What we do, how we act, and what we believe is influenced by many experiences in life. It is safe to say, that we are, to a very large degree, a product of those experiences and inspirations. When we stop and accept the opportunity to absorb these experiences, we open the door to becoming something unique – a product of everything that we let in. In this case, I thought that I would talk about music.
Music can make us feel, help to calm our nerves, or build us into a frenzy, and make us think deeply or simply allow us to remember vividly. Music is a box of memories to be cherished and admired, something to open frequently and re-visit as a source of inspiration. This special box that we possess can make us smile or frown, laugh or cry, stand up and shout, or become quiet and contemplative; it can help us to come together with others, or jump at the chance to claim our silo of beliefs. Music can make us tap our feet or even jump up and dance, even when a dancer we are not. It is powerful stuff that affects each person differently, but rest assured, it affects us all.
It would be hard to sit through a concert in New York City’s Blue Note Jazz Club, just a few feet from the stage and watch Stanley Jordan masterfully play his guitar, running both fingers at lightning speed up and down the frets while his eyes were closed, and not feel some of the magic that inspires him. It would be just as difficult experiencing a show at the age of 12, sitting with your parents just a few yards from Gene Krupa playing drums and not wonder what it would be like to have that sense of rhythm. Standing fifty feet from the stage where the Tower of Power horn section was bouncing to the crescendo of horns playing “You’re Still a Young Man”, would send shivers up your spine as you contemplate the challenges of aging. I was there for each of these musical experiences, they are in my special box.
Sitting cross legged on a gymnasium floor in 1969 mesmerized by an intense light show and engulfed in the music of Jefferson Airplane, especially when they roared thru “White Rabbit” and “Saturday Afternoon” was life-changing for a nineteen-year-old. Being part of the crowd at a Jethro Tull Concert during their Aqualung Tour or the quadraphonic concert experience of Pink Floyd as the sang of the Dark Side of the Moon, could only be topped by watching the master musician Frank Zappa lead the Mothers of Invention with Jean Luc Ponte on violin and Ruth Underwood on vibraphone. But it might be most memorable to feel the calming impact of the Moody Blues speak of the Threshold of a Dream through their magical harmonies and accomplished musicianship. I remain inspired because I was there, they are in my special box.
Sitting in a local malt shop at the age of thirteen, flipping through the choices on a jukebox, I would always slide in a nickel to hear The Hollies sing: Look Through Any Window, or Carrie Ann. Or maybe a few Beatles selections since they dominated the Top Ten in those days: A Hard Day’s Night, Love Me Do, Eight Days A Week, or All My Lovin, still bring a smile to my face as I reflect on the people and the places where I first heard those incredible voices. There were ample dances to attend back then and no shortage of local bands trying to imitate what we all heard on the radio: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jay and the Americans, Paul Revere, and the Turtles provided the energy for our youth. Later they were replaced with anthem bands that made us stand up and rally around new beliefs: The Airplane spoke of “Volunteers of America”, or Crosby Stills, Nash and Young as they raised a fist over Kent State with resounding cries of “Four Dead in Ohio”, and Country Joe and the Fish questioned whether we wanted to “Be the First One On Our Block to Have Your Boy Come Home in a Box”.
The Summer of Love and the years that followed were filled with hope and rebellion from the Monterey Festival to Woodstock where Love, Peace, and Happiness were the backbone of the music that we heard and aligned with. The world could be a better place and music was the guide. Then came the unfortunate end to this time of enlightenment at Altamont where Love and Peace, was replaced with Hate and Violence. We felt the music and reeled from the loss of faith.
It was the era of Folk Music that gave us insight into the intelligent, thought-provoking power of music. Dylan told us that “The Times Were a Changing”, Joni Mitchell warned us to protect what we held as precious and avoid paving paradise, and Joan Baez gave us a deeper understanding of what it meant to speak our mind and resist. Some spoke of love, some of friendship, others of broken hearts and shattered dreams, but all made us pay attention to the lyrics and put our own interpretations on the meaning.
While all of this energy was taking place, there was always room to learn to appreciate the structure and beauty of classical music. To sit in an acoustically designed room and listen to an orchestra of fifty or more musicians playing in perfect unity, each having totally mastered his or her instrument and be mentally, physically, and spiritually aligned with the conductor and the intent of the composer is something I will never forget. This is powerful stuff to listen to, watch, and feel. A friend of mine is a world class classical pianist. From a very early aged he was deemed a protégé and now commands world attention as he serves as the centerpiece of those orchestras in acoustically perfect rooms. I have sat on the floor in his living room and listened to him play at maybe the age of ten and in small bistros where he would dust off a player’s bench and play Rachmaninoff to a crowd of a few dozen mesmerized listeners. This is music at its most refined. I was there, this is part of my special box.
My tastes are eclectic – I appreciate many styles of music, especially when it is a reflection of the heart and soul, and when the skill level of the musician is evident. Listening to divas like Celine Dion and the late Whitney Houston when they build a song up to that hook: “All By Myself Anymore”, or “And I Will Always Love You” never cease to send shivers up my spine. At the same time when Bonnie Raitt plays bottleneck guitar or John Hiatt growls out lyrics that you can’t get out of your head, I feel the day get a little brighter. When the Allman Brothers play Statesboro Blues, the Band offers their Americana music from Big Pink, or the Grateful Dead go on for hours blending jazz style improvisation, bluegrass, and a bit of psychedelia it is hard to stand still.
Music is so powerful, so important, and so much a part of the person we become. No matter what you do, that special box of music memories is there. As a cook and a chef, I have always found inspiration in music. Whether it’s the structure of classical music that relates to the importance of cooking foundations, or the free-wheeling improvisation of Jazz greats like Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis, or Chick Corea and how creativity in cooking allows for this type of self-expression, it is music in my head that always keeps cooking alive. All cooks and chefs can tap into that special box of music memories as they plan that next menu or stand in front of a stove with a basket of ingredients waiting for inspiration.
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