David Bowie’s first album came out in 1967, when I was just a year old. His final album was released three days ago. During the intervening 48 years, David Bowie put a steady stream of brave, bold, intelligent and fantastic music into the world, always living on the cutting edge, always evolving as an artist.
With each new decade, and each new incarnation, Bowie’s music imprinted itself on the soundtrack of my own life – providing insight, inspiration and commentary to whatever I happened to be experiencing at the time. The number of musicians who have impacted me in this manner can probably be counted on one hand. I didn’t love all of Bowie’s output, but I always listened – he made music that was worth listening to.
Just last week, I wrote a piece on this page about Bowie’s latest creation, Blackstar, a record that once again defies any attempt at categorization, and challenges our notions of who David Bowie is. I have been listening obsessively to Blackstar since I wrote that piece. Who could know that Bowie designed this record as a parting gift, as a secret that would only be fully revealed with his passing on Sunday. His longtime producer Tony Visconti put it best when he said “Bowie’s death was no different from his life — a work of Art.”
For me, Bowie’s departure leaves a gaping hole in the world of music – an uncalculable loss. How can there be a world without David Bowie? He really did seem like some kind of alien, an energy force to whom the rules of life and death did not apply. Undoubtedly, Music will move on, but my heart breaks to let go of this man who has spoken to me, taught me, inspired me and given me great joy for practically my whole life. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.
Godspeed, Major Tom – one can only imagine your next cosmic destination.
I’ve always loved music. When I was a kid, my parents refused to buy a television – they were sort of taking a stand against letting their children’s minds be rotted by television – so my sister and I became radio fanatics. We listened to the radio from morning till night, and really listened, perhaps more so than our peers. I think that set the course for my life as a musician, in terms of the way I thought about and understood music.
(photo: Jeremy Sibson)
While it may seem like double bass is a rather new invention, it’s origins can be traced back to Louie Bellson. Bellson wrote and debuted the first piece to feature double bass in the early ’50s when he was with Duke Ellington’s orchestra!
For double extra credit, what was the name of that piece?
Okay – big thought today. It’s a concept I put to all my jazz students, accompanied by a series of exercises called “Singing and Snapping.” Check it out and let me know what you think:
When practicing jazz comping figures on the snare, most drummers don’t think about the LENGTH of the notes they’re playing (quarters vs. 8ths, for example), only which BEAT they’re playing ON (the “and of 2,” for example). In other words, rather than thinking of each exercise as a “melody” (the way the other instrumentalists in the band would), they are only thinking about the placement of the notes – more like a math problem than music. What typically ends up happening is that the entire pattern sounds very staccato and the snare is much too loud compared to the other limbs. In order for us to express rhythmic phrases with a JAZZ awareness (meaning, the same as a sax or piano player would), we have to take into account the note LENGTHS (8th=short, Quarter=long) when we play them. The way to create this distinction is to first SING the phrases in the manner or other instrumentalists. Once we start expressing the notes as MUSIC (rather than simply rhythmic ideas), our hands will naturally follow in creating the appropriate feel. Get it?