Jazz Solos & Nerdy Code

April 1, 2009
121 Views

Audio version available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW5fx1miurc

First, a Big Thanks to all my new followers and readers. “How low can you go?” hit 200 views in 2 days and, frankly, I had expected 200 views for my entire blog for the entire month. Big thanks to the general WordPress blog community as well.

People often ask me what the correlation is between my incomplete Jazz Music degree from the University of Cincinnati and my involvement in information technology. I like to point out that Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox) veterans included Dr. Mark Weiser, the first drummer to ever appear live on the Internet with his band “Severe Tire Damage” and Rich Gold, an electronic music composer, performance artist, and cartoonist with a degree in electronic music. I also like to recall my attendance at the Microsoft Tech-Ed in New Orleans in 2002, where they set up a local pub with music equipment we could all jam to during the evenings after marathon PowerPoint presentations. Sadly this resulted in a lot of equally marathon-like performances of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

(As you continue reading, hit the play button on this performance I did with my trio at the Cincinnati Art Muse

Audio version available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW5fx1miurc

First, a Big Thanks to all my new followers and readers. “How low can you go?” hit 200 views in 2 days and, frankly, I had expected 200 views for my entire blog for the entire month. Big thanks to the general WordPress blog community as well.

People often ask me what the correlation is between my incomplete Jazz Music degree from the University of Cincinnati and my involvement in information technology. I like to point out that Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox) veterans included Dr. Mark Weiser, the first drummer to ever appear live on the Internet with his band “Severe Tire Damage” and Rich Gold, an electronic music composer, performance artist, and cartoonist with a degree in electronic music. I also like to recall my attendance at the Microsoft Tech-Ed in New Orleans in 2002, where they set up a local pub with music equipment we could all jam to during the evenings after marathon PowerPoint presentations. Sadly this resulted in a lot of equally marathon-like performances of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

(As you continue reading, hit the play button on this performance I did with my trio at the Cincinnati Art Museum a while back. I was on two days without sleep and had just travelled from my client in Dayton straight to the gig. Sorry for the poor audio quality.)

Let Go

Phil DeGreg was my teacher during my time at UC. One important aspect I learned about jazz solos was the ability to let go of things that had already come out of my fingers. During a live performance, when you hit a note, it’s gone, history, done. The note, right or wrong, has hit the ears of the listener and they’re making their little judgment calls and deciding whether to purchase another beverage or not. Coding a software program is nearly the same, except you can delete and replace stuff. But sometimes we shouldn’t. There are a billion things I could play over a single chord change, and as well a billion ways I could create a solution in code. If I spend my time letting my mind wander to the alternatives, it makes for music that never gets heard, and code that never gets released.

It makes me wonder about Microsoft’s “release-and-service-pack” philosophy. Perhaps it is the necessarily human approach to assume that software, like music, is produced by humans, and the audience is therefore obligated to expect shortcomings, or as we say in the music realm, clunkers. The idea is to get the product out there without regret, but with the expectation that next time around, things will be better. When I play a new piece, I almost need to mess up. Mistakes are really the borders of perfection. Microsoft’s versions of .NET have certainly gotten better with each release. Although some can argue the merit of Microsoft products overall, one can’t help but feel we’re always witnessing a company growing, however painfully. I’ve certainly messed up coding plenty, but production of those mistakes practically burns the corrections into my brain like a cattle branding iron.

Practice makes…

Practicing various scales, licks, riffs, or other melodic passages affords me the ability to increase fluidity of creative signals between my brain and my hands. In effect, I’m no longer “playing” as much as I’m really “singing via the piano.” This is why I think company-mandated, on-the-job learning is a good idea. If you’re afforded the opportunity to research and experiment with new development techniques, get into some walkthroughs, branch out into other languages while in the work setting, you’re going to increase that creative fluidity while on an actual project problem in the work setting. I think being in the work setting while doing the learning creates a subconscious familiarity with innovative thought, transferable as the practice of a scale is to the performance stage.

Music and IT have a high degree of correlation and I could slice off aspects all day for you. Maybe I’ll turn this “Jazz Solos & Nerdy Code” into some sort of series. But for today, my thought is that your window of time to production is likely smaller than it was yesterday. For that reason, what you’re attempting to produce might need to become smaller as well, and the time devoted to finding the “right code” even smaller. Imagine if coding were a live performance of a jazz solo. No backspace, no CTRL+X, no regrets. Maybe an impossible standard, but oh, what a guideline!