This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
I can remember my first day in a rock band like it was yesterday. I made the life-changing decision to pursue guitar lessons in the summer of 1978, just prior to my 14th birthday. From that day forward, I spent 2 years with a singular goal as my source of motivation – to reach the level of proficiency that would allow me to play in a rock and roll band. “Oh, Susanna,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” were simply a means to an end.
Then after 2 years practicing on my Acoustic guitar, the planets aligned. Cousin Steve, a drummer knew Kevin who could sing. He asked me and cousin Jay (another guitarist) if we wanted to start a band. Stonehawk was born, and the rest is history.
A couple of second-hand guitars (as Bachman-Turner Overdrive once sang), an amplifier from American Rent-All, and we were on our way. The first song we attempted was “Peace of Mind” (Video below) by the band Boston. Jay strummed the intro chords for 4 measures, and Steve and I kicked in with the drums and lead. “Now you’re feelin’ kinda low ’bout the dues you’ve been payin’…”
I can say that the “high” of making what I considered real rock music for the first time was one of the greatest memories of my adolescence. New band members and another band would come and go over the years (Mark and Darryl and Darrell and Joe, then Private Joy with Rocky and Mark). We knew that the odds were long on success, but the possibilities were endless. So when a few of my former bandmates started a comment thread of reminiscings on Facebook recently, I found myself frustrated – I wanted to find a hidden transcipt of every conversation, every joke – a diary of every band practice, every silly discussion we had about selecting a band name or a songlist – planning the details of our imaginary world tour.
“It sometimes occurs to me that the thing that scares us the most when we’re young is the unpredictability of the future. Then, the thing that scares us the most when we’re older is the predictability.”
Here’s to the unpredictability of youth, and to all of the past members (at one time or another) of Stonehawk: Band for the ’80′s.
Virtually every creativity expert concurs – all children are creative, yet we often lose our capacity for creativity as we get older and diminish our creative activities. That brings us to today’s music and arts education advocacy quote of the day:
“Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and withers with inactivity. If we cut music and arts education funding, where will our children exercise?”
- Craig M. Cortello
If those of you living outside of New Orleans want to know why natives like me love it here, one reason is the plethora of and accessibility to great artists. The artistic ability per square mile in this city is astounding. I wrote an article that will appear in local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine during New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April/Early May, and had a chance to interview legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
I never get tired of speaking to great musicians and artists, particularly about the creative process and the courageous nature of developing your artistic gift in the face of daunting challenges. Here’s an excerpt from my interview – a quote from Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, regarding his esteemed predecessors in jazz and music education:
“Nobody starts to play basketball because they had a great coach. They play basketball because they saw Michael Jordan. As much as I have respect for all of the classroom time that these gentlemen (Marsalis and Battiste) have spent, I would never have been interested in them if they couldn’t play. We call these guys educators, but was Louis Armstrong any less of an educator? Was Cannonball Adderley any less of an educator? Was Miles Davis?”
- Irvin Mayfield
(Pictured left to right, Myself, Irvin Mayfield, and Ellis Marsalis)
Thanks to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment.
Kevin Spacey recently gave a speech on Arts Advocacy at the Kennedy Center. A brief interview the following day with Chris Matthews of the show Hardball is making the rounds among arts advocates on Twitter. Spacey researched historical testimonials from well-known public figures, and he shared this gem during the speech – Matthews was so struck by it that he asked Spacey to repeat it to his audience:
“When Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and he was told that there were going to be major cuts in arts and culture because of the mounting costs of World War II, he responded with a simple reply, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”
There is a serendipitous quality to the internet and social media. We make connections we wouldn’t have imagined otherwise. With that thought in mind, here’s a quote that I came across on the Facebook site of Pam Asberry, a single parent/musician/piano teacher/writer who happened to “Like” the Facebook site for my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music. With the inherent challenges that music educators face these days, I thought this quote might strike a “chord” with many of our readers:
“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life – but there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles WERE my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.”
- Father Alfred D. Souza, Writer, Philosopher
I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more testimonials from leaders from a variety of professions who were influenced by music education. Why don’t they speak out more often and more publicly regarding the benefits of music education. I certainly didn’t have any trouble finding plenty of successful business leaders willing to tell me their stories when I wrote my book. One possible answer is that they don’t have a proper, organized forum.
This Canadian website, The Coalition for Music Education, has a Gallery of Champions of musicians and professionals influenced by music education. Not a bad idea.
Link to the Gallery of Champions website
(scroll down to play the audio testimonials)
“Every step we take and every sound we make has a rhythm. Music therefore, is inherently human – and lack of commitment to music education is inhumane.”
- Craig M. Cortello