5/22/2020 – …Listen
We are all struggling with the inconvenience of this pandemic. We’ve all had to alter our behavior and our livelihood to avoid contact and to sustain our way of life. Historically, the arts have been a source for inspiration and leadership when our souls have struggled to find solutions. We can find the way to a new normal, but we can “feel” our way to a solution through some inspiring music. Be it a march, a somber melody, a joyful song of praise, or an aggressive call to arms…we hear the order and we find clarity.
The trouble with this pandemic is that music is muzzled and has struggled to find an audience. Where the internet could offer a pipeline to our collective ears, it has instead become a distorted jukebox playing dividing garbage “on 11” as they say. We have to exhibit the will-power and attention to not be distracted by a zillion digital blinking lights and headlines.
Many musicians have poured energy into dressing up their digital presence. It has led to some glorious opportunities. Slow down and check it out. Norah Jones is blessed with a sweetness and intimate gift of a voice. You can sit right next to her on her piano bench now. This is crazy.
We can stream this brilliant documentary on Dimitri Shostakovich, a pioneer of music in the times of crisis.
Tonight, however, I’ll be watching “Fridays at Five” from SFJazz. Wayne Shorter was scheduled to perform a multi-night run at this remarkable center a year or so ago, but illness caught up with him. He was forced to cancel his appearance at the last minute. Sadly he hasn’t been able to return to the stage. Wayne has since been forced to permanently seal up his saxophone in his case. Thankfully he is still writing and inspiring musicians around the world with his staggering contributions.
In tribute to Wayne, a collection of musicians were assembled at the last minute for the SF run to stand in for him, while his supporting band members stood in the gap. We get to stream unrehearsed remarkable creativity happening from the worlds most nimble musicians.
Donations required, but for God’s sake…wouldn’t you put a few bucks in a tip jar if you were able to witness this kind of earnest and respectful playing?
I’m still pouring energy into assembling the required hardware and knowhow to stream from CCA. I’m close. Truly looking forward to showcasing local musicians and offering our community a chance to hear. I’m also eager to give a voice to our incredible musical community who is hurting. It will be hard to pull the spotlight off of other competing events in the world, but I’ve got to try.
On a side note, check out “Americans for the Arts Action Fund”. You can encourage our government to support the Arts.
Us musicians are eager to get back out and play. We all miss the fellowship and thrill of playing together. Personally, I’m really eager to get out and try to improve. “You can’t rehearse the unknown” says Wayne Shorter, and I miss the music taking us places.
We lost a titan this week. Little Richard has passed. He sure took us to unexpected places and changed popular music forever.
Live music is finding its way into life one way or another. Musicians are playing over the telephone for staff and patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, and making a real impact on peoples lives…not to mention putting a few bucks in musicians pockets. This NY Times piece was beautiful.
On the local side of things, I’ve been in communication with many musicians about doing a live streaming event at the CCA. Some of my friends feel it isn’t the time yet. Others are eager to get out and get back to it. Next week I hope to have further news on this.
For now, I’ll leave you with a clip (full disclosure, I’m in the groupJ) from The Hapa Hillbilllies. We’ve been recording in an unorthodox way every week and producing three videos every Monday evening in an effort to keep our regular crowd members engaged. Perhaps you might enjoy this…I know we did!
4/30 The Road Ahead
Today is International Jazz Day. It is cool seeing this global celebration of America’s original art form evolve and modernize. I’ll be keen to hear directly from musicians today and hear how they are managing emotionally, financially, and artistically. Check it out here.
It was heartwarming yesterday to receive an email from Friends of Chamber Music in Portland. Tickets are up and for sale for performances for the 20/21 season. The show always goes on!
The Washington Post dove into the grim economic reality many performances spaces are weighing in their mind. Obviously, some venues are better prepared to weather things. The music will never stop, but it will certainly have to perform a few extra dance steps to keep swinging. This sobering article presents some of the facts we all need to be aware of.
One artist who has always evolved, and is really shining with her viral “Cool It” campaign is the timeless Miss Elliott.
Her Instagram account always impresses with dancers from around the world taking #TheMissyChallenge
These dancers are stunning both artistically and physically. Worth a moment to look.
4/24/20 – Flip the Script
Classical music is mischaracterized as “highbrow” and boring. It is also considered “music for old folks”. Pianist Stephen Hough says “When we invite someone to come with us to a concert it’s more like asking them to play a game of tennis rather than to watch a match”. He also prefers to see the mature audiences as being many times more capable of exploring the most complex ideas and emotions from a long life filled with experiences.
One imagines the life of a classical musician as being all about 5-star hotels, champagne, and first-class travel. Well, for most…it isn’t. The economic impact in this fragile art form is severe. “life as a professional string quartet has been a hand-to-mouth existence. The four players, aged 34 to 38, have long relied on relatives, friends and concert presenters for temporary housing, while stashing their few possessions in a storage locker. Only during the past year did their advance bookings give them the confidence and means to rent their own apartments in New York.”
Violinist Jennifer Koh is adapting to the pandemic and finding a way to keep her artistic edge. She is using her audience to perform pieces by lesser known contemporary composers in an effort to raise funds for musicians in need. I love her consideration and adaptability, and I hope we can all find inspiration in this story.
Folk music is filled with the finest truth telling, wit, sarcasm, and humor. I’m grateful to share local singer-songwriter Matt Mesa’s original tune “Let’s go to Costco”, which is a perfect anthem for shopping during these complicated times. Matt is an incredibly talented song crafter. Check out the video below and follow his work.
Perhaps nobody could “flip the script” better than the late great Mahalia Jackson. Perhaps the greatest example was her stunning performance in 1958 at the Newport Jazz Festival. This festival is famous for the breath-taking back drop but is also associated with the culture of privilege and decadent partying. Late into the evening, Mahalia hushes the crowd in seconds and delivers a spiritual message during the height of the civil rights struggle. A mixed crowd is suddenly united in rapt attention and harmony.
Let’s hope our country can find ways to unite during this difficult time.
4/22/20 Musical Literacy
During the days of the “Spanish Flu”, one remarkable musician who found a way to flourish was the great Django Reinhardt. This streetwise kid turned celebrity was a miraculous survivor of an accident who went on to overcome his handicap. Many still claim he is the greatest jazz guitarists of the twentieth century. He was an illiterate who used musical notes as a universal language. Despite wars, political persecution, poverty, and his physical limitations he blossomed into a whimsical musician who defied every setback.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the young and gifted Laura Marling has also found a way to cast aside her wounds and push her artform to a higher plane. This stunning artist is a remarkable composer, guitarist, lyricist, singer, and presence.
From a recent NPR interview:
Laura Marling wasn’t planning to release her new album until the end of the summer. But when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world, Laura changed her mind and decided to put it out early.
She released her seventh studio album, Song For Our Daughter, on April 10. Laura had just returned home after a solo tour of Australia to the news that her U.S. and European tours had been canceled and saw an opportunity to fill that gap.
“I suddenly realized that not only was I going to miss performing, but I was also going to miss that opportunity to connect with people in that way, and I hadn’t anticipated feeling like that,” she says. “I felt like the only thing I could offer was the album.”
Records are meant to be listened to much as a book is meant to be read from start to finish. Artists toil over the architecture of a record, organizing the structure so that it poetically presents the right tone and color for an experience. Streaming music, to many, is much like tossing out unrelated paragraphs together without a theme. During these challenging times, record stores, who make a living out of keeping this tradition alive, are among the most fragile businesses trying to weather the storm.
Be safe out there.
4/16/2020 “Everything is going to be Alright”
Since 2008, we’ve all been drawn at hyper-speed into the digital world. The iphone, Facebook, etc…has all barged in to all of our lives and commanded our attention. We stare at screens looking for something from sunrise to sunset. Many times we just seem to find what we are looking for. I have confidence this collective experience is going to eventually tune people into some collective and valuable focus.
Artists are blossoming during this “down time”. Many musicians are finally getting time to dust off unfinished projects and drag them across the finish line. When we grow more confident and begin interacting in public again, there is going to be a hunger to plug into something real instead of something digital.
When we think of the past, we often connect it with particular songs. Over my 50+ years, I can’t tell you how many experiences I’ve pegged to the music of Paul Simon.
If you are looking for an amazing podcast, this one tops my list. It is also an incredible gateway to the rest of the remarkable podcast pieces.
“Meet the Composer: Paul Simon’s Curious Mind”
Following that vein, I’ve grown a deep appreciation over recent years for classical music. The beauty and pain of Chopin’s music ranks as the most important western music I’ve ever heard.
The beauty and clarity of a duo or trio is incredibly intimate. Perhaps this music will help to lift us up and away from our glowing screens.
It puts a smile on my face to see younger musicians treating this older music (Schubert) with focus.
On the local front, one group of artists I plan on keeping a close eye on is “The Blue Cranes” out of Portland. This jazz group weaves the complex architecture of contemporary jazz with incredible passion. Ji and Rebecca Tanzer have been a cornerstone of the music scene in Portland for years. Like many musicians, they “sunlight” (opposite of moonlight) at Sanborn’s restaurant in Portland. With COVID-19, it is people like Ji and Rebecca that really take a direct hit. I’m sure a few months of no gigs and no cash coming in from the restaurant must impact them and their beautiful baby. Keep an eye on them and the Blue Cranes, because the music will be even more urgent. Enjoy this interview with the two of them.
We are going to pull through this, and the music is going to sound more important and sweeter than ever.
4/14/20 Amid Pandemic, Catharsis
In today’s excellent “New Yorker” podcast, David Remnick finds the perfect words to describe our current reality. Like a laser, an excellent writer and thinker like Remnick can find the poetry we wrestle with deep in our head. How and why do I have complicated feelings that I can’t find the words for? Let Remnick take the wheel.
One particular interview that caught my attention was with Yiyun Li. Instinctively, she knew “War and Peace” was the “book club” selection for the pandemic, and she has found receptive community sharing the story with community. She found comfort reading the book with others, and enjoyed the distraction the novel would bring. As a book club read, it stiched the club closely together.
I immediately thought of the remarkable album “Bright Mississippi” from Allen Toussaint.
“Bright Mississippi” was literally recorded during Hurricane Katarina in New Orleans. The soaring musicianship is breathtaking (high volume recommended). While the city was being flooded, the music community united and forgot their troubles. They played their butt off.
Listen for yourself. The greater the tragedy, the greater the art.
New Orleans is no stranger to tragedy, and how to navigate the frown and turn it upside-down.
Read this piece on how music is the bedrock of that city, and how musicians are coping with the times.
I think back to the time of the last global pandemic. Born 100 years ago was the remarkable and musical Flaminco dance legend Carmen Amaya. Something about the backdrop of “Spanish Flu” must have inspired her artistic heights.
The unique and painful part of this pandemic however is the way it is cutting off our shared experiences with live music. NOLA, flamencio music & dancing, and all art is supercharged because it is a shared experience. One positive aspect of the isolation is the ability to focus on delivering content that has already been written and recorded.
Local musician and songwriter Richard Tillinghast just dropped a new record today. This collection of songs features his talented wife Tova as well. They took advantage of the time at home and shot a lovely video at their home. Check out the new record on Richard’s site here or click below to have a listen:
4/11/20 Turn off the news. Turn on your stereo.
In a time of crisis, we struggle to find the best in ourselves. Life only offers you a handful of opportunities to take “the hero’s journey”. Art of all kinds is an expression of this struggle. How to take pain, rage, grief…and turn it into a voice that speaks with clarity and volume that cuts all distraction away. With music, you find invisible words to cut right to the chase.
John Coltrane felt deeply that the best way to be a better musician was to focus on becoming a better person. Here is an example of Coltrane as a hero. “Alabama” was composed in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. This horrible Ku Klux Klan aggression in Alabama killed four African-American girls. He took a horrible moment and turned it into beautiful art.
It is so easy to respond to anger and frustration by lashing out at others. Coltrane, and other earnest artists “weaponize” that negativity and turn it into beauty.
I encourage all of you to turn off the TV, the news, or the podcast for a few minutes and listen to a song. Maybe it is a tune that brings back a memory? Alternatively, maybe you could put on some new music and tackle one of those neglected projects around the house. Jam out and make art! You can hold this moment up as a positive example to inspire you to turn the page and make lemonade out of lemons. You could also just listen and think of all of the incredible efforts in our own community. The restaurants adapting and trying to stay afloat, the grocery clerks risking their lives by going to work every day, and of course, the nurses and doctors.
Shostacovich once said “When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something.” Once can only imagine the strength it took for him to not scream in anger at the world and his life under Stalin. Instead, he did this:
CCA draws together a community of people who all aspire to find that secret voice that cuts through the bad news and speaks to the heart. This pandemic is calling all of us out to reach for our better selves. Let’s look and listen.
On the local scene, I’m looking forward to hearing Jess Clemons rise to the occasion. I’m confident we’ll see her at the CCA (her show was cancelled due to COVID) when this is all over. Looking forward to sitting in that theater hearing her sincerity and strength.
4/9/20 When You are Ready for It
A dear friend, Mr. Rick Hulett, used to always preach to me “you don’t pick music, music picks YOU“. I couldn’t agree more. When the muse makes you ready for a song or artist, it is like meeting a new best friend. John Prine’s music and stories pick you when you are ready. At first listen, John can sound pretty sour. His songs sound simple and silly. When you are ready, you realize the depth of his wit and understanding. Few artists can simply walk on stage with minimum dexterity and glitz and absolutely mesmerize you. I picked up “John Prine Live” back in the mid-90’s and like a lightning bolt I was swept away. I suppose I was ready.
Little did I know that the hours spent listening to his songs would completely change the direction of my relationship with music. 30 years later, I find a common threat amongst musicians I love and play with all have this same attraction to John Prine (Scott Sparks, Kerry Williams, Chic Preston, Matt Mesa all come to mind immediately). A mater of naughty nursery rhymes. Just try not to be moved by his gift. R.I.P.
Many musicians and venues have spent the last several months booking events, arranging tours, organizing marketing and promotional materials, etc. It is a great deal of work to manage both sides of the relationship. Every single event that happens at CCA needs to go thru a Labyrinth game. Agree on the date, agree on the time, agree on the price of tickets, arrange the promotion and marketing, organize the production needs and schedule, etc. This pandemic erased countless hours of energy. Music picks you, however. You find a way to roll with the punches and tell a story.
Looking forward to sharing more upbeat news in my next posts. Right now I’m missing that feeling of a room full of songs and smiling folks.
In the coming days I’ll inform of live events to come, like the Global Citizen show. Also blown away by the Seattle Symphony’s strength and creativity during these weird days. CCA will also be hosting a few streaming shows to keep the candle lit while we wait this thing out. Please share your thoughts with me by firing over an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4/6 – Rising to the Occasion
I’ve been struck lately by the learning curve of the music community. Millions of musicians from around the country have been using technology to connect with their fellow music mates. One quickly learns how digital latency prevents spontaneous music from happening. This forces everyone to go back to the drawing board and “layer” audio and visual projects one piece at a time. This tedious project can produce stunning results if an editor is patient and willing to put in the hours of editing.
For most musicians, this editing process is the exact opposite of what is fulfilling about music…so hats off to all of the editors out there.
Leith (via Kristie Strasen) sent this remarkable clip today that is a marvel of playing and of editing. I can only imagine the time some poor soul put in to it…but thank you for rising to the occasion. I gave up trying to count the number of video clips come in and out, and can only imagine what a challenge it must of been to edit. Ravel’s “Bolero” never sounded better to me. These musicians from NYC are playing from the heart and the belly of the beast.
As more and more musicians gather around their firewire cable, I wonder how the art form is going to evolve. It will be exciting to see the technological challenges dissolve. As magical as all of this is, I still feel more eager to see what music comes from the luddites of the world. Sidelining the entire music industry from the day-to-day travel and performances is allowing some music makers time to woodshed, focus on unfinished work, or turn their stress and grief into deeper music for these mysterious times.
On the Local front:
We’re starting to see folks harness their digital tool box and offer up streaming events in an effort to “hold hands” in real time. Thrilled to see the music community in The Dalles embrace this with talent & heart.
Check out the live events and the archives by going here.
Keep emailing me your ideas and thoughts to email@example.com.
4/3/20 – Brace Yourself
It’s been a challenging few days in the music world. Just moments ago, the world was informed via push-notification that the brilliant Bill Withers has passed. This one hurt. Ascend, maestro.
I’m still processing the news from yesterday, when I heard that the brilliant musician and educator Mr. Ellis Marsalis Jr., stunning trump player Wallace Roney, and joyous guitar player Bucky Pizzarelli have also passed in recent days. Mr. Marsalis in particular was an important hero of mine. He brought class and dignity to Jazz. One of my first introductions to drumming was his song “Whistle Stop”, featuring the impossible complex polyrhythmic drumming of NOLA favorite James Black.
I’ve been missing the brotherhood of my musician friends. Hood River is filled with talented players who bring so much joy to the community. It is therapeutic “letting go” of the outside world, & focusing only upon the moment with these characters. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen smiling faces at the bars and wineries we frequent too.
Local board member Tim Mayer knows a thing or two about these things. His kindness and sincerity always resonates, and I thank him for his positive message.
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to the service industry folks who are really feeling the pain. So many folks rely upon tips and social interaction for a living.
The Hapa Hillbillies, led by Ben Bonham, have enjoyed years of steady Monday night gigs at the Moth Lounge. It warms my heart to see their fundraiser for the Moth staff flourish. If you’ve got a nickel to toss in the bucket, I certainly encourage you to contribute.
3/31 – Live from Our Living Rooms
The quarantine is generating some incredible streaming musical options.
Facebook is virtually overflowing with clips and concerts from your favorite artists. For a fan, the opportunity to see and hear music being created without the glitzy production can be even more impactful.
Many folks were frozen in their tracks yesterday when they heard that John Prine was gravely ill with COVID-19. Mr. Prine, a remarkable songwriter, has had many health battles over the years. He is particularly at risk. It is lovely to see musicians sending out positive wishes to him thru song.
Here is Beth Orton lighting a candle for him, performing Prine’s song “Clay Pigeons”
Other live events are everywhere.
There is nothing like having a personal concert by Mary Chapin Carpenter (and her adorable dog playing).
Musicians are also hearing the need to use their resources to bring assistance to those in need.
“Live from our Living Room” is a week long cyber-festival beginning tomorrow putting the spotlight on many contemporary jazz musicians like Bill Frisell and Christian McBride. Check it out here.
All proceeds will provide emergency relief to New York City musicians whose freelance careers have been impacted by COVID-19.
For a visual feast that may inspire meditative musical ideas, check out this strange and soothing “Moon Jelly Cam”. I suggest turning the music down and composing your own piece to it!
On the local front, please enjoy Gorge favorite Megan Alder’s “Tennessee”
Do you have something you’d like to share with me? Drop me an email and let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
3/30 – The Dark and the Light – From Stream of Consciousness to Streaming Concerts
Bob Dylan’s New Track
Bob Dylan dropped his first original song in nearly a decade this week. Hear the dizzying 17-minute song “Murder Most Foul” and see how it speaks to you. For some, the air becomes still and the seriousness of the moment crashes over you. It appears Bob Dylan is much more productive when he is stuck in the house than most of us.
Streaming Concerts Everywhere
It’s been heartwarming to see how the music industry is quickly evolving and identifying this time of need
Here are a few worthy links to check out for causes and streaming concerts.
Songkick’s Live Streaming Concerts – (A multitude of small and big bands featured here.)
A list of NPR suggestions for where to stream music – Read or Listen here.
A personal favorite, contemporary composer Joep Beving performs “Sol and Luna” in Australia to an empty theatre during “Piano Day”.
The Emotional and Financial Toll
NPR has provided some remarkable journalism this week specifically about COVID-19 and the music industry:
This one, close to my heart regarding the disruptions of social distancing and the jazz industry. – Read or Listen here.
A thoughtful piece about how you can help artists during these challenging times. – Read or Listen here.
On a much lighter note, I found some chuckles on Twitter with this silly “viral” game of renaming bands in the spirit of the moment. There are a few memorable ones in this list:)
The Violent Phlegms
Pandemic at the Disco
Ben Folds Laundry
Jimmy Easts Everything in the Pantry
Panic at the Costco
Men out of Work
Men at Work from Home
Weird Al Hadkerchief
Fleetwood Mac & Cheese
Janes Netflix Addiction
Please Stop Going to the Beach Boys
Huey Lewis & the Endlessly Bad News
Red Hot Chilli Preppers
Alice in Sweatpants
CDC Music Factory
On the Local Scene
please enjoy local artist John Donovan’s take on the times.
3/25/20 – “Music” – By CCA Staff Member and musician Tim Ortlieb
Some view life through the prism of literature, law, money, or any number of disciplines. If music has chosen you, then your measure of life can be altered in seconds within the subtle and dramatic sounds of this art form.
A melody can trigger a memory. It snaps you to attention. Your heart can immediately swell with love. Melody and tempo dictates the steps of your dance. It reveals your politics & patriotism, and identifies your intellect. Music speaks when words fail, and create a vacuum when it gives pause. Songs trigger distant memories and reveal layers we weren’t previously aware of within ourselves. We hope to reveal interesting local, national, and international bits here to broadcast another perspective on this crisis.
If you are fortunate enough to be tuned in to the mysterious world of music, then I hope you find some interest in the content that is shared here. In time, I hope to post content from the local and global musicians that speak to us during this pandemic. I encourage you to share content with me by clicking here. We hope to comfort or to distract you with music that reveals something that words cannot quite express.
For today, I begin with one of the world’s most renowned and beloved musicians, trying to provide comfort in this time of crisis.
On the local front, the talented singer/songwriter Stephanie Sweet, sharing a rendition of a healing Leonard Cohen song for us all.
Another local, Patrick Mulivhill, a member of multiple Gorge area bands including Oakinfir & The Ry Mac Band.