Is America Dead?

I grew up with a different idea of what my country was about. That country was trying to do the right thing. That country was dedicated to being fair and even-handed, even as it made its mistakes. I am mourning that loss in the face of greed and thoughtlessness taking control. I believe in what really makes America “great,” and not what has been sold to an angry corner of the electorate.

How We Got Here

We were the “live and let live” society. We were the “mutts” of the world: all different colors and nationalities that somehow found a path together. Obviously it wasn’t perfect—nor truly by design—but that concept lit up the world with what it represented. It has become a national source of pride, that somehow more than 200 years ago, some strange blend of English Common Law and forward-thinking created a nation that embraced significant cultural differences between its members.

It was an accident of history. The New World enticed so many different people to its shores, that there were few alternatives. Either there would be a hundred different countries established on this new continent—a likely outcome with the attendant war and conflict—or somehow people would figure out a way to live together.

We opted for the second of these. Read more

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Music Improv Basics: Four Strategies For Playing Wrong Notes (properly!)

While it probably doesn’t seem like this would help – let’s face it – if you are unwilling to play a lot of wrong notes, you’re never going to learn how to do anything hard. And improvising is hard! It isn’t something that you can do safely, with the assurance that you will look good while trying to get good at it. You won’t look good. You won’t sound good — and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you will be able make real progress.

Strangely, we are from a culture that reinforces the idea that we should always look good. I mean there are actually people who think you should look good when you’re sick; when you get up in the middle of the night; or when you haven’t slept for 36 hours.

Get the picture? Read more

Music Improv Basics: Eight Vital Things

This article discusses 8 important things to remember as improvising musicians – whether advanced or just getting started:

1. Your technique is probably miles ahead of your ability to think.

This isn’t just true for classical players. I’ve known lots and lots (and lots) of jazz players who have let their technique run the show as opposed to their brains. Happens all the time.

With players who are just beginning to improvise, this is vital to keep in mind. Slow down! Even at furious tempi, you can “long meter” melodic phrases that are actual melodic phrases that dance and skip over the fast tempo – and rolling them in real time. And you can have great precision and musicality in doing so.

FYI, most players who play so fast you are asking yourself ‘how can they think that stuff in real time’ – probably aren’t really thinking that stuff in real time. Most are performing a memorized, yet impressive move. Sort of a human “subroutine call” (in the parlance software engineering).

To me, not the real thing.

Personally, I’d rather listen to simple ideas that are inspired than impressive, over- thought, over-prepared ideas any day. Particularly when they are masquerading as “improvisation.” Read more

Blacklist the MoFo’s

In watching the unfolding events in Aleppo, Syria, I can’t help but question how such an outcome could be possible with the whole world watching. Are we really so powerless to stand up for basic human decency? Is there really nothing we can do in the face of this without an all-out military solution?

Over the last week, it occurred to me that one way to non-violently influence events inside of a country like Syria, is to affect the life-style options of its leaders and leading citizens. We have a “no fly” list for terrorists. Why not for assholes? Read more

The Producer Series – Serving the Song

As a listener, most of us have had the experience of hearing the same song performed by various artists—all of whom didn’t quite hit the mark. And then one day, some new artist comes along, records the very same song and…whoosh! It’s a drop dead smash.

One thing is clear, it obviously was not the song that was the problem.

Now, of course, there could be a million reasons why the song didn’t find earlier success. It could be that the artist identities were not a good fit with the core message of the song. It could be that the production approach treated the song inappropriately. It could be that the artist just couldn’t nail the song with the right performance intensity. It could even be that the song was released at the wrong time or through the wrong channel.

There could be a million reasons. And most of them we have zero control over.

But we do control a lot of it. We control what song to produce, the production treatment, best vocal key and arrangement, the vocal delivery and all the other levers that help the music hold together. Read more

Producer Series – Finding the Voice of the Artist

Singers are not always artists. Some are musicians. Some are ensemble players. And a few are artists. As a music producer, it’s vital to separate the musician from the artist. They are not the same thing.

An artist has a point of view

Any artist that is relevant to the world we live in today requires some point of view that is under-represented in that world. We don’t need 2 Princes, or 2 Madonnas. Remember, that a producer’s responsibility is to present the artist to the world in a way that makes their voice resonate within current thinking. We live in the world and the artist delivers a message to that world. This requires a balance between what is “expected” of an artist generically (talent, presentation, production, etc.) and the differentiation that makes that artist stand out from the crowd.

It’s both. Read more

Why the Jazz Perspective?

The Jazz Perspective looks at the world a little differently—sort of a combination of the intellectual, emotional and spiritual. That’s the exploration we’re having here…

I’ve spent the greater part of my life working on becoming the best jazz musician I know how to be. All my intellectual energy, creative thinking and emotional heart has been dedicated to making music that rolls in in real time—where musical ideas are conceived and executed on the cusp of the moment.

That creates a specific way of looking at the world. It’s kind of a blend of being a scientist, a painter and an athlete—all at the same time. Read more

I Shall Not Be Moved

These Unique & Difficult Times

You all know that this season is colored by what has transpired in the world around us, and the direction our national culture appears to be moving in.

Those of us who honor the value of all our brothers and sisters remain committed to a better way forward and a vision of all souls in oneness and harmony. Each instrumental voice is needed to flush out the creative symphony of our multi-dimensional society: a society that is at the root of the American premise—to live and let live, to honor all people regardless of who or whose they are or where they come from. Read more

Why Black Lives Matter to White People

In my life, I strive to be as compassionately race-neutral as I know how. My being a piano player and working with great musicians of color has certainly informed my understanding and relationships. But even as I do the best I can on a personal level, I’m convinced that the results of racism have undergirded and supported white lives—mine included. And that troubles me. Because while it’s a profound disappointment to me that racism is alive today—given what Martin, Malcolm, Bobby and so many have sacrificed, it is very clear that it is still with us, that Black Lives DO Matter, and that they matter deeply to white people – even if many of them don’t know it yet.  Read more

The Passing of Maurice White

It’s been an interesting last few days, since the passing of Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. As an associate of Al McKay’s (former guitarist of the band), my feelings are mixed. Clearly, Maurice was a visionary—understanding that music and message were intrinsically linked and that our spiritual associations were due for a update. But he was also a difficult task-master, demanding and not always even handed with the people under his leadership.

In the end, however, we must access his life as the balancing act that it was. The music business was always difficult, and there were so many who would undermine any vision that was being pursued. Being a man of color made his realization of EWF that much more inspiring. And in that light, I honor the vision and the result of the important musical and social influence that was accomplished by Maurice and all the members of the group who anchored something larger than themselves.

That is a special and precious thing. God bless us all.