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Jazz and Cake | Part 1 : The Bowl

So here’s your basic cake recipe…

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×9 inch pan or line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch.*

What’s that got to do with music?  More than you might think.  I love cake.  It stimulates our senses, comes in a variety of flavors and colors, can be both simple and gourmet, can be enjoyed year-round, and is often used to highlight the celebrations of life.  Sounds a lot like music already, doesn’t it?  I think creating music can be a lot like baking a cake.  Stay with me here, you’ll see what I mean…

bigbowlI believe all music endeavors have some sort of context, which include opportunities and constraints.  The “Big Bowl”.  When baking a cake, even with all the ingredients assembled, you need a container to work in.  The Big Bowl is the context which initially holds all the ideas and starts to mix them together.  For my new record, the Big Bowl is the idea, or theme, which all of the songs are inspired by – that of “Places”.  About a year ago, I invited fans and friends to submit places around the world that are special to them or unique in some way.  Inspired by the places, stories, poems and pictures, the songs started to form.  All within the Big Bowl.

So when you’re baking a cake, it’s important to find the right bowl – right size, shape, and material.  Same is true for music.  Understanding the inspiration that will guide and shape the music will make the end result that much more delicious.

Stay tuned for Part 2 : The Ingredients

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The Pope and Music

popeThis morning I find myself thinking about the new Pope. I’m not Catholic, but as a Christian I appreciate the Christ-like examples of service and simplicity he is trying to set early in his papacy. I recently read (what I thought was) a well-written article by a North American pastor discussing how the Pope’s actions might help inspire and shape all of us to look at the world a little differently. An excerpt:

“Few of us go into ministry to become rich, to lead large churches, to live large. But hey, if it happens, it must be God’s will, right? Perhaps. Or maybe God is seeing how far we will take this “Christ-like” thing. How much we are willing to be known for our humility rather than our accomplishments, for the depths of our service rather than the size or numbers of our services. For how willing we are to be the kind of leaders who take seriously Christ’s call not to be “like the Gentiles” who lord it over those they lead, but rather be like the Lord who gave up his prestige and privileges and took on Himself the nature of a servant.”**

As often happens, these thoughts and ideas drift toward the musical in my mind. Is there a lesson to be learned from the Pope that translates to my own pursuits, or those of the broader musical community? Perhaps. At its root, it causes me to recall where my musical passion comes from, and why I pursue it at all. Like many, music is part of my being, its part of my soul, and I believe God has infused my heart and mind with a natural longing for it. Many times, it is music that brings me closest to feeling the presence of God, and that immeasurable Joy.

But so often, I overlook that simple Joy, and get distracted – perhaps seduced – by the lust for popularity and the race to the top. I get sucked into comparing myself to others who I perceive as being more talented, more successful, more accomplished, and more popular. I end up with an disproportionate concern for what other people think. Yet none of those things make me a better musician, or bring me more Joy.

The Pope’s example demonstrates expressions of the simple, in concert with an attitude of others before self. I can’t help but wonder how transformational it would be if we all really tried to live that way, and presented ourselves, and our music, with a similar attitude. If we pursued Art over accomplishment, and chose to invest in relationships instead of chasing popularity. My guess is, the music would be better, and we would too.

**Bob Hyatt
“The Challenge of Pope Francis”
published in Leadership Journal, April 4, 2013

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Live at the Nugget!

Orozko2013Once again, Scott will be performing live at the Nugget’s Orozko Lounge in Reno, NV!  If you’re in the area on Wednesday March 27th, come enjoy the free show!

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The Bland and the Brilliant

“Architecture, like music, must be a part of the composer, but is must also transcend him to give something to music or architecture itself. Mozart is not only Mozart, but music.” – Louis I. Kahn

For centuries, philosophers and artists have offered comparisons between music and architecture. Essays and books have been written, quotes passed down, even academic coursework focused on the idea that the aural and built worlds have much in common, or at least much in relation to one another. And I agree – these two basics of any world culture do have much to share.

Here, I’ll avoid the historical context of each, and simply offer another layer to the dialogue. (There’s plenty of material out there if you really want to dive into the historical relations between these two arts. Start here:

Also, theres a fascinating TED talk by David Byrne on the subject here:

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With that said, here’s where I think music and architecture have a huge crossroads: they both dominate our culture simultaneously with blandness and brilliance.

Drive down almost any street and you’ll find a banal continuum of blandness in our architecture. Sure, the buildings may each be different, physically individual in some manner, but overall the contribution is one of ‘background’ to the greater context of the pedestrian activity, the human activity taking place in front of, and within, the buildings. The buildings serve their function well, without disaffecting their context, and even the lousy ones took a team of people a lot of sweat and effort to produce, most often driven by economics over aesthetics. Without being cynical, America consists in great quantity of vinyl siding, strip centers, curtain-walled boxes, and fake facades that (blandly!) try to emulate something entirely other than what they really are. In a word, vanilla.

Similarly, most of the music that has been produced over the years is, frankly, pretty bland. Record companies and media outlets, often driven by economics, have over the years crafted genres into which most commercial music must fit. As a result, much of the music that makes it out of the studio becomes predictable, formulaic…bland. That said, like those boring buildings that line our streets, this music quite literally provides a background, or soundtrack, for our culture and lives. It’s this ‘background’ music that causes us to remember events, people, places, and times in our lives. While popular records may have had singles create lasting momentum for a while, there are countless other tracks and “B-sides” that never saw the light of day beyond someone’s turntable or CD player. Often, filler material at best. In a word, vanilla.

But on certain streets, at certain corners or bends in the road, there are moments of architectural brilliance. Designs that capture our imagination and cause an emotional response, that inspire us to new ways of thinking about how we live. You do a double-take. Regardless of ‘style’ or personal preferences, these masterpieces reach beyond the everyday to something timeless and ethereal. A ‘loud’ example of this is the new CCTV Building in Beijing, designed by Dutch firm OMA. It’s an extreme example of “don’t tell me what I can’t do” that impacts the skyline like no other building can: it’s bold, brash, and screams, “look at me!” Another, ‘quiet’ example is the St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church in Springdale Arkansas, designed by Marlon Blackwell. This unassuming building sits largely in the middle of nowhere; the perfect place for a little brilliance. It’s only 3,600 sf, basically a converted metal shed, but it throws conventional wisdom on its heel. We need these, and other similar examples, to punctuate the bland backgrounds, and take us higher.

And once in a while, a musical artist, composer, or group will make us stop and listen just a little longer. We’ll stay with the song more than 30 seconds, or if it’s playing in the background, we’ll stop what we’re doing and focus on the music, instead of ourselves. These aren’t always the most popular songs. Not always the Grammy winners, or AMA contendees. Probably not the latest craze on reality music television. Just honest talent in raw form, shaped by those who believe in honing their craft so that it becomes something more than the sum of its parts. Like their counterparts in the built world, they cut through the background noise and become aural punctuation; like the phone ringing in the middle of the night, you cannot help but pay attention. Film scores by Hans Zimmer. A moment of exquisite solo piano by Bruce Hornsby. Joe Bonamassa’s sensational blues guitar riffs. These and other examples lift us above the bland playlist, and take us higher.

While one could argue that we need the Bland so to recognize the contrasting Brilliant, we should never be satisfied with it. Allow yourself to seek the higher ground – in where and how you live, and what you listen to. You might be surprised what you find there.

What examples of musical and/or architectural brilliance have affected your life?

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