Tuesday, September 25, 2007


by JW

I get inspired by music from all sorts of places. I have long been a big fan of Bjork, the Icelandic singer/songwriter, so when I learned of Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra I knew I had to check it out. This big band plays original arrangements of Bjork songs and has made appearances all over the place. So, I hauled myself down to Annapolis on Sunday night after a long day at Peabody to hear them do a set before a small but appreciative crowd...

The show was a lot of fun, with some great playing from the band. The arrangements were a mixed bag, but it was really fun to hear Bjork in this context. If you like Bjork, or even if you aren’t sure if you do, check ‘em out!

The thing that truly inspired me about the concert was seeing someone being truly creative with the material and really finding some great musical ideas in it beyond what I already had experienced. I knew all the Bjork originals that the band used quite well, but hearing these arrangements opened up some great elements of these songs that I had never really considered. Their version of “Joga” from “Homogenic,” for example, opens up the richness of the harmonies, and the intensity of the horn sound gave the music an energy that the more sedate, dreamy string sound on the original doesn’t have.

As a classical musician, I play a lot of the same music over and over. In fact, a core value of a lot of classical performances is precisely how exactly they reproduce what we “expect” from the music. Lots of classical ensembles and players aim for precisely this, resulting in a string of unmemorable and repetitive symphonies and concerti squeezed out of the classical toothpaste tube. As a teacher, I teach a lot of the same material over and over as well, which is not a bad thing; there’s a lot of music that we need to learn as bass players to function professionally, and there are certain pieces that are great teaching tools for certain key concepts. Also, when we’re at a stage in our development where we are focusing on our technical work, we often need to favor consistency over variety in our sound and style!

It can be all too easy to slip into habitual and unimaginative playing of repertoire standards. I need to remember to dig a layer down and find some new stuff to explore. The music I play is some of the greatest in history, and there’s plenty of stuff to work with. Even when the music is not my favorite, I still need to do the work to find some good ideas in there.

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