Advice For Jazz Students #14: N is for numbers

Fake news means you can’t trust anyone, especially not experts, who are in it for themselves and represent a conspiracy against the rights of the ignorant. Numbers, perhaps, are the one remaining fact of life.

(Pure Maths People dont @ me. We don’t trust you either.)

Numbers are the ultimate immovable experts, like statues in your living room. A series of chords like a II V I progression simply is. It makes a sound and it is meaningful because it outlines a tonal centre. Write that down. That sound is a fact.

And so these chords are like pieces of driftwood, clung to in a storm. They will save you. Sometimes, though, it’s good to fight the urge to paddle furiously, to notice instead the design, the shape. The possibilities. That driftwood was once part of a bigger boat, beautifully made.

I prefer that numbers be made fallible, with movement, a certain play in the measurements. Let them breathe.

A certain type of superhuman can learn impossibly long chains of digits by attaching meaning to them, meanings combined like Lego bricks into their walk home, the view from their window, the order and number of memory competitions they have entered etc. For some, numbers are themselves a thing of beauty. I don’t know whether to envy these people or not. I am certainly in awe.

I’m on, though, the fence (again). Sometimes I hear chord progressions and all I can see are the wheels, the pulleys that make the angels fly across the stage of a small budget nativity. Other days, I am happy to watch flying humanoids as a plot device because why not? Its all real but it is also magic, sleight of hand.

Even numbers are not above criticism. And this might make them more, not less, interesting. Maybe not statues, but rather precious stones that reflect light in unpredictable patterns. It’s raining where you are and sunny here.

Numbers are beautiful, but sometimes you wake up in the morning and the view isn’t what it was. They are like people, they will sometimes help you out of a dead end, but equally often, drive you purposefully there.

They are like people. But it’s only us who say they are experts. Numbers have at least some modesty.