My personal story of hosting the Petersham Jams and what I've so far learned about community and music, here!
Have you ever read or heard a similar concept from different people in a short amount of time, as if the Universe was trying to tell you something? That happens to me and when it does, I pay attention. I was reading about Bruce Lee saying that his whole philosophy was to live like water and to fight his opponent not as rock, but as water. How very Taoist. Read more here…
Here is an inspiring podcast I heard today of writer Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talking about the creative muse. Full of gems not to miss, this podcast is a treasure trove of great ideas. References to musician Tom Waits abound. Listen to hear … (read more).
Vinnie is great at playing for the song. Check out what I write about Vinnie here when he plays on one of Sting’s albums.
When I am writing songs I use Reason 4 a lot. I have not upgraded to the newest version as of 02/10/15 and yet I still can’t believe how great this software is! The graphic interface is inspiring. It feels like a mad-scientist’s playful laboratory. Even with this older version, the possibilities of sound generation are infinite. The code is stable and super-fast which means older computers, like my 2008 Macbook Pro, can run this software like a top. The cpu meter barely moves though I can have dozens of synthesizers and effects stacked into a chain. Incredible! I highly recommend this software for the creative musical spirit in you.
The other excellent part of Reason is it will teach you everything you need to know about running all the components of a recording studio while teaching most of the fundamentals of electronic music synthesis. Just the factory presets without any further effects or routing are rich and inspiring. When you add the metaphorical patch cords, CV control and FX, the sound generation possibilities are jaw-dropping and compete with any outboard gear I have heard. The biggest problem I have is being tempted to explore the sounds and synthesis without actually writing any songs, so I try to work with discipline and focus. Talk about schooling! Reason is a fun way to create and be educated. My hat is tipped to the brilliant programmers and creators at Propellerheads in Sweden. This software has been around for 14 years for both Mac and PC. You get so much for your money. Hey I wasn’t paid for this endorsement.
When it’s snowing out and I get the winter blues, there’s no reason not to get creative with Reason!
This old hermit guy from Ancient Greece changed my life back in my twenties. For a better world, please consider his words.
Dennis Chambers, one of the world’s greatest drummers, is a genius. He not only plays great and as close to perfect as I’ve ever heard, but he has innovated an approach to the drum kit that is an evolution from what Steve Gadd was doing. Many drummers are great, but few innovate and reinvent the instrument. Dennis plays pure music on the drums, very melodic, not brash drumistic athleticism like a lot of good drummers. He’s got that too, but his playing seems to always have Bach or a kind of melody, like Max Roach, that makes good compositional sense. I was blessed to meet Dennis serendipitously at a bar in Columbus Ohio. Here’s what I asked him:
Dennis, that funk stuff you’ve got going on with the weaving snare ghost notes, plus the snare accents, plus the kick drum plus the ride cymbal woven with the occasional non-patterned bell of the ride, did you develop that before or after George Clinton and P-funk?
“I had that stuff down BEFORE P-funk!”
That’s an amazing answer because it means he had developed his breathtaking coordination when very young. It’s difficult to hear that intricate coordination he does on P-funk records because it’s pure simple disco funk beats, more or less, with very little fills. So it makes sense he developed that amazing style of playing before P-funk. I will speculate here and say I’m not sure he could’ve developed such magical coordination playing in P-funk: the band was huge and in huge bands drummers must play more simple so everything can be heard. Simple helps the groove but rarely develops extreme coordination. The recordings change drastically when you check out Dennis with John Scofield, ah, now his playing opens up and one can hear all the subtleties of his playing. This was the band that introduced Dennis to the jazz and fusion world, with the album Blue Matter. When I heard that I thought the sky had fallen, heaven had come down from above. The drums would never be the same again. My practicing changed drastically after I heard Dennis!
“Are you ambidextrous?”, I asked Dennis. “Yes.”
The grand gem of the discussion I had with Dennis blew my mind. It would be wrong of me not to share what he said. Here is a gift for the world and for all artists to consider:
“My mom told me that of all the great qualities a person could have, the greatest quality is to be honest with yourself.”
Thank you Dennis for sharing that incredible wisdom from your mother to me.
I must beat my drum now for a mature audience. The indigenous peoples were horrified at how the White Man talked about and treated the environment. We are bearing dangerous fruit now for having ignored their warnings. Indigenous peoples saw the Long Road Ahead: We are a part of nature, we are of nature, we sprouted from nature even if it was guided by the hand of God. Those who choose to forget this interconnectedness with nature get eliminated by nature. Nature and physics will always win. No one in their right mind would defecate in their drinking water but we do similar things to our environment all the time: look at oil and its by-products, the thousands of liquid chemical toxins and plastics in our water supply and the world’s oceans. I’m tired of not saying anything about this. Here I am writing about something that greatly concerns me. Click Here to read on…
Mistakes used to be my enemy. I have learned to question my perfectionism, to scrutinize it, making more peace with my mistakes. Somehow in my past, I don’t know why, mistakes I made upset me and I would abuse myself with denigrating self-talk. I am much better now after years of work. I’ve learned I can make mistakes my friend instead of my enemy. Mistakes are great teachers, perhaps the best teachers and now when I make a mistake, I celebrate, saying: “Yay! What can I learn from this?” My life is more rich and peaceful because of this re-framing of the word “mistake”.
Thomas Edison failed by trying nearly 1000 filaments until he found the right filament for the invention of the light bulb. His learning from mistakes changed history. Indeed, failure is a learning process and presents itself as an opportunity. Failure is not a negative thing. With introspection and grit, one can make failure a coach, a teacher.
It’s the ego that is wrapped up in perfectionism. Learning the connection between ego and perfectionism was enlightening for me. I was particularly tough on myself when I made mistakes on the drums because I’ve been playing since I was seven, how could I still make errors? I am always wondering how my musical heroes deal with mistakes, because some of them, like drummer Dennis Chambers, sound perfect all the time.
I have been learning over the years that my reaction to my mistake is key to not making it a mistake at all! Listen to what jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris says about making mistakes on this Ted Talk, and learn how perfectionist doctors come to grip with their own mistakes. The final story of this podcast is about a brilliant woman researcher who chose opposition and resistance in order to prove her theories. This is inspiring stuff!
Put this audio Ted Talk into your smartphone or mp3 player, take it with you, and may you be more liberated.
To be able to use leisure intelligently will be the last product of an intelligent civilization. -Bertrand Russell
Look at your smartphone or tablet. What have you been doing on it?
The drum can heal us if we let it. The drum connects everyone to the dance. The dance, of course, is Metaphor for Life, and so is the drum. If we can’t dance are we just surviving animals?
A radical paradigm shift happened to me after I learned about confirmation bias. Basically, much research has shown we are favorably biased towards information we already believe and that we have prejudice against information we don’t already believe. It’s a form of preaching to the choir, to coin a phrase, and that’s a dangerous practice. Do yourself, this country and the world a favor and read up on it. Confirmation bias is a trick we play on ourselves. Once we understand the concept and the fact it is so invisible to us, hopefully we will form opinions more cautiously. Why this undeniable concept is not taught in schools is a mystery to me, because it’s a revolution. The only explanation I can think of as to why this concept is not known to the general public and not taught in our educational system is that if we knew about confirmation bias, we would be not so susceptible to propaganda and crazy ideas.
I have to laugh because my last entry was about Tony Williams and this entry was inspired by hearing Tony play the hihat. Tony did everything known to Mankind with the hihat. There is no improvement on the topic. I’ve never heard something so simple be explored so deeply. Tony makes the hihat blossom into the universe that it is. You cannot imagine how much the hihat can do until you hear Tony, Max Roach and Buddy Rich play the hihat. ‘Nuff said.
I really like Tony Williams, especially when he was young. His drum kit sound was tight and crisp in the 1960’s. That time period was incredibly creative for Tony. As he moved to fusion in the 70’s his kit got louder and more rock-sounding in texture, though he always played great. I’ve been fascinated with Miles Davis’s album ESP, released in January 1965. On this album Tony plays very minimalist. He milks everything he can out of the ride cymbal and barely touches the drums. It’s a lesson in what one cymbal can do. I’ve never heard anything else quite like it. Check it out! The guy has chops from heaven – or hell, depending on your perspective – and barely uses them on this record, except for lush dynamic control. What a master! To think Tony was only about 16 years old when he recorded this album is beyond words.
Love for learning, also called curiosity, makes all education open-ended, acknowledging the subtlety and vastness of the universe. We don’t know everything. With curiosity one can supersede one’s own education far beyond when school “finished”. Our educational systems from the bottom up need to address this fundamental lack of curiosity in formal training. Without curiosity in the faculty, curriculum and the student body, we have stupid democracies and stupid people. I’ve also noticed that the Fearful have the least curiosity. Fear and lack of curiosity seem to go together. The smartest people have the widest sense of curiosity. Curiosity is the greatest tool to education and our world. Let curiosity ring like a cymbal!
What am I thinking about this new year? For one thing, having gratitude as a way of life rather than doing it occasionally when I need it. I always need it. So why not put that into a daily practice, a meditation? Why not practice it like I do my drums and piano or yoga? I am grateful for many things, one I will mention. I am grateful to Music. I am very grateful to Music for helping me develop an attention span that is strong, a gift which brings me a lot of joy. I am grateful for musicians. I have been rediscovering master musician, organist, writer, pianist, trumpeter, jazz historian and all around brilliant light Joey DeFrancesco. This guy has a sense of melody that surpasses his monster technique. His technique becomes transparent because his sense of melody is the point. He gets it. Technique should not overshadow musicality. The seduction of technique can distract away from the goal: making music. Joey can do both in graceful balance. He is a world treasure, his joy is unstoppable. His drummer Byron Landham swings with exquisite touch and taste. This is one particular album I have been listening to and hearing the joy emanate like squeezed citrus:
One of my favorite musicians of all time is from Cameroon, Richard Bona. He’s one of the most innovative and musical electric bass players of all time, his voice is beautiful and he even looks cool. He’s a natural. He moved from Cameroon and made his mark in Paris, France. Then, the jazz world discovered him. I discovered him one night at a Pat Metheny concert in Ohio. He blew me away. Then I discovered this album. A one-time unique recording never to be repeated again, this music was created without rehearsal in a studio by these three amazing men: Cameroon’s Richard Bona, Congo’s Lokua Kanza and Paris-born Gerald Toto, whose parents are Caribbean. All these guys sing gloriously with tight textural harmonies. The guitar playing and percussion sparkles like Champagne. A lawyer from France produced the album and put these guys together in the studio to see what would happen. Since when does a lawyer or any businessman do something this cool with his money? If more lawyers could make beauty in the world with their money like this, I would dance on the ceiling. The song-writing is great, and yet apparently it was created in the studio, almost improvised. This music is pure soul with masterful, tasteful musicianship. In fact the album doesn’t last long enough. I want more. It’s a masterpiece.
I had this large blog entry here for about a week, things about music, modern culture and changes that were disturbing to me. Writing got a lot off my chest. I kept seeing parts I wrote that I disagreed with or where I saw holes. I am not a trained philosopher, merely a lover of wisdom. I found that parts of this long entry were not me. I couldn’t hold myself to everything I said I believed. It’s hard to write with clarity, without contradictions. So I will quote something that deeply touched me, from ancient wisdom:
The barn has burned down.
Now, I can see the moon.
“It seems to me that when I see nature I see it ready-made, completely written – but then, try to do it!”
-Claude Monet, -Painter
I was thinking about the heaviness of my last post about the economy and wanted to balance that rather negative post with a technique that not only helps me smile when I play, but helps my life in general. That technique is having gratitude. To foster this feeling of gratitude, I force myself to fill out three pages in a designated Gratitude Journal of everything I am grateful for. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes to fill three pages. I keep filling them with dozens of little gratitude golden amulets. The journal helps me to remember the great things in my life, many things I oftentimes take for granted. Writing this way inspires positive energy, joy and healthy thinking. I highly recommend this practice, particularly when the blues hit. Additionally reading back over the entire journal’s past entries is soul & mind opening. Like drum master percussionist Babatunde Olatunji and many others say from Africa, practice smiling when you play. Playing music and writing in the Gratitude Journal help me spontaneously become those smiles. Well, add Yoga too, ok then you have to add friends, humor, creativity outside of music, becoming silent for long stretches of time without media buzzing around me and lastly my ride cymbal. The gratitude journal is the most surprising variation out of everything I’ve tried to get smiles sprouting from within. Gratitude is my attitude without platitudes, dude!
Being an artist is about being aware of more than just art. Its about being fully alive and fully plugged-in to the Universe. It means not only being a lover but being a thinker too.
I must comment on something away from the drums for a moment: Economic crisis. Economic theory is filled with feedback loops and chaos, just like quantum physics. I don’t fully understand economics and have severe doubts the experts do either, for chaos models trick humans and mathematicians all the time. I hope I am wrong for the sake of humanity, and I hope the chaos tricks me, thrusting a positive outcome to our current financial crisis.
Here goes what I think. The crisis we are experiencing cannot be fixed by bail out. The economic system has a mechanism built-in, similar to Darwin’s natural selection, that weeds out the sick and advances the healthy, or ideally it used to be this way. Bailing out the sick will be in effect a massive transfer of power from the US Taxpayer to the rich, delaying collapse but not stopping it. The bailout money will vaporize, the rich will escape, leaving behind in ruins a destitute middle class to fend for itself. Don’t give chemotherapy to a smoker who hasn’t quit smoking, its a waste of resources.
It is best to face what happened and not bail out at all, consequences be damned, because the bailout will not help the chronically ill. Now is our opportunity for the economy to weed out the sick. We can all agree that Wall Street, financial institutions and the debt-ridden consumer were indeed performing psychotic behavior living beyond their means. Debt is sexy, cash is clash. What’s better: No bailouts and therefore no increasing debt, the sick exit making room for the healthy, or a bailout that rescues but does not heal the sick, collapse occurs later, causing American citizens and healthy businesses in the future to pay dearly for what we did? This massive bailout is debt, the largest in history.
Debt eats away our economy like acid, benefiting the filthy rich. We Americans love to beat the drum of “Freedom” but the educated world sees us as a farce, for how can huge debt be freedom? Corporate socialism, which appears to be supported by both parties, is not the answer. Let the sick die. They have had plenty of time in decades to listen to sages, and they did not. Let us rebuild our country with more intelligent economic theories that rebel against antiquated – and sick – models. We cannot successfully have economic models based on infinite growth in a world with finite resources, that’s just common sense our current leaders cannot see, in a manner of blindness that could be called “mentally disabled”.
This whole bailout appears to me as one thing: a massive transfer of power from the middle class to the filthy rich. Over the past two decades, the sick financial sector scoffed at warnings given by brilliant minds. We as a society have had plenty of warnings, but we were too busy watching Survivor in our SUV’s and charging it. The bailout ensures the rich get an escape hatch, and the middle class will be dragged down to the depths of economic decay similar to the third world. We will be left alone to rot. I am very disappointed in America and its lack of wisdom, a place that has no idea about the lessons of the drum.
If indeed we are foolish enough to support psychosis, we deserve to fall, just like Rome. It is time for all of us to get off our butts, roll up our sleeves, get to work as a community, talk to each other, listen more than speak, choose healthy media, seek self-improvement and rebuild this country into something better than it was or we shall see lots of suffering for decades to come. Yeah, I’m mad about the insanity. Like I said earlier, I hope I am wrong. The only things that comfort me from the current crisis are music, loved ones, counting my blessings in gratitude, self-improvement and engagement with the Universe.
I was thinking of the role of the philosopher tonight as someone who “disturbs people’s meanings.” Do you know what that makes a philosopher? A pain in the ass, that’s what.
No one wants to be stopped and questioned. And yet, this questioning can make people pause, contemplate the perhaps stupid meanings they harbor, see their meanings as possibly stupid, and change. This change can make the world a better place. This change can make a life lived better. But no! Shut up, Mr. Philosopher! We will kill you like we killed Jesus and Socrates! We don’t want to question our meanings or our behaviors! Get out of the way, even if it makes a more hostile world for our kids! Only the philosopher enjoys having others question his meanings. He is an alien amongst aliens. The next time you see a philosopher by the side of the road, punch him!