Two photos, they contain some very obvious similarities and some stark differences. Now some music:

Black Sheep

We’ve seen an earlier performance of this song on Grown Folks here.

Chaka Khan

You could almost consider this post part-two of a post I did last week.

Whether it occurs in cyberspace or face to face I find myself having a similar conversation re: What’s happening or what has happened to music? There are numerous events, practices and personalities that have contributed to where music is at this point and time (far too numerous for this particular post) but I would like to offer something that I feel has contributed greatly to the way music is performed, produced and consumed in these last few weeks of the the first decade of the new century.

I posted the photos and songs to offer up what I consider one of the underlying factors concerning music: choice. In the picture concerning “Choices” and in Black Sheep’s song “The Choice Is Yours” (which btw, is one of my all time favorite tunes) we are presented with an either or proposition. That’s what marketers, cable news shows, radio program directors and the millions more of a similar ilk like. These folks like to place people and music into neat little categories so that they can make all sorts of assumptions about what to sell you because you fit into a certain demographic. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for anyone but no one is all one thing or the other. No one is all conservative, no one is all liberal as much as some people would love to make you think and as much as we often try to convince ourselves that we reside in one camp or the other, we don’t.The same should hold true (at least it used to) for music.

The reason I presented the loop photo and the Chaka rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie/Ray Brown (can anyone make the direct connection between last week’s post and this week’s) classic tune is because both represent a choice that says and as opposed to or. You really can choose more than one thing at a time.

The loop represents and for me because from the beginning of music to now should always be connected: a circle. You can choose to start to the right or left but if you travel far enough around the circle you will eventually return to where you began. It’s all about the journey and how the journey connects us all.

One of the most striking lines in the Chaka song that resonated with me is: “The past you can’t ignore…” I believe this is where we have really missed the boat. Of course every generation has its own heroes and its own way of doing things. At times that can be called progress, but the problem resides in the fact that you often have persons leading the charge who know absolutely nothing about what came before them. This type of blissful ignorance can manifest itself into an over inflated sense of one’s own importance. The great equalizer comes when you believe that you have created something groundbreaking only to discover “So and So was doing that back in the 50’s”. Now you could walk away from the experience defeated or if you are really into the music for the love you could go check out “So and So”.

Music should always be and as opposed to or. The reason that we are having these similar conversations is because music and more importantly the knowledge and appreciation of music has come to reside in the or category. Persons can tell you everything about the narrow genre specific music that they like and nothing about anything else? Why?

Unfortunately, this is representative of how we function as a society on the whole and not just with music. Everything is disposable and a historical context is not valued so that we might draw parallels between then and now. I believe that a commitment to and as opposed to or would enrich not only the musical conversation but also the music that is produced.

Here’s a silly comparison to get us started:

It’s not Country or Western…it’s Country and Western.

But really, where I would like to take the conversation is a place where we can do these types of comparisons.

It’s not Blues or Heavy Metal…it’s Blues and Heavy Metal. It’s not Classical or Hip-Hop…it’s Classical and Hip-Hop.

Then from genres you can do the same with musicians:

It’s not Bach or Ellington…it’s Bach and Ellington.

The goal here is to take two things musically that at first glance you would think have no relation and find the common ground. It’s there if you look for it. The choice really is your. The choice does not belong to Madison Avenue. The choice does not belong to Cupertino, California. The choice belongs to you.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.