spoke for a while about Miles Davis and the radical change he made in his music in the early 1970’s. As explorations of the unintended moment go — of disequilibrium — this was surely one of the most memorable.
In the 1950s and 60s Miles and the other jazz musicians were appearing in dark suits, white shirts and thin black ties, Miles himself was playing music that was so cool in tone, so spare, and tasteful that he’d made it almost the very language of jazz itself at the time.
But in the 70s, he began coming out on stage dressed in mad psychedelic colors, in the manner of Sly Stone, or the great Jimi Hendrix. Huge blue sunglasses. Sequined capes. Red velvet pants. No shirt at all, his boxer’s body slim and muscled. A woven vest from some grand bazaar in Turkey. His horn. His attitude.
And the music he played sounded, at least to me, retrograde, a pandering to rock and roll.
I saw him at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1971, and I did not understand what he was doing. Occasional appearances on stage, his back to the audience. Several notes, a few squawks from the trumpet. Several silences. And then an abandonment of the stage. It all seemed so dismissive then, so arrogant.