Jim Hall with Bill Evans
Jim Hall with Bill Evans

“Don’t just play something, sit there”… Jim Hall’s Jazz Koan.

Following on from Lennie’s advice re hipness and non-action, thank you to my friend (guitarist) Jason Broadbent for Jim Hall’s counsel “Don’t just play something, sit there”! On further research those close to Jim Hall suggest he actually said “don’t just do something, sit there” but the point is the same.

The more I practice, the more I teach and the older I get, the more I am struck by the parallels implicit in improvisation, expressive and functional use of language and the various approaches to mindfulness (across the traditions, secular or Buddhist mindfulness, Yoga, Martial Arts, Contemplative spiritual practice and so on). How often do improvisors chase and crave a successful outcome, attach to detail or over-identify with musical energy or self-expression? Our projection and desire are so far away from the flow-state that we claim to seek, confusing it for fantasy of technical or musical perfection. Jazz improvisors are so well resourced with the concrete resources of repertoire, musical materials, transcriptions and recordings as well as hundreds of educational courses, but the need now is surely for deeper understanding of the process of improvising and less a fixation on acquisition.

I recall my first day teaching at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama over thirty years ago, hearing a BBC Radio 4 documentary about creativity and the importance of “entertaining opposites”. At that time I was reading “Zen and the Art of Archery” where non-effort is central to presence and practice, attention more valuable that effort. There is much to be considered in this domain and more to follow. In the meantime, “don’t just play something, sit there!” Thank you Jim…

Check out some Jim Hall here:
With Bill Evans… www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp721ibSHqA
With Joe Lovano… www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ToFwkEBXKU

“The hippest thing you can do is not play at all. Just listen!”  Lennie Tristano…6a00e008dca1f0883401b7c78a290c970b-500wi

Sage advice to all improvisors, myself included.

This reinforces the view that the practice of improvising is so close to that of mindfulness/presence and attention. Regardless of our private and personal views regarding religion and faith traditions, our musical practice offers a means to balance our mind, creating mental wellbeing as well as enabling us to access an open attention close to a flow state. Find out more about Lennie Tristano at www.lennietristano.com and here at https://simonpurcell.com/practicing.

C.G.Jung mistrusted “the crowd”.


The great British public’s vote is ample evidence of why Jung was spot on. Notwithstanding the reasoned views of a small minority of leave campaigners, the process of referendum has paradoxically undermined democracy and afforded a dangerous victory to the baying crowd of hateful, latent xenophobes. Thank goodness there is no referendum planned for abortion or capital punishment… yet.

This is what he said:
“A group experience takes place on a lower level of consciousness than the experience of an individual. This is due to the fact that, when many people gather together to share one common emotion, the total psyche emerging from the group is below the level of the individual psyche. If it is a very large group, the collective psyche will be more like the psyche of an animal, which is the reason why the ethical attitude of large organizations is always doubtful. The psychology of a large crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology. If, therefore, I have a so-called collective experience as a member of a group, it takes place on a lower level of consciousness than if I had the experience by myself alone.”

Thank you Liam Noble for alerting me to this video…

Consider the notion of embracing difference in learners, an absence of comparison and the centrality of experience.
Krishnamurti’s profound philosophy of education is in direct opposition to the current industrial model of education than not only works against differences in learners/people but has also systematically removed the philosophical aspect of the training of teachers themselves. Teachers used to be educated themselves to integrate a values such as “difference” within every lesson plan, programme of work and curriculum.Today they no longer have time to devise child/student-centred curricula and are instead shackled to the sick paradigm in the name of so-called quality and accountability. Krishnamurti is a voice in the wilderness but a reminder of the true purpose of education.

The American educational philosopher John Dewey wrote in the early 20th century that “self-realisation is the goal” of education, “creating desire for continued growth”, not the mere acquisition of knowledge and information. This used to be central to teacher-education but chillingly these values have been and continue to be unpopular with government officials, including the highly influential Chris Woodhead (Chief Inspector of Schools in England from 1994 until 2000) who advised that “the words of John Dewey ought to be banned from all teacher-training institutions” (Daily Telegraph, 25 April 1999). Sadly, Head Teachers, Curriculum Designers and teachers themselves are generally corralled into compliance while at the same time the general educational culture is vulgarised by low-level and inexpert discourse in the press and even parents and learners themselves forget the authentic purpose of education and its and humane philosophical themes.

Education, from the latin Educare – to draw out that which lies within.

A choir can literally harmonise our intentions towards celebration, advocacy, affirmation, admission, wonder, hope, grief and ultimately togetherness. It is not only the fact of being together (standing together definitely helps) but the added and magic ingredient of music, of sound and rhythm that seduces us to a state of non-ego where our selfish impulses are appeased in favour of a more thrilling and all-consuming goodness, as all participate in a wilfull manifestation of beauty. This is a collective choice for good!

Hunger for collective expression, intimacy, empathy and healing appears to be possible through singing together. If only more people would sing together, for when we sing, there is always Peace!

Perhaps these two clips below are about collective humanity (thank you to Cleveland and Niall):