Not Afraid to Feel Stupid!

Ha! I’m always telling people that I’m not afraid to be wrong and look stupid. Well, today was one of those moments. I have been going on CD Baby every day waiting for A Not So Distant Pass to come up on their listings. Days have passed since our last communication from them and I was beginning to feel like they were waiting for my approval for something before they posted the listing.

Well, don’t I feel stupid!!! (I like feeling stupid because it means I’m still growing!)

It turns out that the reason they weren’t listing the new CD yet was because I set the official release date for September 15th. He he he…

Of course, that makes sense! If I was making a big deal of the release date, I’d actually be really pissed if they made the CD available before that date. So they did the right thing.

It was my first time doing this sort of thing through them and I just hadn’t thought about the significance of the actual release date.

The point is, there’s nothing wrong with feeling stupid now and again. We learn better when we are made painfully aware of our ignorance. And, not being afraid to screw up and feel stupid puts me in a position to communicate with genuine humility. I told the CD Baby people when I emailed them that it was probably something I did. I just wanted to make sure. It would have been a lot different if my attitude was “Hey, where’s my CD listing? You guys are screwing up!!!”

Ha! That would not have gone over very well. But I know people like that. They will never admit they are wrong, even when you can see that glimmer in their eyes that says “Oh, I just screwed up.”

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What Is Kickstarter to Musicians?

Even though Kickstarter.com has been around for some time now, a lot of people don’t know what it’s all about. So I’d like to spend a little time here discussing what Kickstarter.com is and what it means for musicians in today’s fast paced music industry.

By the way, I am writing this as I listen to a CD that I helped “fund.” It’s a CD of all original tunes. Modern jazz…but not the repulsive, ugly stuff. It’s complicated music, technically challenging, but very nice on the ear as well.

Eddie Lewis Writing Music photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

They Call It Funding

Kickstarter is a website that handles start-up investments. It’s not just for musicians, and if you know anything bout the business world, start-up investments are common place. What makes kickstarter.com just a little different from the traditional start-up investment is that you get to contribute at whatever level you wish. You don’t need thousands of dollars to get involved. Just about every kick starter project I’ve seen had options all the way down to one dollar.

There’s a reason why they refer to the contributions as funding. You are funding a project before hand. You are not purchasing a product. You are investing in an idea that will later become a product. In most cases, the thank you gift is the product itself.

But you are doing much more than buying a product, you are making it possible for that product to even exist at all. The people who present projects on kickstarter.com are typically independents. These are individuals like you and me who have ideas, good ideas, ideas that will ultimately lead to wonderful final products, but they need money to make that happen.

AND, like you and me, most of them don’t have that kind of money just sitting around.

So kickstarter.com is a way that individuals with little money to “invest” can make a difference for other individuals who have little money to “invest.” Like I said, it’s more than just buying a product, it’s funding a product so that someone who is not independently wealthy can realize his or her ideas. And you get to be as big of a part of that as you wish.

Kickstarter.com for Musicians

For musicians, kickstarter.com represents an opportunity for truly independent musicians to get their projects off the ground. In many cases final product is a CD, but there are other types of projects as well.

Think about what this means on both sides of the project. Not only can musicians now get funding for major projects without having to go through a label, but now YOU as the consumer have a bigger say in where the music industry heads. Your funding makes a difference by giving people a chance to succeed…people who want what you want and believe what you believe. With funding organizations like kickstarter.com, you can make a difference in the music industry by contributing only to those projects that align with what you believe.

Remember, you are not just buying a CD. You are helping that CD to exist. Without funding, that CD won’t be recorded. And if that CD is in alignment with your beliefs, then you are creating a musical world that is influenced by your beliefs.

Without getting involved with funding music projects, you are saying that you are okay with what the music labels are putting out. You are saying that people like me, who have never been connected to a label, do not deserve to have our projects see fruition.

You Make a Difference

As you can see, you make a difference one way or another. If you choose not to fund a project, you are making a difference by saying you don’t want that project to succeed. If you choose to fund a project, you make a difference by helping create something that would not have been created without your help.

I like to believe that we, as a society, have moved on from the old ideal that, “if the corporations aren’t doing it, then it must not be very good.” There are so many great ideas out there by individuals…people just like you and me…that it is a shame to not see those ideas come to life.

This CD I’m listening to is by a guy named Doug Abrams. I opted to fund his project just for the amount of the CD. So my “thank you gift”, naturally, was a copy of the CD. I could look at it sort of like a “pre-order” but I know it’s more than just that. If it weren’t for my contribution and others like mine, he wouldn’t have had the money to make this CD. And I’m glad I “invested” into his project because his music is worth listening to. It’s different. It’s alive. It’s something new and different enough from what I’ve heard before that I’m even feeling more creative myself. I’m inspired to practice and write more music. And none of that would be true if I had chosen not to support his music.

So far I have contributed to three different projects. Two are CDs and the other was a live performance in Scotland. I am glad to be able to make a difference in those people’s lives without having to be the one funding the entire projects. Does that make sense? I’m glad that I can pitch in with dozens of other like-minded individuals to help someone succeed.

THAT is what kickstarter.com is for musicians. It’s a way for you to make a difference without having to be super rich yourself.

 

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How Is Jazz Like Chess?

December 5th 2007 by Eddie Lewis

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I’m not a very good chess player but I do enjoy playing the game. Now, there are lots of people who compare jazz to chess in saying that you need to think ahead in both. I won’t dispute that comparison. However, when I think of jazz and chess, my comparison is much different.

chess_01

To me, jazz is like chess because they both have limitless possibilities. With those limitless possibilities comes the daunting task of making confident decisions. How do you pick one item from a limitless menu of delicious food? Then, to add another level of complexity to the picture, what if the menu changed every time you placed an order? In both jazz and chess we are working with other people who are affected by our choices and we by theirs.

That’s why memorized moves and memorized licks don’t work. They’re too static in this dynamic context. In chess, if you play a memorized sequence of moves, then your opponent will likely recognize those moves and take advantage of the situation. Same thing with jazz. If you play a memorized lick in jazz, real jazz musicians will recognize that it’s memorized – not necessarily because they had heard it before but because they can detect your lack of dynamic sensitivity.

Even worse is the fact that by playing memorized licks, you are basically turning off your ears and becoming unaware of your musical surroundings. It’s just like in chess when you’re spending five or six moves on a memorized sequence, not even paying attention to what your opponent is doing in his five or six moves. In chess, this kind of insensitivity will cost you the game. And that’s exactly why some beginners do so well against some of the players who have memorized a lot of moves. The beginner doesn’t have any moves. Every turn is a new game to them and they see only what’s on the board at that given moment. The memorizing player misses that in the way they play. They are not aware of what’s on the board at that given moment.

So, to me, I guess my comparison is the opposite of what I’ve heard other people say. To me, jazz is like chess because you have to think about what’s happening NOW. In such a dynamically changing environment, NOW is all we’ve got.

But don’t mistake this to mean that we should never work on memorizing moves or memorizing licks. I didn’t say that. I said you shouldn’t use memorized licks in your jazz solos or memorized moves in a chess game. Memorization is part of the learning process. In jazz, it’s like, “learn this lick, learn that scale, memorize that solo, memorize that tune – now forget all of that and just play”. Like I said, I’m not much of a chess player, but I can’t imagine that it would be any different from playing jazz. You memorize and learn tons of moves and then, when you actually get to the game, you put all of that out of your mind and play the game.

I think this is important because it puts all of that information into your subconscious mind. From there it indirectly influences your game or solos. Just because you’re not consciously thinking about it doesn’t mean that you’re not benefiting from it. But by moving that information to your subconscious mind, you free your conscious mind to think about what’s going on here and now. This makes you more functional in the ever changing environment of playing jazz or chess.

And to me, that is what makes chess and jazz so similar. It’s all about the here and now.

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Cut and Paste Arranging

July 22nd 2008 by Eddie Lewis

Let’s say you want to make an arrangement of a big band tune for brass quintet. You get your hands on the score for the big band chart and start picking and choosing the parts you want to put in your quintet arrangement. What’s wrong with that?

When you arrange this way, you are taking a huge chance that the arrangement will not work. And if that is how you decided to do the arrangement, then you probably don’t have the arranging skills it would take to fix the arrangement afterwards if it doesn’t work.

The required skills are centered on something called the seven orchestral textures. If you don’t have a working knowledge of the various orchestral textures, then your arranging skills will always be limited.

In order to consistently and intentionally write good sounding arrangements, you have to analyze the original work to see which textures are used in which areas of the composition. Then you rebuild the composition, with that information in mind, for your new instrumentation. This is a process far removed from the cut and paste approach.

According to Walter Piston, the seven orchestral textures are:

  • Orchestral Unison
  • Melody and Accompaniment
  • Secondary Melody
  • Part Writing
  • Contrapuntal Texture
  • Chords
  • Complex Texture

I have learned that these seven textures are universal to all types of music. They are not only associated with orchestral music.

Let’s take a look at just a few of these textures to see why cut and paste arranging doesn’t work. We will start with Chords. Chord texture is exactly what the term suggests. It is a place in the music where the chord is the essence of the music itself. A great example of chord texture used in a jazz context is the held (sustained) last note. It is not a melody. It is not counterpoint. It is just a chord. But that chord has musical validity in and of itself.

A skilled arranger re-voices the last chord of a big band chart for the new brass quintet instrumentation. If the chord was just cut and pasted, then the quality of the chord would possibly be compromised. I say “possibly” because you just might be lucky enough to get something that sounds good, even though you did not re-voice the chord. Using a cut and paste approach is risky, and ultimately results in unpredictable voicings when the approach is applied consistently. Some times the odds will be in your favor and the sound will be good. But the odds will not always be in your favor.

The same applies, but even more drastically, to Melody and Accompaniment. When music is in melody and accompaniment texture, there are as many as five (or more) different, functioning roles. The melody is a given. However, the accompaniment will sometimes have both a bass line and three or four (or more) harmony notes. Once again, a skilled arranger would break these down into individual elements to be rebuilt in the new setting. However, when you adopt a cut and paste approach, you destroy that structure and risk producing an arrangement which is either incomplete or lopsided, or both.

I have played MANY bad arrangements where my middle voice accompaniment note was doubled with that of another instrument. This means two things. First, it means that the doubled note is too prominent. After all, it is just a single note of the accompaniment so there is no need to emphasize it. The consequence of this flaw in the arrangement is that by doubling that note, another note of the chord is left unplayed. A more significant flaw is evidenced when the melody or bass line is doubled in this context. If you are writing for five parts and the melody and accompaniment has five elements, then you cannot double anything.

The biggest trap for the cut and paste arranger lies in the original composition having parts which switch from one role to the other for a few beats and then switch back again. This results in the most lopsided, cut and paste arrangements. Everything sounds fine for a while, until the switch. Then it sounds weird for a few beats until it switches back again – if it switches back again. The short period of “weirdness” may be enough to ruin an arrangement.

This may all seem like an insignificant pet peeve of mine, but I see this approach to arranging being implemented often, and I think many musicians are beginning to accept cut and paste arranging as standard practice. This complacency with poor arrangements and apathy towards sliding standards is an insult to the skilled arrangers who make the effort to implement good arranging practices.

More skilled arrangers break the composition down into the basic elements and then rebuild the piece for the new instrumentation. This way, all of the practical and functional roles of the music are covered evenly. When this practice is followed, there is no risk that the arrangement will not work. There is no incompleteness, no lopsidedness, and no periods of erratic, weird sound when you arrange this way – the arrangement always works.

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A Season of Anniversaries

Lately I’ve been thinking about the many life event anniversaries I am experiencing. There are so many of them that I am beginning to wonder if there’s a significance to them all happening at once. LOL

Photo by Pin Lim at forestphotography.com

Photo by Pin Lim at forestphotography.com

Native Houstonian?

For example, as of this august, I have lived in Houston for over half of my life time. I am fifty years old and I’ve lived here for twenty-six years now. For an army brat who spent almost his entire childhood moving from one base to the next, this is an odd feeling for me.

And the ironic thing is, of all the places I’ve lived and visited in my lifetime, Houston doesn’t rank very high on the places I ever wanted to live. Don’t get me wrong. I love the people here. I have made some very dear friends over the past twenty-six years. But that’s about all I like about Houston.

But we live where we can work. And Houston has been very, very kind to me in that sense.

Three Years at E. Lewis Ave.

This August also marks the three year anniversary of blogging on this website. I have been writing articles online for over fifteen years, but this site was started up only three years ago.

Ten Years of Ex-ness…

This Fall is also the ten year anniversary of the day my ex handed me a scribbled, unfinished note telling me she was leaving me. I had originally been dreading this anniversary, for obvious reasons. But a few days ago, I woke in the middle of the night and spent a lot of time thinking about a variety of things. It was then that I realized, once again, just how blessed I have been since she handed me that note.

That does NOT mean that I approve of what she did. Wrong is still wrong and will always be wrong. But the Bible clearly says, in several different verses, that God takes even the deeds of evil people (and no, I’m not suggesting my ex is evil) and makes them work to His advantage. So yes, it is possible that God can bless someone who has been divorced.

Nine Years of Bliss

It was nine years ago, on August 31st, that I sent Pearl that first private message. That was the beginning of the best, most bliss-filled years of my life. Without exaggerating, marrying Pearl was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I married a modern, competent, highly educated woman who is also a God fearing Christian and believes in traditional marriage roles. In that sense, I have the best of both in one very dedicated wife. Pearl is quite capable of being the leader of our family. She has a very competitive nature. She not only earned a doctorate in Physics but also taught physics at the university level for almost two decades. She is quite capable of “being her own woman” and all of that!

But she chooses to honor God by honoring me as the head of our home. And she does this fearlessly, unafraid of criticism she might receive from people in our society who believe living this way is wrong.

It’s her birthday today, and I have been thinking about her in this context all week. Before we were married, Pearl and I both shared a belief that a God centered, traditional marriage is greater than the sum of it’s parts. We both believed that a marriage that honors God is a thing of great, supernatural power, and as our marriage matures, I see the truth of that coming to light in our marriage.

And it is truly amazing to live this way. Truly amazing!!!

I am a capable man. She is a capable woman. Separately, we had both accomplished great things in our individual lives. But when you look at what we are doing, and more importantly, what is on the horizon for us, I see the proverbial heavens opening up in ways that most people will never see in their modern marriages. I’m not putting other people down. Not at all. But I’ve lived both ways, and I know from my own experiences what the difference is.

Forty Years of Music Making

This summer was also the fortieth anniversary of my music career. If you define the word “career” the way I do with my students, then it has nothing to do with your profession. I tell my students that each one of them has a career in trumpet playing that extends from the day the started playing the horn to the day they put it down for good. The time between those two events is their music career.

So according to that definition, I’ve been at it for forty years now. I started playing trumpet when I was ten. I’m fifty now.

Forty Years!!! That’s 80% of my life. I don’t know a life without music.

When I look back at that forty years, I see all the people who touched my life, all the places I’ve been, all the music I’ve played, and it’s almost unfathomable.

You know, I watched a video of one of my solos from 1993 the other day. It was a live big band concert at Miller Outdoor Theater. And when I listen to my playing on that video, it sounds almost foreign to me. I almost don’t even remember being able to play like that. I was on fire. There was so much energy, and rightly so because I was young back then. 31 years old. But I was thinking, “that’s not me anymore.” It’s true. Musically, I’m an old man now.

And I consider that to be an honor. I’ve paid my dues. I’m no longer at a place in my career where I need to impress anyone. So my musicianship reflects that.

I’m not suggesting that I’ve lost ALL of my fire. He he he… There’s still some of that in me. But that 31 year old version of me was ALL FIRE and nothing else. Now I save the fire for climatic effect (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, he he he…).

So yes, it has been a wonderful career. I have lived the life that most trumpet players only dream of. It wasn’t all roses. And I know none of it would have been possible if not for God and his anointing in my life.

Should I Feel Old?

With these kinds of anniversaries, you might assume that I’m at the end of my run. I’ve lived my bit and it’s time for it to come to a close. But no one decides that except for God. He decides when it’s over for me. Until He takes me home, I will continue to love and learn.

The anniversaries are nothing more than milestones. I think it’s good to pause and reflect on where we’ve been so that we can see more clearly where we are going. I’ve had a good life so far. I’ve been blessed beyond what I deserve. Blessed with a remarkable career. Blessed with an amazing wife! Blessed with family and friends. So no, I don’t feel old.

I’m just getting started!

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Voting Horseless

I know that this is the kind of post that very few people will read. I know this because I look at the numbers. The deepest thoughts I share are the least read. And I’m okay with that. But that means that the people who do read these deeper thought posts are beginning to get to know me pretty well.

So let’s see how well you know me. Before you read the rest of this post, I want you to guess how I vote. What is the process I go through before I visit the polls? How do I decide who to vote for and who to vote against?

By this time, you know certain things about me that would typically lead most people to believe that I vote a certain way. You know I’m a Christian. You know that I have traditional moral values.

But you might also know that I have taken great strides to remove myself from the political arena. I tell people that “I don’t have a horse in this race.” I have been trying to NOT follow politics anymore. I believe that most of what we call “political discussion” is nothing more than a distraction, leading people away from what’s best for our country. I believe that politics is another word for hatred, and I am doing my best to separate myself from that part of our world.

Most people decide who they will vote for long before they know anything about each of the candidates. They have a horse in the race that they want to win. Why? Because of the promises that the candidates make. From my perspective, that approach to the voting process is no better than what was described in the book, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. My life experience has taught me that those who make the most promises are the least trustworthy.

Furthermore, when you look at what this whole “horse race” approach to politics is doing to our every day lives, the amounts of hatred and violence it brings into our society, HOW can you say that this is a good thing? So, NO, I refuse to get mixed up in politics that way.

And yet, I take my responsibility to vote very seriously. So how do I reconcile this contradiction? How do I fulfill my responsibility to vote while maintaining efforts to stay out of politics?

That’s what I want you to ask yourself before you read the rest of this blog post. So take a guess. Do you already know what I’m going to write? How well do you know me?

My Voting System and Values

Okay, so here it is. I’m going to share with you today what I have only shared with a small number of people. I actually have a voting system. In fact, even though this system works wonders for someone who is trying to keep his nose out of politics, it’s the same system I’ve been using for almost thirty years.

I won’t lie and say that I always vote this way. There were two times when I did not. One time I voted against all of the incumbents. That was early in my voting life…I think I was about twenty when I did that. Then there was a more recent time when I voted a straight ticket…not because I liked that party so much, but because the other party pissed me off. But both of these were juvenile expressions of anger. I am ashamed of those two times and will, God willing, never vote that way again.

Best Person for the Job

As far as I’m concerned, political office should be nothing like The Voice or American idol. It should NOT be a popularity contest.

So, I treat every election like a job interview. I want to put the best, most qualified person in that position because I know that this is what will make life better for everyone in that city, in that state or in our nation.

That is my very first priority! I do the homework and I find out who is most qualified for the gig. I look at their education and at their previous experience. Then I look at the responsibilities of the office they are running for. An executive office has different responsibilities from an office in the legislature or the judiciary. I want to match the candidate to the job.

I rarely have to go farther than this first step of the process. Usually it is fairly clear who is the most qualified candidate. This is especially true at the state and local levels.

Closely Qualified

If the qualifications of the candidates are equally matched, I dig a little deeper. That’s when I look at the integrity and moral character of the candidates. Yes, I understand that many people think this is backwards. But the truth is, the political arena is a cesspool of questionable characters. Good luck trying to find Prince Charming among that bunch. So no, I look at qualifications first, moral integrity second.

And here is a very important point. I don’t want to get my information about someone’s character from his or her political opponents…or from any news media! Anyone who has any sense of objectivity knows that those sources are not reliable. Like I said, I take voting very seriously and it doesn’t make sense to base my decisions on gossip and hearsay.

Last Of All, Alignment On Specific Issues

If the candidates have equal qualifications and are relatively equal in terms of moral integrity, then and only then do I check to see which candidates have the same views as I do on specific issues.

Yes, I know that most people do this the entirely opposite way from me. They vote on issues first, moral integrity second, and qualifications last. But most people have a horse in the race. I do not.

It always seems to me that people support political candidates the way they support their favorite sports teams. And I was never comfortable with that. They put their emotions first, which makes them vulnerable to sales tactics, propaganda and other forms of manipulation. I prefer to put my emotions last. And if you have been reading this blog for long, then you already know I feel this way about emotions.

Why I Vote This Way

I vote this way because I take my right to vote very seriously. I believe it is just as evil to vote for the candidate who you “like” as it is to hire someone for a job just because you like them.

The world we live in would be a far, far better place if everyone approached voting this way. We would have meaningful discussions (as opposed to politically polar ones) and the end result would be that the best people would be put in office. And when that happens, things will get done and they will get done right.

I believe that most of the problems we have in our cities, our states and our country can be traced back to incompetent politicians. In fact, I believe this to be SO TRUE that our standards have become eroded at this point. When someone does happen to make it into office who can do a good job, we herald them as wonderful when they are really only mediocre. Good enough has become good enough in our governments. We have become so accustomed to this wide spread incompetence that when someone gets elected who can actually do the job, those people stand out.

What a shame!

Did You Guess Right?

So, did you get it right? Is this what you thought I was going to say? Or were you thinking something else?

I’d love to hear about it!

Posted in Thinking Aloud | 2 Comments

Originality vs. Self Expression

August 4th 2008 by Eddie Lewis

The cool thing about taking part in conversations is that they help me solidify my thoughts. I begin with vague notions and ideas about a subject and it’s not until I try to discuss that subject with someone else that those ideas mature in my own mind. I had one of those kinds of conversations one time (in the early 1990’s), with a friend of mine, heading back home on a bus from a gig we did in Ft. Worth. When we were done “arguing”, I knew that my ideas had departed from the norm and the realization of it began changing my life in graduated steps.

The argument was on the subject of originality. This friend of mine was simply reciting the popular belief that to be a great jazz musician, you must do something that no one else has ever done before. In that respect, if a musician wishes to become a “jazz great” then he or she should make strides to develop something original.

I strongly disagree with this popular belief. Yes, I used to think the same way. I used to think that, as an aspiring jazz musician, I needed to be completely original. I used to think that I had to pick up where other great jazz players had left off and move the style of jazz forward through my playing and compositions.

The problem was that the closer I got to that objective in my playing, the more insincere I felt about my music. The more I tried to make my music “original”, the less I felt that my music was really MY music. The more original my music became the less musical it sounded to me and the less it moved me on an emotional level.

As is my nature, I took a step back and took a REALLY good look at this whole originality thing. What I saw was entirely different from the age old popular belief. From this reflection, I learned that, although originality IS the criterion by which jazz greats are judged, it is NOT the proper guide post for me to use as an aspiring jazz player. Originality should not be the standard by which I judge my own progress as a player. Originality should NOT be the objective of my musical efforts. I believe that originality for the sake of originality is inherently unmusical and that it should be my objective, instead, to achieve a higher level of self expression. Jazz critics and historians may judge my music according to it’s originality in the future, but making an effort to BE original is not the way I plan on achieving that originality.

Instead, I believe that, by TRULY expressing myself through my music, it becomes inherently original. I say this because I also believe that no two people in this world are alike. No one in this world is exactly like me. Thus, no one in this world will “truly express himself” and sound like me when I am truly expressing myself. So, to me, the road to sincere originality is through self expression. Originality for originality’s sake is therefore insincere and unmusical.

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