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Archive for February, 2011

bios, bios!

I have more bios than unmatched socks. and I have a lot of those!

It seems that every few weeks I need another bio: grant proposal, promo piece, short festival blurb, update for my website, very short gig blurb, very long comprehensive essay, ad copy, etc. etc.

You can find one of my bios here on my “about” page. I was recently interviewed for a very long bio (2450 words!) to help promote the release of my new CD, Two Kites this coming April, 2011.

Who can read that much?

Going on the notion that people generally don’t like to read, I thought I could produce a name-dropping bio, which could start something like this:

Fern Lindzon once shared a sidewalk with Eric Idle in Toronto, Canada, followed Keith Richards down a street in Venice, Italy, and dined at a table next to Tony Randall in London, England.

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I am currently reading a wonderful book called The Creative Habit by dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. I first heard about it on Christine Bougie’s fantastic blog. I highly recommend reading and devouring this book!

In her chapter entitled “Harness your memory” Twyla writes the following, “There are as many forms of memory as there are ways of perceiving, and every one of them is worth mining for inspiration…Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them.”

In this spirit, I thought I’d like to write my own “creative bio”. This bio could take place entirely in my mind, not have to move in chronological order, and have more to do with thoughts and feelings and perceptions.

Creative Bio (part 1)

I’m told that I was a face presentation. That is to say that I wanted to be born with my head facing upward. Already my sense of direction was askew. Or perhaps you could say that I was so excited to have a look around that I ended up choosing the more difficult path. Or you could say that I was afraid. to put my head down. to trust. to let go and relinquish control. This conflict between contol and letting go has dogged me my entire life…

As I went on to write about early memories I found it interesting to see how my early perceptions have played out in my creative life.

It’s a fun excercise.

Try it.




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Ethan Iverson interviews Keith Jarrett/1. voice leading

I really enjoy reading blogs and Ethan Iverson’s is particularly fascinating. The following piece contains an excerpt from his lengthy interview with Keith Jarrett. You can find the whole piece here. I highly recommend it!

(reprinted with permission. Thanks, Ethan)

Keith Jarrett: “Voice-leading is melody-writing in center of the harmony. If you can do it, you’re lucky enough to get to a moment where you can actually find more than one thing happening and trace those things at the same time to a logical next place…or illogical place–really it doesn’t matter sometimes!
It’s so different [than] what people think when they look at a lead sheet and build those blocks [the] way you learn harmony. They can’t get away from this structure of vertical playing with your left hand and then if you’re lucky, maybe a good idea in your right.

I try to spend time every day training myself to hear more than one thing at once. As a piano player it’s very easy to lapse into rote-style playing; chords in the left hand and melodies in the right hand. When you have to think and play quickly it works well. It’s a great way to learn tunes, it sounds good and helps you focus on melody while staying grounded in the harmony. Why not?

Several years ago Fred Hersch showed me a great exercise. I call it Fred’s 20 minute workout. It’s become part of my daily calisthenics. I choose a tune, take out a timer, set it for 20 minutes, choose a tempo and play. I often start simple, just playing the melody. Over and over. While playing the melody I’m focussing on sound, touch, dynamics, nuance of the phrase and mentally taking notes of motifs that could be developed later. I switch hands, and play it as well as I can with the left. I believe that if I’m truly focussed I could probably spend 20 minutes just on melody alone. There’s that much to think about!

Each chorus provides a new challenge. I just make them up as I go and try to stick to whatever it is for an entire chorus: melodic displacement, repeated notes, motivic developement, alternating RH and LH, etc.

I spend a lot of time playing 2 part counterpoint. To me, this is how you begin to learn about voice leading and to develop the ability to truly hear more than one thing at a time.

Ideally, I’ll do the 20 minutes X4 version of the exercise: 20 minutes playing 2 part counterpoint only, the next 20 minutes in 3 parts, the next 20 changing key and the last 20 doing whatever I want in the original key.

Committing to playing a 20 minute solo is not easy. You run out of licks really quickly. It’s an amazing way to develop your sound.




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I wish it was all fairy dust. I wish I could just wave a magic wand and create music. fully formed.

The weird thing is, in the end it really is magical. When it finally happens you sort of forget about all the hard work, the hours and hours of procrastination, the huge struggles, the frustrations, the things you need to give up, the dead ends, the awful ideas, the judgement that comes way before it’s supposed to, the hopeless feelings and the initial excitement that gives way to doubt much too quickly.

I honestly don’t know how it happens. All I know is that I need to stick with it, keep going no matter what and trust that even though it may feel kind of awful right now, I will eventually find something. And then somehow it starts to grow. Almost on it’s own. Because when you’re involved in a creative process and you’re at it every day, at some point your imagination takes over and works on it. While you sleep. while you eat. go shopping, wash dishes, take a shower or while you’re just out somewhere.

That’s why I always carry a small notebook in my purse.

Ideas are everywhere. they really are fairy dust.

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Scat singing is about syllables. It’s also about words.

and being a word-o-phile, I like them.

Norma Winstone knows how to scat words

or just vowel sounds.

you don’t need a lot of boobops and shabaps.
The question is, how much of those words are worked out?

how much is totally improvised?

I suspect that there is a bit of both.
Or maybe a pool of ideas taken from the pool of words of each song and developed over time.

The thing is, you develop your own vocabulary.

of words, sounds, things that feel good and sound good.
So here’s what I did:

I recorded myself singing I Thought About You
and sang a bunch of choruses.

some just scatting to hear the sounds I like-
and some improvising words.

I’d already come up with a few from previous performances.

like clickety-clack clickety-clack

something about the train going down the track

and something about the whistle.

woowoo.

Much of what I improvised was clumsy, but in the clumsiness were particles of good ideas. You need to record yourself to hear them.

that way you’re not judging and dismissing as you do it.

rather listen with an ear to distill, extract and go mining.

I then took out my notebook and wrote down phrases, words, sounds.

how many ways can I put the words together?

One of my favorite scenes in the Scorcese film about Dylan is of Bob reading a sign. It’s a bunch of rules and conditions and stuff.

he takes each word and puts it with other words  from a different part of the sign, creating coherent absurd phrases.

It’s a beautiful insight into his creative process

It’s how you put it all together that counts.

words are just, well, words.

and in the context of a song you have the actual words and melody, and

having stated that, you can then have the story you create about the song.

there’s no whistle, no clickety-clack

in Johnny Mercer’s lyrics

but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be one

in mine.

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1.   space

The more I think about it, the more illusive it is. The ideas slip-slide faster than a fresh-caught fish. We’re in murky waters here.

When I think about creative thought, the first thing that comes to mind is space. You need space, and plenty of it.

Idle space, physical space, the look and feel of the brown wood on my finally-cleared desk. Psychic space. You need a place in the brain for ideas to float around in.

The brain as flotation tank.

I’ve become adept at filling in space, of occupying my mind with endless amounts of things to do. I’m addicted to keeping my mind busy. Occupied with clutter. Clutter is my way to avoid thinking. To avoid being creative.

But space is only something I get glimpses of now and then. And even given space, in an eye-blink all the clutter rushes back in faster than air rushes into an unsealed vacuum-pack.

Most of the time I forget about space. I forget about silence.

I suspect that silence and space need to be courted. It’s like I need to sneak up on myself and then coax my slippery mind. My fickle brain. Wait. Stay here for just a second longer. Long enough to savour this thought. Long enough to taste it, feel its saltiness, follow it through. Long enough to grasp it before it dissolves into the ether of the hubbub.

And if creative thought is so enjoyable, why do I avoid it?

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