My dear friend Eric L. Bronstein, a jazz bassist and Dr., recently shared some thoughts about an interview he had heard on NPR about what the late Ravi Shankar had once said about his music… ” that it was always about tranquility and sadness, as in reaching out in trying to find something, as if to a lover, or to God… “. This stirring passage mirrored exactly what I felt as I sat in a circle of women the other night. The circle was in support of my close friend, Samantha Knowles who was bravely facing a partial mastectomy. She is very open about this life changing process and I know won’t mind me sharing this. In our circle of women, we were asked to pass her wool ball between us. The wool was from Sam’s favorite childhood sweater she and her young son Oscar had carefully unraveled. We each in turn, wrapped the wool around our wrist, several times, as we offered Sam, whatever we needed to share with her, in our poetry, song and tears. Then, we passed it randomly along to another. This eventually created a wondrous web of wool that surrounded her in a symbolic, tangible tapestry of support. We each have this wool still on our wrists, until Sam requests we take it off. This wool reminds us of our connectivity, while representing so many unspoken things, like the powerful wisdom in grief’s vulnerability.
This juxtaposition was also present at the recent Jazz Benefit for Ross Taggart to support his challenging cancer recovery process. A huge outpouring from the Vancouver Jazz community came together in a rich evening of non stop performances and jams while Ross watched from his hospital bed via Skype. An intricate network of connections, near and far were represented that he has created all these years in each composition, gig, and friendship. Over the course of the evening we heard selections from his many bands, with his best friends performing, without him, on his own compositions. Each person wove personal vignettes or offered their exquisite musical expression. From his friends, Master of Ceremony’s Rick Cluff and Margaret Gallagher of CBC Radio to saxophonist and one of the organizers, Campbell Ryga. Each performance including the interplay of Ross’s students and colleagues before and after the concert, enraptured a grateful and emotional audience. The magic web that unfolded around Ross provided a container to express love, joy and saddness in a personal and collective way, in an extremely moving and rich circumstance. I was not alone in feeling the tangible power of love expressed through jazz to heal and lift that night with hundreds of Ross’s friends and fans. Brian Fraser of Jazzthink’s recent ezine ( who opened our evening with Ross with a moving introduction) describes our evening with Ross masterfully, in his recent December issue entitled ‘Real Community’. http://www.jazzthink.com/ezine/1212_ezine.html
Here’s a link to a recent Performance of Bill Coon and Ross Taggart performing~ Four http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_beAcSPNz8
All of us are directly or indirectly affected by cancer these days in one way or another. Many of us have lost family and friends already to it and pray for the safe recovery and remission of so many more. It has sadly, become a global epidemic, that we still do not have a full understanding of all the causes or cures. So we have to rely on our instincts and our ability to rise to the occasion to enfold ourselves, our friends and our families, with whatever naked strength we can muster, even when we feel we may have none. Somehow… we do and it matters, so very much. Through a word, a card, a touch, a song or a trumpet solo.
So much of the kind of music my friends and I are drawn to these days I find, has a certain tonal, chordal relationship that often contain a tension… between happiness or sadness, peace or disquieted angst. A chordal progression for instance may seem to float in a suspension of sonic opposites, that can feel at once, both comforting and yet also sad. It can go so deep inside your heart with a restlessness and urgency that you feel you might possibly explode from all the emotion, yet in the next moment, it brings a portal of deep release and stillness both light and dark. Like the coal of darkness that also has a glimmer of a star. In this space of connectivity between notes, lies the potential for new understanding with a tranquil, sad and utter beauty, that brings a joy, all its own.
Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. ~Alan Watts
I have a magnificently intense aversion to being put into a box and labelled. So as you can imagine, I have been very challenged by this weeks exercise in Music Success In 9 Weeks : THE PITCH . In chapter two, author Ariel Hyatt gives multiple sensible marketing reasons why defining my musical style in a 15 second “elevator pitch” is a must should I ever bump into Clive Davis on the way up. So with gusto I threw myself into this challenging exercise.
For starters I listed off some early influences that shaped me to become the singer I am today. Like watching my talented Father , John McCullough sing his killer version of “ INK SPOTS at his many gigs with the “ by theRoy Coran Orchestra. Or the first time I ever heard Ella Fitzgerald swing “Paper Moon” on a ’78 on my grandfather’s gramophone , and Nelly Lutcher ‘s R+B version of “Fine Brown Frame” that lit me up. Then the turning point was “The Juliette Show”. Every Sat. night after the hockey game, I was enthralled watching Juliette descend a flight of stairs in some glittery figure hugging gown. She was our very own Canadian female crooner. “A star”. I recall my young 10 yr self vowing to myself, ” I want to be a singer like Juliette”. At school on the playground, I drove my friends crazy with my imitations of her! Imagine my thrill when twelve years ago, just before releasing my début cd, I spotted Juliette in the audience at the Centennial Theatre in . I took the chance to introduce myself and we had the best talk. In fact she introduced me to the late Arni May, who owned two Jazz club’s called Rossini’s in Kitsilano and Gastown. Thanks to Juliette, the Gastown Rossini’s venue became my first Vancouver Jazz Club for the cd release : LATE BLOOMER. Later, Kits Rossini’s provided many opportunities to play with Lynton Garner. I can’t tell you how important it was to tell Juliet directly, what a positive, powerful influence she had been to me. Other influences…were my charismatic Mother Kay McCullough . She was a tall, striking brunette who loved to sing and although she was not a performer per se, in our household, she rivaled Juliet …AND Elizabeth Taylor. Seeing Diana Ross & the Supremes live at Expo 67 . Diana was unforgettable. She was the coolest singer around… until I heard Joni Mitchell at the Mariposa Folk Festival . What a total contrast she was with her confessional writing style, long blonde hair, guitar and dulcimer. Thanks to Joni I turned within and discovered the writer .
After daydreaming over the early days, I decided to focus more on the present and who I am now and to ask for some help from my friends as I went along. Brian Fraser creator of “Jazzthink”, kindly took the time to suggest describing myself “like the taste of a fine wine – hints of this and that blending into something unique.” I loved this approach. Then I asked my astute hairdresser Kristy Davies to suggest essences of myself. “What’s an essence ?” says she. “Aspects of my personality” that you think set me apart from your other clients.” says I.”Statuesque comes to mind… sparkly , and yet weathered…mmm in a nice way,…to describe how you integrate your life experiences and always land on your feet”. Smiling, I added her descriptions to my long list of “self” definitions.
Once home I shared more ideas with my sage 17 yr old daughter who knows me very well and excels at metaphorical writing. We both dove into scribbling ideas and within ten minutes she had descriptions that made my heart pound with excitement: “tuned to a vision whilst in the key of reality”. We acknowledged they weren’t “it” for this exercise, yet Ashley provided the focus of what I wanted to say. I felt elated and stayed up till 3:45 a.m. writing like a fool and then sent my mini drafts to the wonderful Spider Robinson sci-fi novelist extraordinaire and musician. Later that day he generously offered helpful feedback and editing ideas : I’d even recommend tightening it a bit further, so it can be read slowly, languorously.”
Have I come up with the perfect pitch for me? Well, you can be the judge. All I can say is, it’s as true to who I am that I can muster – this week. What I’ve learned from the process is this. That by defining myself I am not limiting my options, but actually expanding them. And, by comparing myself to other artists I am not trying to be something I am not, but simply painting a verbal hors d’oeuvre for a total stranger that could open a window between us…or not, for I certainly cannot be all things to all people. And distilling a weeks worth of notes into a 15 sec pitch really affirmed to me once again, that simplicity of thought in this cluttered cyber world, is indeed potent. As my hero Leonardo da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
So if I miss that elevator ride with Clive and instead get hit by his limo … and we happen to find ourselves in an ambulance together, it will be great because I’ll be ready and primed for when he asks :” what kind of music do you play Christie “? And I’ll be able to confidently yet nonchalantly say :
Christie Grace – An ambrosia of Ella, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell & Bacharach déjà vu with a twist of Audrey Hepburn.
…then , I’ll sue him!