Playing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are many contemporary musical artists around whose work touches us deeply, inspires us, motivates us, tells our life stories in their lyrics and songs. We think of them as playing the soundtrack of our very lives.

A select few musicians in the world, though, rise to the status of soundtrack-makers for entire cultures, peoples and nations. Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who passed on recently at the age of 78, is among that highly regarded level of musical giants. His music was the soundtrack of a nation-in-the-making, South Africa, and spoke directly to countless numbers of people around the globe, especially in the African diaspora.

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American Dream, Chilean Nightmare

Pedro Pablo Barrientos came to the United States in 1990 to make a new start in life. Leaving his native country of Chile in South America and arriving in the U.S. southern state of Florida with little money and a broken marriage behind him, he managed to get a job in landscaping at first, then worked at a few restaurants and eventually ran his own pizza joint — a sure sign that you have made it in the USA.

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‘A Love Supreme’ at 50

I have given up long ago on making any kind of easily broken New Year’s resolution to mark the arrival of another year, so for 2016 I decided to do something different that will start me off on the right foot and stay with me through the year ahead: choosing my first musical selection of the year.

That, for me, would be the classic jazz album A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I can think of no better way to start a new year than by sitting down and once again giving a close listen to this magnificent recording that has inspired so many people around the world since it was released back in 1965.

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Song for All Fathers

Yesterday (21 June) being Father’s Day here in Japan, it seems appropriate to send out some belated warm wishes of the day — but not only for my own family. This tribute goes out to all the fathers of the world, that is, to the vaunted institution of fatherhood itself.

And there is really only one song I know, amongst all the songs I’ve ever heard in my life, that expresses the respect and love that we send to our fathers on their special day: “Song for My Father” by the late jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver.

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An Outpouring Fit for a King

It was amazing to see how quickly and how widely the buzz had spread — in the news media, in social media, on mailing lists, everywhere. Musical royalty had passed on: B.B. King, the world’s reigning King of the Blues, had departed on May 14 at age 89. Tributes and story-sharing seemed to be coming in from every corner of the planet, an outpouring of respect and love for a man whose life as a musician seems to have left few people untouched, myself included.

We all tend to take for granted just how influential such popular figures are in our lives until they are gone. But B.B. King, it seemed, had never been forgotten or taken for granted anywhere in the world. He was reportedly working and planning another tour up until just a few months before his death.

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Blues for Brother Hilton

It was around 1993, during an evening at the Osaka Blue Note jazz club, that I knew I was witnessing a moment in musical history I would remember for the rest of my life.

Tito Puente, the reigning mambo king on the timbales, had formed a new band, the Golden Latin Jazz All Stars, and was taking it on the road in the U.S. and overseas. A recording by the band released the year before, Live at the Village Gate, had been generating a buzz in the States and burning up my own CD player here in Japan for months. I dragged my wife along to the club with me, thinking I might never see the likes of this moment again. That turned out to be truer than I could have imagined.

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Miles Electric: The Brew Still Cooks

The recent release of the new Miles Davis CD, Miles at the Fillmore, has got me going back in time these days to the late 1960s/early 1970s and digging the period when Miles’ electric band dominated the music scene, both in jazz and rock circles. What I’ve been hearing on this new 4-CD set knocks me out, and I’ve got to share something about it here.

This is not a review or a tribute — more like a reminder, if any were really necessary, of just how much of a musical giant Miles was in his lifetime and how, many years after his death in 1991, musicians and fans continue to stand in his widely cast musical shadow.

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Goodbye, Hardbop Grandpop

In this new Summer 2014 edition of this website, I had planned to pay tribute to jazz master Horace Silver while he was still living among us and honor the rich legacy of his work in modern music. But in my race to meet the deadline, Silver beat me to the finish line.

As I was preparing to launch this new website edition with my tribute to Silver, I opened the pages of my morning paper, the international edition of the New York Times, over breakfast yesterday and was hit with this obituary of Horace Silver on page 2 of the paper. Although many fans and followers had been expecting such sad news about the aging and ailing Silver for quite a while now, his passing at age 85 in New York still came as something of a shock to me.

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Thank You, Pete Seeger

Word has just come in that the legendary musician Pete Seeger has passed away in New York at age 94. It is with a mixture of sadness and gratefulness that I write these words — saddened, of course, that the Old Folkie, as he is affectionately called, is no longer with us but grateful just the same to have been touched by his music and life, even from a distance.

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Old Folkie: Tribute to a Musical Treasure

If you follow my postings on social media, you know that I often honor the birthdays of people who have changed the course of events in their countries — and indeed the world — in the field they happen to work in: politics, social activism, the arts, whatever it may be. I do this because I always feel it is important to remember the lives of those who came before us and the sacrifices they made, that we may learn and follow in their footsteps for a better future.

But we need not wait until those people pass on and become ancestors and figures from a distant past. It is always better, of course, to honor and pay tribute to these elders and veterans of Life while they are still living and still with us. And today (May 3) being the 94th birthday of one those veterans of the Good Fight, I would like to pay tribute to an “old folkie” who lives and works among us today: Pete Seeger.


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