Sunday, November 16, 2014


Joshua Redman
It's amazing that when you attend a jazz concert, you also attend a sort of therapy session. Personally, the feeling of being part of a jazz concert is a feeling that teaches me about myself: Who am I? What do I love? 

In the spirit of previous posts, "Master Class" and "Learning from the Masters", I thought I would share what I have learned in the past month from some of my heroes. 

Lessons learned from jazz

Meeting Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock never ceases to inspire me ever since I attended his Harvard Lectures. On October 23rd I attended his keynote interview with Berklee's president Roger Brown followed by a book signing at the Boston Book Festival for his memoir "Possibilities". Every moment in the presence of Herbie seems to be an eternity of wisdom.

  • If you play to get applause, you get fired. You need to play in the moment and be present. Trust. 
  • You don't need to play the 'butter notes'. Sometimes you just need to leave space for the soloist to determine the direction of exploration. 
  • Creativity comes with an innate sense of curiosity. How do things work? How can I put something together that hasn't been done before? 
  • Listen to what you are playing. Sometimes all the information you need is there. 
  • You don't need to resolve. 
  • What you get out of it is what you need. 
  • Get your life together. You are not a musician first, you are a human being. 
  • Bury your head and ears into the world of life. 
  • Follow your heart. You are the only person in that body. You wake up in the morning and you face yourself. It happens everyday of your life and being your self in that creates the path to honesty. 
  • Try not to be judgmental. You can contribute to the music either through silence - nothing - or something to help develop, or grow to bring a seed to a flower. Let things flow and see what happens. 
  • Try to reword matters of hierarchy, because people are equal. 
  • Practice is what you do everyday, all the time. Practice with your eyes and ears open, and hope that as the years go by you get better as a human being - that's what practice is really about. 

Meeting Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman has been one of my favorite modern jazz musicians for a very long time. Needless to say, I was elated when he came to play at Scullers jazz club on October 26th. Unlike Herbie, Joshua did not come to do a talk - he came to play. Yet, in the art of playing, I learned a few things. 
  • You can reinvent yourself. You are in charge. 
  • Freedom can come in a standard tune. Freedom comes from interaction, and hearing beyond. 
  • Jazz is about energy and creating a moment that can't be repeated: the moment is in that room, with those people, at that time. 
Joshua Redman

On November 4th, I was able to attend a trios masterclass with Fred Hersch at the New England Conservatory. Hersch has a great sense of constructive criticism. 
  • Everyone has rhythmic responsibility. 
  • Think of the sentence before you take a breath, in the midst of a thought. Talk, speak through lyrics to find where you breath, and how to manage the phrases. 
  • A drop in energy during improvisation can come from a lack of confidence. Listen to basic horn players, learn beautiful phrasing. 
  • Get yourself off the page, you play differently. We need to play out of our imaginations, what's on the page is just a skeleton. 
  • As an exercise, take a tune without a lead sheet and in your mind hear the chord changes, and write a couple of choruses and then play them on your instrument to see how it sounds on your instrument. Then do the opposite, figure out a solo that is too hard for you to play. This transcends what you can do technically without transcribing - it's learning recognition. 
Kenny Werner at Regattabar
I was very lucky to be able to attend the Berklee Global Jazz Forum on November 5th. The forum had Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez, and George Garzone as teachers for students in the Global Jazz Institute. Within two hours, my perspective on hearing jazz was flipped.  

Kenny Werner: 
  • You don't need to play every bar, every chord. You need a wider beat, an elastic feeling. The purpose of the notes is the rhythm in and out of the key, so you can resolve and hear things in context. 
  • The tune is the vehicle to layer things on top of. The bottom line is you really know the tune. 
  • The two things youths struggle with are: 1) A lack of their own sound 2) Everyone plays in their own bubble. 
  • It's best when you can make a piece and it's like a movie you can see. 
  • You need to have joy when you hear yourself. 
  • Play something that isn't music. 
Danilo Perez "Panama 500" at the 2014 Newport Jazz Festival
Danilo Perez: 
  • You need to be able to say things, use words. What am I feeling? It is like the different layers of a house. Play things not trapped by the pulse by paying attention to the pulse. 
  • What about sound? What do you want to sound like?
  • You need the desire to create something together. You need to be with others, it's like life - you need some basic rules to share. It's a question of listening but also sharing. 
  • Try different parts of your sound. You can tell when people are affected by their environment. You have to have tension and release - it's like you are talking with syllables!
  • Try tap dancing, pretend to be a little kid scribbling with a marker - where are the colors now? 
  • You don't need to prove you've done your homework when you play - just have fun and be happy. 
  • Say what you want to say, sing it. Gestures, a conversations - play that! I know it's crazy sometimes, but it's not. You're the only one who can do that for your self. It's the feeling of just talking - you talk to your self sometimes. 
  • Music is an experience. Make that for everyone. It's a right for humanity. Allow the sounds to tell who we are. When people are listening there is a frequency, you need to tune in. 
  • Free doesn't have to sound out - it's the spirit. 
  • When you play the music - don't apologize for what you don't know. Do what you do beautifully.

Tia Fuller and Mimi Jones (L to R)
Tia Fuller is an amazing role model to female jazz musicians, as well as anyone in general. I was glad when Tia Fuller came to Scullers on November 5th. 
  • Have a party, have a celebration with music!
  • You need to find an angelic warrior within your self. Create a balance within your life: angelic, graceful, peaceful, prayerful; opposite: warrior, disciplined, tenacity, reaching beyond what you think. Balance.   

Ralph Peterson Jr.
Final Thoughts: 
I enjoy writing about the lessons I learn from jazz because I believe that even if you are not a jazz musician or a dedicated jazz fan, you can find some insight from this music to apply to whatever you love to do. 

Maybe you are a scientist and jazz teaches you curiosity and how to find new combinations to information. Maybe you are a teacher and jazz teaches you how to create a balance within your life to lead your classroom. Maybe you are a nurse, and jazz teaches you that there are infinite possibilities. And maybe you are a student, confused about the future, but jazz teaches you to follow your heart because you are the only one in your own body. 

Whoever you are, and whatever you do, I think jazz can teach us all something so intrinsically human - and if we just bury our eyes and ears into the world of life we can feel it.

As always, I improvise a new poem everyday on my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem".

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