This week is a stream of consciousness--I hope you enjoy

Heyo. Sorry I'm a little late again I have been deep in the proverbial "shed." When I returned to Chennai I was unexpectedly asked to move from my old digs at the apartment to a stand-alone house (also Brhaddhvani property) that has only just been renovated from the December floods last year. It's a definite upgrade, I can practice whenever I want without the fear of bothering other students in lessons and Guru no longer hears every note I play... whew...

The flip side of this is that the mandated quiet time I had in the old place because of classes is no more and that means that I haven't remembered to post here until now. I hoped to share some insights because I had a lot of questions that I have been researching since I left Kolkata but I haven't done all the reading I would like to to make really good arguments. I don't have any firm thoughts and I am still struggling my way through this book by Dr. KSS called "text tone and tune" *yawn* *homework* so I haven't read as much as I'd like so I'll just offer the skeleton:

After going to Kolkata, hearing the music, eating food, and seeing people I just have a feeling that northeast india is a lot more "Asian" or "eastern" than the south. By this I mean that the people have generally lighter skin, the music has more of the lyrical, emotive quality I associate with Japanese, Chinese, and Indonesian music (the tiny bit I know about these musics). The food is more... I don't know... meat and rice based compared with vegetable and starch based--fun fact: Bengalis love to make fun of south indian food by saying it's boring, I had the same conversation a thousand times about how they can't stand the food in the south... When I come back to the south the Tamil sounds like it has more consonants and the speaking style is quieter and somehow more rhythmically agile and diverse. the people also have darker skin and more of what I think of as "African" features to use a totally blunt categorization. These are just feelings not based in facts really.

So this along with some wikipedia reading and some conversations I've had has led me to think more about what we call "black music." The following facts are not fully checked or even necessarily super accurate but... India was the richest region on earth both in prehistoric times when it was the first place human migrated from Africa. After this migration some of the population went up in the mountains, lost a lot of the pigment in their skin, came back and fought with some of the people who stayed in the lower lands. I haven't gotten confirmation but I suspect most of the people in Chennai are descendants of these people who stayed down. India also was the richest region in the world from 200-1100 AD. It was one of the richest all the way up until the British came and messed every thing up.

But here are the black music questions:

What do we really mean when we say african diaspora? Aren't we all children of that nation? Obviously thats too simplistic but what does it really mean? Are the people in South India more "black" than the North? I can make a somewhat informed argument about why I think the Carnatic rhythmic language bears more similarity to jazz than the Hindustani language but what does that really have to do with it?

If White people come into a nation and mess everything up how does that differ from when white people take enslaved humans from a nation and mess every thing up for them? Both are obviously atrocious. But what is the effect on the music? The concerts here are a whole 12 hours shorter than in Vedic times and Art Tatum is using Chopin's harmonies. I dunno...

Is some of the reason I am drawn to this music because it has some sort of distant relationship to African music? More so than other music from Asia at least. Do I feel like my own relationship to Africa is distant and does that make me seek out some other tradition that might give me clarity on what I should be playing?

Race is a social construct so does any of this matter anyway?

 

 

Generally I'm happy. I'm playing with more people. I've got some gigs that I'm excited about coming up. I have asked to focus less on Gamaka (indian phrasing) in favor of more compositions, history, and rhythm and I am loving my lessons. definitely more than before. The weather is getting nice here (less hoooooooot) and it is Diwali which is the hindu festival of light. It looks like christmas outside and there are fireworks going off as I write this. Much love to all.

Relentless Part 1

Please excuse the delay I was without wifi in Kolkata and for my first few days back here in Chennai. Let’s pretend I posted this on Wednesday…

 

This week in Kolkata was maybe the loudest and most colorful of my life. If the past six weeks were characterized by their solitude and contemplation this one contrasted with constant interaction, noise, and activity. It was a little like a parody of a twenty-something going out and seeing the world. I found myself seeing amazing local art and music in the day and meeting musicians at night. I performed for the French ambassador (Jordan flashback), I ate at amazing restaurants, and I ended up on Indian TV… Twice. The world that people kept using to describe the city was “relentless” I think this applied to my week quite well. In my memory it is a little like a blur of color and sound. I don’t think it’s worth recounting the details so I’ll just give some highlights and some thoughts. I’m writing this on the plane home trying to stay awake!

 

Durga Puja is a twelve-day festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. The story goes that a Mahishasura prays to the Gods to make him invulnerable to the attacks of others. They grant him this wish and he uses his invincibility to start killing everybody. The gods get together and fuse into Durga. 10-armed Durga fights Mahishasura who first comes to her in the form of a bull. After she kills the bull Mahishasura emerges and she kills him too. There is much more to the story most of which I don’t know, but that the nuts and bolts.

 

During this festival nearly every community in Kolkata erects a Pandal. A Pandal is like a temporary shrine/art exhibit for Puja. They vary widely in their size and aesthetic. There are house Pandals in private homes, community Pandals in neighborhoods, and there are Pandals that have corporate sponsors and attract thousands per day. They are really beautiful structures and the sheer size and number of them is mind-blowing, not least because they are all temporary. During roughly hourly ceremonies small groups of percussionists ranging from 2-8 members play in the Pandals. These are mostly people from rural areas who do menial labor for a living. The feel and sound of their playing is indescribable, and it was fascinating to watch the pedagogy of older musicians teaching younger drummers on the job. Dura Puja is the largest outdoor art installation in the world. I can’t really describe it in words so I suggest you look at some pictures: https://www.facebook.com/max.bessesen

 

On my second day I lucked into a connection with the French Consulate and I fell into a crowd of about fifteen or twenty people going out to see the festival. About half of these people lived in Kolkata and of these most of them worked for the French consulate. But there were people from all over India and visitors from England, Ireland, and Argentina. It was a really interesting group of people. There were filmmakers, doctors, politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and a musician completing a PHD in Hindustani percussion.

 

Because of the government and press connection the group had a few VIP passes. These were used for the whole crew and we were able to bypass huge two-hour lines to see into the biggest Pandals. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the festival but I felt strange walking past throngs of people crammed against one another. In some places police officers (about a third of which were teenagers in uniform) literally joined hands to make a human fence to allow our party through.

 

Each Pandal, concert, and trip between them was a different adventure. It would be impossible to describe but a few things stick out to me from this week. First is that India is a HUGE country. I already knew this, but Kolkata is totally different from Chennai and even the North of the city of Kolkata is totally different from the South. I knew there was a big difference between North and South Indian music but I realize now that there are enormous differences along the East--West gradient as well. I’m also experiencing that the whole strip from East India up to China has a lot of common cultural and musical language… But I’ll write more on that in my post in a couple days stay tuned.

 

I am continually made more aware of how income inequality deeply affects life here. Kolkata is loud. My hotel room was never silent and the street noise woke me up many times in the night. The group of people I was hanging out with mostly have the privilege of quiet rooms but most people in the city don’t. I imagine the way that this constant over-stimulation would affect someone living on the street and I find it hard to deal with. Violence is very normalized in everyday life. I saw many children who were clearly homeless but had toy guns. I doubted that they have any other toys to play with. Somebody came up to our stopped car and punched the driver. They yelled at each other but when the light changed he just kept driving and stayed with us for the rest of the day. He didn’t go home or take the day off. I the US an assault that would have legal repercussions. No one talked about this incident after about an hour. The times that we were in large crowds I felt very claustrophobic. I was being pushed and shoved on all sides by a hot crowd of a thousand people. I was able to bypass most of these crowds and I saw many Pandals but I probably wouldn’t have done as much touring without the consulate connection. I find myself at once confused and inspired by the number of people who choose to make and visit these structures.

 

I also had a number of musical connections in this city. I went out to some shows and had the chance to play with some very good improvisers. I felt I made more headway in this scene after a week than I have in Chennai for the last two months. Some of the music was really compelling and all of the people I met were gracious and welcoming.

 

These musical interactions were different in many ways from those I’ve had in the past first because they’re in a different country but second because I have spent so much time practicing alone without as much ensemble play in the last two months. My practicing in the past was always accompanied with regular group application so I realized a few new things:

I am much more aware of sound and rhythm than I was before.

Grooving with others has always been hard but I have a whole new appreciation and sensitivity for how much I need to do to make the song feel good

The American music that makes it to other parts of the world is not always what you would expect and that is good

In a country with less diversity than the United States explicit and implicit artistic discourse both in the context of conversation and musical interaction is more limited in breadth but may contain depth I don’t perceive fully yet

More observations on this to come in a couple days too!

 

Relentless Part 2

It's funny that this is called "part 2" because I'm actually posting it first. I realized that the blog displays chronologically and I wanted this to come second. I want it second for a few reasons: The first is that the content of this post is quite disturbing. You should not read this if you will be distressed by sexual or violent verbal imagery. Second I don't want this story to be the main takeaway from my time in Kolkata. I loved it there and I think it is an amazing city. At the same time I think that what I'm sharing is valuable information that is worth telling. Imagining me in this circumstance might give readers a personal relationship to poverty and strife that can seem remote from our Western perspective. What follows is a lightly edited version of a free-write I did on my third night in Kolkata:

 

"The hotel club was called “Someplace Else” and it reminded me a little bit of The Walnut Room, which is a venue I played in Denver a lot. It was a little seedy, the food was overpriced, but mostly it was safe and air conditioned and comfortable. So I got into the flow of that and kind of “forgot” I was in India for a couple hours. The band was insanely loud. One of the loudest shows I’ve ever seen. I not only felt the vibration of each bass drum but I felt physical pain in my ears with each passing quarter note. I usually have ear-plugs but I have been using them at night for sleep so they were back in my hotel room. I think there’s actually something to that. This place is so loud that the loud music needs to be even louder to be heard over the din. People seem to talk louder too.

 

So to get out of the loudness I stepped out after my friends played. I chatted with them and had a few drinks. I was feeling good but I had no success getting a cab to take me home. I tried ordering one on uber and the app out here olacabs multiple times and the drivers kept cancelling. The traffic during Durga Puja is even worse than normal Indian traffic so it is basically impossible to get around without a connection. So I ended up asking the hotel concierge to call a cab. The cab came in just about 5 minutes which was quite fast. I got in and told the driver the neighborhood. Some of the drivers have unusual impressions about people from the US so he said something that I didn’t think too much of: “Chandi Chawk? Oh you go and fuck girls one hours or two hours.” I laughed uncomfortably and didn’t respond. I was still feeling the glow from the hang and I didn’t want to worry about that weirdness.

 

We got to my street and I noticed the traffic was way thinner. And what was there were private cars and trucks. There were no lights on and not much foot traffic. I still didn’t think too much of it because my mind was still at “Someplace Else.” The entrance to my hotel is kind of concealed because it is part of a larger complex of businesses in the same building. So when the driver pulled up in the dark I didn’t immediately recognize where the door was. The drivers are under extreme pressure to pick up new passengers so they can hope to make any kind of profit. As a result they can be quite pushy and so he urged me out of the car pretty fast. I stepped out and shut the door and as soon as I did several things happened in very quick succession. All of my good feelings disappeared immediately. The driver sped away. I heard three different “kissy” sounds come from three different directions. And I realized I couldn’t see the entrance to my hotel. All these added up to “holy shit I am alone in the middle of Kolkata at 2am with a white face and a pocket full of money and I don’t know where the door to my hotel is.”

 

As soon as this thought crossed my mind I heard someone yell “fucking!” and I started to walk very fast towards where I thought the door was. A little girl who couldn’t have been more than thirteen appeared out of the dark repeatedly yelling “fucking” and asking for ten rupees (which is about 15 cents USD). I started running towards where I thought the door was and the girl chased after me repeating “fucking” over and over again. I said “no” and “leave me alone” several times and then I started shouting “no.” She grabbed my arm and I started running back the other way. By this time we were literally in a shouting match where all that was said was “fucking” and “no” and she was holding onto my arm so tightly I felt her nails cutting into my skin. I saw the door and I saw that there was a metal grill over the entrance. I thought hotels usually let you come and go at all hours but this hotel has no wifi and no AC so what the hell was I thinking assuming that?

 

I actually thought this was the end. Who knows what this girl would do? I had no way of getting a cab somewhere else. And I had no idea who was waiting in the darkness. All the while this girl who looked to be around eleven was screaming “fucking” at me. She was absolutely relentless. After what felt like an hour but was probably only thirty seconds a guard heard the shouting and came to let me in the gate. This person said something so drowsily and dispassionately to the girl that it was almost humorous. The girl shouted something back at him and he said something louder that clearly meant “get away from this door slut.” He let me in and the girl stood outside the gate still yelling “fucking” and putting her arm on her hip in this horribly perverse sexual stance. I walked towards the elevator and the guard took me up to my room. The girl did not stop looking at me and did not stop yelling until I got high enough that I couldn’t hear her anymore. I got into my room and realized I was crying. I sat in silence for a long time and when I opened my computer is was 3 am. I listened to the whole album “Blues Dream” by Bill Frisell. It made me picture City Park Fountain and made me think about my childhood. It made me feel calmer.

 

I couldn’t totally drown out the outside noise though. While I was up here on the fifth floor that girl was still down there in the street with the honking and the yelling. Some of the yelling might have even been her.

 

There is nothing different about that girl than my sister or my mother other than where she was born. When I was that age my parents bought me a saxophone and drove me to private lessons. And at the end of the day what she was really saying wasn’t “fucking.” She probably doesn’t even know exactly what that means. What she was really saying was “I’m hungry and I’ll do anything for something to eat.”

 

I probably only slept an hour or two that night. The whole next day I didn’t go an hour without thinking about that image of her at the gate. I’m still not really over it and I think I’m writing this to procrastinate going to sleep tonight. I know she’s out there. Probably on the same street that I am doing exactly what she was doing last night. And who knows if someone is actually abusing her? Who knows what would happen if they did? Would anyone care? Or listen to her? I’m sure they wouldn’t. And that makes it even harder for me to go to sleep right now.

 

I’m trying to tell myself that this is a good experience. That this is good learning and that I’m gaining perspective but it really doesn’t feel that way. In fact me thinking that almost makes me feel bad for having such developed coping mechanisms. Her suffering is not for my benefit. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Do you think that girl has coping mechanisms like “oh this will really make me understand my privilege better?” Do you think that girl had her mom hold her and tell her that “everything is going to be ok” when she got scared as a little kid? Do you think that girl ever had her mom hold her at all?

 

I don’t know and this isn’t even really about how it makes me feel but I just thought writing this would make me feel better and in some ways it has."

I did it!

I have now completed the first exercise. I memorized the 24 pages of phrasing and I performed it continuously. I made some mistakes and I certainly couldn’t do it three times in a row but my guru has said that this is sufficient for us to move forward.

 

I feel very proud of this accomplishment and in retrospect it is kind of crazy that I spent all that time on it. It really was somewhere between a full and part time job for the last month.

 

I am feeling eager about the future. I am headed to Kolkata to experience Durga Puja first-hand and to meet some other musicians. I also want to take this time to reflect on my first month and a half and decide where I want to go from here. I came into this trying to have a completely open mind but now I see where the curriculum is going and I want to find a way to direct it towards my long-term goals. I’m not quite sure how to do this yet but I will think about it and come up with a strategy over the next week.

 

I am still working on meeting friends and musicians my own age. It has proven to be a real struggle.  Life is busy and unless someone has a good reason to want to spend time with you they would often prefer to do something else. This compounded with the fact that I don’t see anyone my age on a regular basis means that I still have yet to move much beyond the network I was given when I first moved here. There is also a complete derth of jazz here. This means that the primary way that I meet and interact with others is not available. This is maybe the biggest thing that I want to work more on when I return.

 

Sorry for the short post but I’m writing this in the airport. More content (and pictures!) to come next week I promise.

"mantric vibe"

On Thursday I had the realization that I had made no trips around town by myself. Although I had seen some of Chennai with new friends, I hadn’t made the effort to really figure out where to go and how to see more of it myself. So this weekend I made a big effort to go out and see stuff!

 

On Saturday went to the Fort St. George museum, which is supposedly the biggest attraction in Chennai. It just so happens to be inside the main army base of Tamil Nadu... Classic India.

 

It was a really interesting place. First of all, hardly anyone was there and it was very hot so not a typical museum. It had three floors. The first was a badly cleaned exhibition of coins, cannons, and guns from the Empire with grammatically questionable signage about the crown. The second was given over to wall-length portraits of white people in wigs. The third floor had AC and was all about independence. I thought that was very interesting. What I took from it was mostly just how awful Britain was a to India and how they are still feeling the effects of economic and social exploitation even today. It’s a major bummer and I think it explains why I don’t see a lot of smiles on the street. For one thing fewer people smile in India. But even more importantly I think when people see someone who looks like me it just brings up a whole bunch of very negative emotions. I would have those too and they have absolutely every right to feel those and direct them at me. I hope it helps but I doubt it does.

 

Then I went to the beach, There was some smiling there.

 

It’s the longest Urban beach in the world but on weekends 30,000 people go hang there so it was actually pretty crowded. It was a fun place. Streamers. Horses. Cows (always gotta have cows here)

 

Sunday I went to a new and larger concert hall downtown and visited Kapaleeswarar temple. Man that was crazy. Every half an hour they have a percussionist and a Nagaswarnam player play something and they just go so hard. It’s awesome. They also had all these little girls doing classical Indian dance and the rhythmic stuff that they can do is wild. And to them it is not a big deal at all.

 

To tell the truth after these excursions I have been very happy to have some more days around the apartment. India is amazing but it can be really overwhelming. None of these trips were more than three or four hours but I needed to take an hour or so to clear my head after I got back each time.

 

Musically it has been more of the same. I’m starting to feel the effects of working on this stuff. It’s hard to describe but it reminds me of something Simone Shaheen said when he came to Oberlin. I don’t remember the particulars but he talked about how his music is mostly focused on exploring “a long sound.” The music I’m practicing is supposed to be played all in a row without mistakes or stopping. If you mess up you go back to the beginning. I have to admit it takes some getting used to. But now that I’ve been doing it for a while I’m starting to feel the difference and the impact of a “long sound.” Something about the rhythmic precision, the scalar repetition and the harmonic monotony gets me into a nice place… What Jay Ashby would call a “mantric vibe.”

 

All in all I’m doing well and I’m excited for another week.

I almost forgot the music part!

Most of the exercises I'm doing are a little bit hard to explain, but one of them is just a collection of 8 patterns that occur in 4/4 time in triplets. It's a continuation of the first exercise I posted and it involves displacing these patterns by one triplet every 8 beats. After you can do that try combining different ones and displacing the whole pattern. It will keep you busy for a while if you want to go there...

Ta-ki-ta

Ta-di-X

Din-X-ta

Taa-X-X

X-X-Ta

X-X-X

X-ta-ka

the "X" means no spoken syllable. If you have trouble feeling the spaces try vocalizing the syllable before din-nn-ta for example.

Please hit me up with questions if you have them!

Going Deeper

Please excuse the delay. The past two weeks have been hard for me.

I’m actually doing much better now but it took me quite some thought to get here. It also took me a while to decide how much to share about how I’ve been feeling. I’ve decided that if I want this blog to be a meaningful account of my travels then it should include my struggles as well as my successes. While this isn’t the main subject of this post I’m just going to give a brief aside on that:

We are living in an age where our personal interactions happen increasingly through digital means. If you don’t agree with me try keeping track of how much time you spend on Facebook, emailing, and texting today. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that what we say on the Internet MATTERS. Aside from the obvious limits the web puts on communication like gesture and intonation I think there is an even deeper way that this influences our interactions; Social media keeps our every movement saved for posterity forevermore and it gives us virtually infinite time to craft what we present (pun lol). As a result our human instinct to create an attractive image of ourselves is magnified. Our digital profile is not an accurate picture of us but often a sort of indulgence of our own vanity. While this is fine for entertainment I suggest that it might make us even lonelier. So if I make this blog into something more than just an expression of my swagger then this post could be a good thing not just for me but also for the people reading it. Most of my struggles are just minor variations on the struggles of being a free person just out of school and my thoughts on them might have some relevance to some of the people reading.

Anyway…

During the first two weeks of my stay here I took introductory lessons with one of the vocal teachers here named Sudah. I felt these were helpful and filled in some gaps in my existing knowledge. Generally I was really enjoying my first two weeks but I realize now that I liked them mostly because they were fairly familiar. I was studying Indian music alongside a continuation of my jazz studies and the Carnatic material was all in a subject area I knew a little bit about. Sure I was in another country, but I had time to practice, a quiet room, and a gym so I couldn’t get too worked up.

The founder and director Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian is my main teacher and we began lessons last week. He’s really an amazing man. Perhaps his most telling features are that he sleeps five hours a night and one in the afternoon, he comes from nine generations of Veena players, and he believes so much in his own teaching method that he quit his job at the University of Madras to start this school. I didn’t realize that the workload was going to change but I went from a couple classes a week to an intensive two-hour lesson every day. He was planning to do this for the duration of my stay, which is a level of dedication, and support that still awes me.

Frankly I couldn’t hang. There was too much material and I couldn’t keep up with that pace. A few days ago I told him that I didn’t want to waste his time and we are reducing the number of lessons per week.

Going through this was difficult for me and required that confront my goals, my aesthetics, and my own personality.

First of all, I have difficulty giving up on something that I feel is expected of me and I couldn’t help but feel that my pace was somehow a failing on my part.

When asked to complete these tasks I did my best to completely immerse myself in it, which meant that I entirely abandoned my old practice routine. To a non-musician or even a musician who has been guided more directly by a teacher this may seem trivial, but this is a carefully crafted regime that I have designed myself over a period of ten years through a combination of trial and error, meaningful personal and musical experiences, and repetition. It means a lot to me. Way WAY way more than I ever realized before. It may not be an exaggeration to say that my practice routine is the most concrete part of who I am. If we take as a premise that my music is a form of self-expression and my practice routine is an attempt to refine that expression then altering it completely is actually a huge change not just in my craft but in my self. And now that I have had a few days to reflect I think this is actually a good thing. If I believe in what I’m working on that strongly then hopefully that means that the end result of my efforts means just as much to me.

I have listened to only a tiny fraction as much Indian music as I have jazz and as I worked I became worried that this work would take me in a direction that I don’t really want to go. This music is very different then American music and while it is very beautiful it can sometimes sound overwhelming, strange, or even ludicrous to me…Similar to the way American music sounds to Indian people. These thoughts made me doubt my reasoning for even being here in the first place. If I don’t want to learn Indian music why the hell am I in India? Shouldn’t you have seen this coming? Are you just some guy looking for a cool story? This in turn raised a lot of feelings of guilt: Am I a tourist in a culture I don’t really care about? And inadequacy: “There are so many people who really understand this music who deserve this opportunity more than you.”

The inadequacy is a big one. And I still don’t have it all worked out. I realize that the only fix for it is internal but I still am dealing with that one frequently. I often found myself reverting back to this fact that I was awarded a fellowship for my trip here. After many hours of jumping back and forth from this fact I have realized that this means nothing and that my reliance on it was moving me backwards. The truth is that the grant world is just about random, especially in the arts. Even though I got the Beebe, that only means I CAN do my project it still doesn’t mean that I SHOULD. Having money doesn’t make something a good idea and I could have had a whole lot more money doing plenty of other things if I thought they would make me happy. As an aspiring professional musician I have a lot of anxieties about money. I’m still chewing this one over, but I’m beginning to really believe (instead of just saying) that if I do what I believe in the money will follow. I don’t think I fully believe this yet and I’ll have to see how this changes over time.

Because I still don’t have any real friends here yet I was also having these debates almost entirely within my own head. That’s a pretty inefficient process that also made me go a little crazy. I actually got worn out from obsessing about my own life and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before.

All this was compounded by the fact that I am literally living right next to my teacher’s studio and I am expected to keep up with a large amount of material every day. Although I’m sure I was imagining it, I felt that my every sonic movement was being evaluated by this virtuosic stranger.

So I spent a few days spinning my wheels trying to figure out what to do. Should I go back to Denver? To Ghana? The moon?

The bottom line is that whether this was a good decision or not, whether I am a lucky shmuck or a deserving artist, whether I am musically prepared for this experience or not I am here now. I have an amazing teacher and the infrastructure to practice a lot. That is an enormous privilege and I should take advantage of it before I get freaked out and run away. This is a challenge that could lead to some great things, I just don't know what those are yet.

I made an agreement with myself to see how this next month goes. I’ve created a little time in my day for some of my old practice routine. I realize now that I need that. I will be going to Durga Pooja in Kolkata in October and I will re-asses then when I have more clarity on what my studies here will look like. Until then I am going to just put my head down and shed and see what I can learn and how it is benefitting me.

OK and also I’m going to go all Siddhartha on you again:

“’When someone is seeking,’ said Siddhartha, ‘it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.’”

Not sure if this is right for me or not. At Stanford Mark Turner said “you have to have a goal. Otherwise you might just work your whole life and get nowhere.”  But for now at least I’m just out here trying to find bb.

It's been a little over two weeks here...

And I feel I've gotten into a nice routine. I've found a gym and have found a nice practice schedule that works for me and for the classes that are going on here. Brhaddhvani is a really exceptional place. It doesn't look like what I would traditionally think of as a "school." it's basically a three bedroom apartment with a number of musical instruments where classes are held. Because the classes happen while sitting on the floor there are no desks. Because the music is largely taught aurally there are no music stands. But there are classes here for people as young as 2 and as old --I'm guessing here--as 75. There are people who take 10 hour train rides (seriously! both ways!) to come take a lesson here once a week. And there is a general atmosphere of positivity and love for music.

I am practicing a lot. Probably more than I ever have in my life. I am working a lot on the Carnatic music but my studies actually integrate really well as a continuation of the jazz studies I was doing at Oberlin. Most of my lessons isolate two features of music that I think we fail to address as specifically as other features in the US pedagogically. These are phrasing and rhythm.

The food is killing.

I live about a five minute walk from a concert hall that holds Carnatic music concerts almost every night. I've been a couple times. It's really amazing. The room is full and there is a culture of support that is really different than I see in the US. At the same time tons of people leave in the middle of the show which I also don't see in the US. Plus the shows are like 3 hours. Back in the day they were like 12-15 hours so they've tightened up the program since then.

I have yet to meet many people my age. There are no students in their twenties here as far as I can tell and I have only a few connections in town. This evening I am going to see a performance of some more western music with some new people and I'm thinking that will lead to some new faces. 

OK THIS IS THE STUFF THAT MATTERS IF YOU'RE A MUSICIAN

Here's this lesson. It's in a tala of 10 counts. clap pinkey ring middle intex thumb pinkey clap clap wave. Try saying it with the first few syllables as eighth notes and then double-time with the syllables as sixteenths. The picture of my notes is attached. Message me if you have questions. This is some seriously bad shit.

LAST THING! READ THIS ONLY IF YOU WANT TO GET A LITTLE CORNY AND DEEP

There is a very extensive library here and I have been reading a little from it each night. I found this quote from Siddhartha very very insightful and I wanted to share it:

"He reflected deeply, until this feeling completely overwhelmed him and he got to the point where he could recognize causes: for to recognize causes, it seemed to him, is to think and it is through thought alone that feelings become knowledge and are not lost, but become real and begin to mature."

Some features I find especially interesting are this idea that knowledge comes not from external observation but from processing internal feelings. It reminds me of an interview of Steve Coleman's (a Brhaddhvani alum) where he states categorically that "there is no such thing as objectivity." Check out that interview here: http://m-base.com/interviews/improvisation-correlation-and-vibration-an-interview-with-steve-coleman/ 

Usually objective observation is what is credited as the source of knowledge. If there is no objectivity a prime candidate for the source of knowledge is feelings.

Second that this process of attaining knowledge comes only after deep reflection. Which puts "knowledge" in a somewhat different category than just information, memorization, or facts.

Third that there is this transience of feelings but a permanence of knowledge. I recognize this in myself. I can often recall the lessons I've learned from certain memories but the precise feelings are hard to re-create. I always see them through an extremely foggy lens of how I feel about things now.

Fourth that this process of "recognizing causes" and allowing this feeling to "overwhelm" oneself is what it really means to "think." I'm still mulling this one over... I had this idea that I was thinking all the time... but maybe I'm not? If so, what am I doing? and when do I switch? I also find that my mind is often trying to create causal relationships where there are none to be found. A lot of times our world is just chaos and our brain just wants to make meaning out of it. If I find a cause and I'm wrong am I thinking then? This all somehow reminds me of how Billy Hart always says "look at Television" instead of "watch TV." 

Last--and to me this is the most important as it relates to music--is that thought alone is what allows feelings to "mature" and not to become "lost." I feel a thousand things in a day. Probably more. Probably a million. And by the end of the day I can recall maybe one or two of these feelings. But when I listen to Coltrane play "Dear Lord" I feel something so crystalline that it almost transcends feeling. This piece of music is at the confluence of thinking and feeling and it is somehow more "mature" than one of these things by itself. This is about as close to "knowledge" as I really get.

When a lot of non-musicians talk about music they talk about the way that it makes them feel. They aren't looking for something that makes them think. They figure "I've been thinking all day! I need something to speak to my heart not my brain." But I wonder if this is an impoverished idea of what feeling can be. Feeling can mature and become knowledge. Herman Hesse (the author of Siddhartha) might suggest that, in fact, you have NOT been thinking all day. That in fact, you've been feeling all day! And these feelings have been lost and have failed to grow into knowledge! So there's something about music that is not just feeling but also thinking.

But of course it's both. When most musicians talk about music they're usually talking about the technical aspects form, rhythm etc. And we've all heard music that sounds nerdy or brainy. I often think my own music sounds this way. So you can't just have thinking either. Gary Bartz my saxophone teacher at Oberlin often talked about how "you don't have time to think" when you're soloing. But he would also say "I'm always thinking I don't want to go out and hear guys just playing." 

I don't really have a grand conclusion to all that. I just found it interesting and wanted to share. Maybe I'm becoming real and beginning to mature myself...

 

First week

I don't have a ton of time at the moment as I'm going to out to meet again with Srinivas Krishnan. The musician behind Global Rhythms at University of Miami, and an amazing singer and tabla player. I just wanted ot keep my promise of weekly posts and figured I'd start here.

It's been an amazing first week. I have seen so many colors and heard so many sounds. I have begun lessons here at Brhaddhvani and I am also singing in class with children (oldest miht be 12)... they are all way better than me.

So far I've seen 3 guys peeing on the street. Seen 6 cows. Countless chickens and gaots (some of whom are fighting each other) and been honked at maybe 600 times. It doesn't mean "get out of the way" here it means "hi, I'm here. I'm driving near you."

I have heard my first live Nagaswarnam. That was really an incredible experience. It is such a powerful sound I can't even really describe it in words. All I can say is that it doesn't come across on records with nearly the power it does live. Every temple has one. Check them out they;re cool.

I'll try to post something music-related each week too. I'm learning some rudimentary stuff but I learned an interesting displacement exercise:

in 4/4 7 4s and a 5

ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-ta-ki-ta

ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-ta-ki-ta

ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-ta-ki-ta

ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-di-mi | ta-ka-ta-ki-ta (last one only 6 groups of 4)

Kinda neat.. you can try it in any subdivision triplets with one group of 4 quintuplets with one group of six it had me hearing some interesting stuff cadentially when I applied it to some scales.

Sitting in the airplane

I left Denver several hours ago for a big journey. I’m feeling very excited and I’m definitely ready to get moving, it feels like I’ve been talking about going for about as long as I’m actually going to be in India! This past week I got to be back in the west with my parents and meet up with some of my close friends from high school. I went out to salt lake and saw my sister and mom run a Triathalon which was an incredible and inspiring achievement. Salt Lake reminds me of Denver 10 years ago. Quiet, beautiful, grid-like, friendly.

 

I’m going to get in to Chennai at 3:30am on Thursday… Kind of crazy, but I’m excited to meet the people that I’ve been talking with for the past few months. I’ll report back when I have more to report…

A great week in Port Townsend

I've been hanging out here with my Aunt Shirley and her Husband Mike who lives out here. i got the chance to see her beautiful art studio (she taught visual art at the University of Washington) and got to see some amazing views. We went out on the water in their boat and hiked up on hurricane ridge. Very inspiring. Very beutiful

 

I even got the chance to see Jovio Santos Nato, a really amazing pianist working with a new sax player Mark Taylor. It struck me that being a sideman as a horn player is extremely difficult because your job in many respects is more varied from gig to gig than a rhythm section player's is simply because there are more variations among melodies than among chord progressions and grooves. Obviously this doesn't account for all the subtleties that are different on every gig but... 

It also struck me that what is most important is not your solos but your sound, your delivery of the melody, and your ability to execute the "glue" (endings, beginnings, etc.) All of this Taylor did exceptionally well. This all comes back to something Mark Turner said last week about making the leader's tunes sound good, not making yourself sound good.

Third week

This post is coming a little late but my excuse was that I had my mind blown. So much happened that I will make this post in a series of fragments:

Concerts:

Sunday Billy Hart Quartet

Monday Taylor Egisti/Ben Street/Obed Calvaire

Tuesday Ambrose Akinmusire/Linda Oh/Obed Calvaire/Fabian Almazan

Wednesday Gilad Hexelman/Camila Meza/Linda Oh/Billy Hart/Ethan Iverson

 

Life Changing musical advice:

Linda Oh: Just listen to the metronome and feel entire forms go by. Clap every three beats and keep the form. Clap once every form. Sing a bass line. Voice leading. A melody... or just sit and listen to the metronome...

Ambrose Likes Joni MItchell more than John Coltrane!

If you write on piano and don't really play piano your tunes will sound like that (i.e. similar voicings similar melodic movement etc.)

Mark Turner: When transcribing think about how the type of language works in context. If you're a sax player (like me) who has transcribed a lot of Bird and Trane they you work well when the drummer is playing like Max Roach or Elvin... not so if they're playing like Tony. FIgure out how to get under that sound.

Chord scales are not worth much. Vocabulary and voice leading.

'pretty much all I did in undergrad was transcribe."

Listen to the bad gig right after and determine 1 how you feel 2 what you want 3 what you're going to do about it

Ben Street: "Morning Pages" check it out, it's hip

Ethan Iverson: You gotta deal with classical music but you really only need Bach and Chopin

 

There's no way I could sum up the depth of the experience here but hopefully you get a little snapshot.

PS Of all the faculty, the ones to hang out at the staff party until 6AM: Ben Street, Taylor Egisti... would you have guessed? Ben is also a raw vegan...

 

Second week

I would write about the whole week but I'm just so floored by Billy Hart I have to start with that. Everything about his quartet tonight was just exceptional. It was innovative, interesting, and so so swinging it was crazy. A few things stuck out to me that I haven't noticed as much in the records:

Ethan and Billy have a really incredible hookup comping. The whole band is in sync but their is really special and unique especially with regard to timbre. Billy uses a lot of drums and cymbals and Ethan uses a wide range in his comping, these two approaches complement each other in a highly personal way.

Billy chooses musical intellectuals. It struck me from their stage presence that all three of the other members of Billy's band are some of the most thoughtful and articulate musicians on the scene today. I may be going too far to say this--but I have to wonder if Billy wants these musicians to complement his visceral style of drumming and maybe impart some of his aesthetic in their music.

Swing is alive and well. This music is modern and forward-thinking but it still had so much of that feeling that captivated my ears when I first hear Count Basie and Charlie Parker.

 

Otherwise this has been a great week. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dayna Stephens and Ambrose Akinmusire and playing a session with them. I was very unhappy with my playing because their presence made me nervous and brought the ego out in my performance in a way I haven't let it as much recently. I got to redeem myself the night after playing a blues...I still wasn't happy with my playing but at least I didn't play from that place of ego (as much). I got to see some really great saxophone playing at the saxophone summit here Thursday, and I saw some nice student performances on Friday. Palo Alto remains beautiful and I ate hummus downtown on Saturday. Very nice...

1st week at SJW

Wow! What a great week! I have had the amazing opportunity to hear Yosvani Terry and his quintet, Carlos Del Puerto, Terrance Blanchard' e-collective, and many more. Today we got some new faculty so watch out for Ambrose and Allison Miller...

Hearing these groups has impressed upon me how much I don't know about Cuban music, and how much I would like to know more.

Hearing Terrance Blanchard's group inspired some comparisons for me to other acoustic artists who have "gone electric." When I think of other musicians like Miles Davis or Ornette Coleman who I greatly admire I find myself thinking that their electric music doesn't grab me in the same way that their acoustic music does. Not that it's bad but something seems fundamentally different about it.  I'm still mulling it over but in all three cases it seems that the allure of the new sonic landscape and the technical barriers to entry for actually playing with electronics means that sometimes melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic complexity is sacrificed for sound. To an extent this is good because it allows the timbres to shine through but often it means that the features that made an artist captivating in the first place are diminished in favor of a new craft that they have not explored as deeply as what they were doing before. Nevertheless the music has a large audience because of their status as an acoustic musician. Not sure that's all fair or even right but it's what I'm thinking now. 

I was sick for a few days this week so I had to take some time off the horn. It gave me a little time to reconsider practicing. I've been a little obsessed with feel. good phrasing and a good feel gives me license to play things that would otherwise sound cliche. Or maybe having a good feel is so hard that I am reverting back to those internalized cliches and they are having more of an impact because I'm grooving harder than I used to...

 

2 weeks in Denver

aah! All caught up and I had a great time to get some practicing in for a while. I was working on a new composition using the stressed accents of a children's rhyme:

peter piper picked a peck of purple peppers,

a peck of purple peppers peter piper picked

if peter piper picked a peck of purple peppers,

how many peppers did peter piper pick?

I hear it as:

2+2+2+2+2+3

2+3+2+2+3

2+2+2+2+2+3

3+3+2+2+3

too nerdy?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about something Billy Drewes said about "playing different attitudes"

When we heard Cecille McLorin Salvant I was irresistibly reminded of this recording in particular:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtGqrwbyk4g

I think Sarah Vaughn perfectly embodies this idea of "playing different attitudes" and I think that is a huge part of what makes her so captivating for me. I hear this trait especially around 2:10 when she takes the bridge out. I feel like I hear her switch between faux operatic, childish whining, and earthy swinging all within one phrase. She also takes advantage of different registers to adopt different personas. Billy Drewes does this a lot too. Check him out on this video (playing clarinet!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49Oq9T-GVe

 

After a great time in Denver now I'm off to Palo Alto for three fun weeks at SJW! I'll keep you posted... I promise

PS no pretty pictures from CO this time, but I did capture a really great Vermeer from the Haigue. Worth a look I think

 

 

leaving

6/27

On this day we got up and got back on a plane to the US... but not before an evening in Dublin with our friends from Oberlin. Here's one of the streets we hung out on

Rotterdam, Haigue and Cecille McLorin Salvant

6/24

This was a big day for us. We saw the girl with the pearl earring (among many great flemmish school paintings) at Mauristhaus. We saw a lot of the countryside and we saw our most expensive event which was a show by the Metropol Orkest in Rotterdam. The picture is the view from the balcony of the orchestra building. We didn't fully understand what we were going to but the show was something like the Netherlands' grammy's for jazz. I was struck that there were many parts of the show that I did not like because I found them predictable and commercial. I loved seeing Vince Mendoza work and I thought his pieces were very interesting and his arrangements often made the best out of a drab musical template. I thought Cecille was absolutely incredible. All this I would have missed though because the first few songs were unbearably predictable for me. But! Because I PAID for the music I had a level of investment that made me WANT to like it. Even if there were parts I didn't like. It really got me thinking about the way that spotify and other online music providers have robbed not just musicians of profits, but also listeners of the unique type of enjoyments that comes when you WANT the music to sound good because you have INVESTED in its quality BEFORE hearing it in its entirety many times...  

Amsterdam!

6/20-23

We got to get a slice of life in Amsterdam with Matt Adomeit (Emma's brother and professional bassist in town). We ate some good food andsaw lots of great shows including Darcy James' Conspiracy Theories project, and Ellington Tribute concert, Ruud De Vries 4tet, some shows at Conservatorium Von Amsterdam, and a couple of Matt's shows (with Oud!). Lots of great music and sights this week.

Off to Amsterdam

6/19

After the festival we packed our bags and headed out. Not before visiting the partially submerged Gronigen museum!

Swingin' Gronigen

6/18

I got to play in the festival with no rehearsal with Steve Altenberg and Mr. Goudsmit. It was a chance to participate in some really European playing which had a certain looseness and energy that I had not experienced before. a lot of fun. I also got to hang a little with the band and chat about the scene in Holland... Turns out Ben Van Gelder is from Gronigen and his dad owns the only all-jazz record store in the Netherlands. Neat. Who knew?

After the show we saw a great funk/R&B/Gospel group on the main stage and then an underground free jam after midnight. A real slice of the music community here!