Posts tagged ‘Lisa Sokolov’

A Woman’s Worth…



(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
   How to buy the book:
   Available on and
Thank you for reading!





Giving Birth To Sound



This month I am pleased and proud to announce that I am featured in this amazing book, Giving Birth To Sound. Created by specialist Cologne jazz publisher Buddys Knife and a host of contributors working in the field of music – not just jazz, but uniquely personal interpretations of jazz, improvisation and creative sound. The line-up includes some major artists of the 20th century, some of which have influenced and inspired me greatly. What an honour – and I can’t wait to see what happens next! Here is some background from the website:

”Renate Da Rin and William Parker have invited 48 creative women sound artists to share their experiences in the process of creating music and living as an artist. These women come from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.”giving birth to sound” is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united.

Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life. Foreword by Amina Claudine Myers.

Among the great musicians we find Jay Clayton, Marilyn Crispell, Claudine François, Terry Jenoure, Joëlle Léandre, Marilyn Mazur, Nicole Mitchell, Maggie Nicols, Angelika Niescier, Lisa Sokolov, Ijeoma Chinue Thomas, Fay Victor, Jessica Williams … ”

Excited? Like a copy of the book? CLICK HERE  to order.




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Secrets of Improvisation

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“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (Bilbo Baggins, Lord of the Rings.)


I always tell my students that the whole point of improvisation is  just make it up and do what you like. Yes. Seriously, just make it up. Dive in and swim. Or fly. Within obvious parameters – sort of negotiated around a consensual structure, theme, duration, or genre, number of limbs, digits, or keys or strings. Or not. Life is improvisation, unscripted. Any semblance of order reveals itself to be a persuasive illusion, based on perception.  As Bilbo Baggins says, you never really know what will happen when you walk out of your door.  It’s an adventure! As in martial arts, learn the laws and guiding principles but bear in mind that in application, you may be flying by the seat of your pants.  Either unlocking feats and flights of fancy you never knew you had – or just as likely, reverting to your most simple and effective idea – that hopefully takes care of business. The following thoughts form a holistic guide for vocalists, pianists, and guitarists. As a natural polymath, I feel that self-expression is a universal language and these principles traverse many artistic disciplines and instruments. I have purposefully treated the subject with a light touch, to alleviate the fear that comes up, especially with music students:

”What??!!!!!! You want me to improvise? I’m no good at improvising!”  Er that’s because you don’t do it. etc.

I enjoy a list…but the concept of  linear sequence here is completely up for grabs. Knowledge is a sphere that can be explored from any angle, all roads leading to the centre. Beginners and advanced practitioners can experience the exact same material, each to their appropriate level, depth or ability.  Feel free to enjoy this list backwards, one a day, applied to one instrument, as applicable to performance, private rehearsal and study, students or anything else. Fold it up into a ball, or cut it into pieces.  In short, improvise.


1. Know your instrument.  Freedom comes with vocabulary. Know the long and short of what your instrument and you can do. Get in that woodshed and become one with the guitar, piano or voice. Love your scales. Every song you will ever play is just a combination of notes in relationship. Therefore you can’t afford to ignore your scales. Know where they are (fretboard, keyboard, vocal register) and then learn them. You want a working toolkit of scales, licks, chops, trills, ornaments, double stops, harmonics, riffs, stabs, blues variations, pentatonics, modes major + minor, cadences + intros, chords and arps + inversions, + substitutes, key progressions.

2. Know your parameters. What’s the brief, so to speak? How many bars? Theme? Any ‘avoid’ notes? Key signature, time signature? Trading licks with another player? Count. Listen. Watch. Stuck for inspiration on your vocal solo? Choose a colour and the weather and 3 or 4 words that rhyme. Or a name, or a question. Playing with others can be a conversation, a throw-down, a game of chase, copy or contrast.

3. Rhythm.  Tuned instruments can produce brilliant percussion solos. Dampened guitar strings, (Gabriela Quintero), voices that mimic wah pedals, pianos struck with all fingers at once. At times, free yourself from pitch and think like a drummer.

4.  Minimum effort = maximum result. In other words, take shortcuts and experiment. Get an instinctive feel for chord inversions. Familiarity with major/minor relationship and chord substitutions means that your fingers will always locate something suitable. Playing sweet (relative) major 7th arps over dark (relative) minor riffs can create interest and texture. Use chromaticism to evoke an instant jazz mood. Bored with a simple melody? Play it in unison octaves. Done on the guitar, with plenty of slide and vibrato, 4ths and 5ths, this brings a pleasing Wes Montgomery feeling of authenticity. Free yourself from bar chords. Use the 5th string open shapes to create jazzy altered 7ths, #5ths and #9ths. Move them chromatically.

5. Life is movement. Remain unstuck by not stopping. Flow. If you have to produce rubbish at first, remember that the good stuff lies on the other side. So get through it. All is motion.  No way forward but through. Coming out with clichés and formulae? Move forward anyway. Make it into a game. Make mistakes. Enjoy them. Style it out.

6. Art is supposed to be for pleasure.  Often, we over-think in the pursuit of perfection. Which is ironic. Most of life’s fun is in the errors. Have you turned your play into work? Turn it back into play, as that’s what the punters come to to see you do.

7. Renaissance thinking. Think synthetically, synaesthetically, metaphorically and symbolically.  The language of one discipline can illuminate the other. Visual artists train to ‘take a line for a walk’ across the page. Treat your melodies the same. Let your vocal or guitar line carve the space just as a dancer would. Be interested in the silences, the blank page. Give your composition some sturdy ‘architecture’. Let the tones and textures of your singing be ‘dark blue’, or ‘crumbly’, ‘angular’ or ‘golden.’

8. Watch other artists perform on a regular basis. Don’t just listen, you need the visual, physical information too. In these days of YouTube, there is no excuse for not studying this way.

9. Improvisation has a spiritual aspect.  What is life, if not a leap of faith against all odds? Open up your awareness and ask for guidance, in what ever form you understand it.  A sense of ritual about what you do imbues ‘performance’ with the sacredness that it deserves, and once had/has in traditional cultures. When you pick up your instrument or open your mouth, you are conversing with the spirits, are you not? Have some faith, some trust in larger forces than yourself that want something spontaneous to be expressed – through you. I like the concept that the song, or phrase already exists fully made – all we do as artists is ‘download’ it, via the ‘allowing’, not the effort.

10. Simplicity is profound.  Do one thing well and let the context be the variant. 20 years ago, I was involved in a vocal workshop with veteran Jazz improviser Lisa Sokolov. She did with us the generic and (sometimes derided) ‘name game’ – each go round the circle and sing your name. One word – infinite exploration. Some accomplished singers in the room were too cool for this and frankly said so. ”We have already done this.”  Lisa put them right. ”You have never done this, with these people.” If in doubt, strip everything back to basics – you’ll find a new perspective.


‘Improvisation’ (Book/CD) by Larry Coryell.  Hugely entertaining biography of one of the world’s greatest but less visibly known jazz fusion guitarists. Gripping, illuminating and hilarious anecdotes of life in the ’60s and ’70s hanging out with Keith Jarrett, Eric Clapton, Dizzie Gillespie,  Jimi Hendrix,  Paco de Lucia, and Miles Davis, to name just a very few.  Having read it, you’ll want to head over to YouTube or Amazon to check out – and improvise with – Larry’s duet album ‘Together’ with the (sadly deceased) jazz guitarist Emily Remler, (herself  worthy of an entirely separate blog feature .)

Anything by Joe Bennett in the ‘It’s Easy to Bluff…’ book series.


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