I’ll be performing at 10 pm on September 11, 2010 at New York’s The Stone in a trio with John Sutton on bass and Christian Coleman on drums.  It’s a huge thrill to return to the Stone for my first gig in New York as a full-time resident.  We’ll be playing a set of music featuring tunes played by Roscoe Holcomb and Son House, two musicians who have exerted a significant influence on American music of the twentieth century and beyond.

I’m attracted to House and Holcomb because each brings a raw spiritual power to their music that I’ve found to be unforgettable.  Both of these men were influenced by the religious music of their upbringing, and brought the mystery and power of spirituality to their music.  Neither thought of himself as a professional musician, and both actually abandoned public performance for blue-collar work until they were sought out in the 1960’s by folk and blues music enthusiasts and persuaded to perform in public again.

What I can never forget is the necessity in their music.  I hear music that needs to be played.  It needs to be played because it unites our lives in the material world with our need for a spiritual life and makes them one and the same through music.  You understand how the music came to be in the first place: it served a purpose beyond simple entertainment.  The music arises out circumstances that the people were dealing with because they needed it.  We often don’t think about music as being needed these days, but when the blues and country music were being created, it was done because it was needed on an important level by the people involved.

We’ll be using these tunes as a starting point and developing them through improvisation to try to bring out the mystery, pain and joy of the music.  I felt that it would be interesting to find the common ground that exists between Holcomb and House’s work.  Throughout most of the twentieth century these musicians, Holcomb a white coal miner from Kentucky and House a black man from Mississippi, lived in two separate worlds because of racial barriers in American culture at that time.  However, each created music for similar reasons, with some common influences and using similar forms.  We have a complicated history in this country, to put it lightly, and any way we can understand it better will bring us a better future.

Another element of this music that I love is the poetry. These men chose and wrote songs that touched on a broad range of topics, from the high religious expression of Son House’s famous “John the Revelator” to Holcomb’s humorous “Married Life Blues”.  This is a bit ironic because we won’t be singing the lyrics to these songs, but they will be a part of the music even thought they won’t be heard.  Improvisation plays an important role in the music, and I try to learn the lyrics well enough that they guide me as I play.  In my mind, I sing the lyrics as I play, and try to express them with just as much subtlety as if I was singing.

To prepare this music I’ve been listening, listening and listening.  I’ve also been doing research to try to broaden my understanding of what I’m hearing on the recordings.  I try to find out as much as I can, from the history of the compositions, to the actual techniques the artists used in playing their instruments.  When I’m memorizing these tunes, I try to let all of this knowledge lead me to an intuitive feel for the music, so that when we perform the tunes, it will be as if we had written them ourselves.

Over the last two weeks my fiancée and I have been traveling across the country by car.  We started in Oregon and headed through Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota before stopping for a visit with family in Wisconsin.  Its been a great opportunity to devote lots of quiet thought to preparing music for this upcoming show and I feel that being on the road has brought up some thoughts that I wanted to write down.  (I took the picture in this entry from the road as we headed across the “range”.  This lonely house is located somewhere in Wyoming.)  Hopefully I’ll be able to write a bit more about my thoughts on relocating to New York, but that will have to wait until later.  I look forward to presenting this music and hope to see you there!