Originally published in Earshot Jazz January 2014
I’m lying down on a black rectangle a few inches off the floor. My head is cradled in cushions with a contoured block under my neck. My feet are up on a chair so my back is flat. The black rectangle is connected to a transducer, which is connected to an amplifier, which is connected to an equalizer, which is connected to a computer. Essentially, I’m prone on a flat speaker hooked up to some audio software. At the controls, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to me is the inventor, Andy Zadrozny. His beaded moccasins and bald scalp are almost as striking as how straight he sits.
The drone of an Indian tanpura charges an electrical field in my ears. My skull buzzes in unison. Along with the rolling twang, a human voice intones “Aummmmm…” blended with the rumble of a bowed string bass. My spine shakes. My eyeballs jiggle. My chest vibrates. My body is the sound. I’m relaxed and excited thinking that my 15 year-old son would enjoy this because he is really into electronic ambient soundscapes. Zadrozny places a finger on the top of my skull. “Can you feel it here?”
The closest sensation to this that I can recall was when my son took me to an electronic dance music show that boasted a 100,000 watt sound system. The low frequencies adjusted my spine like a chiropractor and I felt the music through the hair on my legs, my scalp, even my nose. But as painful as that was, this sensation is pleasant.
My right wrist and forearm ached this morning after writing on a non-ergonomic laptop and failing to warm up before a music jam session with Zadrozny yesterday. I was curious to see if sound could relieve some pain.
Zadrozny picks up a microphone and sings long vowels, while smoothly and slowly gliding up and down in pitch. He lightly touches a finger to my wrist to feel when the pitch creates resonance. He records a few vowels, slightly varying pitch and glides. The recordings that seemed to have the greatest effect he stores in a loop – my personal pain relief mantra.
Andy Zadrozny discovered he had perfect pitch when he was 7 years old. A teacher plucked random notes from the piano that Zadrozny’s mother bought when her husband died two years earlier. Young Andy could name each note. He felt each musical frequency in his body.
He picked up trumpet in a Racine, Wisconsin elementary school but dropped out in 9th grade. When his bass-playing brother was shipped off to fight in Vietnam, Zadrozny borrowed the instrument he left behind. He took classes in chemistry and psychology in Ogden, then music classes in Salt Lake City, but he preferred to practice.
He joined the circus. For a year he traveled by truck with Tarzan Zerbini with five other musicians. Coming off the road, Zadrozny thought the Pacific Northwest seemed like a progressive place to get a foothold in a music scene. He started in Portland, married and moved to Seattle. Soon he was gigging with top talent like jazz saxophonist Rick Mandyke and traveling with the rock band Children of the Revolution.
Zadrozny wanted a way to feel his string bass without needing a loud amplifier on stage or wearing in-ear monitors. He found his solution when he saw bassist Tony Levin perform with guitarist Robert Fripp. Zadrozny built a box to transmit the electronic signal that would normally move lots of air in a speaker. Instead, the box would vibrate just enough to feel, and by standing on it, he could sense the frequencies through his feet.
Years later, Zadrozny was using a version of the bass monitor to teach a student about perfect pitch. The student was a 60 year-old woman suffering from cancer-related pain. Having practiced yoga, she decided to curl up on the monitor in child’s pose while Zadrozny bowed his bass. She experienced relief from her pain that lasted after she stood up.
Crazy? Not if you read The Concious Ear by Alfred Tomatis and On the Sensations of Tone as a Physical Basis for the Theory of Music by Hermann von Helmholtz, two scientists who have researched sound and its effect on people.
Zadrozny developed a version of the bass monitor to work as a treatment table and moved to Santa Fe. In between treatment sessions, he performs with a small but high quality group of regional jazz pianists like John Rangel, Bert Dalton and Brian Bennett. He travels between Seattle and Santa Fe for gigs, teaching and treatments.
As for my own experience, Zadrozny showed me the connection between sound, body and pain relief. I can sing into my wrist like an aboriginal would treat another through a didgeridoo. When I practice and perform music, I am more in touch with the sound that reflects back into my respiratory cavity and can feel the music all the way to my toes. Perhaps I can heal myself and others through the sound of my saxophone.
Zadrozny and his table will be at Body of Santa Fe (333 Cordova Rd. Santa Fe, NM) on January 4 and Smadi Yoga (1205 E. Pike Street, Seattle, WA) on February 9. You can read more about Zadrozny at https://www.facebook.com/andy.zadrozny.