Tuesday, May 26, 2009

blank cacophany

thought filled brain

word filled mouth

empty out

fragmented world

fractured dreams

funnel in

central energy
pouring out in
divergent paths towards
same transcendence

two feet
a thousand toes
pulled apart, together
pushing through pain to
touch it all

spend it all in the deep end -

know the bliss of that depth?

spread across shallow waters -

to know a lot .... a little?




Saturday, May 23, 2009

teaching thoughts...

Jamison's doosy of a blog entry has sparked some thoughts that have been rattling around in my own head for some time now. Thoughts that my long-overdue Spiralsonic post would be a perfect spot for...

I am a teacher. A music teacher. That's what I do. That's what I have chosen to be the vehicle for my music skills. I have made teaching the direction of my life's musical path. Even though I have only been doing it for the last 5 or 6 years I consider myself quite good at it. I enjoy it immensely. But as much as I enjoy my classroom teaching it is in the one on one private lesson setting that I am able to truly be myself and perfect the art of teaching music. However this is quite an irony for me. 

Much like Jamison I started piano lessons around the age of 7 or 8 and was quickly frustrated with the process. Instead of practicing and learning to read the notes I memorized what keys to play. This pissed my teacher off to no end. I don't even remember my teacher's name. Actually they made such a small impression on me that I honestly don't even remember if it was a man or a woman. Needless to say I did not take piano lessons for very long. However music was still a huge part of my life growing up. Later in life I went on to take private clarinet and piano lessons in junior high and guitar lessons in high school with a few different teachers. I never stayed with one teacher very long because none of them really made it fun for me. None of them sparked anything inside of me the way learning on my own did. By the time I began studying guitar and music in college I was pretty much an entirely self taught guitarist.  I learned best though experimentation. I felt very strongly that a motivated and creative person could learn just as much on their own as any teacher could show them.

The irony is that now I am the teacher in the room. And I have realized that I teach private lessons very different than anyone else at the music store I work at. I might teach differently that most teachers in general! I teach my students to express themselves with music. I teach my students that guitar is simply a tool for expressing that which cannot be expressed. I don't teach from a book. In fact I don't even teach them to read standard notation unless they really want to. In my opinion it is more important for a beginner to have a powerful connection with the music and their instrument at the beginning than it is to learn how to read whole notes and try to read stupid 8 measure "songs" that use 3 pitches. I try to show them from the very beginning how important it is to form a bond with the instrument that will last forever. Much like Jamison having the powerful life-changing moment when he got his first trumpet. There were no real rules yet. No rights and wrongs. It is this freedom that gives the beginner confidence and joy. I give my students the tools they need for self-expression. I remind them that I can not truly teach them anything. I can only guide them on their path and make suggestions based on my own musical experiences. 

I usually have my students improvising by the third lesson. I believe that improvisation is the highest form of musical achievement one can reach. This one idea forms the very basis of my teaching style. Does it work? Well, I have a handful of students that have been with me since the very beginning. They have stayed with lessons because they enjoy them. It might be the only time in their week where they feel like they have control. It might be the only time in their week where they can truly express themselves without fear of the teacher saying "No that's wrong!" I don't ever want to be that teacher. I want to be the one that says "Yeah! That's colorful! Now try it this way..." 

I can only hope that when they get my age they remember my gender. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

A doozy

Perhaps a major reason music - and specifically jazz - education is so seriously undervalued in our society is that it is often not taught in practical ways or with any cultural significance. I find that instead, it usually gets trapped in traditional and esoteric realms in order to, ironically enough, be taken more seriously. Like all musicians, throughout my life as a music learner, each realization that I have made has become successively more profound. However, I still struggle to achieve a balance between what I have come to view as two disparate, yet related, paths of learning: the organic and explorative nature of learning, which ultimately brought me to music in the first place versus a more structured and disciplined nature of institutionalized learning which has, strangely enough, had a significantly stronger presence in my personal history.

At age seven I started taking private piano lessons with an older, very conservative man who, although reasonably knowledgeable, was far from inspiring. Although I dreaded experiences at the piano for this reason, when I quit six months later, I had at least learned to read music, familiarized myself with the keyboard, and came to understand basic musical structures. About a year later my father showed me a simple tune - perhaps the only one he knows - called “Bobcat Boogie.” It’s hard to say what might have done more good for me: his two minute rendition of a simple jazz tune that excited me about music, or six months of structured practice and, oftentimes, drudgery.

When I was eleven, on the first day I received my trumpet, I had an invaluable, purely organic, learning experience. I remember holding the horn, exploring its physicality and how it was made, in some ways in awe of the natural beauty the instrument possessed. Combining my music reading knowledge and newly-found, almost instinctual, relationship between lips, air and mouthpiece, I achieved new sounds ... solid trumpet tones! I can only remember the experience that afternoon as being almost blissful in nature. I would lose sight of this very quickly upon my first days in band class.

During high school I was of course part of the band program which, like most high school music departments across the country, involved rehearsing and performing standard repertoire of Western classical music. Obviously this gave me an immense skill set, too detailed to discuss, but it also helped to manifest in my impressionable young perception the subtle hierarchies of which genres were to be more “appreciated” than others. I say this because alongside my wind ensemble experience, I also played in an original funk and ska band (the Skamikazes!) where we wrote music purely by ear, and purely for fun (and maybe to impress some girls). Somewhere in the middle there, my only experiences with jazz education came purely through the All-State jazz bands, which of course, followed a set of predictable norms within musical academia (i.e. a 17 piece big band learning to play standard repertoire under traditional teaching methods).

My newly formed loves of music, coupled with my sense of duty to attend college, led me to pursue jazz in higher levels of education, where I found myself starting to “swim upstream.” I joined a “typical” undergraduate jazz studies program which focused primarily on a highly structured curriculum of “standards” and be-bop styles, giving scant, obligatory mention of earlier traditional styles and little to no introduction to ethnic musics or jazz from the 1970s to present day. And although I have slight degrees of resentment for this fact, I also know that I wouldn’t have been exposed to jazz music in such an intense way had I not been in such a program. The limited repertoire of jazz styles given to me also acted as a launching pad into less familiar stylistic territories. This manifested itself into my confrontation - that ultimately proved successful - with a curriculum that indoctrinated students onto a jazz “conveyer belt”. Due to my high levels of discipline and work-ethic, I was able to convince the faculty to let me put on a non-traditional senior recital of primarily world improvisational musics, which would in turn inspire a number of students to find their own personal voice in jazz, pushing them to work in and around the system to help personalize their education. In this way, I ultimately found the most beneficial aspect of my studies was joining a community of like-minded musicians who helped push and inspire each other, creating invaluable learning environments.

As anyone would imagine, attending graduate school in New Yor, opened me up to a much larger world of possibilities and provided a much more balanced learning environment which helped me grow profoundly as a musician in every sense of the term. Students were given much more one-on-one attention from progressively minded, highly experienced musicians with deep understanding of the ever evolving place that jazz and improvisational music had in our culture. Of course, the unfortunate realities of an institution’s bureaucracy, self-aggrandizement and pressure to uphold general academic standards are always going to limit the potential for a student to find his or her most valuable path for learning. So, once again, I found myself moving into other departments (classical, ethnomusicology, etc.) and breaking the molds that seeped around me. I know deep down, that these actions were not merely a product of rebellion or subversion, but rather an attempt at the most organic way to learn music, through curiosity, exploration, fascination and experimentation.

As I think about what encouraged me to attend graduate school, it was ultimately to continue the search for my personal voice, to find new challenges, and of course, to be surrounded with an inspiring and educational community. School was the easiest way for me to do all of that, because it gave direction, instilled discipline and provided an automatic group of fellow musicians. After moving from New York, and finding myself “on my own,” I began to ask, “Where do I go from here?” In many ways, one of the biggest holes in all of my education was how to actually teach myself.

In the years I have been out of school, I have been forced to confront serious personal issues with my musical self. The foremost seems simple but has been surprisingly complicated for me: what do I want to do with my music? In some way or another this is a question we continuously ask ourselves as musicians, but it is so crucial in order to establish an initial sense of direction. I have always had school to tell me which way to turn or in what ways to dissent. But clearly the ideal is to allow yourself to find out what you really get out of music--what your loves and passions are, and then decide what the proper tools are to achieve said goals. Interestingly enough, I find that in many ways, I have gone about this in reverse. I have been given the tools, structure and methodologies needed to achieve any level of success in music; now I must allow myself to discover my true musical passions, and more importantly, be o.k. with whatever those are. In the end, I hope that with the proper financial and cultural support, music education programs of any dimension can progress towards a healthier balance of structure and exploration, discipline and inspiration, practice and play.

(edited by Ellen Brackin Sevits)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eject button

I've come to realize, or at least think, that I'm not addicted to nicotine. I never thought I was, yet I've been a fairly consistent smoker for... five years now? How long ago was that first mushroom trip again? Anyway, it is my currently held belief that in smoking I'm not succumbing to the will of addiction so much as I'm expressing 6 or 7 minutes of conscious self-destruction. That's what's hard to give up. The need for self-destruction apparently hits a few times every day in my life.

This morning, however, I woke up thankful. I'm alive, Jesus! I'm alive! Thank you thank you!! It's day two of not smoking and today I've found this sense of being thankful for this one day very helpful. Yesterday I just happened to be distracted enough that there wasn't time to worry about destructing, but today, I needed to overcome it with some mother fuckin' spirit! It's hard to be sincerely thankful while trying to snuff out what you're thankful for. It is, of course, too early to say that this perspective will be lasting or helpful in my occasional quest to quit the ole 'rettes, but we'll see...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hunter's "Wave Speech"

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brad Mehldau and Jon Brion, together again!

I haven't found this information anywhere on the internet, but in the program for the Brad Mehldau concert I went to last week, it said he was back in the studio with Jon Brion working on the follow-up to Largo... Whoopee!! We've been waiting years for this!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A point to ponder when it all seems like too much

This is an excerpt from Henry Miller's essay "The Immorality of Morality", which is published in the collection Stand Still Like the Hummingbird. It's meant a lot to me...

It sounds like defeatism to say to the young of our day: "Do not rebel! Do not make victims of yourselves!" What I mean, in saying this, is that one should not fight a losing battle. The system is destroying itself; the dead are burying the dead. Why expend one's energy fighting something which is already tottering? Neither would I urge one to run away from the danger zone. The danger is everywhere; there are no safe and secure places in which to start a new life. Stay where you are and make what life you can among the impending ruins. Do not put one thing above another in importance. Do only what has to be done -- immediately. Whether the wave is ascending or desending, the ocean is always there. You are a fish in the ocean of time, you are a constant in an ocean of change, you are nothing and everything at one and the same time. Was the dinner good? Was the grass green? Did the water slake your thirst? Are the stars still in the heavens? Does the sun still shine? Can you talk, walk, sing, play? Are you still breathing?

With every breath we draw we are utilizing forces that are absolutely mysterious as well as all powerful. We are swimming in a sea of forces which demand only to be utilized and enjoyed. The problems which beset us are human problems, problems largely of our own making. The great problems remain untouched: we have not the vision as yet to recognize them. But in accepting our everyday problems, accepting them gladly and unreservedly, we may make ourselves fit to cope with the greater ones to come. The mathematician is not appalled by the problems which face him in his work, neither is the surgeon, nor anyone who engages seriously in whatever pursuit. Why then should man, as a species, be terrified of the problems which beset him? Why should he deny the monster which he has created with his own hands? If he has spawned a monster, let him devour his own monster!

This essay is wonderful enough that the whole of it should be consumed, multiple times, but I can only write so much... or I am lazy.