Tag Archives: jazz

Let Freedom Ring: A Mix Tape for America

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Image: nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This July 4th weekend marks five years since I rekindled my inner spark for music and began my journey of expressing my love through guitar. As I think back on all I have discovered and all I am planning to become through sound, I realized I have much to be grateful for this weekend.

Here is a sampling from the tapestry of American artists and the songs that have inspired me along the way.

In the months before I became clear on what I wanted to be through music, Ray LaMontagne’s “All the Wild Horses”, is the song that opened my eyes and heart to all that was possible.  Let this song guide you to all that is wild within your soul and discover the magic that can happen.

Improvisation has offered me so much freedom in my playing over the last few years. My first taste started with a rendition of the Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong’s jazz number, “Duke’s Place”, by McCoy Tyner.  In the spring of 2010, I had the chance to meet jazz pioneer Pat Matheny. His latest project really brings out his inner mad scientist and shows how much of an innovator he has been for the genre.

As much as I love to improvise, I am always drawn to lyrics I can sing.  So, as I learn the chords that will give roots to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”, “Heart of Gold” and “My Thanksgiving”, my heart is set on sharing the gratitude I have for these powerful lyrics, with an audience.

This spring, I finally got up the courage to play, and occasionally sing with an informal folk and bluegrass jam group. One of my favorites in our song book is a traditional gospel ballad made famous by Alison Krauss and Union Station in the movie “Brother Where Art Thou”.

As we dedicate the day to our stars and stripes,  I would love to hear what others enjoy playing or singing to celebrate our nation’s rich musically history.

Happy Birthday America!

Learn to Listen to the Music of Silence

This week I returned to yoga after a long six-month drought.  Aside from feeling like a winded sprinter in the first 15 minutes, I was most surprised at how my mind, which normally falls to quiet stillness during meditation, could not find peace. I know it has a lot to with my less-than-desirable level of fitness, but it got me thinking about space and how I could cultivate it in the present moment.

In the last year, jazz improvisation has taught me a lot about listening for the space in music and finding opportunities to punctuate the silence with small musical phrases. More importantly, though, I’ve learned how to linger. What is that you ask?

It’s the exact opposite of trying to fill all the silence with sound and just letting one note ring and fade back to silence before moving to the next note. When I first started improvising, I often felt like the music was threatening to run me over if I didn’t keep up; I was left dizzy and floundering in the dust of partial and poorly executed phrases.  After witnessing a few of my flustered attempts, my teacher tried a different approach, “Hold a note and let it ring, give it space than move,” he said. “You have all kinds of time to make the next note, there’s no rush.”

The wonderful simplicity of this lesson was so freeing, that I seldom find myself struggling to link phrases together anymore. When I feel like I am getting ahead or behind of the song I am playing along with, I just pause, reset and resettle into a groove. Normally, if I feel this way it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to listen for the spaces the other musicians leave for me to discover, like little gold nuggets.

Sound and silence is just as important in vocal improvisation and chant as it is in jazz. I recently came across an excerpt of the book “The Yoga of Sound” in which author Russill Paul makes a beautiful observation about sound and the human ear:

“The ear is feminine and soul-like because of its receptive, deep, interior, mysterious qualities. This is why the quality of our hearing and kinds of sounds we hear are important; we derive healing and nourishment for our soul from the process. In other words, to neglect our ears is to neglect our soul.”

So how do you find space and silence in your daily lives?  If this concept of listening for silence is new to you, I encourage you to try it.  It really is music to your ears.