John Philip Sousa III unfolded himself from the director’s chair on a grassy hill in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, and looked back to his childhood. “I paid no attention to it at all,” he said of the grand marches written by his famous grandfather. He went to work as a publisher and forgot about the legacy until he assumed the leadership of the Sousa Foundation.
A few decades ago I met Sousa’s grandson at a concert in his honor and wrote about the patriotic music. And then I forgot about it, too. Until I became a member of WRTI-FM, the classical and jazz station in Philadelphia, and started listening to Gregg Whiteside and the Sousalarm. Every weekday precisely at 7:15 a.m. Gregg plays a march by Sousa and others. If you send him an email he’ll induct you into the Sousalarm Club and mail you a certificate.
For me, he played “The Man Behind the Gun,” a march Sousa wrote in 1899. (The title is more ominous than the music. Sousa wrote the march as part of a larger musical called “Chris and the Wonderful Lamp.”
The march, the certificate. . . . At first you feel a little embarrassed. Then you remember the good parts of childhood, the joy of listening to bright music on a dark morning, the pep bands and parades. And then there is the guilty pleasure of hearing your name on the radio, of succumbing to the subtle lure of public approval.
In a world of instant media, 15 minutes of fame has shrunk to 15 seconds. Still, a little brightness, no matter how short-lived, is reason to celebrate. So put on your marching shoes and step lively. The band’s about to play.
If your career has stalled with the economy, it might be time to change the tune . . . with a little help from your friends in the music world.
I’m thinking of people like Ella Fitzgerald and saxophonist Phil Woods. I had the pleasure of interviewing Woods back in the day when he provided Billy Joel with a sassy solo on the hit “Just the Way You Are.” He’s a legend in jazz circles, and for good reason, playing with a passion, dexterity and generosity toward emerging artists. Good advice for the business as well as the jazz world.
Woods is not the only musical philosopher. Listen to the wide range of talent in the genre, from Bebop to Bossa Nova, and you’ll hear lessons for life, as well as your career. Here are four easy pieces culled from the masters:
Take turns. Listen to the interchange between Phil Woods on alto and Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn on their recording “Voyage,” featuring the Bill Charlap Trio. All of the band members solo, but then they step back to give the other person a turn. Works in the office, too.
Support others. Elevations is a new band of young musicians from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their debut recording of the same name is a study in cooperation. The musicians support the material, which is another way of supporting each other. Check out the song “Worlds of Resource” for a refreshing view on working as a unit.
Stay cool. Miles Davis epitomizes the attitude and practices it well on the recording “Kind of Blue,” especially on the track “So What.” It predates the phrase “whatever” but captures the sentiment without an excess of cynicism.
Swing a little. Put some sass into your work. Listen to anything by violinist Stephane Grappelli and try to keep your feet from moving. Pair him with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the works of George and Ira Gershwin and you’ve got fascinatin’ rhythm. And a model for strutting your stuff at work.
Or as Ella sang, “It makes no difference/If it’s sweet or hot/Just give that rhythm/Everything you’ve got.”
If it’s spring it must be time for graduation . . . and those dignified speakers polishing their well-worn nuggets of knowledge. Time to take a break from all that earnestness and listen to the advice of the most tuned-in of all philosophers–the musicians of the world.
Rather than rehash the old “you can’t always get what you want” debate, we can glean workable advice for building your career by listening to some of the pioneers in a field that is probably 180 degrees from yours–jazz. Here are four ideas from the front lines:
Work hard. No one short of Keith Moon or Buddy Rich has played with the muscle of drummer Billy Cobham. Take the recording “Total Eclipse.” Fire leaps from those sticks, especially during the opening suite “Solarization.” But he also composes the most exquisite melodies. While the rhythm moves your feet, it’s the song that moves your spirit. OK, we’ll use the two P words here, passion and purpose, but let’s not make their discovery a career in itself.
Play soft. You can work quietly on occasion and still capture attention. Listen to Joao Gilberto’s sultry guitar work on “The Girl from Ipanema,” or Astrud Gilberto’s vocals on “Corcovado.” High speed and volume all the time will wear out you and your welcome.
Have a heart. You may have a constant craving for promotion but consider the feelings of your coworkers. Listen to anything by K.D. Lang or Tony Bennett for a guide to acting naughty or nice.
Take a bow. Acknowledging the applause after he’d finished, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson would tent his hands in front of his chest like a praying monk and bow. He’d also acknowledge everyone in the band. That’s a gracious leader, one that others want to follow.
A parting word of advice: stop taking vocational-aptitude tests and hunting for your passion. Enjoy the music. The song doesn’t last forever.
Someone left the radio tuned to a station that programs NPR’s Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings. As I reached for the dial to switch to a classical music station, Fred Child, the host of Performance Today, cued up Astor Piazzolla’s “La Muerte del Angel” by the string quintet Sybarite5, recorded live in Holley Hall in Sarasota, Florida.
My wife and I had just seen a series of bracing concerts there, and so I stepped into the shower . . . and back a lifetime to a concert by the Guarneri Quartet, who played Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1 with an intensity that shredded their bows. And here was a quintet whose founder came from Sarasota and who could play with the same nuance and fervor. Not what you would expect from a laid-back city by the sea.
Then Child announced that Sybarite5 had recently recorded an album of Radiohead covers. Time to step out the shower and learn a bit more about the group.
Named after the ancient Greek city in southern Italy now identified with seekers of pleasure and luxury, Sybarite5 is the first string quintet ever selected as winners of Concert Artists Guild International Competition in its 60 year history. The media have compared the group to rock stars who play with missionary zeal. Its members have performed in traditional venues (Carnegie Hall) as well as nontraditional ones (the CBS Early Show).
And while their repertoire includes composers known in the classical world, such as Piazzolla and Mozart, the quartet released a recording of covers of the music of Radiohead called “Everything in its Right Place,” following in the wake of another musical pioneer, pianist Christopher O’Riley, the host of NPR’s From the Top, who has released several transcriptions of Radiohead music.
Sybarite5 was founded by double bassist and former Sarasota resident Louis Levitt. In addition to his work with Sybarite5, Levitt has been featured on chamber music appearances that have included the Aspen Music Festival as well as performances with Grammy winning composer Bob James. He has also performed with the Sarasota Orchestra. He recently became the first ever double bassist to win the Concert Artist Guild Competition.
As for the other members of the quintet, many have a foot in both classical and contemporary worlds:
Laura Metcalf, cello, was featured as a soloist with the One World Symphony playing an arrangement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.
Sarah Whitney, violin, led the Cleveland Central Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra as concertmaster on tour to Carnegie Hall.
Angela Pickett, viola, performs with the Princeton Symphony and has played the fiddle with numerous ensembles, including the Chieftains.
Sami Merdinian, an Argentinian violinist, has received worldwide recognition for his performances as a soloist and chamber musician, including his work with the Perlman Chamber Music Workshop, which holds a winter residency in Sarasota.
I’m downloading another of the group’s recordings now, the EP “Disturb the Silence.” It features music by Radiohead and Piazzolla, plus two original works written for the quintet, and made its debut at number 11 on Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart.
Every year or so Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band hit the road to bring cheer and nostalgia to boomers and their kids. After 17 studio recordings under his own name and a career spanning more than 50 years, the former Beatle has amassed a large catalog of songs that reveal a philosopher as well as a lovable mug. Finger bling and peace signs aside, the guy delivers some sobering wisdom for those who look beneath the mirth. It may sound simple, ordinary, even natural, but practicing his philosophy is more complex than it sounds.
Here’s what I’ve learned since I saw him sitting there, a generation ago on the Ed Sullivan Show:
Have a heart. “Maybe I haven’t always been there just for you,” he sings on “Weight of the World.” “Maybe I try but then I got my own life, too.” Ah, remorse and regret, the terrible twins who visit the conscientious all too often. Ringo chose career over companions when he went on tour, as many corporate road warriors do today. While acknowledging that you have to pay your dues, Ringo counsels compassion. Give yourself, and others, a break. “But no matter what you choose, choose love.”
Give peace a chance. “Last night I had a peace dream,” he sings in “Peace Dream.” “No need for war no more/Better things we’re fighting for.” Like efforts to minimize hunger and pain. And while he often advocates for global harmony, he also emphasizes the need for inner peace. “I’ve got to remember some days when I feel sad/Nothing lasts forever, and everything must pass,” he sings on “Y Not.”
Let go. So things don’t work out. “Ev’ry time I see your face/It reminds me of the places we used to go,” he sings on one of his signature songs, “Photograph.” “But all I got is a photograph/And I realize you’re not coming back anymore.” Time to leave the twins behind, along with all of the other baggage. Forgiveness helps. “It all comes down to who you crucify,” he sings in “Weight of the World.” “You either kiss the future or the past goodbye.”
Good advice for people of good will. All you have to do is act naturally.
My boss and I saw the Dark Star Orchestra channel the Grateful Dead the other night. He’d seen a Pink Floyd tribute band earlier in the year with his brother-in-law, who racks up 20 or 30 such concerts a year.
My wife and I had just attended a concert by the three remaining members of the Moody Blues. In the summer we’d watched Ringo wow the audience at Woodstock and, before that, seen a smattering of old-timers try to resurrect icons of the 1960s—the Yardbirds, Zombies and the Spencer Davis Group.
Now we’re looking forward to the upcoming season. Several legends of pop are scheduled to appear this winter at the Van Wezel Center, including Paul Anka, the Fifth Dimension, the Beach Boys, the Temptations with the Four Tops and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And across the country, the Rolling Stones will have no sympathy for the devil or aging critics as they hit the road to commemorate 50 years in show business.
Once upon a time, white-haired musicians were the province of symphony orchestras. No longer. Watching 60- and 70-year-olds bounce across the stage is both jarring and inspiring. Questions like “How did we get so old?” mix with statements like “I can’t believe he can still hit the high notes,” let alone spend an eternity on a tour bus, bring energy to songs older than most audience members and stay up past 11 on a weeknight.
Sometimes there are so few original musicians in the bands of that era that the reincarnations seem like the original tribute bands. At times the copycats sound better than the originals. But most of the time we rejoice in the music and give thanks to the musicians who brave the road to bring us a glimpse of a time when we were young and moderately hip. They keep on truckin’ so we can keep on hoping. It’s an example all of us can appreciate.
Jim Marshall, the man behind the iconic Marshall amplifiers, used by rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend of The Who, has died aged 88. Marshall, who helped make the ear-shattering sounds of the 1960s possible, died on Thursday. Here he talks to the BBC about Jimi Hendrix.
Rather than siphon viewers from news sites, mobile technology is increasing news consumption.
Major digital networks like Google and Facebook increasingly exert control over news content and delivery.
Here’s the bright side of the report:
“New research released in this report finds that mobile devices are adding to people’s news consumption, strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism. Eight in ten who get news on smartphones or tablets, for instance, get news on conventional computers as well. People are taking advantage, in other words, of having easier access to news throughout the day – in their pocket, on their desks and in their laps.”
Here’s the dark side:
“At the same time, a more fundamental challenge that we identified in this report last year has intensified — the extent to which technology intermediaries now control the future of news.
“In the last year a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of ‘everything’ in our digital lives. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others are maneuvering to make the hardware people use, the operating systems that run those devices, the browsers on which people navigate, the e-mail services on which they communicate, the social networks on which they share and the web platforms on which they shop and play. And all of this will provide these companies with detailed personal data about each consumer.”
It’s like allowing the electric company to control your data, or the telecom companies to tap your phones. For free. Then charge you for delivery.
U.S. politicians who want to cut federal funding for NPR might read a study by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich. Researchers there found a direct link between spending on culture and regional economic health.
The authors studied the economic growth of regions with and without opera houses. Their conclusion: regions with these cultural centers attracted residents with more training and education, leading to greater economic growth for the region as a whole.
Or in the arcane language of the study: “Proximity to a Baroque opera house is a strong predictor of the district’s share of employees with a tertiary degree.” The study is quoted in the Economix blog by the New York Times.
Now you might dismiss the parallel with public broadcasting by saying that no one moves to a new location solely to be near a radio or television station and that’s a valid point. But for affluent and well-educated citizens, proximity to sources of knowledge and culture factor almost as heavily as health care in the decision to relocate. (In a recent survey by homebuilder Del Webb 61% said one of the top reasons for deciding where to move involves cultural and recreational amenities — a percentage point more than a favorable climate.)
Since these consumers have the wherewithal to support politicians as well as newscasters, lawmakers might reconsider using fiscal policy to drive social change.
Pink Floyd for an orthopedic surgeon? Radiohead for an astronaut? Katy Perry for a retail DJ who spins tunes to sell jeans?
All three believe that music makes a crucial difference in their lives. They’re part of a series on Seattle’s KEXP-FM called “Why Music Matters.”
Their playlists are as diverse as their occupations. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Divya Singh programs Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” She says music plays an important role in her operating room, even before surgery begins. “Music can provide the atmosphere in the OR. It’s almost like a dance.” More importantly, it allows her to screen extraneous detail and focus on what’s important — the surgery.
Astronaut Stan Love has some obvious choices: “Rocket Man” by Elton John, “Subterranean Homesick Alien” by Radiohead, “Man On The Moon” by R.E.M., “Walking on the Moon” by the Police and a perennial favorite of former glam rockers, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” But he does have a sense of humor, including the “Jetson’s Theme” by Man Or Astro-man? (No, the question mark is not a typo, it’s part of the name of this early ‘90s surf rock group from Auburn, Ala., where chances are there’s more rock than surf.)
There’s more. An unidentified retail DJ programs some favorite choices for a clothing store: “Lovefool” by the Cardigans, “Skinny Genes” by Eliza Doolittle” and “These Boots are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra. One not-so-obvious choice: “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. (If you know the answer to that one, please give us a shout.)
The audio is fun, and so is the video . . . a good way to end the year on a happy note.