Wednesday, February 19, 2014


“Music, of all the liberal arts, has the greatest influence over the passions, and it is that to which the  
 legislator ought to give the greatest encouragement.”   ~Napoleon Bonaparte

There is a great club in Oakland, California called Duende, "an innovative restaurant that brings the Bay Area a new way to experience food, drink, art and live music."  Downstairs is a feast for the eyes; the food, Spanish in nature, is a feast.  There is a second floor entirely devoted to up-and-coming music.

My social media efforts required me to talk with the club manager and I asked about the business name, Duende.  He said it was a suggestion from his son, but when I learned about the meaning of this word, I couldn't believe I hadn't heard it used before, in terms of musical expression.   Taking over the full second story, it was my pleasure to watch another of the college-break bands my son had joined.  That night in particular, one special guest attended, Dann Zinn.  After the performance, we took a picture with Dann and all the musicians he has supported and educated, something like 20, who happened to be there that night.  Zinn may not speak of Duende, but as he "works the steps" with the up-and-comers, especially in performance, he practices it.

Duende ~ loosely means 'having soul', a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity*

The Wikipedia article, "Duende (art)," does a great job of addressing this word in its myriad current and past usage.  I decided to reproduce the article with deletion-edits to suit my purposes: music and the brain.  The added commentary of Nick Cave (of Birthday Party fame) at the end, gives a modern perspective which finds duende largely missing from contemporary rock music, the component of 'true sadness' unfound.  Except, in Dylan, summoned in Waits... 

"El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical/emotional response to art. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship; vox populi, the human condition of joys and sorrows. Drawing on popular usage and Spanish folklore, Federico García Lorca first developed the aesthetics of Duende in a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires in 1933, 'Juego y Teoria del Duende' (Play and Theory of the Duende)."
"According to Christopher Maurer, editor of 'In Search of Duende,' at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca's vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical. The duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding them that 'ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head'; who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps them create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art." 
"The duende is seen, in Lorca's lecture, as an alternative to style, to mere virtuosity, to God-given grace and charm (what Spaniards call 'angel'), and to the classical, artistic norms dictated by the muse. Not that the artist simply surrenders to the duende; they have to battle it skillfully, 'on the rim of the well,' in 'hand-to-hand combat.'  To a higher degree than the muse or the angel, the duende seizes not only the performer but also the audience, creating conditions where art can be understood spontaneously with little, if any, conscious effort. It is, in Lorca's words, 'a sort of corkscrew that can get art into the sensibility of an audience...the very dearest thing that life can offer the intellectual.'  The critic, Brook Zern, has written of a performance of someone with duende, 'it dilates the mind's eye, so that the intensity becomes almost unendurable...  There is a quality of first-timeness, of reality so heightened and exaggerated that it becomes unreal...'
"Lorca writes: 'The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, "The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet."  Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.  He suggests, 'everything that has black sounds in it, has duende [i.e. emotional 'darkness'].'  This 'mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains' is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched the heart of Nietzsche, who searched in vain for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet, without knowing that the duende he was pursuing had leaped straight from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz or the beheaded, Dionysian scream of Silverio's siguiriya.  'The duende's arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.'
"All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present." 

In March 2005, Jan Zwicky (University of Victoria) used the notion of duende in the context of contemporary music at a symposium organised by Continuum Contemporary Music & the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum.
"[The second way music can be new is] when it possesses duende: 'black sounds,' as Lorca called them, the dark counterpoise to Apollo's light, music in which we hear death sing.... Duende lives in blue notes, in the break in a singer's voice, in the scrape of resined horsehair hitting sheep gut We are more accustomed to its presence in jazz and the blues, and it is typically a feature of music in performance, or music in which performance and composition are not separate acts. But it is also audible in the work of classically oriented composers who are interested in the physical dimensions of sound, or in sound as a physical property of the world. Even if it is structurally amorphous or naïvely traditional, music whose newness lies in its duende will arrest our attention because of its insistence on honouring the death required to make the song: we sense the gleam of the knife, we smell the blood.... In reflecting on the key images of Western music's two-part invention – the duende of the tortoise and the radiance of Apollonian emotional geometry – we are reminded that originality is truly radical, that it comes from the root, from the mythic origins of the art."
(Note: in Greek mythology, Hermes killed a tortoise to create the first lyre, which he traded to Apollo who was enamored by its music.).
Australian music artist Nick Cave discussed his interpretation of duende in his lecture pertaining to the nature of the love song (Vienna, 1999):
"In his brilliant lecture entitled 'The Theory and Function of Duende,' Federico García Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. 'All that has dark sound has duende,' he says, 'that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain.' In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely.  Bob Dylan has always had it.  Leonard Cohen deals specifically in it.  It pursues Van Morrison like a black dog and though he tries to he cannot escape it.  Tom Waits and Neil Young can summon it. It haunts Polly Harvey. My friends the Dirty Three have it by the bucket load. The band Spiritualized are excited by it. Tindersticks desperately want it, but all in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care.
"All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering."
* Duende is often connected with flamenco, the artistic & especially musical term was derived from the 'duende,' a fairy or goblin-like creature in Spanish mythology

"Duende (art)."  Wikipedia, December 29, 2013.  February 18, 2014 <>.

Duende Restaurant website:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jam of the Week

A new Facebook page called Jam of the Week just popped up and has gained such widespread popularity in the jazz community, that in order to handle the traffic, it has announced its plans to upgrade to a full website platform after just two weeks!  The idea comes from Portland resident and trumpet-player, Farnell Newton, who has been touring internationally with Bootsy Collins and Jill Scott.  Newton posts a tune each week and invites musicians to post a brief, improvised solo and chorus over chord changes.  Videos tend to be around one minute and unaccompanied.  Members are then invited to comment and in Facebook parlance, 'like' a performance.  Week 2, my high-school son, a string bassist, was 2nd on the list of likes at time of post (1st was a professional musician; I was excited about the unexpected attention given to a young student).  But, we realized with the heavy activity, the way Facebook categorizes posts by popularity, accounting for views, 'likes,' 'comments,' and recency, the rating system was changing the result on each connection.  It gives a whole new meaning to Warhol's "15 Minutes of Fame."  The idea of popularity-rating isn't in the spirit of Jam of the Week* anyway, though the most-viewed, well-liked videos will naturally be highlighted as supreme examples.  In its third week, Jam of the Week was already taking longer and longer to load and categorize: the huge amount of video memory required for downloading hundreds of submitted videos and the constantly changing associated data, flooded with 'likes' and 'comments' is stressing the system to its limits.  Facebook wasn't built for this type of data-sharing and will be but a stepping stone on the way to dot com sitedom.   
Even with the caveat of members needing to be invited by an existing member, the page has grown exponentially.  This means visitors to the page are musicians, vetted by the system.  And, it is attracting all kinds; in addition to students, well-known performers and working professionals are making appearances (our private teacher gamely asked to be invited).  Most of the videos are recorded close-up and personal.  Students must feel this is invaluable; not only can they share their work, but they can see the work of their peers and professionals, each week, like a huge, communal lesson.  Recording unaccompanied, there is no hiding intonation, technique or time issues.  People will be inspired and strive to produce that great cut, their personal best.  It is a unique tool and as with all things technological, it either fills a specific need, will morph as needed, or die off.  In this case, the latter seems unlikely, but time will tell. 
High-level adjudication can be hard to find in certain locales, especially out of school, but not on Jam of the Week.  While most comments are along the lines of, "super killin' man!" there are thoughtful and specific comments as well, informal micro-lessons, if you will.  In addition to precious feedback, finding like-minded practitioners across the world and sometimes surprisingly, in their own backyards is reason enough to follow.  An amazing bonus, members are already reporting finding gigs and paying work on this page. 
I am so fascinated by the jazz community.  Unlike pop, where guest-artist features are often done to drive album sales, and artists' mutual-admiration in public sometimes seems superficial (though this may be thanks to media presentation), the jazz community is fueled by true cooperation.  Jazz musicians seem to genuinely LOVE listening to other jazz musicians and sharing their finds.  They are truly in the business of inspiration-sharing and with the advent of social media, this vast, widespread community is drawn closer still, and I think that may be the key to Jam of the Week's immediate success.  Members become friends across the world, linked in time by recorded solo performances and the feelings they elicit.  Certainly, there has been a recent "Jazz Expansion" in my own home, and hometown area (with the January 2013 opening of the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, CA and the recent accreditation of the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA), but I'm wondering if it isn't a microcosm of what is happening in the world.    
The first week the selected tune was blues, the second week, "Just Friends."  This week's (2.8.14) Jam of the Week is,  "All the Things You Are" (also one of USC's required college-entrance audition tunes).  Check it out at:
*Jam of the Week's modus operandi:
Every Week a Blues, Favorite Lick, Progression, Song or Jam will be announced for everyone to record and post here. 
This Group IS NOT for promoting your gigs, or cool youtubes....etc. "You will be Kicked Out"
This Group is for the sole purpose of posting and commenting on weekly submission.  
This Group is not to see who has the greatest chops, who can play the highest, etc. It is a place to have fun, learn some new licks, network with fellow musicians and to promote the simple fact that we are all learning and striving to be better. 
With all that said.....Thank you all for joining and have FUN.