Go Gumbo, Go Ya-Ka-May

America … is not really a melting pot. It is actually a huge potluck dinner, in which platters of roasted chicken beckon beside casseroles of pasta, mounds of tortillas, stew pots of gumbo, and skillets filled with pilafs of every imaginable color. ~Andrea Chesman

Ya-Ka-May (n): 1. A multi-ethnic noodle soup prepared primarily on street corners in New Orleans. A typical serving could include spaghetti noodles, shrimp, chicken, roast beef, and almost always a hard-boiled egg. 2. A great new album by the funktastic New Orleans band, Galactic.

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Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

Michelle and I were in a little bar somewhere in the French quarter of New Orleans, halfway through a 2-year road trip (yes, you heard that right), and the tight Reggae band we’d been listening to took a break and never came back. We stood outside in the drizzle, not ready to go back to the VW camper, but we had no idea where to go and had no money for a cab. In the distance, we heard music. It sounded like a brass band, and they sounded smoking hot. We were afraid it was only a recording, but had to find out for sure, so we followed our ears to a little corner bar that was thumping! That was our first introduction to the Rebirth Brass Band, and it was SO hot, I’m getting all excited now just thinking about it, and that was nearly ten years ago. Check them out. They’ve got lots of YouTube vids, too.

There is something special about New Orleans, and the following short video captures a part of why this is so. Port cities have always been dynamic confluences of cultures and New Orleans is just such a port city. When cultures meet, it can create an interesting mix of musical styles. New Orleans tends to have an egalitarian approach to musical sound that has no concern with the labels that the music industry needs to classify things so they can be sold. This is not to say that all is and has been happy-happy-joy-joy in New Orleans. There are and have been musical divisions, such as the Uptown and Downtown rivalries in the early 1900’s (read Brothers’s Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans for a great background), but even during that time, styles mixed together. Music tends to be a gumbo: a mix of any meat you can find, roux, vegetables, and some fine at the end just before it’s served. Mmmmmm. The vid below explains this aspect of New Orleans. It’s a vid for another fantastic and funky N.O. band, Galactic. Check ’em out!

So my advice is to be an curious musical gourmand: keep you ears and heart open to any and all music and try to get inside the sound to understand the similarities and differences that you hear. If you keep yourself open to playing with anyone and everyone, no matter what genre they play, you’ll be surprised to find how well things can work together if approached in the right spirit. Open mic nights are a great place to try this out. When I approach musicians at open mics about playing trumpet with them, most are skeptical (especially if they’re good musicians), but it always works out well in the end. Of course I’m trying to be musically sensitive and play something that “fits” with their own music, but that’s the challenge and the fun. Country trumpet! I highly encourage you to go find an open mic and throw your instrument into the mix. Gumbo tastes great!

Have fun and good luck with your practice.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

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