A Conversation with Stanley Jordan
Mike Ragogna: Hi Stanley. Although you're credited with being one of the great jazz guitarists, you don't just play in that genre.
Stanley Jordan: I would say that I really just play any kind of music that I like. In the beginning, my first instrument was piano. I studied classical piano and the touch technique that I used, that's also called the tapping technique that grew out of my desire to do some of the pianistic things on the guitar. So, when I started doing that, I didn't know anybody else that was doing it. I just sort of whipped it out on my own. Then the other thing is I've been a big fan of blues, r&b and rock music, and that's what initially drew me to the guitar in the first place. Then the great thing about jazz was that it put everything together for me in a way. It had all of the interesting structural complexity of classical music, and it also had the really powerful feeling and sensibility of blues and rock music. Jazz is still my core, but I don't really classify myself. I'm classified by whatever song I happen to be playing at the time.
MR: To that point, on your latest album, Friends, the track list swings pretty widely, from "Giant Steps" to "I Kissed A Girl. What went into the track selection?
SJ: Every song on the album is there for a special reason--that could be the subject of a whole conversation. The artists and the songs were very specially picked. You mentioned "I Kissed A Girl," that's a song everybody's heard because Katy Perry had such a big hit with it. Of course, I saw the video of that and I thought it was great, and then I saw her do an MTV Unplugged version of that where she played with jazz musicians. They didn't really take any solos, and it wasn't really a full jazz version. It was just basically the concept was there. I thought that would be interesting to take that idea that she's come up with here, and do a full jazz version of the song. The other thing about the song was that the message and the theme was really interesting. To take the concept of that song and boldly put that out there and have this hit, which was a hit for like a year or year and a half, I thought that was really interesting that that would be popular. I figured there was something there worth shining the spotlight on, so I had multiple reasons in that case.
"Giant Steps" came out to showcase Mike Stern because he is such an amazing guitar player and "Giant Steps" is a difficult song. I remember jamming with him on that song somewhere years ago, and I was just blown away by his effortless way of playing through those chord changes. So, I thought the world should hear Mike Stern play "Giant Step," that was my main motivation for asking him. When I contacted Mike to do the album with me, I already had in my head that I wanted him to do that song in particular. Some of the other songs were a little more flexible. I was flexible in all cases, but it was really about my friends who played with me on the album. I let the music be flexible in whatever they wanted to play. So, with Bucky Pizzarelli, for example, when I first invited him to do it, he asked what music I had and I said there was "Seven Come Eleven." He said instantly that would be a great idea. I already had a pretty good idea Bucky Pizzarelli would want to play "Seven Come Eleven," it's such a classic. It's a fanfare that all of us jazz guitar players love to play, so I thought to bring in someone. He was the oldest member on the album to do such a classic; it felt like making history. He was the one who suggested "Lil' Darlin'," the Neil Hefti composition that was played with the Count Basie Orchestra. That goes way back also to Bucky's era. He brought that old time approach. He's played so great--he played with me at Iridium, and he just blew everybody away. The solo that he takes on "Seven Come Eleven" is just unbelievable, he's so good. He's also been playing for so long, he's got so much history that he brings to it. He taught us so many things about the songs that we played. So, we got a little history lesson out of it as well. Every single song has a story like that.
MR: Who else joined you on this project?
SJ: We had some other great guitarists, like Russell Malone who was on "Seven Come Eleven." He also did this avant-garde piece with me called "One For Milton." Charlie Hunter was one who played with me on "I Kissed A Girl." We also had some great horn players--Nicholas Payton and Ronnie Laws, and Kenny Garrett. Also there was Regina Carter on violin, and Christian McBride did some bass work on a couple of the songs. I focused mostly on the people I wanted, and fortunately, almost all of them were available. Then we just looked at who the artists were, and picked stuff that they wanted to do, and I feel that what we created was something that, because it felt so good to us in the studio creating it, I think it's infectious. I think people will feel that when they hear the music. It's a big party and a celebration.
MR: There also seems to be some adventure on how you approached the tracks.
SJ: Thank you, I'm glad you said that. It wasn't completely easy to do. With me as the axis of the wheel, it helps because I can sort of focus it all together. However, as with several of my other albums that I've made, determining the song order was a little bit of a task. With eleven songs, there are something like 30 million possible permutations, and there's no way you can listen to all of them. The thing is, to really hear the album in a certain order, you can't just look at the list. You have to sit and listen to the whole thing and know how it works. So, what I did, I got together with my girlfriend Jackie and for two or three days, we made one order after the other of the album, and then we sat there and listened through the whole thing. After doing this for few days, we came up with this order.
MR: It's nice when an album finally locks in.
SJ: With each song, there's that feeling. When you're in the studio recording takes and you finally have that magical take, and everyone's looking at each other, you just know that's the one. It's just an amazing feeling.
MR: Can we hear a story behind another one of these songs.
SJ: I would say, "One For Milton" was one of the most special songs of all, because Milton Babbitt was a major influence on me. He was a composer who taught at Princeton, and when I was an undergraduate in the late '70s and early '80s, I had the opportunity to study with Milton. In addition to being an amazing composer, he was also a brilliant theorist. There are a lot of things that are used today that Milton originally developed. As I was preparing to record this album, that was the last time I was here in New York. Unfortunately, Milton passed away and I got the news during the weekend that I was performing at Iridium. It just really left a vacuum, and I really felt like I had to do something. So, the song "One For Milton" grew out of that. I'm sure you've heard the word "minimalism" in terms of music. Well, Milton wasn't into that, he called himself a "maximalist." (laughs) His whole thing was let's make music as much as it can be rather than as little as one can get away with. Some of his music is a lot to digest for a casual listening because it's very dense, complex, and rich. I had the opportunity to hear a celebration of Milton's music at Princeton a few months ago, and I heard pieces of his that I'd never heard before. I still feel it as I think about it. It's just amazing music.
"One For Milton" was with Russell Malone and Kenwood Dennard, and we did something in honor of Milton that tried to capture some of the complexity of his music. It doesn't have the same vibe; our song had much more wild abandon, and most of his music is more cool in terms of the actual vibe of the music. We played in an atonal style, so the music isn't in any particular key, it's all just notes. Without having any key center to hold onto, it flowed in this free space that allows you to move in ways that you couldn't move if you were constrained by that key center. It also means that the average ear might have a challenge in hearing it. What you have to do is just not try to understand or explain it, just try to turn off your brain and let the music wash over you. The exciting finish to that song is the end of the whole album. I think it's kind of a fitting ending for the whole project.
MR: You're also in the world of music therapy aren't you?
SJ: That's right, I had an experience as a youngster with the healing power of music. I didn't know back then that there was a profession doing that, I didn't know that there was scientific research behind it, and it wasn't until around my thirties I found out about that. I started attending the National Music Therapy conferences. I finally went to the international conference a few years ago, and that's when I decided I had to get involved in it. I think when you mention music therapy to most people, they have a positive feeling about it, but they assume that it's what we call "music healing," where the music itself has healing properties. That's fine and is a certain aspect to music therapy. Music therapy essentially goes beyond that. It's really more the use of the music and the relationship that comes from the music making that kicks in another level of healing that can take place. For example, most people would think that soothing, calm, new age sounding music would be the preferred music--which in some cases, if you're just looking for relaxation, that could be the right kind of music. On the other hand, let's say death metal or gangster rap could potentially be therapeutic if, for example, you're using that music to gain communication and trust with a teenager who likes that music. You can't fake it, you sincerely have to listen and get into the music. So, the point is that it's the use of the music--it could be making up songs, it could be listening to songs and thinking about the lyrics.
I'm sure a lot of us have had that feeling where you're in a bar and a country song comes on and that song is talking to me, and maybe I shed a tear and I feel validated by that song. The other thing is there is a whole physical side, because music making can be good for the body. A lot of people have weaknesses in their muscles because of something like Multiple Sclerosis, or they had an accident or stroke, and they have some nerve or muscle damage. Playing an instrument can be a very fun way of exercising the body. Singing and playing a wind instrument can be good for the breathing process, so people who have respiratory conditions, including asthma, by the way, can be helped by singing or playing a wind instrument. It can open up the breathing passages and also it's a great emotional release. Some asthmatics have an emotional component to their asthma. Let's say you were young and there was some shouting going on in the house and maybe you hid under your blankets to shelter yourself from the negative emotions. You kind of learn to shut down your breathing in stressful situations. That's just an example, but just letting the emotions out can be really healing, no matter the cause. That's just sort of a few examples, it goes on and on.
One of the areas I've been interested in developing is live music in the OR. I've had a couple of opportunities to play during operations where I was there during the induction to help the patient go to sleep. Once they were asleep, I took the attitude that on some level they could still hear me, but I was focusing a little more on the doctors and nurses and so forth, trying to help them stay relaxed, yet alert so they could do their work. Modifying the music so it could fit the situation, not in a mocking way or a way that trivializes it, you have to walk a fine line. Let's say, for example, something happens and they have to move a little more quickly to take care of something, then maybe I will pick up the tempo to help the flow of the energy. It's just wonderful what people are doing with music, and I would encourage people to do an internet search or talk to any music therapist. You would be amazed by the stories musical therapists have.
MR: Have you found that when others have looked at music therapy, they want to learn it as well?
SJ: Yes, well, after I worked with Regina Carter, somebody told me she was interested in music therapy. So, I want to get back in touch with her and find out what it is she's interested in. One of the difficulties we've found in the music world is the industry has gone through some difficult times with the changing economy. Everything from the economy being down in general to people downloading music for free. The challenge is how you can make a living making music. When I speak with young musicians about opportunities, one of the things I tell them is take a look at music therapy. If you have any joy helping others, you would be amazed at how much joy can be activated when you use your music for that. Plus there's a career option you may not have know about.
MR: Which brings us to what advice do you have for new artists?
SJ: For me, my motto has always been the music comes first, that's the most important thing. I know it sounds so obvious, but it's so easy to forget that. In today's world, everything is so complex; even just making the time to practice is difficult. There are so many distractions and there's so much filling our time, so when I do my seminars, that's the main topic I talk about. Practicing is universal, regardless of your level of skill or your instrument or the style of music that you play. We all need to make the best of our practicing. The other thing is that when you need to make a decision about what to do, try to ask the music. What does the music want to do? Sometimes, it doesn't always make the most sense from an economic point of view or from a political point of view, but in the long run, if you go with the best music, then you will have the best opportunity for it to work out the most.
We have a history in the music industry to try and reduce music down to its most basic form. I think that's been an efficient short term strategy--having expendable artists who are willing to do what they're told, and get a product out so quickly that people don't have to think about it to appreciate it. In the long run, I think it's really hurt music because the musical experience is diminished. I think people don't really care about music so much. At one point, music became the soundtrack to the video, and now they don't even show you the video anymore. Music is so much less important, I feel, in people's lives. You can have 50,000 songs, but how much do you really care about one individual song.
So, what I feel is that, if you make your best possible music, that's the music that's going to grab people. When I do a good show, then people will come up and say you're great and you're a good musician and all that, and I will say thank you. If I do a great show, then people aren't talking about me, they're talking about themselves. They're saying what they felt, how the music changed them. They say things like, "Man, I've never heard anything like that, I can't wait to tell my friends at work tomorrow," or something like that. That's what I'm talking about--the best possible music, changes people on the inside.
MR: You were a Blue Note artist at one point right?
MR: That affected you, didn't it, as far as the marketing aspect of the music? In your case, people really understood your music at the label.
SJ: Well, I've always been blessed in the sense of having people around who understood what I was doing. There were times that there weren't enough of those people; there were times I felt that the effort to make myself understood freely just wasn't working; there were gaps that couldn't always be bridged; there was one point where I had built a structure around myself that wasn't really nurturing my true inspiration as an artist. I tried to tinker around the edges, but I found that there was no incremental solution that could fix it, so I had to just bail out of the whole situation. There were people saying don't do this, don't do that, you will hurt your career, people will forget about you and it will be hard to get the momentum back. What I was saying before was you have to go with the music, and I felt my best music wasn't being served. So, basically, I moved and focused more on my spiritual life and my intellectual curiosities, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Sure enough, all of these people were right. It was hard to get the momentum back. But you know what? So what. I got my life back and that was the most important thing. On this new album, I feel from all the things I went through before, are coming together. All of the things that I've learned, all of my experiences from before, have come together with this. I do feel the Friends album represents a really important moment for me in my music, and I'm really happy to share that with you.
MR: And you'll be touring, right?
SJ: I'm right in the middle of the Friends tour right now, it's keeping me busy. I not only have concerts, but I also have lots of other events I'm doing as I travel. I have a desire to use my music beyond the entertainment value. The music therapy stuff is an outsource for that. I also like to do community service, so when I'm on the road, I have a chance to do all of those things. I have a concert coming up this week--a good friend of mine I've known for a long time is coping with cancer--he is going to be sitting in and playing this concert with me. We're doing some fund raising for his medical bills, and he plays mandolin, and we're going to play together. For me, this is music therapy at its best.
MR: This has been a beautiful experience for me, Stanley. Thank you so much for you time.
SJ: Thanks so much.
1. Capital J
2. Walkin' The Dog
3. Lil' Darlin'
4. Giant Steps
5. I Kissed A Girl
6. Samba Delight
7. Seven Come Eleven
8. Bathed In Light
9. Romantic Intermezzo From Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra
11. One For Milton
Transcribed by Theo Shier
Lindsey Buckingham's Songs From The Small Machine: Live In L.A. DVD is Exhibit A for why it's a crime this man's guitar playing and songwriting prowess aren't constantly heralded by hipsters the world over. This 19-track concert (which was filmed at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills) sports an assortment of Fleetwood Mac classics and solo material as well as songs from his recent album, Seeds We Sow. Lindsay's got an eye on the meticulous with an ear for terrificness.
1) Shut Us Down
2) Go Insane
4) Never Going Back Again
5) Big Love
6) Under The Skin
7) All My Sorrows
8) In Our Own Time
10) Second Hand News
12) Stars Are Crazy
13) End Of Time
14) That s The Way Love Goes
15) I m So Afraid
16) Go Your
17) Turn It On
19) Seeds We Sow
Yes, Another Dose of The Box Story
Once again, 15-year-old Noah Chenfeld and his 17-year-old brother Dylan target a new video at their age group, but somehow win over the older demo in the process. He doesn't play it up here--this is a big ballad--but Noah is one of the most gifted teenage freestyle rappers out there. By the time The Box Story gets their album on the market, it will already be a YouTube sampler. Hang in there with these kids, they're going to have a good run...
The Box Story - "Pray For Sleep"
Seven From StevieMix
Here's the latest dance recommendations from DJ StevieMix, giving you the best of dance floors from around the U.S. and around the world. You can hear StevieMix live on solar-powered KRUU-FM at http://www.kruufm.com Friday nights from 9-10PM US Central time or listen to mixes at http //www.steviemix.com.
Lupe Fiasco is #2 next to Kanye West in Chicago rapper popularity. I love Lupe's lyrics with many tracks having a positive spin even if dealing with negative topics. This track is inclusive and upbeat with a really solid dance beat.
Track 3: "Strange Clouds" by B.o.B. with Lil Wayne. Genre: Hip-Hop
"Strange Clouds" is the latest from B.o.B. with Lil Wayne. What makes this track different is its inclusion of dubstep elements-incredibly intense bass stabs and bass wobble. As electro house began finding its way into pop and hip-hop a couple of years ago, Dubstep is making its way into house, hip-hop and other genres.
Track 4: "Good Feeling" by Flo Rida. Genre: Hip-Hop
The latest hip-hop track from Flo Rida features vocals from the Etta James track "Something's Got a Hold On Me." It includes samples from Swedish dance producer Avicii's track "Levels." Avicii (Tim Bergling or Tim Berg) is famous in the dance world for the 2010 track "Seek Bromance". It also includes some minor dubstep accents that add intensity to the track. Although the song was released only 3 months ago, there have been a lot of remixes of this track, often a good sign in the dance world that at least some version of the track might be worth playing.
Track 5: "2People (2011 Rework) feat. Tara Busch - DCUP Remix" by Jean Jacques Smoothie. Genre: Indie Dance
This issue's Video bonus track features amazing dubstep dancer, Marquese NONSTOP Scott dancing to Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" remixed by Butch Clancy. Not all dubstep dancing is this slow but Marquese has mad skills. It was uploaded a couple of months ago and hit 5 million views in just a week on YouTube. It's currently up to nearly 18 million views. For someone unknown that is massively viral! He appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show after the first week and probably kicked up the views substantially.
StevieMix's DJ Tip - Looping
Looping can be used to repeat track segments to add emphasis or to repeat a killer section of the track. I use looping a lot for mixing where I throw Deck A into a loop when mixing out or I throw Deck B into a loop when mixing in. Sometimes both decks are looping in the mix. Loops are especially valuable when trying to mix songs that have a lot of vocals or other elements that make them hard to mix. When mixing in, I find at least 1 bar (4 beats) where there are no vocals and when looped it sounds like a continuous song without a lot of variation. Usually I avoid loops that have some drastic variation that is not repeated like a sudden high volume kick. If you run such a loop for a few repeats it usually doesn't sound good and the sudden change will distract from the mix with the other track. It's always important to hear your loops by themselves for a few repetitions. You should also listen to the loop when mixed with other tracks (preferably with the track you plan to mix it with). I do sometimes use loops with vocals, often because there are no good vocal-less loops to be had. I will either mix these with non-vocal segments of tracks or I will downplay the vocals a bit by lowering the mid range on the equalizer.