A Chat With Brian Charette

I went to see – well, to check out – a jam session in Studio City tonight. It was at one of the oldest clubs, and the oldest jazz club, in LA: The Baked Potato (I got the ham, corn and pineapple potato).

I went ahead and signed my name on the sign-up sheet. I was the first name on the list. I went outside and introduced myself to the keyboard player. His name was Brian. He lives in New York. He was very kind and approachable.

Brian turned out to be one of Keyboard Magazine’s top four… well, keyboardists. You can read an article he just wrote  (that I literally just found) here. He was one of these laid-back geniuses who seem totally avuncular – until they melt your face off.

As I was picking up my face from off the bar counter, I asked him some questions about practicing, about getting better.

“Well, what do you want to work on?” he asked me.

“Consistency,” I said.

“Ah, that’s big. It’s all in your body, and how you carry your body.

“Read the Tao De Ching,” he told me. “It’s all in there. That’s the Way. It teaches how you have to do all of these things with passion, but to forget about what you’ll get from them. That’s the thing – letting go of attachment.”

Yeah, letting go of attachment. Of course. How many times had I heard that one before?

“Getting better,” he concluded, “is not an adding-to. It’s a stripping away.”


Now there’s something to ponder.

It makes sense. There’s a True Musician inside, a True Person even. And we all just want to get to it. So that’s what we’re learning. How to get to what’s already there.

“Just relax, man,” he said. “You’ll be fine. I can tell you, you’ll be fine.”

Well, Brian, OK. If you say so! Now, off to find a copy of the Tao.

And figure out this body thing.


Practice is not always necessary.

If I am perfectly happy with my skills I already have, and am confident I can retain them without practicing, there is no need for me to practice.

If I find more joy resonating in what I’ve already accumulated, then the more important thing for me and for the world might be for me to start “being myself.”

I can “be myself” (innovate) purely and truly only if I am 100% OK with the skills and the information I have at hand. What this means is that I have an Inner Life that is at such a high vibration that whatever it is that I normally practice (piano, Portuguese, parasailing) resonates with that vibration.

Frequently, to be maintained, this Inner Life requires more than just the vibration. It also requires engaging with Life and with Higher Consciousness on many different levels and in many different areas. These could be anything from practicing yoga to eating blueberry pancakes.

So, as it turns out, “being myself” requires, for most of us, more than just “being.” It requires “acting.” It requires conscious and deliberate steps towards the things that makes us tick. Sometimes part of this is Practice, and sometimes it isn’t.

If we Act in the right way, we can start get closer to who we really are and what we can offer the world.

Information vs. Innovation

Real innovation comes from having the courage to sound like yourself. There’s a catch, though. Part of sounding like yourself is knowing what “you” sounds like. And you can’t know that until you listen to a few Others who already know what they sound like.

I’ve always been kind of envious of those who seem to be really good at assimilating bits and pieces of these Others. I guess that’s mostly because I always run into cats who seem to have more of a knack for assimilating than I do.

I’ve done a bit of assimilating, and I’m sure I’ll do more. But right now what intrigues me is the idea of working with what I’ve got. In other words, sounding more like myself.

It can be all too easy to have a hard time finding out what you sound like because you’re so concerned with properly sounding like someone else. As far as I can see, the only antidote for that is stopping acquiring more information – getting back to a Space inside of us that is uniquely ours.

I imagine it would go in a Cycle: Learn, Forget, Learn, Forget, Learn, Forget. The more complex the task, the more there is to learn – and therefore, of course, the more there is to forget.

Why Intimacy Is More Important Than Music

There is a lot of Music, but not a lot of true human connection, in the world.

Open a streaming app, like Spotify or Pandora, or an online media store, like iTunes. Go to a hub for independent music artists, like SoundCloud or Bandcamp. Visit any sites or services (and there are hundreds) where music, new or old, is simply a click away.

Now walk down the street. Go to a coffee shop. Peruse the aisles of a grocery store, or even a bookstore. Grab a bite at your favorite restaurant. Go to a public park. Go to work. How much actual relating is happening?

I think you’ll notice that what you’ll be hard pressed to find is two or more humans interacting in an authentic, vulnerable way. What you’ll easily find, however, is a lot of smart phones, a lot of laptops, a lot of “blinder vision”.

Of course, smaller towns might elicit more familiarity, but that doesn’t necessarily imply connection, relating, or what I like to call “Intimacy”. Cities or areas with a more expansive urban or cultural sprawl might be more likely to host venues or spaces where people with like minds can meet to share interests, but such places are also known for large amounts of loneliness or isolation in spite of, or indeed because of, the sheer amount of people residing there.

Deep, honest Intimacy – and I’m not just talking about bedroom Intimacy – is rare. Of course, that’s what makes it special. But does it have to be rare to be special? Music is easy to dive into; there’s obviously no shortage of music or musicians. Anyone can put their headphones on – but can anyone venture out of the bubble and start to engage on a deeper level with another human being?

Anything But An Artist

I’ve never felt inclined to do anything I’m “supposed” to do. “Supposed to” meaning  it’s not coming from me, but from somewhere or someone else.

I believe a lot of Artists fall into this trap. I’m a painter, I’m “supposed” to paint. I’m an actor, I’m “supposed” to try to get casted. I’m a musician, I’m “supposed” to eat, sleep, and breathe music.

The problem is one of over-identification. We stop knowing when our painting, acting, and music-ing is coming from a deep, true place inside of us, and when it is coming from what we believe is expected of us.

If you’re reading this and you’re someone who’s never felt that your Art was not naturally emerging from a place deep within yourself, unaffected by all external forces, then feel free to ignore this entry. I can’t pretend to know anything about you or your creative process.

I’ve always, and still do, rebelled against any notion that all Artists are these unstoppable forces who hold some kind of impenetrable compass that never fails to guide them in the direction of their creative star. If you’re stuck, you must be lazy. If you’re not producing, you’re not productive. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you’re misguided and you need a reality check.

If I’m going to write, or play, or create anything at all, I’ll do it because it damn well pleases me. I’ll do it because there’s nothing I’d rather do. I’ll do it because I’m compelled. Call me lazy, call me nonproductive, call me a poser. Go ahead, call me anything but an Artist.

Do it, why? Because I’m supposed to? No, thank you.

Reaching A Higher Level: Understand That Life Has “Layers” And “Seasons”

In order to reach a higher level at any Art, skill, Craft, Vision, stage of life, or Way of Being than one is currently at, one must have the discipline to “chunk away” at it, every day, until that higher level is reached.

I have a theory that this discipline doesn’t originate in a vacuum. I believe that it comes from a burning or insatiable desire to continue this process even through times of seeing few to no results. There must be a Light At The End Of The Tunnel, a strong feeling of what it would be like to get there, accompanied by a sense that one must Get There at all costs.

This feeling must be strong enough to last through disappointments, plateaus, and any forms of Resistance. It must represent a pull towards the Higher Level, one that overrides what Stephen Pressfield calls “lower natures”.

Whoever is on this path understands that, to go from the current level to the Higher Level could take an uncomfortably long amount of time. Furthermore, they would have to have the mentality of “chunking away” every single day. This part is especially important – the best way to build momentum when working towards a Higher Level is to take no days off.

None of this is overwhelming to the person truly on the path. He or she knows what she wants, and he or she is okay with never stopping.

Now here comes the “Big But”: but what if this feeling isn’t present? But what if the direction is unclear? But what if the desire is not so fiery?

Well, then, maybe the context needs to be re-examined. If that fire in the belly just isn’t there, if no path is visible, then maybe it makes sense to not be so concerned about that Higher Level.

Yes, human beings are built to evolve, to reach fuller and fuller versions of our potential. But what if this process was not always an active one? What if it unfolded in seasons, and there were seasons when specific action should be taken, and seasons when less action is better?

For anyone thinking about Visions and Higher Levels and evolution, it might seem counterintuitive to consider that to not have a plan could be a feasible way of doing things. But Life, like an onion, is a many-layered thing. Just because action is not being taken within one’s idea of the Art, skill, Craft, or Vision, does not mean action can’t be taken in other areas. There is a time to take action in non-Craft related areas, just as there is a time to focus on the Craft and let everything else fall by the wayside.

Maybe the best time to get down to the nitty gritty stuff that all Artists hate but that we must all face and do at some point is when we are not really feeling the grind. What if the Craft were just one layer in the onion, rather than the onion itself?

Yes, discipline is essential. Yes, it’s important to not skip a day. But what may be even more important is understanding that Life is Life. Sometimes it does make sense to stop, and trust that something will rush in to fill the void – for a season.

“Creative Altruism”: The Missing Link

I was just on the phone with a friend. The conversation seemed to hover around the merits of letting ourselves have our moments of glory, our “day under the sun,” versus being more concerned with doing our part to somehow raise the quality of the lives of others. My friend suddenly recalled an incredible quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism, or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

I was thrown for a loop, for it immediately occurred to me that much of my life up until now had not been on the side of creative altruism. As we talked, I slowly realized: isn’t that the whole essence of this thing called the Impresario?

I’ve been writing about the Impresario now every day for about a month, and for some reason I never really delved into the most important aspect. The Impresario seeks out collaborators for his vision, not out of some sense of self-importance, but because he knows that it’s not about him. The Impresario is nothing more than an Altruist.

The great thing about “creative altruism” is that any field can be a vessel for it. Even a job. My job, for example, as an Entertainer, could be performed in such a way as to make every member of my audience feel special. Already, I am practicing “creative altruism.”

Creative Altruism must be the missing link from any activity that does not feel imbued with significance. If we are feeling lost or misguided in our lives, it must be because we are concentrating too much on serving ourselves and not enough on serving others. If we are disillusioned or full of malaise, it must be because we have forgotten how to make someone else feel driven or motivated.

The concept that “it’s not all about you” may seem like a rebuke from our childhood days, but it is actually a philosophy encompassing a way of life. It’s the secret of what Karl Jung calls “integration,” and integration is exactly what the Impresario wants to do – to become a member of society whose contributions improve society, and the world, at an exponential rate.

King quoted by Johnny Fritts.

Second Guessing: Friend Or Foe?

I’m going to be honest: I haven’t completed a piece of music since June.

It takes me, on average, a month to write a song. But a song can take me up to six months to write, if I am not working on it regularly. Good thing I don’t have a quota, right?

I like and dislike aspects of my creative process. I like that I am quite picky when it comes to how I write. For example, I despise cliches, over-repetitions, and over-obvious harmonic progressions. So if I catch myself doing any of these, I will start editing, usually immediately. I like this quality because it ensures that my writing is truly original.

However, this same quality has a dark side to it, and that can be the feeling that nothing is quite good enough. I have written whole verses before, only to botch them completely and start again. Come to think of it, I’ve thrown away whole songs too. Editing too much can lead to a kind of creative obsessive compulsive disorder.

I’m sure every great artist, unless they’re Mozart, has their versions of being overly hard on themselves when it comes to their work. This, as I’ve just illustrated, can be good, but if not tempered, can lead to a vacuum of non-productivity.

Another reason for my extended period of low output might be that my interests have shifted somewhat over the past couple of months to other “pockets.” This blog, to name just one example, has become a main focus and a source of joy, one that I am inspired to be disciplined about. Perhaps songwriting, for better or worse, has taken a back seat.

I don’t see this as a bad thing, though. I am sure that I will come back to it – I already have, actually. And I am convinced that the time away was spent doing things which will actually enrich my songs. But to really get the most out of writing music, I will have to see it much like I see this blog – as a way to express myself and make sense of things in my life.

Once I see it like that, the filter might start to not be so invasive, because it will recognize the songwriting as a practice, and not a quest for perfection. Or so I hope.

A Song I Like

The song “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne has long been one of my all-time favorites. I love the music and the lyrics, but I also love the sentiment behind it.

When we’re young, we look at the world through rose-colored glasses. Possibilities are endless; we can be anything, do anything. As we grow older and wiser, the rose tint fades, and we start to rid ourselves of “delusions of grandeur.”

I am in love with the song’s main character, who has rid himself of the trappings of  glamorous expectations. He’s content with a simple life in a “house in the shade of the freeway” and a day-to-day job. He’s found refuge in being a “happy idiot” and “struggling for the legal tender”.

It’s not that he’s given up, or settled – he’s just decided that being “happy” is more important than the dream of “one day” being happy. He’s not asking for much, he doesn’t need it.

What I think is most beautiful about the sentiment behind this song is its strength. It’s anything but a cop-out. It’s about Reconciliation. It’s about Gratefulness. I suppose it could be interpreted as having a sad undertone. Maybe, but so what?

The only thing better than being “young and strong” must be wise and strong.

Living Philosophers, Yogis, and Free Jazz

Kenny Werner is a jazz pianist, composer, educator, author, and mystic, and one of my favorite people, although I haven’t yet met him (working on that). Last night, I stumbled across a YouTube of one of his talks. It was a clinic he gave on Free Jazz at the International Association of Jazz Education. Mesmerized, I watched the whole talk. Werner’s views on jazz and its aesthetic mirror to a tee my own. In fact, what he’s saying in this clinic is exactly what I am trying to put into words when writing about this idea of the Impresario.

Werner talks about free jazz more as a State of Being than anything else. He drives home the conviction that jazz, just as any philosophy or transcendent experience, has been separated to such a degree from its original nature that it is virtually unrecognizable. He goes on to make the point that if we truly desire to reconnect with this thing called jazz, or even music in general, we must “let go” and really fall back in love with the sound of our instrument again, forgetting about categories, pedagogy, and everything we think we know.

A couple of quotes from Mr. Werner’s talk really leapt out at me. First:

[Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter] were [are] living philosophers, like yogis in a way. They were not trying to play jazz, they were finding that filament of life, that thing that makes it Go, in themselves, and then writing odes to that… Now, to think outside the box you have to sort of think outside of jazz… because jazz has sort of become the box… I think “free jazz” means coming out of the box and really finding the notes that you passionately need. Getting back to that, getting back to what made jazz great, was great Beings played it. [20:14]

In an address to the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards made in 2014, Keith Jarrett says something very similar:

“If you hear something that changes you, it’s because what you heard was someone who became an innovator, and they became an innovator by hard work on themselves, not so much work on the instrument.” [8:26]

Werner and Jarrett are effectively getting to the heart of the philosophy of the Impresario. The Impresario is not fooled by labels, because she knows that such restrictions can only come about when you’re inside the box. True innovation comes about by actually innovating. This is such a fascinating and essential piece of being an Impresario.

This rabbit hole is too deep to explore in anything resembling sufficiency today, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. But tomorrow I’ll come back to the Werner clinic, and continue to explore the connection between what Werner calls “living philosophy” and Jarrett’s idea of an innovator (Impresario) who works harder on himself than on his instrument (Art).

Until tomorrow… send ideas and contributions to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com.