The Aural Tradition

Somewhere before the 10-minute mark of my first meeting with Norman Sylvester I came to realize I wasn’t there to jam: I was there to learn.
Norman Sylvester and me

There I sat, knee-to-knee with a great bluesman who was giving me a hands-on history lesson. He started with Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, and we worked our way up through Ray Charles, Clapton, Hendrix and then on to R&B and Funk. At every turn, he made me not just play it…but feel it. “Again…” he’d say, listening for the groove, the pocket, the subtle turn that stamped that lick as being the classic sound. When I left his studio, two hours later, he had laid out the thread that connects 150 years of music together as the soundtrack to the African-American – to the American – experience. I left his studio realizing I had a lifetime of practicing ahead to truly understand the music I’ve loved for so long.

A few weeks later, we stood on stage, making music for a room full of people who had come to dance. And that’s the whole point. Too often, it’s easy to fall back on honing technique and the solitude of practice. But music is there to move us – spiritually and physically. I’m thankful every time I get to be reminded of that fact.

Thanks, Mr. Sylvester, for everything. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some studying to do…

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