The feeling of ecstasy is all-consuming. Rollo May writes that it "brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together" (May 50). The feeling is very strong, almost like a drug (in fact, there is a drug by the same name). Performers, like jazz pianist Mose Allison, constantly work to achieve that feeling. Sometimes they succeed, but often they fail. "That's the challenge every night; trying to work toward that spot where it's all flowing. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it comes hard, sometimes it doesn't come at all" (Leonard 75).
Emily Remler, a jazz guitarist, refers to ecstasy as a "floating" sensation. "When the rhythm section is floating, I'll float too, and I'll get a wonderful feeling in my stomach" (Berliner 389). In order for a performer and audience to connect in the most direct way, there must be a "flow" to the performance. The mood must be right. Only in this environment can musical communication and creation truly occur.
Especially mysterious was the nature of musical performance. When things went right, it took its own course, without apparent guidance or plan, sweeping the musicians up in its inscrutable path. A performer might come in off the street, cold or unprepared, and be caught up unconsciously in the serendipitous flow, inexplicably playing notes beyond his ken (Leonard 53).
Ecstasy involves both relaxation and intense focus, and when a performer experiences this, he is able to play beyond his normal abilities. "Within the groove, improvisers experience a great sense of relaxation, which increases their powers of expression and imagination. They handle their instruments with athletic finesse, able to respond to every impulse" (Berliner 389).
Ecstasy is not quantifiable, but it is very powerful. A performer's ability to produce ecstasy in her audience makes possible a profound communication.
...the sacred or magical nature of jazz expressed itself in ecstasy, which liberated the self from the confinements of ordinary space and time and aroused feelings of supernatural vitality or power. Ecstasy is related to many emotions, most obviously those linked to sex, art, battle, and sports, and it can be induced with the help of hypnosis, drugs, hyperventilation, and other agents that detach consciousness from the senses. But essentially it is something "other," incomprehensible to ordinary understanding and experience, and as such has important religious ramifications, its most powerful and enduring forms providing the prophetic sparks which ignite sectarian beginnings and stimulate concern in established circles about its blatantly irrational nature (Leonard 56).Ecstasy can occur in a group as well as in an individual. "At such times, the facility artists display as individual music thinkers combines with their extraordinary receptiveness to each other. It is the combining of such talents in the formulation of parts that raises these periods of communal creativity to a supreme level" (Berliner 389). Curtis Fuller says of the power of this musical communication, "When you're really listening to each other and you're performing together, it's like everyone is talking to each other through music....When those special moments occur, to me, it's like ecstasy" (Berliner 389).
A musical group can, in such situations, create music of a quality higher than that otherwise possible. The experience can be a deeply spiritual one, as Lee Konitz says: "Relating fully to every sound that everyone is making not only keeps the improvising spirit going, but makes the experience complete. To hear it all simultaneously is one of the most experiences that you can have" (Berliner 389). The boundaries between the performers drop away, and the music is all that's left. Ronald Shannon Jackson: "This music is really about the relationships between all the players. When the relationship is happening. you don't hear piano, bass, and drums....You hear the total communication of individuals" (389).
This ecstasy is one of the reasons music is a fundamental part of many religions. Some Buddhist monks use music to achieve ecstasy and a feeling of oneness. Huston Smith describes this process, saying that "at first it sounds like [the monks] are making the music. The second step it's like the deity is making this music, and if their meditation reaches the climax, then all distinction between deity, lama, and sound collapses, and all there is, is that one holy tone" (Moyers). These monks use music (and the resulting ecstasy) as a religious tool; music helps them to reach their religious goals.