Writings about Music

Piano Improvisation Series

With Open Mind

Michael Robinson and Lee Konitz at an Indian restaurant in Manhattan

Jazz risked becoming academic after entering academia by promoting uniform emulations of past styles modern and avant-garde. What I am developing is a personal style of jazz not everyone will accept or understand, but I hope you will listen with open mind. My musical inspiration and innovations originate both from giants and pursuing that which attracts me.

After beginning my jazz odyssey with solo piano recordings, I recently moved to duet recordings with tabla player Anindo Chatterjee and drummer Eliot Zigmund, all very fortunate being a great admirer of their individual styles.

Bill Evans said he preferred solo playing above all. Myself, I enjoy having a variety of possible options, now thinking about Latin, Middle Eastern and African percussionists to record duets with as well, adding to my beginnings, not to mention other equally entrancing drumming traditions.

Michael Robinson in the Music Room of Lee Konitz where they once played duets.

I like to think Lee Konitz is smiling down, how I began duet recordings with All the Things You Are, an epic jazz standard Lee and I often discussed. Charlie Parker renamed the song Angel Glow from his favorite poetic phrase.

When you're really in touch with your source you may improvise on anything, as Bird proved with White Christmas done Hasya Rasa style.

Commenting on my meruvina recording of Dazzling Darkness, Carla Crow wrote: "It sounds like the soundtrack for "empty" mind. Rather than evoke images, it stirs the stillness rather than thoughts. The music lingers in space after it finishes playing."

Perhaps empty mind is better than open mind, suggesting an even opener state of being and perception uncompromised by expectations.

And mentioning the meruvina, you may recall how my meruvina music is a vision of jazz, the direction I felt like going in with jazz from the precipice of the Interstellar Space album by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali.

I just never imagined I would begin playing yet another interpretation of jazz on the piano, jazz having become the true classical music of the Western world beginning in the 1940s, of course.

Upon hearing I was recording jazz improvisations, a dear friend responded: "Jazz - wow - careful Michael - you're moving dangerously close to mainstream!" I replied: "Rest assured, I couldn't believe it myself, but I found a new way of playing jazz..."

I thought about avoiding the word "jazz", simply referring to what I do at the piano as improvisation, and I'm fine with that term, too, but then I realized jazz is something I inherited from my teacher and friend, Lee Konitz, one of the principal architects of modern jazz, not to mention how during our last talk he inexplicably urged me to being playing jazz in addition to my meruvina composing, including saying, "Don't you want to wail?"

Well, I do wail with the meruvina, but piano improvisation is way cool, too, I've learned, so good to be playing, yes, jazz, in real time, as Lee suggested, as well as composing.

The Gershwin brothers song title, "They Can't Take That Away From Me," plus adjusting the last word, "You Can't Take That Away From Us," referencing the larger picture, comes to mind in regard to jazz being given its correct due, understanding, and inherent evolutionary properties, creative minds drawing freely from all conscious and subconscious experience yielding new inventions and alloys.

- Michael Robinson, February 2023, Los Angels


© 2023 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Please note that new essays are often added to and edited for up to 72 hours after being published, so you are invited to revisit here.


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 198 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.