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“Boxing and Jazz” By Matthew Shipp

By Matthew Shipp

(Note: This piece originally appeared in the Sports Edition of CAKE magazine, Minneapolis USA)

A kinetic chess game – signals being translated at the speed of light – what is the essence of jazz and what is the essence of the killer instinct as defined in boxing? A text of the manipulation of signals in a dance of gestures, can both boxing and jazz be seen as a dance? Is there any connection in the dialogue of two improvisers on say sax and piano and the dialogue of two men defining themselves through a repertoire of jabs and uppercuts through each others flesh – the combination of grace, intelligence and cunning that both disciplines require if one contends to succeed.

Like free jazz can be boxing is direct, visceral. There exists both jazz and boxing sub-cultures – historically sports and arts have been strong alternatives to mainstream economics in the black community.

To an untrained ear jazz can sound crazy, to an untrained eye boxing can seem mad – as the ear and eye becomes trained one learns the complex patterns that underlie the boxing match or the jazz solo – the theater of Kinetic Gesture – a kaleidoscope of intelligent quicksilver action generates a structure of intense beauty. For the body becomes poetry in motion whether through a keyboard or in the ring – complex patterned action generates a poetic time and space – violent yet dancelike, uncivilized yet graceful, raw yet sophisticated.

The oldtimers always referred to a great improviser as someone who tells a story – a great boxer tells a story but not with words or notes but in a refined language of will and transposed aggression. These acts of self expression – fighting and playing a musical instrument – a neurological dance – the placement of fluid reflexes that reaches into the rhythmic pattern of a deeper intensity of human motivation – Is it a madness? The jazz solo speaks about the beauty of the neurological system for it must mirror what it comes out of.

Thus in both dances [jazz and boxing] we come to the essence (improvisation) which is the unfoldment of the space-time of each – a system of symbols that generates the language of each – blue notes and blood – the sensations -that dance brings and the rythmic firing of cells in the brain – A ritual out of time explores the parameters of being in time – the essence of the chromatic scale as it transposes being or the animal lust of the boxing crowd as it senses the knockout of time – being, will, cunning, aggression, the sweet science, placement of tones, hangin’ on by some psychic edge.

Matthew Shipp is a prominent New York City-based jazz artist. He previously received a commission for this text for a film project on jazz and boxing which was premiered at the Walker Art Museum.

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