Gratitude

thank-you-18872533Last week was one of highs and lows for me, but with the net result being an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The week began with homegoing services for my husband’s 90-year-old great Uncle. I was sad to say goodbye, but rejoiced in the fact that he had lived a full life and that he no longer had to endure the pain of his illness.

I then had the awesome opportunity to interview Doug Ramsey and Dan McCollum of AfterSix Productions. It was a wonderful conversation! I am so thankful to Dan and Doug for giving me the opportunity to share thoughts on the music industry, as well as allowing me to share their music with our TTWC family. A few days later, I reached 200 subscribers on This and That With Calandra’s Facebook page! Honestly, I had not been paying attention to the Facebook numbers lately, so it was a real surprise! I would like to take this time to thank EVERYONE who has ever had a kind word of encouragement for, subscribed to, posted a comment to, shared a post from, or contributed in any way to This and That With Calandra. I am ever grateful for your support!

Over the weekend, my business partners from SGF Events and Make Beauty Your Business hosted another Beauty 101 event, this time in Nyack, New York and it was a great success. We are already making plans to return in the next few weeks, and we are preparing for our next event, a trunk show in Arlington, Virginia in September.

As you know, I have been participating in Luvvie Ajayi’s 31WriteNow blogging challenge during the month of August. At the end of July, I was just coming off my 31 Day AudioMo challenge, where I created an audio post every day for a month, when I joined Luvvie’s blogging challenge. And a challenge it has been. I am grateful not just for being able to stretch my creativity each day, but I am also thankful for all the new supporters, subscribers, and commenters to This and That With Calandra. I have never had to juggle so many notifications at one time. I certainly do not take it for granted.

By the end of the week, I began to finally embrace things I had been reluctant to embrace in the past. I am energized and recharged, ready to face the next episode. My new mantra: BRING IT ON!

So yes, it was a phenomenal week!

(31WriteNow Challenge Day 27)

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Music Notes: Support Independent Music

Being a lifelong music lover, I must admit that I never thought much about independent music and independent artists until the past year or so. In my mind, I always defined indie music as a genre of “alternative” or “non-mainstream” music. I thought of indie artists as folks who sold their music out of the trunk of the car. Well, ignorance is NOT bliss, and thankfully I have come to realize not only the definition of, but the absolute value of independent music. If you’ve been following This and That With Calandra, especially the Music Notes section, you will know the love affair I have had with music since childhood. My life’s soundtrack has included the genres of R&B, soul, hip-hop, gospel, jazz and more. You may also have read my re-introduction into the downtempo chill genre through Mr. Fresh’s Sunday Soundtrack Podcast. It is through this particular venue that I have been most exposed to several gifted and talented independent artists, including Mr. Fresh himself.

Wikipedia defines independent, or “indie,” music as “a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels or their subsidiaries, and an autonomous, Do-it-Yourself approach to recording and publishing.” Any conversation regarding the demise of pure music, regardless of genre, usually comes down to money and business, the main functions which drive the music industry. It seems that the music itself is considered secondary. This has been disheartening to this musical purist, who for many years relied on “classic” selections within her favorite genres in order to be musically entertained. Now, having been exposed to such wonderful indie music – new and fresh music – I feel surrounded by others who share a passion for music and who have chosen to express their musical gifts apart from the major label machines of the music industry.

Having said all that, This and That With Calandra: Music Notes is dedicated to supporting indie music by introducing our audience to a number of these talented artists, through interviews and links to their music. So look out for our indie artist spotlights and more!

(31WriteNow Challenge Day 23)

Music Notes: All That Jazz!

The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon

The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon (Photo credit: comunicom.es)

Lately I’ve been neglecting my favorite “sub-genre” of jazz, what might be considered ‘classic’ jazz. A few weeks ago, I was on the Internet and stumbled upon a great documentary on saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Of course I knew who he was, but I didn’t know his story. As a side note, I LOVE biopics and documentaries, but I have a soft spot for musicians. To me, a musician’s life story is also the story of his/her art. In order to best appreciate the music, one needs to be able to appreciate the artist’s story.

So I watched this documentary in awe and drawn to his music. I’ve actually never been a fan of the saxophone, but something about Gordon’s story and the life he poured into the instrument just touched me. Now I can’t get enough Dexter Gordon! Along those lines, I started listening (again) to Newark, New Jersey-based and listener-supported jazz station, WBGO, the ONLY local radio station that plays “Real Jazz, Right Now.”

I find jazz to be the most interesting music genre. There are so many forms of jazz, each one with unique and varied styles. Acid, bebop, classic, fusion, smooth, contemporary – all terms used to describe different forms of a music style that grew from African-American culture in the early 1900s. My father introduced me to jazz (namely what I call ‘classic jazz’) when I was a little girl; we listened to WBGO in the car while running errands, and he would encourage my reading by learning the names of artists on his album covers. I distinctly remember learning the name “M-A-Y-N-A-R-D F-E-R-G-U-S-O-N”! As a young girl of 10 or 11, I appreciated the ‘organized confusion’ of jazz – I was fascinated by piano riffs, bass solos and horn playing that was so improvisational, it sounded like a hodgepodge of random sounds. And yet, those sounds came together and made beautiful music. I think jazz is best enjoyed live, or the recording of a live set, simply because the magic is in the improvisation. Jazz musicians always seem to be in a perpetual jam session. Songs go on and on, and you get caught up in the music. Classic jazz is a style of music that doesn’t necessarily put me in any particular mood. It is a style that just encourages me to listen and enjoy the pure musicianship. It is an incredible feeling to just LISTEN to the instruments.

I have always said that if trapped on a desert island, with only one genre of music at my disposal, I would easily choose classic jazz. The thought of me on an island with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Count Basie, Art Blakey and a host of other jazz greats gives me life!

Lyrics Lounge: Interpreting Incognito’s “Ain’t it Time”

Ain’t it Time

Where along the line did you get off the track
Thinking the life you’re living is where it’s at
Don’t you feel discontent inside
There’s something about you life just cannot hide
They say home is where your heart is
But I say it’s in your peace of mind
If you go home to yourself
Happiness you’ve got to find

Ain’t it time you went home. Ain’t it time you went home
Ain’t it time you went home. Ain’t it time you went home
Going home, going home

Facing the truth is the first move to make
Then love and dreams are yours to take
There’ll be no love lest you give it
Dreams will be dreams until you live them
Strong belief with a strong pursuit
Is the latest combination to see you through
You be your own master double-denim strong
You wonder how you stayed away from home so long

(Lyrics by A. Manning / P.J. Wyatt)

Once again, I find myself being touched by an Incognito lyric after dozens of times listening to the song. I spoke of my first “late lyrics encounter” in an earlier Lyrics Lounge post, Saying Goodbye to Yesterday. The lines that struck me and inspired this post are, “They say home is where your heart is; But I say it’s in your peace of mind.” That blew me away. I am the child of Southern parents and although they located to New York and lived here almost 50 years, any time they spoke of their birthplaces, they referred to them as ‘home.’ As an adult who grew up in New York, I have expanded the definition of ‘home’ and always called it anywhere my immediate family lived. So I am home, whether in Mount Vernon, NY with my in-laws, in Florida with my mother, or South Carolina with my sister. Why? Because, as the lyrics state, home is “in your peace of mind.” And certainly, connecting with my family gives me peace of mind. As I have always said, I am a lyrics junkie, and so I often look for patterns in a given artists’ lyrics. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a truly sad-sounding song from Incognito, regardless of the message. Their messages sound upbeat, even if the lyrics say otherwise. Like many other Incognito lyrics, Ain’t it Time conjures images of encouragement and hope, despite one’s circumstances. “If you go home to yourself; Happiness you’ve got to find.” What a powerful statement! But my first reaction would be: If you don’t know yourself, then how do you find your happiness? Clearly, Manning and Wyatt answer that question in the second verse, as they provide a roadmap to get you home: Face the truth, give love, live your dreams. And then add “strong belief and a strong pursuit,” the combination that will see you through. But pull all that together and “be your own master double-denim strong.” You truly will “wonder how you stayed away from home so long.”

Music is art, and therefore subject to interpretation. Interpretation can be drawn from one’s own experiences, or even from one’s imagination. The message of “Ain’t it Time” hit home to me, no pun intended! Many times we face difficult situations and ‘going home’ helps us to re-focus and get back on track. A recent trip home to visit my mother in Florida left me energized and renewed, a place where I found peace of mind! Home can be a physical space, or a spiritual place. Sometimes all it takes to be renewed and feel at peace is a talk with God. You don’t have to travel anywhere, or let anyone know where you’re going. It’s a conversation that can change your present mood and ultimately your future circumstances.

Ain’t it time you went home?

Music Notes: Mood Music

Growing up, I enjoyed watching programs like Soul Train and American Bandstand. These were the shows where we heard the newest tunes, watched our favorite artists perform (even if they were lip-syncing), and learned the latest dances. C’mon…y’all know you stood in front of the television trying to replicate the newest moves on Soul Train! This particular Soul Train line is one of my favorites:

I also remember the record-rating segment of American Bandstand. It got to the point where everyone said the same thing when asked how they liked a song…”It’s got a great beat and it’s easy to dance to!”

You will never hear a true audiophile utter those words about a good song. I started thinking about the basic elements of a song – lyrics and musical arrangement. Lyrics – for the non-musician that I am – are the first impression of a song. And as in social situations, first impressions are lasting! When Maxwell’s BLACKSummers’night was first released, I was visiting my mother in Florida. I ran to Target and picked up my copy. But I didn’t listen to it for a week, until I was back at home in New York. I spent the rest of my Florida vacation just reading the lyrics and the liner notes, my favorite pastime (see When I Fell in Love With Music: Songs in the Key of Life) I was entranced by the poetry in his lyrics. So by the time I got to listen to the music, I was already hooked.

Musical arrangement – As a non-musician, arrangements were usually secondary. Although of late, I have become much more in tune with them. And YES, I may get sucked in by a nice beat, but in general, all the musical elements must sit well with me in order for me to really enjoy a tune.

Music IS mood. It can put you in a different state of mind. It can take you where you want to go. Sometimes I listen to a particular genre or artist because I need to calm down or relax – so I’ll tune in to some chill or ambient vibes like Afterlife or The Cinematic Orchestra. I may need to expend some energy, workout or maybe I just need a pick-up, so I’ll turn to some dub-step or house music. MJ Cole and Ten City usually do the trick! If I feel like singing, I’ll usually play some funk or old school – like Slave or Ohio Players – and sing my heart out! LOL

What does music do for you?

The Making of a Minthead

U send me swang-in’. Oh you send me swang-in’…

I remember the first time I heard these words back in 1993 – the unmistakable intro to the first single from Mint Condition’s sophomore album, From the Mint Factory. And it was that first song that had me hooked. A new Minthead was born!

When I’m with you, I fall deeper in love. This feeling is the one thing my heart is sure of…

Here is a perfect example of why I am a Minthead – it’s always about lyrics, which usually get my attention first.  Mint Condition has all the elements of music that attract my listening ears – lyrics, arrangements and musicianship. They ARE the “Definition of a Band.” I remember talking with a good friend about Mint Condition back in the day. She was the one who pointed out to me that they were a BAND, something that in the 90’s was pretty hard to come by in R&B (and is STILL hard to come by). Back then I think Mint Condition and Tony! Toni! Toné! were the only newer R&B bands around (aside from already established bands like The Time, Earth, Wind and Fire, etc.). Please…someone feel free to correct me!

Seeing them live last year at BB King’s in New York City was a real turning point for this Minthead. As with any live performance, you hear music very differently than you would “on wax.” But even more so with Mint Condition…WAOW!!! Their live show is AMAZING!! Why? First of all, their energy is off the chain! And because they are a BAND, there were no house musicians, tracks, DJs or any other external accoutrements – it was just THE BAND and their instruments. This clip, posted by a fellow YouTuber, is from that same BB King’s show and is a perfect example of Mint’s musical versatility. Listen and watch for yourself!

Giving the Gift of Independent Music

This year, I have enjoyed my personal journey into independent music. This and That With Calandra has vowed to support and share with our readers independent music and its artists. So I felt it only fitting to encourage you to support independent music – give yourself (and others) the gift of independent music. If you are a true audiophile, you can’t possibly be satisfied with what’s currently being offered to us in the form of commercial music. And if you are like me, you often tire of just listening to ‘classic’ forms of music (classic jazz, classic R & B, old school hip-hop, etc.), and you can’t afford to ignore indie music. And by the way, if you aren’t sure what indie music really is, please check out my post Supporting Independent Music.

So here it is, my 2012 Holiday Gift Guide to Independent Music.

Jua Howard (http://juasmusic.com) – I had the pleasure of interviewing this amazing vocalist in August 2012 (hear the interview). He has an amazing voice that covers multiple genres – from R & B, to modern jazz, to American Standards. He is currently working on his sophomore album and we will have him back on This and That With Calandra upon its release.

Ahmed Sirour (http://ahmedisthemusic.bandcamp.com) – Ahmed Sirour was featured in TTWC’s first Independent Artist Spotlight back in the summer (read it here). This talented artist has worked with many accomplished artists, and remixed popular songs by Robert Glasper, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson. His latest release is The After 2AM Sessions LP, and it is FIYAH!

Cross Country Collective (C3) – C3 is Trel Robinson (Keyboards), Todd Kelley (Drum Programming) and Doug Ramsay (a.k.a. Mr. Fresh of the Sunday Soundtrack Podcast, Lead Guitar). This is a unique group of three musicians who live on three different coasts (Bay Area, Houston and Washington D.C.). Contempojazzsoulhop is a 5-selection EP that you need to add to your digital library. Find it at http://crosscountrycollective.bandcamp.com/album/contempojazzsoulhop.

Soma FM (http://somafm.com) – Soma FM is a San Francisco-based internet radio station, offering “over 20 unique channels of listener-supported, commercial-free, underground/alternative radio. My favorite channel, Groove Salad, offers “a nicely chilled plate of ambient/downtempo beats and grooves.” There is also an iPhone app, so you can listen to Soma on-the-go. This is definitely my go-to station when I need to chill.

The Sunday Soundtrack Podcast on Vibesnscribes.com – Y’all know this is my absolute favorite podcast, right?. Wrote a little post about it…like to read it? Here it goes…Music Notes: Mr. Fresh and The Sunday Soundtrack Podcast. The site has over 2 years of archived podcasts, featuring independent artists specializing in downtempo, ambient, chill music. More required listening when I need to relax.

Greg Banks (http://gregbanksmusic.com) – I had the pleasure of meeting this new artist at an event I co-hosted in January 2012. Beside being a talented singer/songwriter, he is also a model, actor and down-to-earth Southern gentleman. Look for an upcoming TTWC Independent Artist Spotlight on this New Orleans native. His self-titled debut is available on iTunes, and there are other singles on his site as well.

 L*A*W* (http://planet12law.com) – Brooklyn native, Lawrence “L*A*W*” Worrell, is a multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist rapper/singer/songwriter/producer, dancer, writer, husband, father…and the list goes on. He is the grandson of the late Sam “Bluzman” Taylor of the funk group BT Express. Another down-to-earth brother, L*A*W* released his album, Tha Planet 12 Syndrome, earlier this year. His music – a mixture of hip-hop, R&B, and funk – is a tribute to his musical family’s roots. This young man stays true to the classics with the eclectic blend of a true audiophile.

So there you have it…Oprah has her annual “Favorite Things,” I have This and That With Calandra’s Gift of Independent Music. Click, download, listen and enjoy!