Skip the last head.

One of the tunes I’ve been using a bunch this month is “Bijou”, by the new jazz collective James Farm.  (You can hear it at the front of their site)  I’ve seen the band twice, most recently last month at the Newport Jazz Festival (and members of the band many times before that).  I like both the concept- a young band trying to meld a jazz sensibility with the pop music they, and they hope their potential audiences, like a lot.  There are traces of many jazz legends, and also clearly Radiohead and Sly Stone and the likes of Feist. This tune is a loping waltz, sort of a more harmonically sophisticated version of what you’d hear at the end of a Saturday Night Live episode.  But what I like most about the tune is the way it ends; it is the convention in jazz even today to play the theme (the “head”) at the beginning and the end of the tune.  Here the saxophone solo touches on the melody at the end of his solo, but the pianist plays another half chorus, ending with a solo/coda.  To me, it makes the tune more conversational and less formal, keeping with the aesthetic of the band.

Now, unless you’re a jazz nerd like me this doesn’t seem like a particularly big deal, and maybe it isn’t.   But it was one of the few tunes I heard at Newport that bucked this particular convention.  Which made it feel like a big deal.  Which got me to thinking…

Like a jazz tune, your typical yoga class (or practice, or meditation sit, or…) has a “form”, with some more stringent than others. And it’s easy to start to mistake what is basically an arbitrary form for a holy grail, a touchstone without which one’s practice is a failure, or a class is woefully inadequate.  Even in performance of the most storied warhorses of classical music, every night the performance will be different- the tempo a little slower, one note held a little more.  Why should a yoga practice be any different?

This is why I teach the way I teach- with no one set plan or sequence, with the hope that students personalize their practice intelligently.  This is how I try to practice.  Sometimes it’s good to skip the last head.  The world won’t collapse, the tune will still sound okay.


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