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  • Writer's pictureTim Chernikoff

Concept behind Pieces of Sanity— “Before you Ask”

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

November 2023 UPDATE:

It's interesting to look back at prior perspectives. They're never perfect, nor are my current ones. I thought about taking this post down, "canceling" it, to save face, to look more sexy, and to try and white-wash my insta-history in favor of new pathways to commercial success. I soon ruled against it. I feel that it's better to leave my imperfection hanging in time, and to know that at this point, my mentality is different from what it used to be. I have re-examined and freshly understood the utility of things that we took for granted when we were in the womb of educational society. More importantly, I do not judge the person I used to be. I remember instruction I was given by a "Life coach" in 2018 to look at my past self and my future self. I was to love my past self, and be loved by my future self. To be honest, in 2016-2020 I had no idea where I would be in 2023. I was struggling with things that I didn't even know what the solution looked like. I've found ways through so many of the issues I was going through, and understanding this feels like witnessing the beautiful completion of a small circle and the initiation of a larger one. It feels like I'm embracing my past self from a stronger position, and being embraced by an even stronger future self to look forward to becoming.

I think that the main thing I want to preserve through my dealing with this tune, as well as many of the other tunes I wrote for my debut album, is the expression of self compassion and self-advocacy. I can't think of a bebop beholden artist who wasn't doing just that in their own music. Monk, Bird, Dizzy, Miles, Bill, Wayne, Herbie, Tony, Ron.... etc. etc. If something bothered them, no matter how neurotic, there was a chance it would be turned into a tune or a line. And then the things that were right and beautiful, were that much more beautiful. From moment to moment, decade to decade, era to era. Jazz is the soul of our evolution and the evolution of our soul.


Original Post:

The idiosyncrasy about describing instrumental music is that when you write music that doesn’t have lyrics, you don’t necessarily set yourself up to have a singular message. I tend to write out of my experiences, but want the resulting music to have a relatability to it that extends into anyone else’s experience.

I call this first album “Pieces of Sanity” because that title best describes the context from which I wrote the music— In young adulthood, at the beginning of embracing life and just getting the hang of dealing with many of the nasty growing pains that I along with my generation as a whole had gone through, and starting to comprehend the demands that society puts on its members... relying on something that I found out throughout this growing up process that up to the point of writing had kept me sane.

Much the writing on all 9 of my tunes was a result of a lot of that. The tune “Before You Ask” was written in my apartment in Hamilton Heights in 2016, on a Casio Privia that had a couple busted keys. I had gone through a ton during the time leading up to that tune. Finally getting a grasp on living alone, I picked up the pencil and manuscript paper and began writing. I took a look at one of my former tunes that I wrote in 2009, that I had called “New Ground”. It started with a Csus13 chord, and had too much of an artificially “content” vibe to it, at least one that didn’t match anything I understood about life in 2016. I thought about the “new ground” I had walked on, and all of the people that wanted to make me feel as uncomfortable and unworthy as possible while walking on that ground. And I started to think about telling a story about myself from their perspective. “Nothing you ever learned or did was good enough to get you through your current struggles, which are far less intense than mine. So you’ve got to be pretty pathetic and I’ve got your behavior down to a science, and I just predicted you breaking something after hearing me.” After this, the B section takes the narration forward into very Rye of unknowns consequences that these self-appointed ‘catchers’ meant to protect strangers from, just in time for the lambasting return to the A section at the beginning of the next chorus. And, as far as the drum solo went, that was a gesture of working the accostation scene down a science of its own to be replicated over and over in short form, something that I was learning to do during the time I was getting the piece together.

That was the process that went on while writing “Before You Ask”. The resulting sound and the “eye of the outsider” will reveal different things. Maybe the advice of the stranger was inescapable, maybe it didn’t need to be escaped. Maybe people have their own reactions to ‘prison guard culture’ that the writer didn’t. None of it has to mean the same thing to everyone. I’m glad for anyone to create their own story out of this tune or any other. Maybe people think my story is lame.... and that’s fine. It might even be better, if they come up with something else for it, their own truth, or their own meta-narrative about the author, and completely reverse anything that he thought he said. Yet the tune was written in the way described.

...moreover, it isn’t the last tune I ever wrote. I may or may not come to be the same person that I was when I wrote it. Every tune is a piece of history for its writer. Yet despite that limitation, we’re able to remember these moments and internalize them, propelling ourselves forward through new circumstances.

Happy 2020 Holidays...

Tim Chernikoff

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