An Interview with Charles McPherson Part 2

Date Posted: June 21, 2018

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Do you have any memorable performances?

They’re rare. Like where everything is this magic zone? It’s rare. There is such a thing as that and not in some expected places. That can be at some little ol’ joint in Gary, Indiana, where all the magic was there. It doesn’t have to be with a bunch of great musicians.

I can remember there’ve been times where it’s happenin’ – that’s the magic. As a performer, that zone we’re talking about, that zone, is basically the psychological frame of mind. It has nothing to do with technique and how much you practice – there’s something else there. The best I can describe it is there’s a level… It’s got something to do with the frame of mind. There’s a certain frame of mind that if you’re playing from that frame of mind, it plays itself. And you just let it happen. And maybe just watch it as if you’re over here, watching it happen. That’s a great level right there. It’s an act of “non-doing,” it’s not an aggressive act. When I say that I mean the mind is in a state of humility. It’s not in a state of pro-active. It happens because you’re open.

I’m talking about a certain level of creation of playing music where you’re tapping what’s already there. I don’t know how much you guys know of psychology. Have you ever heard of Carl Gustav Jung? Carl Jung is like the next guy after Sigmund Freud. The next big guy with a concept. Carl Jung is newer but he had a thing where he called it the collective unconscious. His thing was that all human beings are connected - their subconscious is connected to each other. This is a human thing. Not the conscious mind – the subconscious of everybody is connected! He called that the collective unconscious – that part of the mind.

What he’s saying is all of the knowledge of the whole universe is already out there. When somebody like Einstein comes up with the theory of relativity, it’s nothing he made up. The information is there. All of the information that there is in the universe is there already and you can discover something, but what are you doing? You’re discovering natural law. You’re not making the law, it’s already there.

This area of collective unconscious is out there, the same as the electromagnetic field, short wave radio is operating on that. They’re not plugged in. They’re operating on that. When we look at TV, we’re looking at the signals from the electromagnetic translated into signals on the TV. It’s there already. Carl Jungis saying that all the geniuses of the world: Davinci, Tesla, all these people really on some level are tapping that. This is where they’re getting it from. And for some reason they’re plugged into it, either because it’s natural or they learned it, but it’s there. When they get these great discoveries, it has nothing to do with their conscious life. It’s already there and they’ve tapped into it.

When you’ve got great music like Bach, Nickel, and Tesla, Davinci. It doesn’t make any difference. They’re tapping into the same thing. The universal knowledge is there. Some kind of way to how their brain is working and is receiving it. So this is what I mean by when the player is playing, there’s a zone that they can get in if they tap that in some kind of way. That electronic, whatever it is, is actually going through. This is when they get it. And all technique does is enable you to be able to take the dictation. That’s it!

How many times has that happened through me? Three or four times in my life. There it is. And then maybe people who have that more, that’s what separates us them from being like everybody else.

"I love what I do and I’m going to find a way to do it." - Charles McPherson

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?

Reaching that zone. I love what I do and I’m going to find a way to do it. I’m going to try to be a nice guy but I’m still going to find a way to do it again. The only thing I can do is do what I do, which is definitely a selfish endeavor. But if one person likes it and I make them feel good, then I feel like this is what I’ve given, cause I ain’t going to give nothing else. If I play a room and I see people leave the club and they seem to be uplifted and it was an enjoyable experience, that makes me feel good. Other than that, I’m doing it because I’m looking to reach that zone that we’re talking about. That right there is a wonderful thing.

I have a way of looking, it might be a way of feeling important, but when I think of music, I think of it deeper than minor7th Lydian dominant or playing some tune for some guy at the bar. I think that I’m taking part in the creative process. It’s a high-level of creating. You’re creating a frequency. You really get to the science of it. Music: the whole thing is frequency. The whole thing is matter itself is just frequencies. So A = 440 on the piano. We call it "A" but what it really is is 440 of these guys *motions with his hand a sine wave* per second. And "D" is something else and "F" is something else. When you play a note and you’re playing a combination of rhythm and phrases, notes and chords. Guess what you’re doing? You’re manipulating frequencies.

So how is it affecting humans? If you look at it scientifically there’s a lot of stuff going on. Everything we are is a big game of electricity. The brain is translating electronic signals into what we call thought, feeling, but that’s all it is. For me to think the thought of I want coffee is an electrical reality. So it’s all a big game of that. When you play music it is that.

This is why people like Pythagoras, the guy who came up with the overtone system, they already know this stuff. That’s why he cam up with it, because it’s not like he made it up – is that it’s just in nature. The thing you hear about the golden mean, it’s in nature. It’s a spiral – it’s there already!

Here’s the deal. In terms of what we’re doing, you’ve got craft and then you have art. Now, in terms all you can do is get the technique – that’s the physics. You get the technique which is craft. After that the rest of it is that stuff up there. Inspiration has got something to do with it. It has nothing to do with craft. But now when you wear technique with inspiration – that’s it. That’s an unbeatable combination. That’s the left brain, the right brain. Technique is holding the hand of inspiration. So for me, I want to do that. Now unfortunately, people don’t give a damn about none of that. It has nothing to do with money and dollars and the rent.

Now in terms of these reeds, and mouthpieces and stuff, what I would want out of a mouthpiece is whatever that can be an extension of your voice for me. Is it physically because it’s just a piece of frozen physics, can I make do what I want to do without nothing about it being in the way?

For me, music in all this stuff is the same. I don’t separate it. It’s all part of the same game. It’s a cosmic game. First of all, what the hell is conscious? What is I’m consciousness. Because you can take everything we are. We’re only so much – carbon based. You can put everything we are in this cup: So much nickel, so much iron, copper, you can put all that in there and then stir all that up and you’re not going to get out a consciousness. You’re not going to get an Ego: I think, I am, so what is that and where does that come from? This is the kind of stuff I think about.

Anyway, so you end up not knowing because it’s the brain studying the brain. You can’t study it. We can’t get outside of it because we’re in it. How’s the brain going to study the brain?

Music is great and I think it’s a beautiful art. It’s one of the few things that humans do that’s not destructive. Of all the things that human beings do, art is probably the highest level. What else is there? So that’s a high endeaveor, as a creature. Part of this cosmological slew, in terms of, music is really a higher art as far as I’m concerned. That’s how I feel about it.

Do you do much teaching in the San Diego area?

I have private students. I’ve learned how to teach. There’s a trick to knowing how to give information. I know with students, if you lose them, their attention spans are short. There are two things: You have to be a master at metaphor and analogy. When you have information that you’ve gotta give to somebody who doesn’t know as much of you, a bunch of technical language is not going to do it. So you have to know how to give it in metaphor and analogy to make the point. You have to be able to do it in 10 words or less because you lose them. I learned how to do that. Also, there are different methods of teaching.

I had a student, to make a long story short, turning out having Aspergers. He’s 14-years old and when he first started studying with me the very first lesson, he comes in with his father and doesn’t look at me. He just comes in the house, no eye-contact. He just walked straight back. So I’ll let that slide and I gave him a lesson and I could see. And then the second lesson the same thing and then this time, I wanted to talk to his father. So he went to the car, the father stayed in the house and I basically said, ‘OK, what’s wrong with your boy?’ I just said that delicately. I asked is he on meds or what’s going on? There’s something, first of all, he doesn’t look at me, he doesn't speak, he just heads straight for the room. The father said “no, he’s just shy.” And then a couple of weeks later he said, “You know you’re right. We had him tested and he’s got Aspergers.” I said I knew something wasn’t going right.

So what I did was go online, typed in Aspergers, and you’ve got all this stuff that comes up that you can read about. I read a lot. Because I wanted to know how do you teach this guy? Because I could tell he could not receive information the same way as some other people. Something’s different. And sure enough, it is different. They don’t process information the same way. You can’t teach them the same way. So I learned how to reach him and it’s not by some kind of structure, ie. You must do it this way. You really have to lead by example because the guy’s brilliant. He’s not stupid. There’s nothing wrong with his analytical mind or linear thing here. I just did by example and man, this guy just took off. He sounds like Charlie Parker.

I learned something about how to teach people. People learn differently and you have to know that.

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