CONFESSIONS OF A CHARTAHOLIC

By LUIS CHACÓN

I have a confession to make: my name is Luis, and I am a “chartaholic”. I depend on charts to play music. I know that it is a shame for a musician that is trying to play jazz, but this is my personal and pathetic truth. And I need to acknowledge it before I try to heal it. My guilt is enormous, gigantic. My shame, bigger than me. I used to walk into the jam sessions sliding like a snake, with my soprano in one hand and my iPad in the other. Yes, my iPad!, my sin!!, the place where all my charts are stored!

It all started when I was a musically illiterate kid in the fascist Spain of the early sixties. You know? Those guys killed people, killed culture and killed education. Spain was a wasteland and we didn’t know it.

One day, visiting uncle Arturo, there was a piano and, by I don’t know what sort of accident, I got interested on it, managed to make some sort of sense of the keyboard to come up with some poor one-finger melodies. My father caught me on that suspicious activity and, instead of punishing me, he sent me to the Conservatory (for some weird reason we had one on the middle of the dictatorship, something to do with the education of the aristocracy, I believe).

And that was the beginning of the end. By then, I was playing a bit of recorder and a bit of guitar, all by ear and self-taught (not in the school, off course, there we hadn’t such weird subjects). And I could even sing in tune! But then came literacy to fuck it up. You want to know what was my first and biggest sin? I’ll tell you: to believe the teachers that told me that the music was that weird written thing on the paper. Since then, I made a terrible effort to forget my ears and my instinct, put on the corset of sol-fa and start musically dying slowly for the rest of my life.

Now I am a literate, sol-fa-ed, fat-ass, white man, trembling in front of a music stand, trying to make sense of charts, while I fight back my instincts, my ear and whatever debris of talent that may have survived my education. Pathetic, I tell you.

But I also have some good news (top secret this one): I have learned to let my intuition fly over the charts up to the point that most of the time, when I improvise, I feel like that illiterate kid and play by ear. Don’t tell anyone in the Conservatory, please. To my Conservatory friends I talk about scales, modes, the 9th, the 11th, the 13th, chord substitutions and all that bullshit that I don’t really understand.

And also have another confession: that kind of childish behaviour is not of any comfort for my chartaholic personality. I know, it’s sad. Because, even though I improvise mostly by ear, I can’t get rid of my charts. You take my iPad, and is like putting a chart to a guitar player: I become silent (my apologies, Fermín and fellow guitarists, this is just a friendly bad saxophonist joke).

And this is happening to me in a world where everybody knows that the “real thing” is what sounds, and that the written chart is only a kind of map of the territory, but not the territory! And I know that as well; but can’t help it – I’m a chartaholic, I need my charts, I need my iPad. That is my personal fate.

But, wait a second, you know what? I still blame fascism for my “chartaholism”.

L Chacon

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