Musical Improvisation as a Spiritual Path


It took me 10 years and 5 colleges to finally get my Bachelors Degree. My struggle to fit into the system finally paid off with a degree in: Musical Improvisation as a Spiritual Path. As much as I’d like to think such a major existed in a major college, you guessed it; I made up my own major.

Any improvising musician knows that the experience of feeling the music come ‘through’ them can be a truly spiritual experience. And if the word spiritual is too charged….come on…you can at least agree it’s a freaking cool experience! It’s so magical because it’s really hard to say ‘I made that’! It’s like the music made itself and we are just the vehicle for it. Of course I’m not knocking all the years of wood shedding we’ve all put in. It’s almost like that practice room was our temple. Or labor camp. I guess it depends on our perspective, ha ha.

In any case that experience is addictive…in a good way. It leads to the feeling of true inspiration and a longing to get in ‘the groove’.

I’ve started asking our endorsers to share their musical inspiration. Greg Abate has already started sharing (see the blog below with an interview I did with him) and he will be sharing more. More of our endorsers will be sharing too.

Professional saxophone player Greg Abate playing a GAIA Tenor and DURGA Baritone True Large Chamber saxopone mouthpiece

If you have stories of musical inspiration, whether you consider them Spiritual or not, send them in to us – to my attention. I’d love to hear from you!

We will be dedicating more time and energy to this topic as it is what keeps me going in the design of our mouthpieces and other products. Imagine me running around our machine shop, meeting room, lunch room…. playing our new models for everyone, chanting, “Now that’s the sound….can’t you just FEEL it!” and you’ll get an idea of what inspires me!


One Response to “Musical Improvisation as a Spiritual Path”

  1. Terry Harrington Says:

    1. Why did you choose to become a musician?

    I began playing an old metal, clarinet when I was eleven and exhibited natural talent. I loved to play and was actually willing to practice in order to achieve musical objectives that my dad (who really wanted to share music with me) and a very special first private clarinet teacher set for me. As I gained technique, learning new scales and new keys, my dad piqued my interest by writing out wonderful songs from the great American songbook that we both loved to play. As I improved he began writing jazz choruses to go along with them while adding new tunes to my evolving library. This was way before the days of “Real Books” and illegal “bibles, etc.” He really motivated me and gave me an enormous head start, especially in a practical sense, because these are tunes that I still occasionally play today and have made a lot of money from in the process. We would play together (he played piano and guitar) and when I was ready (I had just turned fifteen) I played my very first gig with him and a few other musicians and made about $400 by today’s standards. That shows you what direction this music business is headed! During this time he also began explaining, per request, how to play over chord changes, and that was definitely the beginning of who I am today, because the magnificent art of jazz improvisation, America’s contribution and gift to the world, with all its psychological complexities and subtleties became my real passion in life. I began laying the ground work to become a solid, profound musician’s musician on whatever instruments I would eventually play, and also as knowledgeable and accountable as possible in order to really succeed in music. At thirteen I was already feeling confident and exhibiting discerning strengths in my development including jazz improvisation. When my dad played, he swung hard and his time was noticeably strong. Thank God, that attribute carried over into my playing! At that time, music was everywhere: lots of different types of gigs for every occasion, live bands (big and small) staff musicians in studios, radio and television, etc. My dream was to be the most well-rounded qualified musician to walk into any demanding professional job and do it with aplomb, and it is still what I strive for today! Thankfully, I guess I can now say “the rest is history!”

    2. What is your experience when you feel connected into the music?

    The stimulating and consummate musicians around me all seem to be in total agreement and on the same musical plane to the max and I have a powerful feeling of well being, doing exactly what God intended for me to do. My chops and mind are completely in sync because of current and past disciplines and I’m able to carry out anything the muse wants me to. I allow myself the freedom to completely feel and react to whatever is going on around me naturally and without fear. Yet, at the same time I am also able to exert total artistic control by directing the situation with my musical instincts and conviction while soloing and am completely supported by the other musicians in the best possible way. My intention and execution is clear, constantly giving insight and confidence to everyone involved so that the “whole, once again, becomes greater than the parts,” and the magic of profound jazz is allowed to prevail.

    3. What is your experience when you don’t feel connected into the music?
    As an L.A. studio musician with its unique challenges, there is rarely a time when I feel disconnected when I’m involved with the music at hand because I am a professional and have a job to do. But when situations depend on my own personal input, like playing jazz, there are times when I’m much more inspired than others depending on surrounding elements. I always say, “Everything is everything!”, meaning that the subtlest things can have the most dramatic impact in all of life, and especially in music, good or bad. Fortunately, I’m usually involved with exceptionally capable people on a very rarified plane, but even then it’s a matter of degree as to how much I am really drawn into the music. Some musicians, even at their best, just don’t do the things that you want to hear behind you, that inspire you to be as good as you can be, things that can’t be learned from a book. It’s all psychology, depth of understanding and controlled musical poise in what you decide to do and not do and some people seemingly barely have a clue! If you are listening and have the correct sensibilities, there are appropriate things to do in a particular situation, but the less competent often end up imposing themselves on you, keeping you from being yourself by over playing, playing in the wrong places with bad time, using less compelling voicings then the texture and attitude I want to portray, lacking proper intensity for the situation, playing erratically and not swinging, not realizing when less is more, etc. There have been times when I felt hung out high and dry because the rhythm section or even just one person involved was lacking in some of these qualities and couldn’t get as “deep” or tune into the magnitude of where I wanted to go emotionally, therefore my master plan for my solo was totally aborted. Musicians tend to vary significantly in these often illusive but insightful qualities no matter how good they are at their craft, and unfortunately, not much can be done about it when you are “in the moment.” Jazz is such a personal expression and, if you really want to “get it,” you just better have the right people with you! These discerning qualities are the added psychological support that only the most articulate and sensitive musicians can give to each other when striving for the ultimate performance!

    4. Where does your inspiration come from and what does it feel like?

    Playingwise, my inspiration comes from anything and everything. I am more or less always subconsciously in a “call and response mode,” ready to react to what ever promotes my overall intention at the time when soloing or otherwise. Expressive elements such as harmonic voicings, rhythmic motifs. dynamics, use of space, different intensities, pretty girls, etc, can all be inspirational in this regard. The feeling of vibrant group interaction becomes most rewarding when everybody is listening to and supporting each other and responding in their own dynamic way. Then, once again the “whole becomes greater than the parts.” One vital part of this is the trust that must be put in others to keep your contributions ever evolving and built upon while also inspiring them to do the same thing.

    5. What is your experience while improvising and does it relate to any spirituality you may practice in your life?
    I trust my God-given gift and past experience with all of its revelations and disciplines in conjunction with my present state of mind to hold me in good stead as to how I choose to react at any given moment. This is another way of saying that I trust in God to give me the right instincts and see me through what ever the circumstances might be in the best way possible. I don’t stress about things that are yet to come and can only be dealt with when that time arrives. Before I record or am about to “lay it on the line,” I always ask for God’s blessing to help me do my best for the quest at hand.

    6. Where does your inspiration while composing come from and what is your experience of that inspiration like?
    The best jazz playing is very compositional in nature, consisting of memorable melodic lines that are concise and clearly understood as soon as they are executed in the moment. The act of composing allows you to rework a melody or chords and make better choices than you might have made the first time around. When composing, I often have a specific sound, or a flavor, or a rhythmic feel in mind, but I find that composing melodies is more of a controlled discipline in seeing it through to the end rather than just sheer inspiration because there are a million logical possibilities that may work. But then there are those special moments when it just seems to be pure inspiration happening, you’re really in the zone, especially when words and melody start to flow and support each in a very dramatic way. Often just getting started with a little snippet of an idea is all it takes, and then you begin expanding and developing from there.
    Also, I find so often that “less is more” since it allows for additional possibilities of beautiful or funky things to happen around the melody. This lets air into the picture and it begins to breathe without taking up all of the space. Creating surprises or a great hook or tag can often happen naturally when you are deep in that special creative place.

    7. Fun stories of inspirational moments.
    I had a situation where two country tunes were needed very quickly and the end result were these two songs with titles that play on words:
    If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will and
    She Fell For Me, So I Let Her Lay.

    (Saxophone voice of Lisa Simpson)

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