The Language of Music: Jonathan Freilich

Before the month is out, I should remember to say a few words about this on the website.

Offbeat put some words in on the subject of the interviews.  Really the first they have printed about my musical endeavors since the 90s.

Laura DeFazio wrote the article.  When she did the interview I had no idea what it was for, so I was pleasantly surprised to get a mention in the current climate.  It was also nice speaking to Elsa Hahn while she shot the portrait pictured here.

Elsa Hahn

Elsa Hahn

Of interest: The Yossarian society

Here is an interesting website.

There is a new society being birthed.  Concerned with a number of things I would think, but right now the site has a good deal of focus on the plague of folks that would distract you from anything of actual importance in New Orleans, by endlessly attempting to suggest that sound ordinances are somehow a mark of great civilization- more than the culture of music!?!?!  

What can be said...Katrina courted throngs of people that have no idea and have fallen prey to some rich maniacs and carpetbaggers who are attempting to gain vast long term control over the profit systems in New Orleans.  But, it's surely the old Louisiana political story:  a new pipeline to fly high volumes of cash into a few local old pockets under the guise of renewal and a few beads for the new masses caught in the excitement.

Anyway, this mysterious

Yossarian Society

sheds more light than this brief rant-ette.

For instance, the Society says this... 

"Yossarian is entry level anarchism.

We like anarchism if it is funny. When it is a challenge, like Emma Goldman, not so much. So let’s try to start with some funny.

Yossarian’s philosophy is a first step. What happens when the Governing Caste slips its anchor? Yossarian pokes it in the eye."


     ...Can't be bad...who, after all, didn't get the tragic truths of 'Catch-22'.  If Heller could only see this world!

Golden Omelets- development in the New Orleans Music scene

  Boosterism is back.  It actually showed up in a big way after Katrina.  It was quite understandable as as a proposition at that time.  The desperation of the situation allowed for people to dictate unchecked about the need to sell New Orleans to the world in order to get funding for development.  Everything about the situation was in need of serious help and whatever music could do was a great thing.  Many musicians from the city were involved in the effort and were on tours to help with such a promotion.  They were, of course, particular musicians that were moving that very targeted, romanticized, picture of what New Orleans is in the collective imagination.  This was historically the way New Orleans got into tourism in the first place- painting pictures and promoting the images- and, in fact, that huge city industry was, in fact, at risk.  Hotels, Mardi Gras, Voodoo shops, Bourbon Street…the whole picture needed to be saved because it does, after all, bring a ton of money to the city and provide a livelihood for a good deal of the population.  The city relies on it for survival. 

The comeback is well underway and music no doubt contributed. Most big American publications have shown it to be so with articles and features, and there is no doubt about visible development action everywhere in the city.  And that word, ‘development’, seems to be everywhere in articles and on peoples’ lips, with both negative and positive tinges.  A casual stroll through the Marigny and Bywater will show how much is going on.  Developers, and politicians in favor, are themselves quite visible through websites and meetings so most people have some inkling of who the involved players are.  Boards and commissions have a sneaky way of containing a lot of the same members around this city, so the major players’ names are showing up frequently.

There have been many results.  As New Orleans neighborhoods develop, outsiders – coming from a relatively depressed America – are moving in. These newcomers are drawn to an old city of myths on the Mississippi with a low cost of living and a government that’s willing to bend over backwards to support new, glitzy businesses.  New Orleans is, after all, a great place to live.  Especially if you like food, music, and being able to spend unmorally checked amounts of time in endless conversation with your neighbors (-a very civilized occupation, I might add!)  Most locals, like the populations of most modern port cities are beyond many narrow prejudices about insider and outsider—although that ugly specter (and some far uglier vestigial specters of the past) sometimes appears a little faster in such rapidly changing times.

  In with this, comes the more recent language of gentrification and, that is a significant term to be thinking about in relation to music since neighborhood property values tend to rise by riding on the lifestyles of artists, musicians, and craft people in general that have been seeking affordable living while they (do what the business world high and mighty’s think is their sole province) invest- in developing their artwork.  New Orleans can boast a huge history of top tier artists struggling but surviving. The city is still teeming with them.  There is always new stuff going on.  But there’s an old story afoot: property values rising and those poorer artists get priced out of their neighborhoods.  In the current art climate of the United States (and New Orleans is really not an exception) most of those folk stay pretty poor.  It’s not the case for all artists and musicians.  There is a lucky option for some- it is possible to put development on hold, don what duds are needed and go to where the wallets are walking to get at that money- if you are interested in or trained, to play in those styles.  If not it’s a little harder to get things going- for a number of reasons that we’ll come to shortly. But, if you are willing to engage in a bit of unbridled modern boosterism and provide some tourist friendly art in the entertainment zones things can go somewhat better for you these days than it was going for a while. 

 This, however, can pose some real paradoxes in art and music development.  Especially where it has become a little more sustainable to blow off  ‘developing’ any art and, rather get art to add to, and be in service to, the greater property development of neighborhoods and the image of the marketed-for-tourism New Orleans.  Since the city has clearly defined entertainment districts, it’s easy for the tourism industry’s propaganda to point visitors toward these districts when they seek that that prized item in the New Orleans cultural bag — music!  They might even be looking for that hallowed authentic kind- New Orleans Music.  The brochures and concierge services have told them where to find it and the clubs in those areas are permitted and setup to procure the entertainment image of the city.  

New Orleans is very geared toward the cultural tourist and all research shows that investing in cultural tourism is a lucrative proposition.  The National Assembly of State Art Agencies website says “Cultural tourism is an important way to celebrate, preserve and promote a state's unique heritage, increase opportunities for artists, promote public arts participation and boost economic development.” New Orleans and Louisiana have been invested for so long in selling cultural tourism that both the problems and the rewards of the industry are likely to become evident much sooner than in other cities.  All research indicates that the tourist seeking cultural authenticity has more money and is willing to shell out more for it.  That’s not such a bad thing in and of itself.  In a way it is a blessing,  people who are seeking the real aesthetic contributions of a region and are interested in strongly embedded local people and what they produce- just to soak it in, contemplate it, be somehow edified by the addition of variety to their lives and, furthermore, pay for it!  

The rewards can be rapid.  A place, or pockets of a place, initially impoverished and unclearly defined undergoes a self-conscious folk awakening and realizes that it has habits, heritage, and idiosyncracies that may be attractive to someone known as cultural tourist.  Sometimes a location or group of people is identified by an external, objective folklorist and sold on the idea of cultural tourism as a system of preserving a, now clearly identified, unique way of life.

The payoffs of cultural and heritage tourism can be very hefty.  So much so, that a large chunk of this city’s money is yearly budgeted to invest in it. A casual walk through many of the busier neighborhoods in New Orleans will reveal to any stroller how many businesses are trying to point their prow as deep into the radius of attention of that curious cultural tourist as possible.  Revenues from taxes, permits, tickets and all the rest of it contribute to that section of

Roscoe Mitchell Trio at the REDCAT, Los Angeles- 10/2/2011

   Roscoe Mitchell!!?!!-  I am still trying to put into words what level of mind shattering sonic experience this was.  It started with a bass recorder and a whole universe came from there.  It felt like it was about the sounds inside the sounds.

What could the sounds inside the sounds mean?  

   There is a poise of delivery that can really make individual sounds have the appearance of a longer life in time.  I say the appearance of, but in terms of perception and our minds it could really be a longer life.  The mind gets closely in tune so that the delivered sound appears to sit in the consciousness longer than the time that it is really there.  This effect (and I don't mean it like a cheap veneer)thoug, is not what I am referring to in Roscoe Mitchell's presentation last night.

  This went deeper.  It was as if he was describing a more naked place where that sort of poised delivery, the one that can really help us hear,  might be arising from.  Probably for many it might have been difficult to listen to.  The initial sound palette would come across to many as screechy but if we relax and go inside of that, many other musical relations begin to unfold.  These were clearly vibrations that could be generated just as the diatonic notes can generate from a fundamental tone.  

The following day at a brief seminar I got to hear Roscoe Mitchell talk about music and some about the above mentioned music of the previous evening.  He talked about his work early on, in the 1960s on getting away from the 12 note system.  It wasn't not a matter of plain rebellion.  He pointed out a certain point that he loves tonal music when he was answering a question from a student about whether there is value in music if you want to hear it that way.  

Roscoe Mitchell is still interested in music- all facets of it.  Since he has been involved in such a deep exploration of its possibilities for so many years he has so much striking wisdom to offer.

He mentioned many intriguing things that afternoon, here are a few...

A major component of music is silence and this offers a serious challenge; since silence is always perfect, it is a difficult proposition to come up with something that fits with that perfection.  (I'm probably going to be meditating on that viewpoint for the rest of my life.)

Roscoe talked about the need and the existence of both creative musicians, and re-creative musicians.  It left me in a more positive frame of mind because these days I am so frequently agitated by the seeming over emphasis of the recreative across all the arts these days.

Best of all he said that music functions best when it is out amongst people (that they are using its techniques) and he mentioned to try to make it exciting which is something that I think gets left out of presentations of work by a good deal of the artform's explorers these days.

Roscoe just turned 71.  He's still out here with extremely vibrant contributions, real mind openers.  The other two players in his trio also completely took me apart- James Fei, and William Winant.  

Check them out.


RC show details


Jay Mazza and The Vinyl District article on the leaving-town-epic-jam

This was a nice piece in that it feels really good because more than anything I have wished to be a contributor to this city that has my heart, New Orleans.  No doubt, it is a drop in a vast ocean but it feels good that my efforts have been recognized.  I hope to come back and be able to give more.  More on that later...

Meantime...The Vinyl District

Jewish- New Orleans Art?

What follows is a piece written for Lee Barclay and Chris Porche West's great collection of short pieces by New Orleans residents from all across the city and its complex social layers. It was written after the 2005 hurricane that wiped out so much but then there was the city wide pondering over What Can't be Lost. The roster of contributors is epic and being invited to participate was an honor. It's still available here... 

Though the book is a few months old now and the subject even older I'm still including it under "What's New?"...because it hasn't been seen outside the book yet.



Jewish-New Orleans Art?


Over the last 16 years, playing with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, I have had a close view of what a hybridized New Orleans- Jewish art form might be and, more interestingly, what forces in any locale might contribute to the alteration of certain sounds in music.  

The common definition of Klezmer music is usually given by the translation of the word coupled with the origins of the sound.  The word Klezmer is from two words, kley and zemer, meaning vessel of song.  Some go on to say that this describes the musician who is the vessel who channels the melodies that in a sense are already out there in a metaphysical space given by God.  From a cultural or ethno-musicological standpoint, Klezmer denotes Eastern European Jews playing the secular music of those regions but with an instrumental inflection from the liturgical-singing style of the Chazzans or synagogue cantorial soloists of those regions.  

It is interesting how people begin to identify with phenomena such as sounds and places and relate to those things as being their own.  Since this band started playing the bars of New Orleans in the early nineties, the energy of that world began to seep in.  People wanted to dance, and they wanted rhythmic, ecstatic music that lasted for hours into the night.  That was their idea of New Orleans music at that time. People who saw that element said that we were New Orleans players; that we played New Orleans Jewish Funk.  On the other hand, many said that we were

Reflections on Herbie Hancock's Imagine Project show- Flynn Theater, Friday June 3rd, 2011

It’s been over a week since the first concert I saw at the Discover Jazz festival (Burlington, VT) and, aside from being generally busy, there was so much new music and performance information that Hancock put out on that evening, that it seemed wiser to let the sensations percolate through thought and emotion for a while before sitting to reflect on the show in writing.

In fact, I only saw the second set but, on my way in to the theater I heard many on their way out exclaiming how amazing the show was, or seeming pleased that he had played so many old favorites. They were clearly leaving midway though, in droves.  

Something about this seemed strange since one of the reasons that folks attend his music is that he is a recognized musical “genius.”  That’s not really genius status by association or history, it comes from a track record of blowing peoples stodgy, musical perception, doors off the dirty hinges of their expectations.  His abilities to use music as a vast nuanced system of self expression, as well as it’s uses as a vehicle for voicing the  intentions or identities of cultural movements, seem beyond question at this point.  In fact, most who are looking for these “hits” can’t stop muttering on at the same time about...

Interested in Yoga?

I am mostly keeping the content of this website to music. There are a couple of other things that I "present" though: yoga instruction is one. I've been a certified Iyengar yoga instructor for about seven years and was teaching previos to that for four years. I used to own half of a studio in New Orleans. I haven't been teaching regular classes for some time- except to help out other teachers. One reason I slowed down the teaching was that I was finding it harder to pass along information on the subject. The popular image of yoga that is reinforced in the media is often at direct odds with other viewpoints, and the modern yoga consumer is generally shopping for the reinforced image. They tend to move classes until they get the version of the story that was sold to them (which makes you wonder why they want classes at all.)

Anyway, all of this is discussed extremely well in an article/book review by Wendy Doniger. there is plenty of information about her floating around the web if you are skeptical.

HERE is a link... to the article.

What does this have to do with the major part of this site- music? Well, the two are very closely related in practice...but that's for another time.

I slowed the teaching to put more energy into composition, which started being necessary when I was writing the opera, Bang The Law.