Two years ago, I wrote a short entry about vibing on this blog after hearing some stories shared at Harvard by Greg Osby and Joe Lovano about their experiences as young students of the music. Today is International Jazz Day, so I thought I'd break the radio silence on this blog by sharing an excerpt from my senior thesis, which is a collection of nonfiction essays about my experiences learning how to improvise and exploring the New York jazz scene these past few summers. This essayette is called "Vibe." Hope you enjoy.


1. vibe (vaɪb), v.

a. To make oneself averse or hostile to another person (usually through body language, tone, indirect signification)
; to give negative vibes, so as to signal disapproval: "That motherfucker was vibing me so hard after I lost the form on that last tune. Smalls sucks.”


vibey (vaɪb-ē), adj.

a. Possessing an unwelcoming or negative vibe; actively vibing a person or persons: 
"That guitar player was one vibey-ass motherfucker, man. Who does he think he is? Charlie fucking Christian?"

2. vibe (vaɪb), n.

a. The mood of a setting (social, musical, interpersonal); Abbrev. of vibration (slang): “Dig the vibe in here? I think these new scented candles are really happening.”

      In physics class, they teach you that sound is just vibrations: distortions of air pressure moving in regular, oscillating patterns through a medium, which are eventually picked up by the ear and translated into sensory information by the enigmatic machinery of the nervous system. Vibrations are just waves: represented graphically, they’re a perpetual up and down (or, side to side, depending on how you look at it). Some people, including a former physics teacher of mine, believe waves are the metaphysical basis of the universe. For them, waves are the essence of everything. Considering how popular string theory has become in the past few years, wave metaphysics might not be as farfetched as they initially seem.
      Professions often dictate which waves people pay attention to. Seismologists and surfers are dealing with waves, obviously, but so too are marketing executives, who learn to detect the fickle vibrations of mass consumer culture. Musicians are not only invested in vibrations of sound, but also the vibrations of people.
      When asked why he rehearsed so much, alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill said, “You’re not just playing, you’re not just reading notes.” It’s about more than ink on a page. “You’re reading people, too.”
      Vibing happens regardless of instrumental affiliation—saxophone players vibe piano players, piano players vibe singers, singers vibe everyone, etc.—and often influences the fluctuations of the jazz labor market. Vibing a newcomer at a jam session, for instance, might cost you a gig down the road when you see the same newcomer gliding across the scene while you’re still stuck at home, practicing scales.
      I was once sitting with a drummer in a pizza parlor waiting for our slices when he told me a story about an older, conservative drummer working for the first time with a younger, avant-garde bassist. They get called by a saxophonist to play on the his gig and they show up and get through it like professionals, but they don’t exactly agree on aspects of the music like time feel, their roles in the band, and other basic stuff that’s necessary for any long-term, cohesive working unit.[1] At the end of the gig, they pack up their things and shake hands, but. before letting go, the elder drummer leans in close and whispers in the bass player’s ear, “Nice work, kid, but that’s the last time we’ll be playing together!”
            Knowing that vibing has happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future, what’s to be done if and when you get vibed? I’ve posed the question to older musicians—all of whom have been vibed and still occasionally get vibed, as improbable and implausible as that seems from my perspective—and the answer is always, “There’s not much you can do.” Vibing isn’t always inherently bad. It might make you feel bad at first, but it also causes you to step back and think about what you’ve been doing.
            Familiarity with house rules or lack thereof often explains why people get vibed: in New York at x or y club, this or that song might get called all the time. If you don’t know it, it’s on you to go home and check it out. Conversely, maybe this or that song is unofficially banned for whatever reason—the house band has played it too many times, whatever. If you’ve really been doing something inappropriate or unhip or just unreasonable, you’ll figure it out. But if you’ve been diligent and thoughtful, all you can do is play through it and try to stay cool.

[1] The “hook-up” between drums and bass is something that any serious jazz musician will harp on endlessly: the two need to be compatible, since they spend more time actively playing together on a song—practically 100 percent of the time, since pianists and horn players take breaks after their solos—than any other two musicians in the band. Drum-bass hook-ups made in heaven are the spine of the greatest bands. Examples include: Paul Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones (Miles Davis’s “first great quintet,” 1950s), Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones (John Coltrane), Ron Carter and Tony Williams (the “second great quintet,” 1960s), Sam Jones and Louis Hayes (Cannonball Adderley’s band), Butch Warren and Billy Higgins (Dexter Gordon), Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian (Bill Evans), and the list goes on and on and on.