Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jazz Nerd

I have officially turned the page to a new chapter of my musically-obsessed life. JAZZ. Oh yes. Now imagine me listening to this with big, glossy eyes, and an intense look of concentration. A whole new world has been opened up!

I am not a Jazz musician. I want to crack up with laughter as I write that, because nothing could be further from the truth. Here's why:

Sometimes you have to move 3,000 miles away to see how good your music education was. My high school, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, had a fantastic Jazz program and my college University of North Florida, had one of the best in the country, according to Downbeat magazine. Did I also mention I lived in the South for the longest part of my childhood? You know, that part of the country where Jazz was born? Still, I chose to focus on Rock, Folk, and World music. My attitude was "Let those Jazz nerds have their music. I don't understand it, so I don't care either way."

Don't get me wrong. I always loved me some Jazz playing in the background at Starbucks or a party, but I rarely got excited about the idea of going to a concert or listening to a new Blues album. I always felt like there was something I didn't hear that every other Jazz fan seemed to notice. Have you talked to a Jazz fan lately? They are more obsessed than John Cusack's Rock and Roll-obsessed character in the movie, "High Fidelity." I couldn't keep up! If you are ever in a conversation with Jazz Nerds, and you are not a fan, just prepare to be bored. The details they go into! The praise and worship! The astonishment that you don't get it!

So what did I do? I didn't get it, so I just acted like I didn't really like it. But how can I not like this stuff? There is so much to listen to. It's an A.D.D. musician's dream.

I think this obsession started when I began teaching my students how to jam on the Blues Scale. I was only teaching it, because it is a basic lesson that should be taught in any music class, but I was surprised at how amazingly fun it would be. What I hear in the blues jam with my students is how they personally hear music, and they're all different. What comes out of one student in a Jam (improvising session) is very different from another. Some students want to play sentimental music while others want to get up and dance. It's really quite fascinating to see their personalities come out with the help of Jazz.

I see it happening in my own life, too. As I learn more about Jazz in order to continue to feed this beautiful jazz-obsessed monster I have created in my lessons, I am also finding parts of my personality I had forgotten about. Something about these "Jazz" chords as I play them on the piano reveals feelings in me I once had as an idealistic, optimistic child. I find myself feeling like peace really is possible within us all. I know this, because when I play Jazz, or let myself get "hooked" while listening to a song, or when I immerse in a Jam session with another human being, be it child or adult, I feel a sense of "connection" with the rest of this world that I only really understood in theory before.

I write all this so you can see how ridiculous it is that I am now, JUST NOW, discovering that I can not only appreciate Jazz, but I feel an excited sense that I can understand it now. I remember a Jazz Nerd from my high school wandering into my place of employment at the time, which was a little bookstore in a shopping mall. He wanted to order some books on Jazz (of course) and proceded to bore me with all of his insights on Jazz and Philosophy and the Mysteries of the Universe. I politely discussed, but when he walked away, I will admit that my first thought was "God, these Jazz guys are SO out there!"

Well, funny how judgments can come back to you, I because now I have proudly crossed over to being a Jazz Nerd, but I promise that I will do my best as a teacher to explain it so you understand what I am talking about. Wait--- shouldn't make promises like that. If I've learned anything about being a Jazz fan from those who have come before me, it's this:

You have to experience Jazz yourself. It's a true inner journey. Let's start with some friendly Vocal Jazz. How about Nina Simone? 
Nina Simone - I wish I knew how it would feel to be free from Ambroise Kritz on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Generation: John Legend Speaks For Us

It's taken 2 wars, a financial collapse, 8 years of Bush, and a breakdown of Religious tolerance, but the hard times have finally gotten an answer from someone who can speak to the younger generations. John Legend and The Roots new album "Wake Up!" was just playing full blast in my car after making the impulse buy at Starbucks, and I almost cried with happiness as each song went by. The opening song is called "Hard Times." Perfect beginning. These are hard times. Everything we have been taught about American prosperity is being challenged by our current reality.

The second track, "Compared to What" is a 60's anti-war song that can easily be applied to our current situation. The third track, the most moving and inspirational, is called "Wake Up Everybody" a remake of the tune by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes has a verse that touches my heart especially: "Wake up all the teachers, time to teach a new way. Maybe then they'll listen to what you have to say. Cause they're the ones who are comin' up and the world is in their hands. So when you teach the children, teach them the very best you can."

I won't go through the whole album, but let me just mention the 4th track, "Our Generation (The Hope of the World)"  This song demands that the young people who grew up after the passing of the Civil Rights era (that means YOU Generations X, Y, and Millenials) wake up and do something about this situation we are in! As the songs says,"Our Generation, it's all left up to us. Let's straighten it out!"

I just can't express how excited I am to see an empowering, world-changing album put out by a famous, relevant and current musician who young generations will listen to. Please go out and buy this album. Or burn a copy. Or listen here. Maybe this will be the chance to get another musical revolution going. Let's change the world.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hanson Grows Up

Remember the song "MmmBop?" Let's see... I was in high school, so that explains why I was totally mean-spirited in my reaction to these guys. Those of you who don't know who Hanson is, they are three brothers from Oklahoma who debuted their original song sometime in the 90's. They were 3 cute, smiley, midwestern kids who could actually play in a band *well* together. It was impressive. Still. I was all gothic and punk and had to pretend that I didn't like them. Such is the fate of many child stars. The kids adore them and the cranky teenagers dismiss them.
Well, it looks like Hanson will show me up after all!

I just read an article about their new album, and I have to say, I was very impressed with the way they personally came across in the interview. All seem totally comfortable with who they are, despite being teased for their "young" marriages (in their early 20's), and Mid-Western style upbringings. I applaud them for being proud of who they are.

Too often, I watch these "comebacks" from grown up child stars while nervously biting my nails wondering when the drug addiction is going to start (or at least be revealed) or the eating disorder, or spousal abuse charges.... you get the idea.

Hollywood loves talented kids, but once they grow up...

As a music teacher in Hollywood of some very talented kids (some who can boast very real connections), I ponder this ethic often. What happens when one of my students writes a song that everyone within earshot can tell it's a hit? I will surely be asked to state my opinion about whether or not I think it's healthy to expose a child to fame. That's a lot of pressure!

I think it's risky. I really do. Poor Dakota Fanning, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguliera, Michael Jackson. All child stars who had to deal with the world making fun of them when they stopped being of that "cute age."

But Hanson... Alright. I'll rethink it a bit. Maybe they will be the exception. I'm rooting for them. They seem to have the tough confidence that is necessary to keep making music even when the grown-ups-who-used-to-be-peers are smirking at them. You can do it, Hanson!!!

See the LA Times article here:,0,3090610.story

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yoga for Musicians

I just picked up this book. Very cool. It explains nicely the parallels between the yoga mind and the musician's mind.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rodrigo y Gabriella Donate Music To Environmental Video

My husband is one of my heros. He is an incredibly talented Creative Director, and at the young age 24, he started the Advertising and Design firm in Los Angeles, Compound Design. But that is not why he is my hero. He is my hero because after several years of building his company up to an award winning advertising firm, he still uses his skills to help spread awareness of important issues like genocide, racism, and global warming. He makes a lot of videos for different Non-Profit groups, and the latest one is really special. The music was donated by up and coming Classical/Metal Guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriella.  So you get two compassionate art forms in one. Check it out and spread it around:

This is what Global Warming looks like from NRDC Broadcast Videos on Vimeo.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Santa Ana Temple Experience

Yesterday, I had an amazing experience. OK, nothing crazy happened, but TO ME it was amazing. I decided to go to another Vietnamese Temple with Rev. Kusala, this time in Santa Ana, to sing some peace songs to the kids there. For those readers who grew up in Judeo-Christian institutions, let me briefly describe the temples. I have now been to 3 different ones, and all share the following characteristics:

1. The children wear the same blue uniforms with little lapel pins that don the image of a Lotus flower. In Buddhism, the Lotus is an important symbol, because a Lotus is a beautiful flower that grows from muddy, yucky water. It is symbolic, because the Buddha saw humanity as capable of the same transformation.

2. The children are incredibly well-behaved and attentive. They listen to their leaders.

3. There are many teenagers and adults present, and they all have roles like group leader, teacher, parent, nun, monk.

4. They have an organized schedule during their "Sunday School" that includes physical exercise, chanting, praying, and socializing.

So now that you have a better understanding of the environment, I can tell you what this "amazing thing" is that happened. After Kusala introduced me to the crowd, I explained that I have made an important decision as a musician, and that is this: I only write peace songs. What I thought would be a minor sentence in my introductory speech building up to a new song was actually met with a huge round of applause and cheers. Let me remind you again that the audience was mostly children and teenagers.
I have never been more surprised and caught off-guard by a round of applause! 

Through their cheers, I heard them telling me that they were relieved to hear this! I was high all day long from this encouragement. The leaders and children asked me to come back next month, and I heard hope and a tiny hint of pleading in their voices, and so of course, I said yes.  How can I refuse an audience that believes in the power of a peace song? I can't.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Be Here Now

Every year, I ignore this day. I've always had a hard time re-vistiting tragic memories. I don't like thinking about what happened in NYC 9 years ago. Life changed dramatically here. Our culture freaked out and started blaming each other for anything we could think of. The political parties divided even further than before, and religious Americans seemed to take on a new enemy: Muslims. We don't have a time machine, so we cannot change the past. I personally cannot change the fact that my country invaded another country after being lied to by our own president. Things that my country participated in after the attacks made me sad. The fact that we are still trying to make this war justified makes me sad. The word "sad" almost feels like a totally irreverent adjective to use. Shocked, devastated, scared. I suppose those are better, but I guess you don't need words to describe it, because anyone who can read this and comprehend it was most likely there watching it on TV just like the rest of us. When this date comes up annually, I have to remind myself that the past cannot be changed, and all we have is this moment.

Today, in my yoga class, my teacher, Robyn Bennett read an inspiring quote by the wise Buddha:

 "The secret of health for both mind and body 
is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, 
but to live the present moment 
wisely and earnestly."

You and I cannot ignore any uncomfortable feelings that may have risen today. We have to sit with it and then move on. I am grateful that in this present moment, life is beautiful. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Which Side Will You Be On?

Saturday is the 9th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. I was 20 when that happened. A brand new adult. I had just voted in my first presidential election, and my first lesson was that democracy was a big fat joke that my history teachers played on me and my generation. Then 9-11. The era of terror. The Bush era. Living in a constant state of paranoia for the first year, until I realized that our fear was fueling the Bush agenda. With fear, you can control anyone. If someone is scared, they will do anything to make the torture stop.

What does a Koran book burning in the buckle of the Bible belt tell me? All of what I mentioned above happened when I lived just 70 miles north of the city where the infamous book burning will take place tomorrow to show the world that "Islam is of the Devil."

Let me tell you all a story about growing up in the Bible Belt. It is overwhelmingly run by the Baptist church. If you can't picture this, just imagine Salt Lake City, UT replaced by evangelical preachers or Vatican City run by snake handling Pentacostles. It's a little like that, but much more visually subtle. Extremists costume themselves in business attire, attend college, and appear to be neutral on political issues when in public.  When one enters an Evangelical or Charismatic church, however, you get a glimpse into a whole different perspective. The evangelical Christian community has never been tolerant of any belief outside of their own for as long as I remember. When I was in Middle School, I would often attend church with some of my Baptist friends after Saturday night sleepovers, and the things I heard horrified me. One time I sat through an hour long sermon on the evils of Gay people. Another Sunday, I had to bite my tongue as a Youth Minister "schooled" the kids on the evils of other "Christian" religions outside of their own.

I moved to Jacksonville, FL from Danbury, CT when I was just 6 years old. The culture shock was so intense and traumatic that I STILL remember being asked about my devilish Catholic beliefs and my "funny" New England accent. There were kids in the neighborhood who were actually told by their parents that I could not be their playmate because I was not a "real Christian."

This is the mentality that flows through the South. Keep in mind, that this is not EVERYONE. In fact, after years of working, playing, and socializing with the Liberal Minority in the South, I learned that those in the South who are against hatred and intolerance are the most passionately outspoken, and are often willing to put their reputation and livelihood on the line in the name of social justice and equality.

When I heard about the organized Koran burning by a Pastor in Gainesville, FL scheduled for the 9th anniversary of the day we all became collectively terrified, my first thought was, "Well, that's not surprising."

I remember when I was still in Jacksonville, and those of us in College at the time of this attack were struggling with our feelings. I felt betrayed by my government, and so many of my friends felt the same way. I also felt helpless. People in Hollywood were being blacklisted for speaking out against the war. All of a sudden, our beloved Freedom of Speech was not being honored at all. To say I was saddened by that is a gross understatement.

Now, 10 years later, we have had PLENTY of time to process this. It's time to wake up! Whether you think Islam is "of the devil" or not, we still have the Freedom to practice Religion in this country. Besides that, burning the Koran in such a public manner will only cause an even further divide between us and the Middle Eastern community we have spent 9 years trying to convince that we are supposedly only trying to "liberate."

If you live in the South, I hope you will drive down on Saturday and stand up to this incredibly depressing and ignorant form of "protest." They certainly have the freedom to spit out hatred, but we also have the freedom to speak out AGAINST it. 
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wake Up Everybody

Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed

No more backward thinkin time for thinkin ahead

The world has changed so very much

From what it used to be 
there is so much hatred war an' poverty

Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they'll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they're the ones who's coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach em the very best you can.

The world won't get no better if we just let it be
The world won't get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.

Wake up all the doctors make the ol' people well
They're the ones who suffer an' who catch all the hell
But they don't have so very long before the Judgement Day
So won'tcha make them happy before they pass away.
Wake up all the builders time to build a new land
I know we can do it if we all lend a hand
The only thing we have to do is put it in our mind
Surely things will work out they do it every time.

Repeat Chorus

It's the god hour
The morning I wake up
Just for the breath of life I thank my maker
My mom say I come from hustlers and shakers
My mom built it on skyscrapers and acres
He said take us back to where we belong
I try to write a song
As sweet as these arms the one the type to bare arms
And wear my heart on my sleeve
Even when I fell in God I believe
Read the days that weave through the maze
The seasons so amazing
Feed them and raised them
Seasons are aging
Earthquakes, wars, and rumors
I want us to get by but
We're more than consumers
We more than shooters, more than looters
Created in this image so God live through us
And even in this generation, living through computers
Only love love love can reboot u

My 10-Day Summer Peace Trip

Cape Perpetua, OR
10 Days of camping outside, with one of my best friends, driving up the beautiful Highway 1 from Los Angeles all the way to Washington. 

That was what I did on my summer vacation. Ania had a fabulous idea to just get in my husband's SUV and drive up the coast, with little planning and a lot of trust. We packed the camping gear, some vegan road food like trail mix and fruit and veggies. The Ukulele, Bongos, Camera, iPod, and many books made it too, of course. It was definitely the cheapest vacation I have every taken (replacing Washington D.C. in college. Sorry D.C.) and the most enlightening. 

I had many hours to think about my life and what I hope to accomplish with the talents and skills I have worked very hard at developing over the course of this 30 years young lifetime of mine. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was definitely interested in performing, but my main objective was to live in California. Listening to that Led Zeppelin song over and over again in High School probably had something to do with that. Oh and Joni Mitchell too. 
Mendocino, CA
The West Coast has always called out to me, ever since I was a little girl watching movies like "La Bamba" and "Back to the Beach." Many revelations were had on this trip.  Hiking in Oregon, sleeping on a Beach Front camp in Washington, wandering onto a holistic herb farm in Northern California with the most hospitable crew and beautiful land for camping and playing music. Just the beauty of this country was enough to fill my head and heart with so many feelings of peace and calm. To see this land from one border to another and realize what a beautiful country we live in. 

Oh and did I mention the people? Every place we went, the way we see the world was constantly challenged by kindness. In Washington, we were pretty intimidated. Ania and I are pretty tough for 2  petite California hippy girls. We both have an East Coast toughness that can only be inherited from growing up in neighborhoods that do not brag about great health food co-ops. Were we come from, our hippy attitudes on peace and love were actually the source of ridicule in some of the places we called home. So we were on-guard when we encountered the mountain men of the NorthWest. Turns out that behind their rough exterior and gun-toting "don't tread on me" toughness lies a similar compassion for their human brothers and sisters. Many strangers offered camping wisdom, science education, information on parks that 2 city girls must not miss out on, and most importantly, kindness. 
Ruby Beach, WA
The teacher in me is always asking what can be learned from an experience. On this trip I learned to practice what I preach in my lessons. I learned how to trust myself, look at the world around me, and seek to find the peaceful connection between everyone I meet, no matter how different our backgrounds may be. We all want the same thing. We all want to be happy, helpful, skillful. We all want to be appreciated. 
When I got shocked back into modern-day city life, I walked into my first piano lesson refreshed and ready to jam out. The hours flew by as my students and I created music that spoke to us in the moment. We talked about music and how it makes us feel happy and sad and how great it is at filling us with so much joy. 

I think I got the message on this trip. Peace is something we all crave right now. The anniversary of the NYC attacks will happen in just a few days. I notice more people talking about peace and understanding, and I can't help but wonder if John Lennon's peace message really is catching on again. It feels so good to think this. So, this year's theme for the school year is 
"Give Peace Songs a Chance" 
named affectionately after John Lennon's peace anthem "Give Peace a Chance." My personal goals are to record an album of peace songs by the end of the school year and host a CD release party/recital with my students. For my students, I challenge you to play as many peace songs this year as you can. Practice on your own, play for your parents, teach friends, and perform them for audiences. I know that if we just surround ourselves with music that makes us feel kind and happy, we will spread this feeling out into the rest of the world. 

Peace everyone!