Messages From Masters: Byron Stripling

by Ella Campbell

While I’ve been moving and rearranging my things, I came across a notebook with snippets of notes from different masterclasses I attended at Michigan State. Here are a few notes I took during a masterclass with Byron Stripling in April, 2010.

  • Knowledge is not power, action is power. Develop action-oriented habits.
  • When you leave your university, your teachers will become your competition. Stop thinking about yourself as a student, and start thinking of yourself as a musician.
  • Believe that what you want to do is possible. Then what you believe must become your reality.
  • Do your own research. If everyone is going in one direction, see what happens if you go the other.
  • First we make [good] habits, then our habits make us.
  • Practice every day. Develop a practice program for yourself.
  • Repetition is the mother of skill: you know something when you are able to perform it.
  • Practice for 1 or 2 hours every morning sometime before noon: it’s like working out. If you don’t do it at the beginning of the day the probability of you having the motivation through the rest of the day lessens.
  • “What should we practice?” Whatever it is, believe that it’s important. Emotionally you have to feel it’s important, otherwise you won’t do it.
  • “What kind of mouthpiece do you use?” … “Oh that’s interesting!” “NO. What’s interesting is get your ass in a practice room!
  • Clarity is power: check out the Clifford Brown recording of him practicing.
  • Practice sight reading
  • Practice listening: “You must be present to win.”
  • Listen for rhythm, melody and harmony. Do what the musicians you admire do: study the culture & roots of the music you listen to. Absorb everything.
  • Create a music environment that serves to your greatest good.
  • Learn how to play something humble for your grandma. Like “Misty.”
  • Play, in root position, any changes you have to play over. Then figure out how to resolve it. Learn the rules first.
  • Model the masters. If someone has done something that you want to do, learn how they did it and do that. Get the music inside you.
  • Start with baby steps.
  • On Self Discipline: There is no one to blame but ourselves for our lack and limitation. Do what you know you should do, even when you don’t want to do it.
  • Record yourself once a week. Get the true reflection of how you sound.
  • People want to help you if you can help yourself.

Quotes:

  • When you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk: “Who you are is so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
  • “Circumstances don’t make the man, they just reveal who is he is to himself.”
  • “Success is failure turned inside out.”
  • “If you see a straight line in nature, man made it.”
  • “Any time you decide what you want, there will be road blocks in your way.”
  • “All negativity is rooted in frustration of potential.”
  • “Be proud of giving joy to people’s lives.”

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!
Ella

10 Fingers: Christian Atunde Adjuah

by Ella Campbell

1. What was the first album you couldn’t stop listening to?
The Soundtrack to Purple Rain. I ended up playing “Purple Rain” with him too, so it ended up coming full circle. I was in his band for two years, but it was kind of a nightmare to –
EC: It was kind of a nightmare?
CAA: Well I mean just logistically. It’s a lot going on. A ton.

2. What music did you listen to in your childhood that stuck with you?
I listened to all types of stuff.
EC: Is there anything specific that you still thoroughly enjoy listening to?
CAA: When I was a little boy I would listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts.” That was how my grandfather got us to keep still. So that, I guess. I’m always really captivated by Sir Edward Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor, since I was a little boy. I also used to really love, when I was a little tiny baby, I used to love Rick James, so my mom said.

3. What music do you listen to that makes you want to get up and dance?
Makes me want to dance?
Pharell.
Drop It Like It’s Hot.
That will always be it.

4. What music do you listen to when you’re in a quiet mood? Maybe sleepytime music?
I can’t fall asleep to music. I’m always analyzing it. So when I need quiet, I don’t listen to music.

At this point we got off topic, talking about the food that we were eating, and he told me I wasn’t allowed to post the conversation about the food on the blog. After talking about the food:

5. What music do you listen to when you’re hanging out with people?
Bounce music. Bounce music is project music from New Orleans. The most popular person now is Big Freedia, but there’s DJ Jubilee or Katey Red too. If you’re not from New Orleans though you might not really know this stuff.

6. What song did you have stuck in your head today?
Grand Central. I was humming it this morning when I woke up. You know, Cannonball and Trane.

7. What is the most profound moment you had in a lesson?
A lot of times in conservatories and with younger musicians, they’re constantly being taught within a frame of an incredibly dogmatic and idealized idea of what jazz is supposed to be, and what that usually in turn does is strip away all of the things that actually make a musician unique. Which, by the time they become adults, as players they’re not captivating because you can’t tell what they’re perspective is since it’s been washed away. So I always make sure that no matter what it is, that I’m telling my students that they always continue to cultivate and define the things that make them unique as players.
EC: What about an ah-ha moment for you while you’re teaching?
CAA: When they tell me to slow down while I’m teaching. It’s a very important lesson. As a teacher you have to learn how your student learns. Everyone is different. Some people are auditory, some people are tactile, some people are digital, so you have to figure which combination of all those things works for your student, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Especially when you’re teaching something as abstract as jazz music. I have a tendency to move too fast because I know what I’m teaching already, and it’s normal, but I always feel bad because I don’t want them to miss anything.

Then we got off topic and started talking about the Slow Movement. Back to jazzy-things:

EC: Okay last question!
CAA: Wait what? Really?
EC: Yeah the idea is for these to be short interviews. Quick. Fun. Painless.
CAA: F*** the readers! They can read 20 pages! I just made a double record right? 23 songs. No one has a problem with it. It’s the number one jazz record in America and Europe right now.
EC: That’s probably the people that already know about you though and want to hear it all. Or, what if someone bought it and didn’t listen to the whole thing?
CAA: No! What I’m saying is that’s a lot of music right? What if I was like ‘Let me give ‘em just five songs,’ when now, a lot of the feedback I’m getting is that they like the entire thing. And I feel like the vast majority of the times I’ve done interviews over the past couple years are with people who, without intent, just want to find information for short attention spans.
EC: Well, I just said that is the point of this interview. It is for people with short attention spans.
CAA: I know, that’s your intention so that’s good. That’s different. But a lot of times people complain about attention spans being short, and being an older guy, -”

He got food on his face right then and we, of course lost track of the subject again while we bickered over who was going to go get napkins: talk about short attention spans! So here’s the bickering over who’s getting napkins:

CAA: Can you go get me a napkin or something I’m like… over here….
EC: Can I go get you a napkin?
CAA: Ah, you’re too good to get me a napkin.
EC: Yes.
CAA: You’re being mean.
EC: You’re being a diva.
CAA: Awww geez. Really?
EC: Just… go like this! *demonstrates using shirt sleeve as napkin*
CAA: Please.
We both start laughing.
Random Lady approaches table: Is this a first date?
CAA: NOPE.
Random Lady: Why didn’t they serve you with any napkins?
EC: We were standing at the bar when they brought the food.
CAA: I’m asking nicely!
EC: *Gets napkins*
CAA: See?
Random Lady: What are you interviewing for?
EC: I have a blog.
CAA: Can we print this? Can this be in the blog? For real. Print all of that. Okay. Anyway, five more.. wait five what? What’s the next question?

The, now three-person table, laughs.

EC: Just name any five musicians you’d want to see perform. Alive or dead. Anybody.
CAA: I’d like to see some figured bass things. Like Monteverdi or something like that.
Random Lady: She meant naked. Who would you want to see perform naked.
CAA: Well if that’s the case then Monteverdi is out.
Random Lady: I’m just trying to pep up this interview.
EC: *facepalm*
CAA: Come on. No this is good. You don’t think watching Brahms naked is funny? That’s great. I’m just saying. Shit. Yeah. Anyway. So Monteverdi I’d like to see, I’d also like to see WC Handy, I’d like to see Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie when Bob Dylan was still developing. Um, I’d like to see Clifford Brown and Booker Little play at the same time.

So, maybe I should add that question. Which performers to see naked…. Thanks for the idea, Random Lady.

Until next time,
Always make sure there are napkins at the table before you get comfortable.
– Ella

PS: “Random Lady approaches table: Is this a first date?” #jazzgirlproblems