A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake.
- Dogen

There are no mistakes. - Miles Davis

18 December 2013

The Friday Night Jam: excerpts from work in progress

Being a kind of anecdotal instructional how-to (and sometimes painful how-not-to), to convey the elusive magic of group improvisation, different every time, so sensitive to all factors, and so emblematic of all human relations. An experiential overview of the confluence and conflict of different musical styles and expectations: acoustic/electric, world beat/rock, drummers/guitarists, perfectionists/amateurs, safe/risk, stoned/straight, standards/improvisation, men/women, fifties/sixties, tight/free. At the core of the journey is the learning of the limited individual ego, with its unique talents and limitations, to negotiate the free and structured spaces with others, to merge in the greater group striving for excellence and beyond, ecstatic union. 
And in attempting to convey this spirit and process, sometimes letting the words speak for themselves, players in the mix, jamming on the universal pulse.

It will keep the perfect time if we are relaxed enough to feel into it, get into the groove of the all-becoming, through us in cosmic unfolding now here in the awareness boom of our own making and consciousness-keeping: circles of celebration, our sacred duty to carry on, act out in the street theatre of the us and now, the who are we today and tomorrow: to wipe the old memories out where useless, so as to free up disk space for the more creative functioning of programs yet to be heard. Carrying on the energy of youth, of what’s alive today, even with the rhythms of ancient times, cutting through the buzz and blare of advertising unconsciousness, pap and blather obscuring who we are together in the ongoing beat of the keys of right now, who are you, what’s going now and let’s get to it: jamming, of course, into the night if that’s what it takes, universal language music. Fatala says: beyond spiritual politics.

I want to hold too the clear consciousness of clarity and space and time enough for all, of social fabric in music which is metaphorical for all of us relating, ritual the form by which to recognize it, all in the sacred circle dancing, carrying the rock, drinking the potion of our life, sacred fluid together in veins interlinked, consciousness behind the shifting scenes, it’s all a kind of body, a common or linked consciousness behind the shifting scenes of our life interactions, our separate bodies merely limbs and organs and cells of the moving animal that is our human and of course, larger living and nonorganic life, the earth our body, the earth our consciousness. I want to remember this sense of unity and harmony, I almost say purpose but purpose being mostly in the awareness itself, of what this beast is and to appreciate the wonder of its working. To see in this way, the art in everything, the art of everything, that it’s all an ongoing jam, a huge street theatre, we’re playing parts even when we’re unconscious of it, or partially aware, or forgetful, vindictive, and other ways obscured-mind human, which after all is the game we’ve chosen, at some level, to play. All a large computerlike draft, us the players in the unseen program, all the more wondrous because we do have the chance, anytime we wake up to the moment, to enter the programming level and modify, customize, add wrinkles to the brainfold rules, shades of meaning to the patterns, embellishments on the mother beat.

This is visionary: hard to maintain against the play of personality, the separateness of our voices when we talk and write and explore to the utmost our personal and individual opinions and variations. Again the music metaphor is relevant, for the secret of harmonizing these individual understandings is to play together: to allow with tolerance and yet resonance the separate strands to color the tone of the whole, to weave into the hybrid code. To blend the obscurities of rhythmic variation into the common ongoing underlying pulse . . . pulse . . . pulse . . . of our common body which is the sacramental understanding of human unity, love. If this is cosmic purpose in any literal or anthropomorphic sense, so be it. If only symbolic in that way through our own imaginings, that’s as well. It’s the tone of the interactions and spirit of our lives together that counts in either case, and if it be prophetic to state it thus, so be that too.

Read next excerpt from The Friday Night Jam, by Nowick Gray 

20 November 2013

Making Do Magic

Setting out around the world without a drum is a leap into the unknown. Which countries, cities, towns or villages have drum circles, African dance classes, or jam groups open to newcomers? Are there spare drums to play? Is there a space to practice, teach and play without disturbing the peace?

All my old network links were out of date. Google and YouTube provided some examples of performances here and there, but no reliable contacts. I scoured a couple of leads pointing to a village in Tuscany, but lacking a car, we bypassed it on the train. Halfway around the world in Thailand, there were plans afoot for a fun-sounding winter drum camp, but with no guarantee of spare drums there, and my own plans gravitating toward Central and South America, I wound up in a village in Ecuador (Vilcabamba) nestled in the Andes. 

Surprise upon surprise, there are endless opportunities to drum here. I connected immediately, by chance, with an old friend from BC - we go back to the days of an epic trance dance in Argenta - and rented the bottom floor of his house. On the upper floor is a music room with 5 ashikos. They hold kirtans every week which I can play for (along with another drummer I played with once in Maui, who also showed up out of the blue). I could use my living space and one of the drums to record video drum lessons, to upload for an online course. On the hill nearby there are full moon drum jams by the fire. Last week I could play as part of a cacao ceremony. At the end of the month is a festival where I can perform and teach. And every weekday evening, for an hour or two the sounds of djembe and sangban echo over the village square. Will, an expat (extranero) of about my age, rents a second-floor hall, supplies drums, teaches a local Ecuatorian friend, and holds space for whoever else - like me - shows up and wants to play. 

Today there are two Argentinians there with their own drums teaching Candombe. After they leave it's just Will and me, trading sangban/djembe parts and solos. Into the unlit hall comes a parent (of indeterminate gender) and two pixies. Their dance energy swirls around us as we riff, tykes' shoes lit like fireflies by tiny colored lights. For half an hour we jam, the five in a spontaneous whirl of trance, sound and motion. This is the fruit of the tree of magic, making do. 

03 July 2013

Handy Notation

In the world of mobile access, free rhythm sharing, and digital publishing, are printed books of music notation a thing of the past?

I've been producing and selling Roots Jam drum rhythm books since 1996, and the trend definitely points to greater popularity of digital downloads of both written and audio material. Still, however, there are still some advantages to having a hard copy on hand when learning, sharing, or practicing rhythms - whether in a studio, class, home or outdoor setting:
  • ease and familiarity of handling and reading from large pages while practicing
  • photocopy or scan selected pages for class, workshop, or personal practice
  • make your own marks and add additional notation and variations
That said, my own itinerant lifestyle makes it difficult to provide continuous access to printed stock for mailing book orders. The solution, win-win for everyone, is for me to clear out printed stock when I do have it, at significant savings to customers. 

For the rest of July and August, 2013, you can save $7 off the print versions of Roots Jam 1 and 3, and $10 off the print version of Roots Jam 2 (more discount because I have a larger stock available). Order now while supplies are still available at this lowest-ever price!

16 February 2013

Video Lessons for Djembe Beginners

Part of the appeal of the djembe as a musical instrument is that it is accessible to beginners. With little knowledge or training you can still sound good and have fun. Of course, "good" and "fun" are relative terms ... as you advance in knowledge and skills, you sound better and have more fun!

To assist beginning hand drummers with a basic foundation in djembe technique and primary accompaniment rhythms, I have produced a few short free video lessons, now available on YouTube. While basic foundation parts can seem simple, experience as a teacher and student has shown me that beginners often struggle with the timing or handing. So these lessons break down the parts for easier mastery, step by step.

Basic Djembe Technique and Vocabulary

Basic 4/4 Djembe Accompaniment: Kuku

Basic 4/4 Djembe Accompaniment: Passport

Basic 6/8 Djembe Accompaniments

How to Tighten and Tune a Djembe

How to Wear a Djembe Strap

Combined Lesson Video:
Djembe Primer: Beginner Lessons

I'll look forward to your comments and suggestions for future lessons!