A Different Take on Fergie’s NBA All-Star National Anthem Performance

beauty-trends-blogs-daily-beauty-reporter-2015-01-15-fergie-allure-february-2015-cover“…It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” ~ Steven Pressfield author from The War of Art.

So it’s safe to say that Fergie took a few kicks to the ribs after her recent NBA All-Star Game national anthem performance, mostly via social media. But at least she’s in the arena…not in the stands where the social media vultures live. In the aforementioned book The War of Art, Pressfield goes on to say:

“A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul…The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next one will be better, and the one after that better still…

The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

There’s a saying that it’s better for an artist to “step over the line” from time to time than to always play it safe…and live life never knowing where that line is. Artists are by the nature of their work risk takers. It’s one of the 9 lessons of music education that translate into success that I’ve articulated in my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music – Lesson #6 – Risk Acceptance (Let’s Just “Jam”).

While I found Fergie’s performance unusual, I’m struck by that fact that 99% of the critics tearing her to shreds are people sitting on their couches, staring into their smartphones, and avoiding pursuing whatever endeavor is near and dear to their hearts out of laziness, insecurity, or fear of rejection.

I’m guessing Fergie will be “back in the arena” tomorrow so to speak, honing her craft and working on her next musical or other creative project. You can sit on the sidelines or in the parking lot waiting for the next artist to slip up so that you can throw daggers, or you can get to work and join her.





Musical QB Tua Tagovailoa Was Ready for a Big Stage

Tua 001In my book, Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, business leaders and CEOs espoused the lessons from music education that translated beyond the band room to other endeavors in life. One of the 9 common lessons of music articulated repeatedly by the proponents was confidence and self-esteem. Stepping up to the mic and performing provided a vehicle that gave them the courage to showcase their talents and express their ideas beyond the world of the music.

Freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa of the Alabama Crimson Tide provided one of the most memorable moments in the history of college football last week, and one of the most improbable. Entering the game in the second half to give his struggling offense a lift, Tua threw three touchdowns, including a 41-yd strike in overtime that game his team a dramatic win and the national championship.

The poise shown by the young man on this college sporting world’s biggest stage was startling. Yet everyone who comes in contact with him says that he’s a special person, possessing a certain “it” factor that gives you a sense that he is destined for greatness.

It’s no wonder that Tua is a talented singer and ukulele player who grew up singing in the church choir with his family. As you’ll see in the video below, he also occasionally entertains his teammates and coaches behind the scenes, a little diversion and perhaps a team-building activity. Well done, music man!

U2 in New Orleans: Deserving Stewards of Musical Privilege


I attended the U2 concert in New Orleans on September 14, 2017, a stop along their Joshua Tree tour that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the album’s release. The concert was everything you’d imagine from the iconic band. The band’s greatest hits are ideally suited to serve as arena rock anthems. Songs start modestly and build to a dramatic crescendo, provoking frequent “hair standing up on your arms” moments – Simple chords, a distinctive sound punctuated by the cutting riffs, harmonics, and delay effects of The Edge’s guitars and Bono’s vocals, and a stage presence that demonstrates that the band is comfortable in their skin as the greatest rock stars of their generation.

The musical excellence is greatly enhanced by the impact of technological advances of the concert experience. The stunning graphics canvassing the screen that traverses nearly the entire width of the Superdome floor provide a sense of the greatest live music video ever seen and heard. The band has the resources to take those technical capabilities to another level, superimposing live shots of the band members visually enhanced over pre-recorded graphics ideally suited for and meticulously synchronized with the music.

Add to all of the above, the backdrop of the Louisiana Superdome – a venue of last refuge for desperate Hurricane Katrina survivors, the band’s participation in the post-storm revival as well as their obvious affinity for the city and it’s musical influences, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable entertainment collaboration between artist and audience.


As I left the stadium and approached the bottom of the ramp near street level, I looked up at the mammoth building structure that seems even more colossal against the backdrop of the downtown structures that punctuate the Superdome’s surroundings. I watched as the sea of contented fans filtered out onto the streets. I couldn’t help but think what it must be like for the band members to drive up to a venue of this magnitude knowing that enough people to fill the building to the rafters are willing to flock to see them. Success at this level is a unique combination of talent, charisma, hard work, dedication, faith, luck, and other elusive intangibles.

It’s also a tremendous responsibility and privilege to attain success at this level in such a high-profile profession. As fans and as citizens, we can only hope that the musicians who achieve that level of fame and success serve as deserving stewards of those rewards.

The return of the New Orleans Saints NFL football team to the Superdome in 2006 after the horrific events of Katrina was as cathartic an experience as any of the post-storm recovery activities. While a halftime concert might seem merely symbolic to outsiders, the citizens of the city can attest to the impact of the moment and the affinity for the anthem “The Saints are Coming” crafted by Green Day and U2 for that night. I couldn’t help but look up at the ceiling of the Superdome occasionally and think back to the darkest days when rain and a glimmer of light penetrated the weather torn panels of the roof. It gave the concert a sense of triumphant return to the city – so much so that a friend described the night as spiritual in nature.

Courtesy NOLA.com

The Edge conceived the founding of Music Rising, an effort to ensure the replacement of musical instruments destroyed in the storm to those in the Gulf Coast region. The organization continues to this day, administered by the non-profit Mr. Holland’s Opus, as the mission has expanded across the country to those affected by natural or economic disasters.

But the band’s concern for humanity is of course as global as their musical acclaim. Bono is one of the most well-known and accomplished philanthropists and social activists that the music industry has ever known. His ability to reach out to a diverse group of leaders of religious organizations, government, business, entertainment, and media has garnered him recognition as an effective agent of global change. His understanding that polarizing criticism rarely brings about the long-term, effective reforms that partnerships and outreach can achieve has distinguish him among celebrity social activists. Though too numerous to mention, some of the issues that Bono and the band have taken on include world hunger, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, third world country debt relief, disease, and fair trade.

You’d think that those tackling such daunting issues might convey a somewhat pessimistic tone. Yet U2’s message articulated by their leader throughout the concert was one of hope and possibilities, prefacing a signature song among many with the message, “There’s nothing that we can’t accomplish, if we work together as ‘One.’”

The band U2 defines what it means to be rock superstars aware of their impact as global citizens and consciously attempting to live up to that responsibility. And New Orleanians as much as any population are thankful for and connected to their generosity, sincerity, and devotion.


The Freedom of Musical Expression

I picked up a copy of local New Orleans entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine recently. There’s a “Where Y’at Chat” feature page where locals from a cross-section of professions are asked 5 random questions and their responses are shared.page_1

In this edition, respondents were asked the question, “Happy Independence Day! When do you feel most free and independent?” I was struck by how many of the responses turned to musical expression and freedom:

“When I play the horn (Euphonium – baritone horn). It’s moving and freeing.”

~ Norman Robinson, Award-winning Radio/TV Broadcaster

“On the stage.”

~ Johnny Sansone, Award-Winning Blues Guitarist

“Singing a song with my guitar in front of an audience.”

~ Greg DiLeo, Trial Attorney

“Blaring the radio with the windows down.”

~ Mavis Larrimer, Respiratory Therapist

For Love or CountrySometimes it’s hard to imagine and therefore important to remember that there are places and there have been times where such freedoms of expression are not a way of life. Music/artistic expression and free speech are as precious as any rights we afford our citizens, and must be protected even when, or perhaps especially when, those perspectives, expressions, and points of view are counter to those of the majority.

The movie For Love or Country documented the plight of jazz trumpet player Arturo Sandoval whose homeland of Cuba prohibited jazz. Swing Kids is the story of teen aged jazz/swing aficionados of the early days of Nazi Germany who used music and dance as a vehicle of defiance. In both cases the narrow allowances of only state-sponsored music served as a way to repress dissonant thought among the citizenry.

Swing Kids 002Tennis player and 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic who grew up in war-torn Serbia articulated those sentiments in his book Serve to Win… 

“Growing up in wartime taught me another crucial lesson:  the importance of keeping an open mind and never ceasing to search for new ways of doing things. As a people, we were controlled by a government that kept information from us. The consequences of that continue to this day. Even though we have recovered from the war, we haven’t recovered from the mindset that communism instilled:  that there is only one way to think, one way to live, one way to eat. Tennis, and my studies with Jelena (Jelena Gencic, Novak’s youth tennis/life coach and mentor) opened my mind, and I was determined to keep it open.”

DjokerDjokovic has ascended to the top of the men’s tennis game in large part because of his insatiable appetite for methods that will give him the mental, physical, and nutritional edge to compete at the highest level in the most competitive era his sport has ever seen.

So if you’re a musician, professional or recreational, or a music enthusiast, take a moment this week to appreciate the freedoms of expression of all kinds that we often take for granted.


7 Tips for Overcoming Songwriter’s Block

The brilliant jazz composer/pianist/vocalist Dave Frishberg once wrote a song titled “My Swan Song” in which he ruminates about the challenge of continuing to come up with new song ideas. Frishberg sings, “It’s the final cry of a dry imagination.”

If you’ve ever put pencil to staff paper or simply tried to hum along a new melody to a few chords on your acoustic guitar, I’m sure you know the feeling. I broke out of a personal songwriter’s slump late last year and pumped out a few tunes. Here are a few things I learned that might help you if you’re struggling with composition:

Rewriting is Easier than Writing

Beatles Abbey RdPaul McCartney woke up in the middle of the night with the idea for the song “Yesterday.” But as he tells the story, he used the title “Scrambled Eggs” instead. He was simply trying to pen lyrics to match the song so he wouldn’t forget the idea, knowing he’d rewrite later. Don’t get hung up on the song trying to find the perfect lyrics. Write something with roughly the appropriate number of syllables and go back and rewrite later.

I’ve written and published 2 books and probably 60-70 songs. In both cases, I’ve found that it’s easier to get ideas out and edit later than to try to make them perfect from the outset.

Capture Every Idea

I have a voice memo function on my smartphone, and I’d imagine most of you do as well. Every time you have an idea, even a couple of lines or a few chords with a melody, capture it. You never know which one can blossom into a full song, but if you plant enough seeds, one will grow into something beautiful.

Walk Away and Come Back

Sometimes a little time away can recharge your batteries or help you look at a song or an idea differently. I’ve had songs that I walked away from because I wasn’t pleased with them. After some time away, I had new ideas – change the tempo, change a few chords, or reverse the order of the verses.

There’s a Reason They Call it the “Creative Process”

In Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, he speaks of how the artist doesn’t take criticism too personally. They understand that they aren’t defined by any particular piece of art, but rather each work is part of a creative process. They’ll wake up tomorrow and go to work again. Some days/works will be better than others, but each is a step forward.

Write Some Bad Songs

Don’t be deterred because something you wrote doesn’t necessarily live up to your standard. Go ahead and see the work through to completion. Maybe you’ll revisit and improve the song later, but maybe not. You’ll feel better about yourself and your creative abilities if you see ideas through to completion every once in a while, even if you’re not completely happy with the song, rather than just a collection of half-finished songs that leave you frustrated.

Change Your Routine

I typically start composing by strumming chords on the guitar (or piano), then I’ll try to find melodies that fit, and finally lyrics to match the song after the chords and melodies are complete. But I was in a rut using that technique for a long time. So I just started writing lyrics one day. It unlocked my muse, so to speak. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my usual methodology, but changing my routine got me back in a rhythm again, and the ideas started to flow again.

Learn Something New/ Listen to Something Different

Paul McCartney speaks of a Minor 7th chord at the start of the Bridge of the song “From Me to You” as a real breakthrough. Remember that many of the early songs of the Beatles like “Love Me Do” were very simplistic musically and the band was influenced by many of the 3-chord songs of early rockers like Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. McCartney also suggested to Producer George Martin that they try a piccolo trumpet solo in the song “Penny Lane” after seeing a BBC performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto.

When you consider how far the Beatles took popular music from the late 50’s and early 60’s to albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and Abby Road, it really puts their accomplishments into perspective. If you’re a rock or pop songwriter, listening to new genres might not turn you into a jazz or classical musician, but it might make you better at what you do.

Expand your music vocabulary to give you a broader foundation of ideas to draw from.


Sia: Going “All in” On Your Performance (Soon We’ll Be Found)

sia-001A musician friend recently brought to my attention the Australian artist Sia (pronounced See’-Ya). What is impressive about her is the creativity that she brings to her performances and videos. I stumbled upon a video of her performance of her song “Soon We’ll Be Found” from an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2008. It’s a beautiful song, and set up against the all white backdrop, with the exception being her colored hands that she uses to convey the lyrics in sign language. It’s both a visually and musically stunning performance. It’s clear that music to her is an emotional experience, and that level of investment in the song is conveyed to the listener.

Perhaps even more impressive was a video of the same song for a radio appearance. On a day when she was clearly battling some sort of throat ailment, and with minimal instrumentation and only serviceable live audio support, Sia gave an equally compelling performance. It was a clear indication of her professionalism. A true artist gives 100% of whatever they have in any given performance – Whatever 100% might be on that day and in that environment.

In other words, no matter the challenges, you don’t just mail it in. The song, the emotion, and the performance are too important. Here are the 2 videos for comparison:


John Lennon Knew the Source of the World’s Troubles

lennon-001“One thing you can’t hide, is when you’re crippled inside.”  ~ John Lennon

Every day I watch the news and I’m saddened by the fact that we as a society spend most of our time dealing with symptoms and not the problem. Crime, war, abusive behavior, addiction, appetite for power, depression – they’re just symptoms. Inability to deal with one’s human emotions is almost always at the heart of these issues.

We’ve made incredible advances in medicine, technology, our universe. And yet as a society, have we had any success reducing violence, divorce, suicide, or increasing our levels of happiness or meaning in our lives? We have an intense curiosity when it comes to exploring the world outside of us – and a paralyzing fear when it comes to exploring the world within.

And until we make the same advances in addressing human emotions in a constructive manner, we can never build enough jails, pop enough pills, conquer enough kingdoms, or fill our lives with enough gadgets and creature comforts to make our problems go away.

There’s a saying that emotions will always find an outlet. If you don’t find a constructive one, they’ll find a destructive one for you. And we see it on the news or in our lives every day.

…And John Lennon knew it.

With that thought in mind, my latest original composition, “Tales of the Emotionally Blind.”


America Used to Rock

When I was a kid, I loved the series of musical cartoon vignettes called Schoolhouse Rock. The cartoons were aimed at helping children learn their lessons facilitated by music. The subset of SR aimed at History lessons was called America Rocks. Those cartoons and accompanying songs gave you such an idealistic view of America and gave me a sense of pride in what we had accomplished as a nation.

Given the current state of political affairs, the direction of our nation’s government, and the lack of leadership among our political leaders, I’ve composed a non-partisan commentary on the current state of the nation’s affairs entitled America Used to Rock.


When Clowns Were Good Guys, Bourbon St. Daiquiris, & City Soldiers in Song

dsc_0245In the late ‘80s, I tended bar at a Daiquiri place on Bourbon St. in New Orleans on weekends and during college breaks. Saturday nights were hectic as you’d image and we made good money for college students, but I really enjoyed working daytime shifts. You had more time to converse with people, find out where they are from, and generally observe the interesting cross-section of life that passes through the city on a daily basis.

Street performers add to the uniqueness of the French Quarter experience. There was a clown back then who would walk the street and offer to make little balloon animalsdsc_0252 for the kids for tips. Seems like fun, until you think about 8 hour days in the outdoors in New Orleans in the summertime in full makeup and costume. Typically temperatures reach 94-95 degrees with 90% humidity. He’d often walk into the bar to get a break from the weather and ask for a cup of ice water.

I recall watching him once as he stood at the bar exhausted, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the dripping sweat from his forehead. I could see his makeup beginning to melt away, and I could see the fatigue in his eyes. I realized under the makeup that he was of an advanced age, certainly not immune to the physical effects of his environment and of the demanding nature of his work.dsc_0271

I gained an appreciation of the sacrifices of the cast of performers and characters who roamed the area and put a smile on peoples’ faces on a daily basis. With this in mind, years later I composed a song as a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans titled “City Soldier,” including the line:

“There’s a clown with a tattered costume roamin’ through the square today. He never says a word, but he makes balloons for the children every day. It’s a long way from the big top, but he doesn’t really seem to mind. The smiles on their little faces help him forget about those dreams he left behind…”

Here’s City Soldier, featuring Romy Kaye on vocals and Tony Dagradi on saxophone.


“Bring Two Pairs of Shoes” – Stanley “Buckwheat” (Buck) Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco (1947-2016)

This article originally appeared as a cover story for Where Y’at magazine in 2009 and reprinted here on the day of Stanley “Buckwheat” (Buck) Dural’s passing.

buckwheatzydecodNow that zydeco music is established with the Recording Academy as an official GRAMMY category, it is only fitting to reflect back on one of its master practitioners and foremost international ambassadors. Stanley “Buckwheat” (Buck) Dural, Jr. and his band Buckwheat Zydeco celebrate their 30th year as one of the most renowned artists of the genre with a new CD, Lay Your Burden Down.

Once considered a regional musical phenomenon, zydeco music has garnered international attention, thanks in large part to Buckwheat Zydeco’s ambitious schedule. The band was formed in 1979, and began touring Europe in the early 80’s.

Thirty years later, the band boasts a list of accomplishments would have been difficult to envision at the outset. Presidential inaugurations, Olympic ceremonies, national television commercial and motion picture recordings, talk show appearances, and GRAMMY nominations top the exhaustive resume. Not bad for a band leader who was reluctant to embrace the music early in his career.

Throughout his childhood, Buck was inspired by Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis. “There was so much energy. It was very inspirational.”

“When I first played music, there was nothing like it,” recalled Buck. “I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. I knew that from an early age.”

Buck was always very appreciative of the opportunity to play music, and getting paid to do so was simply lagniappe.

“I’d make four or five dollars, and I thought I was the richest guy on my block,” he laughed. “A little kid making that kind of money! Just to see people dancing. It still touches me now.”

Buck’s father had an affinity for zydeco music, and encouraged him to explore the music of Clifton Chenier, one of the iconic performers of the genre. Buck remained steadfastly opposed to that notion, preferring to stay true to his early R&B influences and his Hammond B-3 organ.

“Clifton Chenier and my father were best of friends,” Buck explained. “My dad would always tell me that I needed to play accordion like Clifton Chenier. I was invited to one of his gigs to perform as an organist.”

He approached that gig convinced that he would remain stubbornly opposed to opening his eyes to the music.

“I stayed over two years with Clifton,” Buck admitted. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he added. “I had never seen a washboard like that (played by Clifton’s brother Cleveland). At the house, my dad would always play with the same washboard that we washed clothes with – the one with the wooden frame. This cat had that thing strapped around his shoulders like a bullet-proof vest. He played with bottle caps on all fingers.”

It was Chenier’s command of the accordion, his vitality, and his ability to integrate other influences that really hooked Buck on the potential of zydeco music.

“The music was of his own invention,” said Buck. “We played four hours non-stop. That’s how you play with Clifton. That was inspirational to me.”

After his run with Chenier, Buck knew that he wanted to learn to play the accordion. That transition took about nine months and was not without its challenges.

“It gave me the blues,” said Buck of the learning curve that came with his newfound instrument. “You’ve got to inhale, exhale, pull and push, pull and push – The coordination with the left hand and the 140 buttons. I flipped it over, turned it around, put it down, and got so upset.” On the verge of quitting, Buck issued an ultimatum to that accordion and threw down the gauntlet. “It’s you or me,” he said, and eventually he conquered the beast.

Buck continued to bring both instruments to his gigs but found it too easy to revert back to the Hammond B-3 organ as somewhat of a security blanket. It wasn’t until he eventually “parked” the Hammond B-3 that he began to really embrace the accordion.

The band’s commitment to tour internationally exposed their music to a broader audience. Doors began to open up for Buckwheat Zydeco, most notably a major record label deal that was a breakthrough for both the band and for the genre.

“You always keep your fingers crossed and you hope and pray that good things will happen,” said Buck. “My manager Ted Fox called and said, ‘How would you like to record for Island Records?’ I dropped the phone. I said, ‘What do you think? Man, that is great.’”

Buck was aware that Bob Marley had been discovered by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, and knew of the label’s commitment to roots music.

Buckwheat Zydeco is also known for their affinity for allowing kids to join the band on stage during live performances, a trait that only enhances their reputation for appealing to a broad audience.

“We have to give something to our children,” said Buck. “There’s so much corruption and destruction leading them the wrong way. When I [bring kids on stage], these kids always remember. My music is for all generations. Mom and dad don’t have to leave kids home. They can take their kids with them.”

While numerous generations and artists contributed to the lobbying efforts to have zydeco music recognized as a GRAMMY category, it is understandable that it’s a source of pride for Buck.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I’d like to think that I had something to do with it – Taking my inspiration from Clifton Chenier and all of the older generation guys that played before me. I’ll just hand it down to the younger generation.”

The band tries to maintain a healthy balance by integrating multiple influences into a synthesis that is uniquely their own. “Everybody likes different things,” Buck explained. “That’s why I put so many different things in my repertoire. But I’m never going to get away from the roots of my music. It’s like a gumbo. You have to put all of your ingredients in.”

The band’s new album is a perfect representation. “I’m doing some cover tunes and some of the Buckwheat Zydeco repertoire,” he said. “I like to take that challenge to arrange and make sure that I do a good job with anybody’s music that I cover. Whatever you do, you can’t just be a copycat.”

Lay Your Burden Down is produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame, with guest appearances by Sonny Landreth, Warren Haynes, JJ Grey, Trombone Shorty, and Berlin himself.

Buck had only one thought for those coming to see the band live at Jazz Fest. “When you come to a Buckwheat Zydeco concert, bring two pairs of shoes, because you might burn one pair out.”

As for the irony that he has accomplished so much in his career by playing music that he was particularly reluctant to embrace, he closed with a universal lesson.

“I knew that I should have listened to my dad a long time ago. I’m very stubborn. I learned what you don’t understand, you don’t criticize.”