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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


I am a Jazz enthusiast. As many of you know, I had a former career as a concert pianist; I no longer play concerts, though I continue to teach. My field is classical piano, which some see as a restricting genre (it is not). It might come as a surprise though, to learn of my passion for Jazz, but to me, the correlation between the free flights of the imagination inherent in creating abstract art, and the magnificently incandescent improvisations epitomised by, say, John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman seems obvious.

John Coltrane

Jazz is one of those art forms which, thankfully, tends to rebel against definition. Look up online attempts at defining the genre, and the results are laughably reductionist. At the core of Jazz is something so intense, powerful and wide-ranging, that it really does not matter what 'makes it' Jazz. An exceptional musician colleague of mine, a former student of Nadia Boulanger, was an ardent devotee of J.S Bach, Richard Strauss, Wagner, Schumann and Brahms; he was also heavily into Led Zeppelin. Jazz, however, he found 'sleazy', a point of view I have never understood. Perhaps its freedom disturbed him. Jazz is certainly not for everyone.

I also remember discussing with one of my own piano students, her study of Miles Davis' KIND OF BLUE in her music classes at school. “Too much improvisation”, she said. I still smile at this statement, which was superbly honest, to say the least!

People still fret though, about what Jazz is. I read recently of a conversation between two jazz musicians which was interrupted by a rude bystander. The interloper demanded to know 'what jazz is'. One of the musicians responded “If you don't know, don't ask”. This, I feel, gets to the heart of the matter.

What about Art? What makes something Art? What makes something 'Not Art'?

I have been urged to write about this subject. I don't want to. I do not wish to add my “two-penn'orth” to a discussion that has already been thrashed to death. I have my views, but they shift, flow and get bigger, and nobody needs my 'definition of the day'.

I found myself thinking about the question today when reading the poet Brian Patten's PROSE POEM TOWARDS A DEFINITION OF ITSELF.

Mr Patten writes:

When in public poetry should take off its clothes and wave to the nearest person in sight; it should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers rather than that of journalists and publishers. On sighting mathematicians it should unhook the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra: it should touch those people who despise being should not pretend to be a clerk or a librarian. It is the eventual sameness of contradictions...Poetry is the astronaut stepping for the first time into liquid space.”

Patten, writing about his prose-poem, has stated (much as I have done above, regarding my shifting views on what constitutes Art) “Since the poem was written, I've not changed my mind about it, only now I think Poetry is about even more things.”

So, if I may borrow this lovely piece of writing to illustrate my thoughts about Art today, I will simply substitute the word 'Art' for the word 'Poetry', and thank Mr Patten for his extremely thought-provoking writing which I first read in 1978.

To finish, here is my newest painting, which people generally seem to like.

A KISS OF PEACE - Haydn Dickenson 2023

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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