I recall watching Amy Winehouse perform during the GRAMMY awards in 2008, and I watched her get showered with awards and accolades shortly thereafter (5 GRAMMYS that evening). There were 2 things that were plainly obvious to those inside and outside of the recording industry that night: 1) This is an immensely talented performer with enormous upside potential 2) Winehouse was on a dangerous path and perhaps the tip of a downward spiral, given her problems with addiction and the underlying emotional issues that all too often derail the careers of emerging artists. I couldn’t help think that there was something terribly afoul and enabling with the idea of heaping praise on a woman in such peril after she declared in song, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no.”
We speak of the power and merits of artistic expression in this forum a great deal, but the story of Amy Winehouse is a cautionary tale. Exposing children to music and the arts provides a valuable outlet for their emotions, and is a tool in teaching them to live productive and healthy lives – but it’s just a start. It’s important to realize and acknowledge its limitations as well. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that Winehouse’s underlying issues could not be resolved by a piano, guitar, or microphone.
I’ve spoken to music therapy experts, and they’ve echoed these sentiments as well. We must be realistic and practical in espousing the power and benefits of music and music education. Those who oversell its potential provide ammunition for the skeptics and sabotage the scientific advances made by the true practitioners of music and sound therapy, arts integration, and arts education in general.
I have a certain affinity for the music of the early 80′s and the dawn of the music video era. The new wave era on balance will not be remembered for the virtuosity of the musicians nor the sophistication of the music, though it’s noteworthy to mention that The Police, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Pretenders, and The Tubes were born of that time. Yet there was an energy and excitement that captivated the music world back then.
The disco age was dead. Punk rock had shaken the music world out of its doldrums, but had faded as brilliantly as it had emerged. More importantly, music has the ability to connect us to other times in our lives.
I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to music therapists regarding the connection between music and mood. In the simplest sense, even a non-trained musical ear knows that certain (major) chords or sounds seem “happy,” while others (minor chords) evoke sadness or are more appropriate for horror movies. Of course, their science goes well beyond those basic theories, allowing breakthroughs with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, and Autism.
That brings me to yesterday.
I was having a bad day – No particular tragedies, just a series of life’s little aggravations. Then, while strolling through the grocery store, a tune played from the speakers above. The recognizable intro to “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It was the 1st video ever played on MTV back in the day, and the video production levels were so primitive that there was an innocence that permeated the music videos of that era. The song “Our House” by Madness followed. From what moment forward, my day and my attitude changed for the better.
What music changes your mood?
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.
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
On Wednesday’s episode of American Idol, the contestants were tasked with performing a song from the movies. Casey Abrams was leaning toward the song “Nature Boy,” recorded famously by Nat King Cole among others. Jimmy Iovine, legendary music producer, and will.i.am (hope I got the punctuation right) of the Black Eyed Peas have been coaching the contestants and helping with song selection, and they weren’t thrilled with his choice.
They asked if he had another song in mind, and he threw out (I Can Feel it Coming) “In the Air Tonight” (by Phil Collins and from the film Buster, in which he also had an acting role) but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Iovine and “.am” were more supportive of that tune. At the 11th hour Casey did an about-face and reverted back to “Nature Boy,” his original choice. A skeptical and slightly perturbed Iovine said in a clip that aired just prior to the performance (paraphrasing) “At this point in the competition they need to listen to their coaches. He’d better kill it out there”…and he did!
Once again, Casey accompanied himself on the upright bass, as he did during an audition when he sang another jazz standard, “Georgia (On My Mind).” Though jazz vocalist/bassist Esperanza Spalding has attained commercial success, it’s a brave choice for a young singer, as the upright bass requires a sophisticated ear for the vocalist to stay on pitch.
More impressive though, is the fact that the 20 year-old artist stayed true to himself in the face of scrutiny from a legendary music producer/executive nearly three times his age and a member of one of the most successful pop groups on the planet. The pressure in the face of their resistance must have been overwhelming, especially when singing a song that required sensitivity and nuance vs. a tune that he could “belt out” so to speak. Though his vocal wasn’t perfect, it was stylish, heartfelt, and it was beautiful in contrast to the selections from the other contestants.
My Point Here:
It’s a great lesson to all artists. While there are mentors, coaches, educators, fans, and others who will give advice, much of which is very beneficial, ultimately you know who you are as an artist. More importantly, you have to live with the consequences. And if you listen to others and fail, you’ll never forgive yourself to ignoring your inner voice.
And finding your own voice and developing individuality is important, even if you’re not an artist or up and coming pop music star.
This article by Ronnie Sanders, a member of the fine arts faculty at Jefferson High School in San Antonio and an appointee to a sub-Committee of the Texas Commission on the Arts, echoes the sentiments we express here often on the benefits of music and arts education. My takeaways and key points included:
- “The arts do not exist simply to perform; the arts exist to transform.” (great line!)
- “We use music to make better students who are ready to use the skills they learn in fine arts classes in order make a significant contribution in a global economy of thinkers, creators and problem-solvers.”
- “Far from being superfluous, the arts are now regarded as a necessary component of a well-rounded quality education.”
- “Our children are not mere statistics or cold, calculated averages. At the core of every student is a heart with a desire to excel in life — and the arts are here to help them accomplish their dreams!”
Read the entire article at MySanAntonio.com
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?’”