Theo Johnson '23
The following is an excerpt from the June 2003 Edition of the Sacramento Pastęl Magazine of New York, known to be the best explanation for why Jazz is the best music:
As you know from reading my articles every month, I see Jazz almost everywhere I go. The job of a Travelling Jazz Critic, though, is quite deceiving. I research the musicians I interview. I take care to familiarize myself with the culture of Jazz I encounter each month. I try to see Jazz as it is. But each time I think I have its full image right in front of me, I find myself squinting to see it clearer.
“If Jazz is present every second of our lives,” Jazz artist Publius Dann asked me during an interview in his New Guinea home, “how come millions of young people still listen to Drake, Juice WRLD, and Doja Cat? Or, even worse, Kanye West?”
As the official Travelling Jazz Critic for the Sacramento Pastēl Magazine of New York, I don’t like to answer questions like these. Life is best lived as Jazz is played: feelings and experiences, no answers. The problem is, Jazz seems to be fading out more and more each day. Luckily, the work of Publius Dann I encountered on my travels to New Guinea provided the answer the world needs.
Jazz is the best genre of music.
Upon my arrival at Publius Dann’s home in New Guinea, the artist greeted me at the door and invited me to a short house tour. As he guided me through his home, we both listened to his album GH Pq VW.
The sound was unlike anything I’ve ever heard: there was no melody, rhythm, or harmony. The dynamics were abstract. The music sounded like a child crying in high pitched screams as a mother sighed her tired, deep, moans. The music seemed to speak.
“The truth is,” Dann said, “the music does speak. What I’ve done in my career an artist like Kanye or Doja Cat could never do--I’ve given language music and music language.”
What Dann described was the idea that laid the foundation for his album. Dann, like all musicians, knew music only as written in the 12-semitone octave (an octave being 8 whole notes going from A to G). But Jazz was being held back by this arbitrary system of notation. To Dann, the same hardships that birthed Jazz in the early 20th century were coming to light again with the restrictive twelve-note octave.
Dann’s system of “Thelomonks”, as he calls it, is an entirely new way of composing, playing, and experiencing Jazz.
“Kanye West rewrites the same melody a dozen times and acts like he’s taking risks,” Dann said as we passed a Basquiat in his living room, “I’m rewriting all of Music. That’s taking risks. That’s Jazz.”
Using the function T=log2(h440)26, Dann mapped the frequency of all musical notes in hertz, a scientific unit, into Thelomonks, Publius Dann’s “artistic” unit.
Thelomonks divided the traditional twelve semitone octave into 26 notes, where each letter of the alphabet would represent one note (A in Thelomonks represents A in semitones or 440 hertz). This way, Dann could turn words, stories, and poems into music. The album’s first song “JAZ” is eight minutes of Thelomonk notes J, A, and Z. Dann had found a way to play Jazz in its truest form.
“I’ll tell you what, if people still won’t believe that Jazz is the truest form of music after they hear my stuff, show them this,” Dann said. He was showing me the final, and secret, piece of his album. The strange thing was, we were in a room with no sound system or instruments, and Dann’s singing voice was severely damaged from years of smoking.
What I didn’t realize was that Thelomonks were not limited to turning words into music. Dann could also speak music into words. The secret finale to his album was a poem, composed from the notes of Wayne Shorter’s classic Jazz song “Footprints” transcribed into Thelomonk notation*.
“You can only show them this in your magazine if you promise me one thing.” Dann said, “Tell them about Jazz. And I’m not talking about Kenny G. Tell them about the Jazz that’s right in front of you, but that you have to squint your eyes to see. There’s something intangible, but powerful. It’s everywhere but only a few of us can feel it. Promise me you’ll tell them about Jazz. Promise me you’ll tell them to find it.”
Footprints by Wayne Shorter in A
By Publius Dann
GH GH GH
GH kL Ef
GH Ef A VW
*The size of the letter denotes which Thelomonk note was closer to the hertz of each semitone--you’ll find that Shorter used two pairs of notes [Ef / Pq and kL / VW] equidistant from A in Thelomonks, reflected in the equal size ratio of those Thelomonk letters. Dann theorizes that the sound of Jazz and the truth of the universe exists in these decades-old ratios.