Nothing is permanent, except change (Heraclitus – 500 BC)
Many musicians have secret rituals before going on stage. Although I am not exactly part of the club, there is indeed something I like to say to my gang such moments: “now don’t you worry, for something is sure going to get out of our control.” I do not say it in order to be funny or mean. All I want is to keep it real and bring up a simple fact: during a live performance something will happen in a different way than expected. There is nothing to do about it. Accept it, embrace the situation and go with the flow.
Actually, this applies for most situations in life. Last week, for instance, I was expecting funding for a project and I got pretty anxious about it (checking-messages-each-three minutes kind of anxiety). In order to distract myself, I kept working hard. It sounds strange, but it really works), which made me kind of proud of myself. So far, so good.
When the answer finally came out, it was not a good one. My mood changed immediately. All the pride suddenly disappeared, and I think it took a good deal of my vital energy with it. As an obvious result in such cases, the previous week’s “keep your hands busy” attitude has been replaced by a “what’s the point” prostration. Looking back to the situation, maybe I should have allowed myself to grief.
Trying to work further and not being able to, made me feel even worse (“you are lazy and that is why you did not get the gig“, said the voices in my head). The problem with ignoring sad feelings and pretending that nothing happened (“the important thing is to move on, after all a true winner never lets her/himself down blablabla…”) is that, sooner or later, all that pain you tried to throw under the rug will come back, usually bringing reinforcements.
Losses are part of journey of life and learning to deal with failures helps a lot to face difficult times. Trying to abruptly interrupt this natural cycle, introducing a routine of “nothing but winning” is not only a huge mistake, but also an enormous cruelty to oneself.
On the other hand, learning not to be cruel to yourself is a practice to be absorbed over life. And if you, on top of that, manage to be kind to yourself, then you are really lucky, my friend.
The UK band Jethro Tull was extremely successful during the 1970s and 1980s. Although a true representative of an era and despite all the psychedelic elements (or perhaps precisely because of them), the sound and aesthetics of the group maintains its freshness and relevance to date.
Evergreen content, as the marketing jargon calls it, seems to be a common pursuit these days, but I wonder which percentage of the current content production will stand the test of time the Greek philosophy did. I am not sure whether the hypnotic performance of bandleader Ian Anderson at the Isle of Wight in 1970 will remain relevant in centuries to come as, let´s say, the oeuvre of Plato, but one thing I know for sure: this kind of raw talent flowing on big stages had become quite rare.
There could be many reasons for this, some of them related to Zeitgeist, but the truth is that watching live performances by iconic bands from the 70’s I feel like something is gone forever. Could it be the full attention of the audience? The way these people actually seemed to be having a good time, rather than “sharing the fun” in real time on their social media? Perhaps. Or maybe it is just the same feeling I get at the end of each month.
It is easy to run away from the tasks of a day or even push some obligations to the next week, but how do you justify goals not achieved in a month? This is what I ask myself every time the calendar reminds me that the current month is bidding me farewell.
I try to convince myself that, according to previous experiences, everything is going to be all right, because the mind works in various productivity levels and maybe the next couple of hours will be a blast, compensating for the last couple of weeks.Sometimes I am easy to convince, sometimes I am not and there is nothing left to do than recalculating the route. Once more.
Most of the year is gone by now, but there is still time to make it fabulous, or at least among the top ten in our lives. The last couple of years were so unbelievable hard, we must come up with something better this time, as individuals and as a community, as well.
I don´t know where your level of faith in humanity stands right now. Mine is not sky-high, if you ask me, but we must turn “the end of the world as we knew it” (as I call life after 2020) into something good or, at least, not worse than what we had it in our pre-pandemic world.
Hard task, but I know it is possible when I look at the fragile appearance of young Ian Anderson and how it never stopped him to deliver olympic performances. There is some kind of vital force in music that overcomes any known physical power.
Visiting this source is my way to turn the end into a new beginning.
Como Nossos Pais (Like Our Parents) is a 1976 song by Brazilian singer and composer Belchior. It is one of the first songs of my repertoire and it has a special place in my affective memory.I sang it already many times, but there is one particular performance that I will never forget.
It was during college time. It was a Saturday night and my roommate J. had just broken up with her long time boyfriend. She wanted to go for a walk and I, sympathetically, went along. Many steps and lots of talk later, just when my friend’s morale was getting better, a man came out of the middle of nowhere and said: “Give me what you have!”
I think he showed us a knife hidden under his hoodie or maybe it was a gun, all I remember is that J. and I looked at each other, trying to figure out what to do. None of us had carried a handbag and smartphones were not yet a reality, so the thief took the only more or less valuable item at hand: my friend’s watch.
Needless to say, after those very scary seconds we totally forgot her break up. The mood for a walk was also gone, so we headed towards the main street and looked for a bus stop. Just ahead of us there was a cultural centre with a restaurant inside and they had live music on weekends. The place was kind of fancy, but it was an opportunity to have a drink (we really needed one) and grab a cab back home.
We got in and realised the singer was an acquaintance of ours. He talked to us during the break and invited me to sing a song. I remember I was in jeans and a t-shirt and it felt really weird to be dressed like that on stage, but what the heck? The night was weird already.
I sang Como Nossos Pais. Why this song? I do not remember if I chose it from the set list of the band, or if I suggested it during the break (weird night indeed). Anyway, its ruthless verses about lost dreams and the bitter reality suited the moment perfectly and I put all my heart and soul on them.
We played impromptu, but the result, surprisingly, was not bad at all. The house was full and there was a lot of applause. I remember seeing my friend clapping her hands enthusiastically (by then she had already had a drink or two, I shall add). Looking back to it, I believe the “magic performance” was a mix of beginner’s luck and the universe trying to balance things somehow.
We went back home with the feeling that, after all, it was a happy lucky day.
Today is J.´s birthday and I wish her many happy returns, plenty of amazing stories to tell.
Think about the number of photographs you took today with your mobile camera. Now think about all the pictures that passed in front of you on this same device. How many of these images could be considered a work of art, in the same way that we refer to the content produced by Cartier Bresson or Sebastião Salgado?
The expansion of tools, despite democratising access to content, was not responsible for the corresponding increase in talent. In other words: having a camera and taking lots of pictures does not automatically turn anyone into a professional photographer, let alone an artist.
Perhaps because being an artist is not about owning something material. It has much more to do with giving something, providing something that is not measurable: an emotion. And I am not talking about viral videos and memes. I am talking about the ability to deliberately and repeatedly cause a certain effect, a reaction, an emotion in your audience.
Recently (to my immense embarrassment) I became aware of the work of Les Luthiers, a sensational Argentinian group, active since 1967 (currently in their fifth formation), which combines music and refined, sometimes delirious humour. With austere lighting and costumes and very few scenic elements, the ensemble manages to build its own universe, which works even in the worn out video tapes images of their first recorded concerts, now available on the internet.
A unique aspect of Les Luthiers is the virtuosity of their members, not only in the execution of various instruments, but also in the handling of the so-called informal instruments, an idea of founder Gerardo Masana. Toilet lids, tubes, gas balloons, nearly everything becomes “a musical thing”, as the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Paschoal would say.
Early deceased, Masana did not get to witness the incredible success of the group he formed, although he is very present in each performance through his unusual inventions played to perfection. That is another thing about true artists. They are capable of provoking brand new emotions in their audience, despite of space and time.
Watching and listening to Les Luthiers’ musical-comic sketches is a lesson in stage posture, stage presence, dedication and genius, if that can be learned. Their performances turn the question “What is an artist?” into pure wonder: What great artists!
The Goalie´s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a 1972 movie directed by Werner Herzog, adapted from the novel with the same title, by Peter Handke and music was written by Jürgen Knieper. It is also known as The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, but I personally don’t like either of the two translations.
The original “Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter” does not imply that the player is afraid of the kick, but afraid at the moment of the kick, which is completely different (and fits much better to the plot). When it comes to anxiety or fear, the choice is more complicated. “Angst” usually means fear, but “anxiety”, in general, is a term less used in German than in English (or Portuguese)
The genius title came to my mind as I take a look at the calendar, and realize that the date it shows does not correspond to where I was supposed to be in my schedule. As usual, I am a few steps behind my weekly plan. I am starting to think I have to change the way I calculate how long I need to complete my chores. Am I maybe overrating myself? Are my projections realistic or do I just overfill my plate with tasks?
One thing is for sure: if I want to understand the butterflies in my stomach (is it fear or anxiety?), I have to accept that I am doing something wrong in my planning. In fact, admitting this should not be a problem for anyone. After all, when it comes to time management, everyone struggles.
Everyone? Yes, everyone. And do you know why I can say this with such certainty? Because everybody’s life has its ups and downs. Every day, we are all subject to unforeseen events, mishaps and all kinds of unplanned events. Some dramatic, some funny, some just boring. We all have to accept the fact that we do not have everything under control (thankfully!).
Have you ever imagined how petrified life would be and how we would be subject to our old desires and dreams if everything went exactly as planned? If you’ve ever changed your mind about people and places or maybe changed courses, ended or started a relationship, tried a new job, all of this was only possible because you recalculated the path along the way and allowed yourself to change.
And, of course, there are also cases where some plans need to be revised because unforeseen opportunities arise, say, a meeting that can open several doors in your career. Don’t you think this is a good reason to get out of planning? Wish me luck!
In her new book The Wonder of Jazz author Sammy Stein invites the reader to take a walk on the jazz road, making sure that we will have the opportunity to stop and smell the flowers along the way. Her honest and extremely respectful approach both to readers and to the object of her analysis makes it impossible to resist.
When Carlos Lyra released Influence of Jazz in 1962, the message was clear, but not new. Similar complaints of an alleged degradation of Brazilian popular music by foreign genres date way back.
1922, Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho), a musician who is considered the very soul of what would be later called Brazilian popular music returned from a successful season in Paris bringing in his luggage something new: a saxophone. He got in contact with the new instrument through North American big band musicians performing at the French capital.
Immediately incorporated into his own arrangements and compositions, the sax became the trademark of Pixinguinha, until then a flute virtuoso. In the same year, the first radio broadcast took place in Brazil. In other words, when Brazilian popular music starts to be broadcasted and heard by the masses, it already had a jazz component in its DNA. In the words of Brazilian samba diva Alcione: “Samba is a cousin of jazz”.
I had the same cosy feeling of being among friends, in the company of a good cup of coffee (glass of wine, or whatever comforts you) while reading The Wonder of Jazz by author, writer, journalist, and curator Sammy Stein. Make no mistake, though: there is nothing shallow in this book. On the contrary, it is full of documentation, sources, evidences and counter-evidences, as recommended for a good journalistic investigation.
Then again, The Wonder of Jazz is so much more than that! It is also a book that builds its narrative directly from the knowledge of musicians. Interviewed by the author, these voices give a very special color to the work. Another element that makes The Wonder of Jazz a delightfully enjoyable reading is that Stein makes no secret of the fact that she is passionate and intimately connected to her subject.
Her letter of intentions could not be clearer. Stein knows to whom she writes (”I am writing for readers who want to understand more about jazz and be part of the energy . . . curious people with inquiring minds.”); why she is writing (“This book is an immersive exploration of jazz’s history, impact, and future”), and the limitations imposed by the topic (“No matter how many papers, books, reviews, and interviews one reads, unanswered questions remain.”).
This is a book about a passion, written with passion by an insider. Passion and care. In each paragraph of each chapter, a lot of care is taken to provide content that the reader can trust and use. Therefore, an aspect of this work I would like to highlight is its educational character. The Wonder of Jazz already has already a place among the reference books on the genre and it will certainly be cited in future academic and journalistic works.
The “game changers” list in chapter 3 and the “cabaret card” in chapter 5 are examples of the precious information brought by Stein. The informal yet didactic approach to the names that marked the genre in different sectors goes far beyond the simple biographical character and makes this chapter an important reference tool for students, researchers and fans of the genre.
Establishing links between jazz and the arts, Stein manages to compose a rich portrait of aesthetic influences, including boxing. The diverse range of examples makes this work recommended both for the public in general and for the specialist. Her walk in the fields of jazz also include political, cultural and social aspects of the genre. However, there would be room for more information about South-America in general (for instance, information about stablished jazz festivals on the region) and particularly about the impact of Bossa Nova on jazz.
Despite such minor issues, the bouquet offered by Stein presents a vast palette of colors. They come from the stories, outbursts, criticisms and hopes narrated by more than one hundred jazz musicians requested to open their hearts about all sorts of career related issues. Once more, I would like to praise the frank way in which Stein deals with the sensitive question of the livelihood of jazz musicians. While it is clear to many that the glamour of the stage is not reflected in multi-million payouts (at least not for the vast majority of musicians), very few people are actually aware of how fragmented and unstable the income of an average performer can be, especially during the pandemic years.
Finally, I would like to point out that the generous amount of information provided by the author on all aspects of the correspondence between jazz and society proves how the latter benefits from the development of the genre. In order words, in response to one of the many questions raised by the author (“Is jazz still relevant?”), one can only say: more than ever.
I love Tina Turner and I remember singing Private Dancer (1984) before I was old enough to fully understanding its meaning. Perhaps because of this memory, apparently ingrained in the deepest corner of my mind, I remembered this song while redoing, for the third time this week, the calculations of the texts I need to deliver by the end of the month. An article here, a review there and let’s not even talk about the podcast I need to record. Phew!
If you imagine a day in the life of a jazz musician as a creative adventure plenty of improvisation and magical moments, I must say you are half right. The other half, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with it. Well, ok, the improvisation part is true. Actually, each musician has a personal list of things not related to being on stage, nor to rehearsing to deal with daily and a lot of improvising is required in order to get it done.
Now don´t you get wrong here: I love all those activities: writing, reviewing, researching, recording, promoting my music… Ok, the marketing part is not so exciting. I am not an enthusiast of social networks, and probably would delete my accounts in half of them, if it was not for the music promotion sake.
Technical chores (audio and video recording and editing) can also be very challenging for me. No wonder it is where I am usually way behind schedule, but all in all, I like to know how things related to my career are done and, as we know, learning new things is good exercising for the brain. But, come on! It is really a lot of stuff and I am not an enthusiast of multitasking either.
So, at least up to the end of the month (and, according to my last calculation, most probably for the first half of the next month, as well), I am more a writer than a singer, whether I like it or not.
In such moments, when it is easy to lose motivation, my trick is to remind myself that: 1. if I get tasks it’s because my opinion matters to someone and I should be proud of my professional reputation, and 2. I may not see the whole point now, but at some moment all the pieces will come together and voilà! That seemingly less interesting task can be the connecting point to other (more interesting) projects.
Earth, Wind & Fire is a super groovy disco, soul, R&B band from the US formed in 1969. Their name evoques the four classical elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. They represent the attempt of ancient cultures to explain the nature and complexity of all matter.
Although this concept is no longer embraced by science, it is very useful for establishing relationships and explaining complex processes. For example, when we define photography as the art of writing with light. In the same way, I like to think that singing is the art of playing with air.
Before you say that the same definition could apply for all wind instruments as well, let me reply by reminding you that, in the case of singing, there is no instrument “between” the musician and the thing air. In other words, musicians play with air in pairs (musician and instrument), while singers face the same task having nothing but their own body.
As I hear my neighbor blowing her nose so loud that, well I can hear it from here, for the millionth time today, I was wondering how fragile this balance is. A mere cold or a sore throat and you are out of the singing game.If you cannot breathe well, you will not be able to sing well.
Personally, I prefer to stand up when I sing. The clearer the way, the easier the flow. And the flow is a crucial element to keep your voice sounding fresh, doesn´t matter if you are singing the the first or the last theme on the set. Again: if you do not breathe well, you will not sing well. Probably you will not speak well either.
I remembered my appointment last week. I was waiting for my treadmill exercise stress test to be done. Finally, they called my name and a few seconds later I heard that the workout top I was wearing was not suitable for the test, although the e-mail sent by the clinic clearly said “workout top” in the description of “what to wear during your test”. Crazy world.
A few minutes and a frank exchange of ideas later, there was I, wearing a bra and with a lot of tiny cables connected to my chest. Oh, sure, and the lovely detail of a face mask. Frankly, I thought the doctor would ask me to take my mask off, so I could proceed the test on a more, let´s say, accurate way, concerning my lungs and heart capacity. Never happened. I kept my mask on did my very best.
By the end of the procedure I asked about the mask and the answer was simply: “The patient may feel uncomfortable, but for test itself, the mask makes no difference.” I beg your pardon? Is it the best you guys could think of?
I was not asking too much. A generic: “we´ve adapted the parameters for the new protocol” would have done the trick, but trying to convince me, with a single sentence, that the mask does not interfere at all was simply to cheap.
As much of a mask enthusiast that I might be (and I am), I am also a singer, and I can certainly tell the difference of singing with or without a mask. I did not bother replying.
Remember the flow? Sometimes, you just have to go with it.
p.s: last but not least, I just wanted to remember a very special person, my late aunt, who was born on this day. I talk more about her and the super power that she gave me here.
Last Sunday I went to a birthday party and the most amazing thing happened: I met a former elementary/high school colleague! The birthday kid was a common friend of ours, but we both ignored it for years. Meeting V. was awesome, but the really amazing thing comes now: she recognized me from my voice.
V. talked about me in the most affectionate way. She described me in my teen years in such a lovely way, it made me feel more than flattered, but the fact that she remembered my voice made me feel unique. In the last episode of Quaranjazz, my series of interviews produced during the hard time of the pandemic I talked about this aspect of the voice: it connects us to a a very intimate zone of ourselves.
It can be very hard to hide emotions from your voice and even more to fake them. Depending on your talent, you may fool people saying things you do not mean, but can you do it without changing the pitch pattern of your voice? I strongly doubt it.
Being able to contemplate my early self through the eyes of V. felt like hopping on a time machine. It starts as a great adventure, but you never know whether the trip down to memory lane will be nice or very unpleasant. Did I change? What have I become? Am I now the kind of person that little me would like to be around? (the playlist inside my head starts playing Amy Winehouse: I cheated myself, like I knew I would...”)
The time machine made a detour from V. and brought back to my memory a cute short story about my birth, told by my godmother, the first one to see me through the nursery room window. Her comment to my mother was: “It´s a girl and her mouth is huge!”
Back home, I hopped off of the time machine and I was glad to realize that I still recognize myself: I am a girl, with a unique voice and a huge mouth to let it out.
Victime de la modeis one of the most famous songs from the album Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo, by the French rapper of Senegalese and Chadian origin MC Solaar, but surely the title also fits someone you know.
I never had neither the money, nor the inclination to be a fashion victim. My motto has always been: “do the most with the least”, meaning: handling well a limited wardrobe, and this applies to what I wear on stage, as well. Since the pandemic made us un-learn how to dress (don´t know what I am talking about? Lucky you!), I had to to exercise my special skills as never before.
In fact, I owe my little super power to my dear late aunt, who was a seamstress. She taught us from an early age to pay attention to the fit of the fabrics, the cut of the clothes and the details of making, even when buying fast fashion pieces. And once you´ve learned how to buy well, it is much easier to create several looks wearing the same dress.
It is amazing what you can do with the help of a few accessories! The choice of colors is also very important and it can make a lot of difference in the final result. I talked about my many reasons for wearing only black on stage in this podcast episode, but among the most important ones is the fact that this color allows you to recycle dresses better than any other.
As I get things done for my Jazzday 2022 event, I think that every return is like a premiere. You know what you´ve got do, but the butterflies in the stomach seem more intense than ever, the production details to handle seem more numerous than usual, and even the choice of a combination of accessories for my little black dress seems particularly difficult. Despite all that, it feels great to be back!
Talking about elegant women, Sammy Stein is an awesome writer and jazz lover and I´m sure you are going to love her website and her blog: The Jazz Report. I had the pleasure of collaborating with an article on the birth places of Bossa Nova. Enjoy your reading.