Columbia, SC – workshops with Auntie Karen Foundation

A choir of 80 voices sang “Mornin’,” “We’re in this Love Together,” and “Boogie Down,” and accompanied by a trio, piano bass & drums, that was quite solid. I couldn’t stop grinning… All Al Jarreau music. Tre, who had done an introduction of me, with all of the basics and specifics, stood there with Karen, just smiling and laughing, knowing and anticipating correctly how I would react. I was rocking back and forth, laughing out loud. I could almost hear them going, “See??” They were right. I’m beginning to hear my music come back at me more and more these days. I suppose, if I were Stevie or Aretha or Herbie, I might be more accustomed to it, but for me, it’s quite new and it’s still thrilling. We had a Q&A period. I had asked Chris Walker to please come join me on this morning with the kids because he is so smart and always has something interesting to say.  He speaks not only as an extraordinary singer, but also an extraordinary bass player, and as a producer too. There was a question or two that came from the student moderators, that needed at least a two or three part answer. One of those answers had to do with a love for the music and the craft that goes so deep that you can’t imagine your life without it.

 That’s when Chris talked about graduating from a high school of the arts and taking off for New York City, with forty dollars and a dream. Going to The New School.  In short, he arrived at the school one afternoon, with his bass under his arm, with the idea of just investigating, as a new perspective student. He passed by some practice room, with some guys jamming, who didn’t have a bass player. They saw him with his bass and asked him to play with them. The new school president happened by and heard Chris playing that afternoon and gave him a full 4 year scholarship. Forty dollars and a dream. Well, the truth is Chris walked in with a million dollars of ability and faith. Because he dreamed that dream, and prepared himself for fulfilling that dream, doing it over and over and over and over, dreaming and walking toward that dream, it came to be. It came true. It all begins with a dream. Seeing it in your head as you get ready. Basketball players exemplify this phenomenon. He stands at the foul lane, bent at the waist, bouncing the ball, 15-20 times, and talking to himself. He looks up, gets poised and ready, and you see his eyes watching the ball go through the hoop. THAT’S CREATING YOUR FUTURE IMMEDIATELY! Right now. Happens all throughout athletics. The high jumper, the long jumper, standing there, at the end of the lane, rocking back and forth. That’s how we built the Empire State Building, and set a man on the moon.  That describes the high tech aspect of what prayer is all about. It’s more than begging God for the result you want, it’s seeing the result, and then doing things that allow it to happen. Morning, noon, and night, and all in between time. I love talking to kids that way.

One of the student moderators asked me if I could teach someone to scat, and I said, “well, ok!” I was a little unsure about that exercise, but I had thought about it before. I said something like, “Ok, let’s start with something like this piece of music,” and I sang Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb, his fleece was white as snow. I did it without a lyric, and I think many recognized it at that point. But then I sang it with out a lyric, and then with a lyric, I used the basic melody and improvised a new melody with no lyric. Obviously, the practice of improvising gets to be a more complex venture than the above, when it’s Coltrane, or Dizzy Gillespie, or when Wayne Shorter is the improvised soloist that you’re listening to, BUT the basics still hold true. That is the improvising of a new melody based on the original, with as much complexity as you like. A young lady named Jazzy knocked everybody’s wigs off, when she came up and helped demonstrate that above activity. This time, I asked her to sing some small part of a favorite song that she liked. She sang a few lines from an R&B song that just thrilled the whole audience. They yelled and shouted and clapped their approval at hearing her. I then asked her to sing all of that again but to not use lyrics now. Just ooo shoo be doo type syllables, that she could invent on her own. She nailed it, it was a great demonstration! I think she came across an approach for herself that was quite quite “jazzy” in its overall nature.

Other questions gave me the opportunity to talk about how people doing arts develop sensitivities to our all important human emotions of joy, pain, happiness, sadness, etc. In so doing, we develop an individual who has keen, fine, and delicate sensitivities about other’s hurts and pains and joys and happiness, who then will make important choices and decisions that are good for the family and the community. I wish we had had more time for Q&A with this audience of 400 students. It went much too quickly, and I’m certain we missed a lot of important questions, but this was a great template for things in the future.

At around 6 o’clock that evening, I attended a reception for the Auntie Karen Foundation staff and friends. We met the Dean of the USC music department, who has been a friend to the Auntie Karen Foundation for a long time, and often offers his services and facilities to Auntie Karen… this is wonderful. It just adds so much to the community support. Our universities and colleges are very, very important pillars of the community and are opinion leaders that the whole community respects. What a great friendship! That really captures it.

I’m reprinting the information from the Auntie Karen website, with the added comment that part of the mission statement goals is to develop programs that are REPRODUCIBLE!… Anywhere in the country or world.

I recorded a song written by Siedah Garrett, called “Random Act of Love.” Check it out. The key phrase in the chorus is this, “There’s one thing that I know that’s a gift unto the giver, and that’s a random act of love,”: meaning that the person that gives the gift actually gets more in return than what he gave. Now look, that’s not the reason to be giving a gift! On the contrary, you give a gift because you see a need and your compassionate sensitive heart reaches out to that other person and offers help. And, in so doing,  you find a new kind of joy… by the way. Me and my guys got the biggest gift by going and helping Auntie Karen. From manager to sound techs and assistants, we got the greater gift. Auntie Karen and I are talking about other activities already. Thanks Karen Alexander, thanks everybody! Talk to you soon.



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