Exercise 1 Donna Lee

Johan Jutterström

Time seems intrinsic to forgetting. Time is also intrinsic to music. Can musical time be used to affect or induce forgetting? This exercise is aimed at investigating whether playing in slow musical time affects the memory of the music.

In an attempt at playing forgetfulness I felt that I needed to somehow circumvent the memories that my hands have retained during many years of practicing the saxophone. My memory as a musician seemed to work in phrases not in isolated notes. When playing the C major scale, for example, I am thinking of the scale, a direction, a tempo, a dynamic, etc. I am not thinking of the individual notes that make up the scale: C, D, E, F, etc. If asked to recite the C major scale tone by tone I would be able to do so because it is known to me as something that is music theory and music practice. Naturally this could be said about most - if not all - things music. But it is not true for me as a musician. Some things I know more as theoretical matter and some things I know more as practical.
I know Charlie Parker’s tune Donna Lee by heart. It is based on the jazz standard (Back home again in) Indiana by James F. Hanley and is one of the more commonly known and played bebop standards. In trying to circumvent the memories of my hands; to attempt more tangibly playing forgetfulness, I attempted to dissect Donna Lee tone by tone. I played it first in 200bpm - which is close to the tempo that I’ve heard it performed by Charlie Parker - and then again in 20bpm. When no longer able to rely on my hands knowing - or remembering - the exact notes of a phrase I was left clueless of how to proceed. The tempo was challenging in its own right, but more than just having trouble placing an eight note triplet in a slow tempo I was lost for what tone followed after the three first.

In contemporary civilization where everything is standardized and where everything is repeated, the whole point is to forget in the space between an object and its duplication. If we didn't have this power of forgetfulness, if art today didn't help us to forget, we would be submerged, drowned under those avalanches of rigorously identical objects (For the Birds, 1981).  -John Cage