Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Skiing & Jazz: Two Ways to the Same Mountain

I have recently returned from a trip out West skiing in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah's Park City area. This has become a ritual of sorts with me, as I find the break from my everyday activities of construction and writing about jazz as a necessary elixir for rejuvenating my spirit. I took this trip with my best bud, or more correctly my psychic brother, whom I have known for over thirty years and it was a new experience for both him and me. Although I had been there several times before, with various partners and friends,it was his first time skiing west of the Mississippi. He had been looking forward to the experience of "western" skiing for nearly a decade. Despite the lack of fresh snow or even a dusting of powder I reveled in his enthusiasm and excitement.(It is not hard to see the raw evidence of global warming with each passing day. I really don't understand the deniers, but that it for another post.) As male brothers/friends often do, we pushed ourselves to our physical limits, often silently wondering who would give in first. Heavy doses of Advil and knee braces have now become essential items in our supplies. Over the years, we have found this formula of organizing little physical challenges for ourselves to be both entertaining and enormously rewarding. We have hiked several peaks and skied several mountains and want to include some kayaking and mountain biking into our future plans. We do all this in a concerted effort to not let life pass us by without establishing physical goals and meeting the challenge those goals present. I believe this has kept us both young in body and spirit and will continue to do so for as long as we both are able. We skied for the full five days and made our way to each of the three mountain tops that the resort had to offer-Park City, Deer Valley and The Canyons.

I have always been drawn to the mountains. The peaceful calm that one experiences at the tops of these stairways to the heavens is a feeling almost like no other. This time, I realized that this evokes a similar feeling to the one that I get when a really wonderfully, expressive piece of music is played by a heartfelt and talented musician. A musician that abandons his own ego and technique, relinquishing himself to the spirit that flows through all of us. This expressiveness, this tap into the ether that psychically binds us, is not the exclusive territory of jazz music. But for me, jazz, is the genre that I find most open to this kind of spiritual expression.

Skiing or hiking on a mountain top produces the same euphoric highs that really listening to a passage of a Coltrane or Evans or Brecker or Sanders or Monk or Shorter or Dolphy piece of music does to me. Maybe I make too much of this, but there is an inescapable linkage here that I cannot shake. This spiritual connection comes for some through the physical challenge, the communion with nature; for others it comes through interaction with other people and the joy we feel from those we love or those we help; and for a few of us it is attained through the musical explorations of others, the aural prophets, that lead us to that special place inside us all. When all is said and done we are all connected.


  1. Brother Ram,
    It was a great experience and the additional days I tagged on at Killington has just worn me out. Last week gave me some time to recharge. I'll be heading out for the Bump Fest this weekend as my batteries are charged and I'm ready to go.

  2. I grew up in Vermont, and the best moments in skiing for me are solo moments - clear air, the sound of my skis on snow, the feeling that it is me in harmony with the mountain.

    My favorite moments in jazz, by contrast, are shared moments of surprise and euphoria that come from connecting with other people (band members and audience members) through music.

    I agree with you, though - both are a rush!