Late March 2017 Updates

It’s spring and the world seems to be waking up all around me.  We’ve had a couple of false starts, complete with a couple of days where the ground turned white, but it appears to be now definitely started.  Fortunately it doesn’t seem like the false starts impeded the return of the spring flowers as the neighborhood’s crocuses are in full bloom, the daffodils have started, snow drops have presented themselves and the forsythia are now doing their things as well.  It shouldn’t be too long until the redbuds bloom.  I’m hoping that the one my wife and daughter bought for me several father’s days ago will finally bloom for its first time.  We shall see as it’s a little early for it to hit its stride yet.  Musically the stride is being struck, however as things are finally moving forward with the bookings.

I have three gigs lined up in the next month or so with the blues rock band I play bass for, have two folkish guitar gigs on the books with Cedes Buck, a local singer/songwriter, an opening gig with the classic rock band, have a web site near launch ready for the trio, and have been added to an original band, The Hurtin’ Kind, as their lead guitarist.  It looks like my first gig with them will be in June.  I’ve also invested in some fingerstyle guitar music to add to my solo bag of tricks so it’s easy to say things have really started moving along.  Next week I’ve got seven rehearsals slated then a gig.  Still looking for that balance between gigs and rehearsals, which I will be attaining one way or another.

My writing has been on hiatus mostly because of the political nightmare I’ve found my country mired in.  It was occupying entirely too much of my working memory to the point where every time I sat down to write essentially the same tirade would start emerging from my keyboard and wriggling itself across the page.  So, I decided to step back from the writing and focus on music and teaching for the time being.  Sometimes when I find myself faced with this type of rutted thought process I find the best thing to do is simply stop, take several steps back, and attempt to get my perspectives under control.  I’m still really upset with what is going on, but stepping back has allowed me to start refocusing myself on the things that I need to do for my music and the other aspects of my life that need attention.

That being said, I do find that I’ve committed myself to quite a few projects, all of which require varying levels of attention.  I’m going to have to make some decisions regarding them eventually in terms of ultimately where I want to be, which definitely leans toward the original line of things.  I do like being busy as it keeps me moving and doesn’t give me time for inertia to set in, but the shotgun approach can only go on so long.  We’ll see what shakes out of the next few months and where it takes me.  I’ve been in contact with a friend in San Francisco whom I’d lost contact with some 20 odd years ago.  He’s experienced some success with the direction he’s taken, kind of a gypsy jazz/Americana mix that keeps him working steadily in San Francisco, and gigging in various other locations as well, such as New York.  Ultimately, I’d like the situation he’s built, but not necessarily in the same genre.  It’s starting to become clearer though, which is good.

So this is my version of an update on things in the world of Christopher Hopper.  The balls are all in the air, and it would appear that more are being added as the days pass.  I’m hoping that I can keep them all up there, and if any are dropped the results aren’t too damaging.  Here’s to spring!



Being Mindful of the Physical Aspects of Music Making

One of the things I really love about playing a musical instrument is how it feels, the actual tactile experience. I particularly enjoy the feeling of fat strings under my fingers, which is one of the major reasons why I’m drawn to nylon strings. I love the breadth of the two-inch fingerboard combined with the feel of high-tension nylon strings. They’re nice and round, comfortable to push down, and visually pleasing as well. I don’t like the feel of carbon fiber trebles; they’re thinner than standard classical strings and bite into the fingers differently. Bass strings are also lovely combined with the wider fingerboard of the five string the texture and string response feels oh so good.

Playing brings a welcome tactile experience. There’s something about running up and down the fingerboard, the mechanics of the fingers meeting the strings and the clean order of solid technique being put to use. I don’t enjoy playing sloppily because it feels wrong. I’ve been trained, and trained well. I spent time developing clean playing habits, and while they’ve changed over the years due to working in different genres and the requirements thereof, my hands know the difference. Good technique inevitably feels better than bad technique, and good sound comes from good technique.

The longer I go without playing, the worse my hands feel. I’ve reached the point and the age where my hands start to stiffen and feel uncomfortable when I haven’t been playing regularly. The joints start to ache, and my palms and forearms start to feel crampy. Stretching helps somewhat, but what really makes the difference is spending a couple hours or more running the fret board, moving strings, and sending sound into the air. Doing, in this case, is far better than resting. Inevitably after working through some time on the instrument, my hands feel better, and so does the rest of me, especially when I focus on how it feels to play.

Focusing on the tactile experience also brings about healthier playing practices. There should be a sense of flow and order to the process of making the strings sing. The only physical tension that should be present is the amount needed to push down the string, initiate and maintain a clean sound. I have a tendency to carry a lot of tension in my body, particularly in my back, shoulders and neck. I also have scoliosis, which gives a pain response to tension in these areas. When I focus on the tactile process, I attempt to not only focus on the feeling of the strings under my fingers, but also on my body’s sense of relaxation. I try to keep my back, neck and shoulders as relaxed as I can, playing with as light a touch as I can while still maintaining a sense of dynamic response within the music. Musical tension might be present, but physical tension should be dismissed.

Relaxation promotes musicality, flow, and good health. Tension creates dissonance, pain and fatigue. At some point we all experience this, and we will still reach a point where we’re tired even when we’ve been maintaining a relaxed state. I have found that when tension starts to come into play my abilities decline dramatically. What was easy before now becomes difficult. My hands start to throttle the guitar or bass neck, while my shoulders start climbing toward my ears. Before long my abilities to deal with faster passages declines and emotional communication becomes static. Mistakes start multiplying and frustration escalates. By the end of the session, whether it is a gig, rehearsal or practice, I’m achy and ready for some ibuprofen. If it was a gig usually the next day is pretty physically brutal between the back pain and fatigue, often combined with a tension-induced headache. Tension also radically increases the likelihood of a repetitive stress injury that can sideline a musician for weeks. Been there, done that, don’t need to go there again!

Being mindful when playing makes a huge difference in being able to maintain a state of physical relaxation. The tactile experience should be pleasing, and when tensions starts to ratchet up being aware of the tactile experience’s divergence from pleasure to stress should be a signal. Granted, sometimes we do experience discomfort that requires working through as anyone who has ever played a steel strung acoustic guitar knows. It is necessary to build calluses in order to be able to play the instrument, and it is also necessary to train the muscles. In this case your hands and forearms are athletes and as such need to work out, stretch, recover and do it all over again to build strength and endurance. Athletes themselves seek flow, tension and release, as well as awareness of the physical process and tactile experience. They draw from this to enhance their performance, as should musicians. I can feel it, how about you?

Reviewing the Past Year with Eyes on the Next

After being gone for close to a week I find myself back in Oak Park, Illinois and back to the good old Midwestern gray skies once again.  It was nice to see blue skies out in Tucson, Arizona, and to enjoy a short hike in the desert without burning up in the process.  My family and I arrived home yesterday evening and picked up our dog, George, from Spike’s Boutique Hotel for Dogs shortly thereafter.  This morning I had a rehearsal with one of the blues-rock bands I’m playing with, The Blu Wavs, and tomorrow night I have a gig with them in Palos Heights.  I’m off this New Year’s Eve, which is a plus because I can spend it with my family as well as avoiding the inevitably impaired drivers that come with that particular holiday.  On the negative side it’s usually one of the better payouts of the year, so I’m missing that.  Saturday is New Year’s Eve, and my wife likes to set aside some time to review the passing year, making note of good things that happened, places visited and experiences accrued, as well as some time to consider the incoming year and set some benchmarks for it.

This past year has had some interesting turns, particularly toward the end, assisted somewhat by taking both the summer and fall semesters off from teaching college.  This past summer I did teach three weeks at the Dominican Gifted and Talented Camp, one week of Creative Writing, one week of Star Wars Fan Fiction writing, and then one week of American Literature focusing on Ernest Hemingway.  It was fun for the kids and for me as well and it was two more weeks than I taught the summer before.  I had two weeks scheduled for the previous summer, but only one flew.  This summer I was scheduled for two and picked up the third due to a scheduling conflict with the originally slotted instructor.  I managed to acquire the third through a combination of networking, social media, and luck.

The summer was slow in terms of gigs because I was officially band-less.  I did a couple of pickup gigs for local block parties, which were fun, and I also performed with a group that was assembled for an original music block that was also fun.  Through these gigs I added contacts and now have some increasingly reliable folks with skills to draw from for similar situations.  Starting in August I started increasing my musical commitments to what I have right now, four groups, two of which are actively performing and two of which are in the process of building up to it.  This is a welcome shift in the tides as well, as I was not working nearly as much from a year ago in August to last June.

I’ve also landed a part-time gig teaching English Composition for this Spring Semester at Moraine Valley Community College.  I have two classes stacked around mid-day on Tuesday and Thursday.  The pay is much better than where I was teaching last year, and it only requires that I’m there two days a week versus the four I was at the old position.  I’ll still need to plan preparation time, grading time and allow for a longer commute, but the result is I will still have a good amount of time for my writing and musical projects, two distinct plusses.  MVCC is south of Oak Park, and is very close to a large natural area with many acres under the auspices of the Cook County Forest Preserves that are quite nice.

With everything that has come along during the past six months or so, I’m finding myself developing a strong desire to clarify my musical direction, especially the overall arc of where I want to go with it.  I’ve piled on the projects, hoping that they will start to generate income, and a couple have started to bring in some funds, at least in bits and pieces.  It’s definitely not a living as of yet, but it’s a start.  However, I do think that I need something more from it all, as well as a good deal more cash coming in from it.  I’m coming to the conclusion that I really need a solid direction that is under my control and that excites me.  I’m a fairly steady guy; not much really gets me excited.  I look forward to things, but in so far as getting a real charge out of pretty much anything, it really doesn’t happen all that often.  So this is something that I really need to do something about in the next year.  I think that it is truly vital that I do this in the very near future.  After all, another year has passed and so has another birthday.  It looks like one thing is certain, I’ve done some preparation for tomorrow’s time with my wife and daughter!


Being Mindful in Life and Music

It’s under two days until Christmas and the gift shopping was just completed this morning.  For us that’s truly squeaking it in; we like to be done at least a week before hand but the past couple of years have been quite last minute.  I guess that this is at least in part due to being busy people.  My wife works full time in a demanding position at the University of Chicago, and spends close to three hours a day commuting.  She gets up super early so she get her mileage in running before work, so she ends up going to bed at the same time as our twelve year old daughter.  I’m usually filling my time chasing my three careers (writing, teaching, and music making) around in circles, so it’s not unusual to have a gig, two or three evening rehearsals, a day-time rehearsal and various other aspects eating up time.  We are the multi-tasking task force between the two of us, and then my daughter has her  after school activities as well.  I have more time to simply be than my wife does, but when I do it’s usually at the expense of something I should have been occupied with.

I’m working my way toward adopting an eastern religion, Buddhism, and I’m fairly certain that I’ll end up there, but some things have to change in order for me to get there.  One of these is mindfulness.  I’m struggling with the Buddhist concept of the mind; it’s not super difficult but it’s also not exactly straightforward, so the mindfulness I’m attempting at this point is being aware of what I’m doing or not doing.  This might seem like a simple matter, but I can just about guarantee that most people aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing when they’re doing it.  For example, when I practiced scales a long time ago I was painfully aware of what I was trying to do with my fingers, but once I had the pattern locked in it became an automated process, and still is to this day.  I think this is how most of us really run scales, by rote and in a programmed sequence.  We don’t think about where the whole or half steps are, or even what the key signature is because we’ve linked our entire concentration on one aspect of the process:  where our fingers go.

Once we have locked in the physical process and can run up and down at varying speeds, our focus, if we have one, is perfecting our accuracy and increasing our speed.  We might reach a point where we figure we have mastered the process, and run these lines up and down with fluidity, but we’ve also, more often than naught, gone onto autopilot, particularly guitarists because for us the patterns are often either the same or a simple variation thereof.  Once we have the patterns a key change is just a matter of shifting the pattern to a higher or lower point on the neck, so we don’t really have to think about it.  While we think we’ve gained mastery we’ve actually missed a huge part of the train, the actual notes that construct the scale and the actual music that a scale can be.  If we are truly mindful, then we are turning our awareness toward the construction of the scale, we are taking the time to be aware of the note names and relationships as we move through them, and we are being aware of our physical state of existence in this moment of the note, where we’re carrying tension, how we’re breathing, our bodies’ relationship with the physical process and the emotional tension and release we are invoking in the entire process.  The entire practice of scales becomes exercise of the complete physical process paired with the theoretical relationships and then crowned by the emotional expression of the music itself.  Now we are being mindful, as well as growing into a better understanding of what we are doing in those moments.

An aspect of mindfulness that I find very appealing is that it is aimed at being in the moment.  This means that your focus is locked into what you are doing, thinking or what ever it is right now and you are giving this moment in your life your full attention.  You are being the best you that you can be in that moment and giving your best to that moment.  For instance, if I have a performance and I walk out on stage with my guitar, then that is where I need to be mentally, physically and emotionally.  Lives are complicated; I know mine is.  I spend a good deal of time worrying about things, some of which I have the power to change but most of which I don’t.  Most of the things I’m worried about aren’t going to change during the time I’m performing and worrying about them isn’t going to change the outcome either way.  The worry is a distraction from actually living.  The performance is part of really living and is something I have the power to prepare for and execute.  This is where mindfulness comes into play as well, because we are living right now.  We can make plans for our futures, and should, but what really makes the difference is what we do in the moment.

Mindfulness is something that doesn’t come easily to me.  Part of this is due to my ADD causing a certain amount of mental flitting around.  It’s difficult to sit and run scales even without going into the deeper aspects of what I’m actually learning and doing.  My brain has a tendency to ricochet and ping pong around even when I am maintaining a guise of being focused which is one of the reasons that I’ve been writing essays for the past two years, to help train myself to maintain a focused train of thought and chase it to a logical conclusion.  The essay format helps me enter a somewhat mindful state, as did the five paragraph operations order in the military.  Through mindfulness I hope to start finding my path, and to elevate my awareness of who I am through what I do.  I hope to become a better person through it, a more focused person, a more empathetic person and a better musician as I work my way along.


Beginnings: A Reflection on my Early Days as a Guitarist

Way back in the dim recesses of my mind I still remember when I started taking guitar lessons with Mr. Manypenny at Band-Orch in 1971. At the time, Band-Orch was the local music store in Alliance, Ohio and to this day I still remember the smell of the place. It smelled like old paper, guitar polish and joy. Once a week I would report for my half hour lesson, which cost three dollars that my dad would fork over to Mr. Manypenny religiously. I’d go down to the basement into one of the teacher’s rooms, really a six by six closet with a light, a couple chairs, an amp and a music stand, pull my huge dreadnought style Epiphone out its chipboard case and sit down with Mel Bay’s Method.

I took lessons with Mr. Manypenny for about a year, and in that year we went through Mel Bay’s Method books one through five. I also started learning some songs like Witchita Lineman, some Sonny and Cher tunes, and various other pop songs of the day. Mr. Manypenny was a very nice man, who always appeared wearing a tie, usually with a short-sleeved shirt. He was very orderly, cleancut, and demanding without being pushy. There were rules established right from the start, the biggest of which was that I had to practice at least a half hour a day. This meant that I had to sit down and put in the full half hour as one contiguous unit, not spaced out over the day. He also expected that I would play the assigned material correctly, as notated in standard notation as well as using the correct rhythm. If I had to repeat something assigned the prior week, I felt like I had failed in my prime directive.

My parents reinforced Mr. Manypenny’s teachings through enforcing the practice regimen and my father started learning the lessons as well on his own guitar. We didn’t necessarily practice together, but he knew what I was supposed to do which helped me stay on the straight and narrow. Of course while I really liked guitar, I didn’t always want to practice and one of the rules in the house was that I had to practice after school before I could go out and hang with my friends. I remember there were times when I would be upstairs in my room practicing while tears splattered on my guitar because I really wanted to be out playing with my friends. Sometimes that half hour seemed to last an eternity, but I did it and kept moving forward.

At the close of my first year of playing, Mr. Manypenny had taken me as far as he could. There was another teacher at the store who taught classical guitar and Mr. Manypenny talked to my father about my starting with him. The shift occurred and I started taking lessons with Michael Gatien. This was an entirely new experience for me. Not only did I have to start using my left hand differently, but I also needed to learn how to use my right hand without a pick. It also meant that I needed a different type of guitar, a classical nylon string with a wide neck and an entirely different feel. I was really excited to get the new guitar, an inexpensive Yamaha that we traded my Epiphone toward.

I took to the new situation like an otter to a mudslide. It didn’t take long for me to burn through the Carcassi Method and by the time I was in fifth grade I was starting to rip through classical warhorses like Asturias, and making Villa Lobos as well as Bach pieces sing. At this point Michael became the second teacher to tell my parents that he couldn’t take me any farther, stating that he wanted to take me to meet his teacher who was the guitar professor at Kent State University. They agreed, and off I went to meet and play for this man. I vaguely remember being at his house in Kent and having dinner with him. The things that stand out in my memory are dinner, which was my first encounter with vegetarianism as well as eggplant, and it being really dark outside so it was probably late fall or early winter. I don’t recall playing for him, although I know I did, but his evaluation was that I was a child prodigy. This kind of scared me because it sounded bad, kind of like a disease.

Michael talked to my parents about the meeting and what his teacher had surmised. Michael said that his teacher was willing to take me on, but that he thought I should start taking lessons with someone better than him who lived in Cleveland. They also discussed how my practice regimen should start to increase until I was practicing about five hours a day. Michael also stressed how important this was to my development as a musician. My father was an art professor at Mount Union College in my hometown, and after my parents talked with Michael they were at somewhat of a loss of what to do. Money was tight and Cleveland was a good hour to hour and a half drive away from our home. The lessons would be significantly more expensive in addition to at least a three hour round trip once a week. They were also concerned about what it meant from a social developmental perspective. So my dad talked to his friend Lou Phelps who was the chair of the music department at Mount Union. Dr. Phelps said to let me make the decision and not to worry about it if I said no. His perspective was that if I wanted to do it later I would.

Dr. Phelps was right. I didn’t want to start practicing five hours a day and become a practice room kid and while I might have become an incredible classical guitarist it would have been at the cost of a childhood that I value to this day. I did end up going to a conservatory of music and double majored between classical guitar performance and music composition, but it was a decision I made toward the end of my junior year in high school, and once again it was my decision. I don’t feel that I lost anything between the end of fifth grade and the end of eleventh, in fact I knew myself better my junior year than I did earlier. In between I had the opportunity to study jazz with another great player, Tony Favazzo, so that was a win in and of itself. I am truly thankful to Mr. Manypenny, Mr. Gatien, and Tony for what they taught me, as I am to Dr. Loris Chobanian for his four years of classical instruction at Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music, Nick Bucci for several years of jazz instruction, and many others who have helped me grow along the way, helping me become the player I am today. If the past is any indication toward the future, I am certain that there will be many more folks that help me continue to grow in the future. I’ll be sure to thank them as well.

An Election Day Reflection, November 8th, 2016

Whew!  Today’s going to be a busy one!  It’s a good thing that I voted almost two weeks ago because I don’t think I would have had time to hit the polls.  I’ve done my civic duty and now can only hope for the best, or what I believe is the best for Americans of all colors, religions, ethnicities, genders and sexual preferences.  It’s a good thing I’m going to be busy because otherwise I think the stress would paralyze me.  Today I’ve got two rehearsals in two different towns, neither of which is mine, ha, ha!  One is from 11-2pm in Des Plaines, Illinois with a blues/rock band and the other is from 7:30-10ish in Addison, Illinois with a classic rock band.  In between I’ve got to pick up the kid from school, ferry her to dance, make dinner for the family, pick up my wife from the train station and my daughter from dance, eat dinner and maybe squeeze in lunch and a dog walk if George is lucky.  We’ll see.  This, to me, is the best way ever to avoid staring at a screen and watching the early poll tallies coming in.

This has been a highly contested and vicious race which has actually impacted friendships all over the country as normally easy to get along with neighbors have built fences between each other.  It has impacted our work lives as well because we’ve all been quick to pass judgment upon each other based on our political support and not really sitting down and talking with each other.  Two of the bands that I work with are comprised of a mix of liberals and conservatives.  We work together quite well as we are united by a common cause, music, and we essentially avoid discussing politics with each other.  It keeps the peace between those of us who would hammer away at each other otherwise.  It also allows us to be friends.  We don’t call each other names, insult each other or act like rival gang members.  We don’t call into question each other’s patriotism, dedication to our country, or anything else.  And when we perform we are just as apolitical as when we rehearse.  We do what our political system hasn’t done in some time, we make it work.

One of the key issues in most bands is personality combined with egos.  Musicians are known for having both, which is quite frankly a natural situation with any group of performers.  Do you have to be best buddies with your band mates?  Not necessarily but it certainly helps us be the best performers we can be when we can work with each other with a limited amount of hostility and interpersonal drama.  After all, when we perform together we are ultimately trying to as a group be better than we are on our own and it takes a healthy mix of people and personalities to do so.  We don’t have to always agree with each other either, but in order for the band to work well we all have make compromises, which are to the benefit of us all.  There is room for the individual in a cohesive group, but as a member of the group and not at the expense of the group.

I saw a photo the other day of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry hanging out with President Obama on Air Force One.  They got to ride home in the plane with the POTUS, which is pretty cool.  Both Tyler and Perry are Republicans and they are Americans.  It was clear in the photo that there was no animosity whatsoever between any of the three despite being members of political parties.  I saw the photo on Facebook and there were positive remarks but a whole slew of “oh my God, the Traitors” rhetoric as well.  I don’t understand how this has happened over the past twenty years or so.  There were three Americans in the photo, not enemies.  Three people like you and me, living their lives and going about their business to the best of their abilities.  I’m a liberal, have been all of my life.  I served in the United States Army as an infantry officer after I graduated from music school, by choice.  I swore to lay down my life for my country, its constitution and ALL of its citizens.  And yet there are many out there who are labeling folks like me as the enemy of this country, and just as many saying the same about conservatives.

I want my bands to succeed financially and musically, and I want that for all the members of the groups regardless of genders, sexual persuasion, gender identities, political party affiliation, religious identity, etc. and I’m willing to work WITH the members to do so toward mutual goals.  I want to do the same as a citizen of the United States, and I want this to be a country that shows that it can do so.  I want my daughter, who I ferry back and forth to school, dance lessons and whatever else she needs to do, to know that this is a country that values her as both an individual and a member of the society.  I want her to understand the value of being able to discuss opposing viewpoints and creating compromises that make the whole better than the parts.  It’s time to go make some music!


Cross Pollenization in Music: Enrichment in Action

This morning as I perused my Facebook feed I saw that a steel guitar player, Mike Neer, just released an album called “Steelonius.” It appeared on my feed because a gentleman who plays slide, Rob Anderlick, who is a Facebook friend, liked it and exposure to things such as this are one of the things that ensure that I continue as a Facebook user. Neer has done an entire album of T. Monk tunes and evidently done them true justice. The article I read about it mentioned a new John Scofield album, “Country for Old Men,” which appears to be a play upon the book “No Country for Old Men,” by Cormac McCarthy. On this album Sco, along with Steve Swallow and a couple of other heavy hitters does a bunch of real country tunes, but does their thing with them. It’s currently on in the background as I’m writing and they’re killing it, in the best way possible.

I find this type of cross-genre pollenization to be incredibly vibrant and alluring and have been a fan of it for years. I also firmly believe that it’s something that needs to happen in order to save some types of music from stagnation. I love jazz, have studied it, but really don’t play it. For one thing, the old jazz standard catalogue doesn’t really speak to me as a performer. Despite hearing tons of it as I was growing up due to my father’s love of it, the catalogue of standards doesn’t resonate, but the conceptual aspect of it does very deeply, particularly the part about taking an existing tune and creating something from it. This is very appealing to me on so many levels.

If we really take a look at many of the jazz standards, they were the popular music of the day. Many were show tunes from musicals that became the starting point for the players. Granted, they do tend have more complex harmonic content than most current popular music, but then they’ve also been the core repertoire of the jazz idiom for sixty years in some cases, if not more. Many jazz musicians have added to the repertoire along the way, but there is still a reliance upon these standards that has a tendency to wear on many listeners, particularly the younger ones.

There are players out there who are crossing the boundaries and in the process creating their own idioms and genres. Bela Fleck has been doing this for years in his work with The Flecktones. The blended music his group presents could very easily be presented argumentatively as a form of jazz. He’s been a pioneer in boundary pushing and expanding into other areas for years, even pairing Bach with banjo. Other players like Jimmy Herring of The Aquarium Rescue Unit and Jazz is Dead have also been moving rock idioms closer to a jazz train of thought, or an application of a jazz approach to rock to create something that has more punch than a stereotypical “jam band.”

Even with the jam band genre there has been an uprising of cross genre creativity with folks like The String Cheese Incident bringing together elements of folk, country, rock, and jazz into a glorious creative expression. The Dave Matthews Band has performed in a similar manner, as has Bruce Hornsby in his many explorations and cross genre quests. Hornsby has worked jazz, rock, bluegrass and whatever he can get his hands on into his own genre that at times seems to defy categorization. This type of hopping around, mixing, and assimilating brings a fresh perspective to the old while bringing in the new as well. It also forces musical growth in ways that repetitively working within the same framework doesn’t.

I once saw an instructional video where the focus was John Scofield’s guitar style. The interviewer asked Scofield to show the audience some of his licks. His response was that he didn’t use licks, and if he found himself creating one he’d write it into the head of a tune so he couldn’t use it. I think this was in “John Scofield Jazz and Funk Guitar.” While learning the solos of greats that have preceded us is a valid and very useful way to learn how to speak the language, I really appreciate his perspective because he is forcing himself to constantly create something new each time he approaches a piece of music, which is the very soul of jazz and most forms of improvisational music.

Scofield has been doing his thing in the background throughout this reflection and opinion piece, so if you want a soundtrack for the essay go ahead and hit him up for it. What he has done with this recording is clearly jazz, because first and foremost he is a jazz player. It undeniably and unapologetically uses classic country tunes and at least one modern country tune for material. And it shouldn’t be apologetic. Miles Davis once said, “It’s all blues.” I’m not going to argue with the master on that one, but I think that when we get down to all really good improvised music, it might be all jazz.