“Something That Happened”: A Spiritual Micro-Practice

Watch the video–the story is better coming from his own mouth, and only 90 seconds long. Plus you get some Miles Davis horn in the background. But in case you’re not in a place to play it:

Musician Herbie Hancock remembers a mortifying moment while playing onstage with jazz legend Miles Davis. The band was hot that night, he recalls, and Davis was in the middle of a solo in the song “So What.” Out of nowhere, Hancock played the wrong chord—it wasn’t just slightly off, it was horrifyingly wrong.

But to Hancock’s amazement, “Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as… something that happened. Just an event. …[It] was part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it.” Davis reproduced Hancock’s chord and somehow incorporated it into the solo itself: “Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he felt it was his responsibility to find something that fit,” Hancock says.

“That taught me a very big lesson about not only music but about life.”

I shared this video on Facebook a couple of months ago, but I haven’t blogged about it, because it’s taken me awhile to take this to heart–and I’m still working on it. Robert can attest that I am trying!

Example: I can’t tell you how many times a child will spill something on a tablecloth that I literally put on the table mere hours before. (OK, adults too.) It’s not that we spill a lot. We don’t. It’s just some weird Murphy’s Law thing: fresh tablecloth, OOPS goes the milk.

I have taken to announcing in times like this:


Or the shorthand:


I find the more dramatic the voice, the better.

It’s a nod to Herbie and to Miles, both of whom have much to teach me about improv and about life.

Try it!

8 thoughts on ““Something That Happened”: A Spiritual Micro-Practice

  1. Eunice Fernandez

    My brother gave me a spoon rest that was decorated with an awkward looking Christmas tree. I would place it next to the stove, but when I tried to use it as a spoon rest, the spoons wouldn’t stay in place. I almost gave it away at the end of last year, but decided to keep it for a white elephant gift. This year when I pulled it out in search of that white elephant gift, I saw that it would make a perfect holder for my scouring pad. It now makes perfect harmony by the kitchen sink. It’s calling wasn’t to be a spoon rest but a scouring pad holder, but it took me a pause after several years to see that.

  2. Kate Burkart

    I am going to try this too! An easy way to “improv” —
    I too once received a gift that I decided was a perfect receptacle for my daily supplements to sit until I took them all. (Though I first used it as a spoon rest.) Found out later it was meant to be a tea bag holder. Well, I already had one of those, so it didn’t occur to me!

  3. Carolyn Brown

    Any chance this could be played (maybe repeatedly) to members of Congress and the executive branch and for the leaders of both parties. If we could see our communal life as a jam session to be improvised ala Miles Davis we just might get by together.


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