Debbie Burke

Jazz Author

Welcome to A Jazzy Blog!

The latest on my upcoming novel GLISSANDO – A story of love, lust & jazz

Book cover final25


4.18.17 ~ Participated in ESU Entrepreneurship Panel, talked about being an author of a “spicy book” & book publishing

4.13.17 ~ Presentation on book publishing and “Glissando” to East Stroudsburg University students

4.4.17 ~ Radio interview on Stony Brook’s WUSB!

4.2.17 ~ Downloaded floor plan for BEA (Book Expo America). Time to plan 3 days of strategic floor-walking!

3.31.17 ~Pre-pub review by Cheryl Melnick/Bangor Teachers’ Book Club: “Smoothly written, intriguing saga.”

3.28.17 ~New headshots coming soon from William Cohea Photography

3.23.17 ~Bookmarks have arrived for BEA! Very satisfied with how they turned out.

3.17.17 ~ Ordered custom-print bookmarks for BEA (Book Expo America); chose butter-yellow background surrounding Glissando book cover

3.14.17 ~ A month and a day away from presenting at the Author’s Expo at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, PA, held on April 15

3.12.17 ~ Getting organized for Book Expo America/NYC May 31 – June 2

3.10.17 ~ The cover is revealed! Publication date set for July 2018.

All about everything jazz!

Bitten by the jazz bug? I was too, at the age of 15, when I heard John Coltrane’s “Once in a While” on New York City’s old WQXR Radio.

Now all I seem to want to do is write about jazz!

Great Q&A, jazzy insights, musical musings and what it’s like to be a published jazz author, all here. Please click FOLLOW at the bottom of the page to get the latest updates!

Also: check out my blog posts on the famed Jamey Aebersold’s music education website, It’s amazing to be able to write for Mr. Aebersold and his top-notch staff.

 Now listed on MusicClout–   the web’s premier music industry marketing resource!xqiigBdp_400x400

Feel free to comment here and I hope this brings you a really jazz day!

(Header photo “Portrait of Baby Dodds” by jazz documentarian William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)
All contents (c) Debbie Burke 2017
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A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 8: The Pre-Publication Review


So…this is a topic that can cause a plethora of new grey hairs, but it’s a process that needn’t be painful: asking (begging?) for pre-publication reviews.

Here are some tips.

1. Where to find reviewers – They can be book club members or other voracious readers. Try to find some in different states. If all your reviews say “Queens, NY” and you live in Flushing, it will look like you only asked your friends. Be creative: for my novel on jazz, I researched jazz DJs and radio hosts, jazz artists, and others in the industry, all women (since my book is contemporary women’s fiction).

2. Ask other authors what they did – then follow their model. You can, in fact, reach out to reviewers whom your colleagues used (assuming your colleagues will part with that info), but only for other referrals. Under no circumstances should you tap the same well!

3. How to send it? Never electronically! That’s rife with terrible potential hazards. Yes, you have to go to Staples and print it out. Include a nice, big SASE for them to return it. Attach a brief, friendly cover letter reiterating what you are asking for. Make it clear you are NOT asking for the story to be proofed or edited. You are only seeking a response, a reaction to the story you’ve presented, in one to two sentences.

4. Send it, then forget it! You might have given a “deadline” but realize it’s a soft deadline. The recipient of your manuscript is doing you a huge favor. Regardless of the page count, they are putting aside time that could be used for their work, their family, their hobbies…your MS is an intrusion, so don’t pressure them.

5, Savor your tiny returns! There might not be many (any?) highly quotable testimonials, but any nugget of positivity can stand alone. Extract exactly what you need. Keep remembering it’s quality, not quantity. And if your quantity is only one or two, make the best of it.

6. Thank those who participated – a prompt email of appreciation followed by a signed copy will do just fine.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Harlem on Foot: A Jazz Connection with John Reddick

John Reddick Harlem Walking Tours

John Reddick, who conducts walking tours of Harlem with a focus on architecture, music and history, is actively engaged in Harlem’s culture, art and preservation. He’s authored numerous articles and has spoken at the Apollo Theater, The Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of the City of New York. Reddick recently served as a curator and discussion leader for the Harlem Focus series at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Center.

Located in the uptown reaches of New York City, the Cooper-Hewitt has opened its Jazz Age exhibit (through August 20, 2017), which demonstrates the influence of the jazz aesthetic upon the arts, culture and industrial design of the 1920’s.

Talk about your interest in the Jewish/Black connection, especially relating to the arts.

I went to a lecture about seven years ago on the Lower East Side titled “When Harlem was Jewish.” Jeffrey Gurock, the author of the book by the same name, spoke on how the Jewish tenement dwellers were being displaced by the building of the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and the expanded roadway access they required. During the same period African American tenement dwellers were being displaced by the building of Pennsylvania Station and its associated railway yards. Both groups followed their more well-to-do counterparts who’d already established homes and religious institutions in districts of Harlem.

The curious point that links the young people of both the tenement class with their well-to-do peers was their shared love for the new music of the day, ragtime. That audience and its influence changed the direction of Harlem’s theater and musical entertainment. George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Sophie Tucker would be drawn to the talents of Bert Williams, James Reese Europe, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith. That this was all happening in Harlem at the turn of the century and prior to the Harlem Renaissance was a revelation to me. It also served to explain why the Harlem Renaissance happened when and where it did, in that this earlier period with its artistic interactions served as the underpinning of the Jazz Age.

Your favorite jazz artists?

I would have to say Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong for the breath of their genius and influence on other talents that I admire like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and many others. Also, Ella and Louis had very rough beginnings, yet their spirit and artistry were very uplifting. I think that discovering their gift in music had very much lifted them, and they saw that it could lift us as well. When I discovered them, they were mature performers, so initially I didn’t appreciate what innovative artists they’d been. For example, Ella’s first love was dance, so as a singer in the swing era she was more naturally attuned to what would also get the feet to move! Even in some videos, watch her when she starts to improvise and dance, it’s pure joy!

Your favorite sub-genre in jazz and why?

I would pick that poetic, political and musically savvy jazz subset that includes the likes of Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown, Jr., Gil Scott-Heron and others. They sang what I would consider musical folk tales, the wise village griot signifying to us, pay attention, beware. I’m thinking of Nina singing “Three Women,” “Mississippi God Damn” or “To Be Young Gifted and Black.” Or say, Abbey’s song, “Throw it Away,” Oscar’s tune, “The Snake,” or Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.”

What inspired you to start a walking tour of Harlem?

I always admired Harlem’s architectural beauty, its wide boulevards, its natural landscape with its variation from the heights to the plains. Just recalling those photographs of Marcus Garvey, in his feathered Lord Nelson’s hat parading down streets that look like Paris boulevards in the background, not Catfish Row! Those photographs were the “Ralph Lauren” ads of their day for African Americans. Many of those boulevards look very much as they did when the “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment, with James Reese Europe leading its marching band, paraded them during the armistice celebration that followed World War I. As an African American, I find recollecting such historic moments in the context of today very exhilarating and I hope in some way I can pass that knowledge and excitement onto others.

What is the most often-asked question you hear from tour participants?

At least one person in every tour group I have still presents me with that question posed by Laurence Oliver’s character in the film Marathon Man, “Is it safe?”

It’s so ridiculous, I’ve lived in Harlem since 1980 and have never heard of a tourist being physically abused or injured. After all, we welcome visitors into what is for African Americans our most sacred space, our churches, yet that hospitality isn’t translated into our community as a whole. Residents already know that the visitor has crossed some perceived or imagined culture barrier to be in Harlem in the first place, we realize that you either have a lover here or are in love with our culture.

Biggest myth about that era of jazz, or jazz as an art form?

I think in jazz, as in any endeavor where African Americans excel, the exalted standard bearers of the culture tend to assign it to “their natural gift,” almost as if it’s instinctual, never an engaged intellect, hard work or a drive to innovate and experiment beyond what are the standard norms. I think any endeavor where an individual pushes the standards to that degree, whether that be jazz, basketball or quilt-making, he’s moved it into the realm of an art form.

How did you become involved with the Cooper Hewitt?

I’ve worked with the Cooper-Hewitt in other ways. My professional background is in architecture and I curated a speakers’ series for them titled “Harlem Focus,” where I moderated interviews with artists and professionals who were either based in Harlem or who’d executed projects there. This included a photographer, landscape architect, graphic designer, fabric printer and others.

Talk a little bit about the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt (now through August 20, 2017). And, how is the feel of jazz reflected in the art and design of the era?

It’s fascinating to appreciate how the evolving technology of the period fueled the global influence of jazz, so much so that it became the transforming spirit that defined the age. Films, recordings and broadcasts served to inspire and link jazz to every other artistic endeavor of the era. The exhibition does a wonderful job in conveying how African-inspired patterns and syncopated rhythms were set off by singular bursts of colors and shapes, not unlike how a solo improvisation by Louis Armstrong might be set against the underlying rhythms of a jazz band. Such motifs are reflected in everything, from a Chinese-inspired woman’s evening coat to the intricacies of French furniture and jewelry design.

How did you actually create this very specialized niche (tours of Harlem that have a jazz connection)?

My natural curiosity directs me. I always feel that if I’m curious enough about something to explore it, then others too will be interested in what I discovered and how I got there. My first love is architecture and the physical environment, which in reality is the physical reflection of history. So, I often see connections between buildings and the underlining Harlem culture that others might not pick up on.  

Future plans?

I collect and sell African American memorabilia, photographs, posters and sheet music that focus on Harlem, and the artists and players with histories there. The broad range of notables that lived and worked in Harlem is pretty astounding.  Think of it, James Reese Europe and George Gershwin, Moms Mabley and Milton Berle, James Baldwin and Arthur Miller, Harlem residents all! My hope is to eventually have a shop, though currently people can acquire items from my collection for sale at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s gift shop.

And of course, paramount in my future, is to continue to live, work and enjoy my life here in HARLEM!

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Sassy Strumming, Razor-Sharp Fingerwork At The Heart of “Jazz Gitan”

Jazz Gitan Don Price.JPG

With its characteristic jaunty, Parisian feel, the spirit of gypsy jazz as made popular by Django Reinhardt lives on thanks to contemporary artists around the globe. In California, there’s one student of the art form who has made this his passion. Student has become teacher and a fully-credentialed gypsy jazz ambassador. Don Price’s band is called “Jazz Gitan” – French for “jazz gypsy.”

Why are you drawn to this genre?

The rhythmic style of Gypsy Jazz is called “le pompe” and means to push or to pump. That’s the significant difference in style as compared with traditional jazz. In fact, the rhythm guitarist is the center of the beat, not the soloist. It is his/her job to maintain an even and forceful tempo at all times without taking too many liberties. The melodies of Django were beautiful (“Nuages” comes to mind). The challenge of improvisation in jazz – especially gypsy jazz – makes it fun. Just to give you an idea, to convincingly play the Django tune “Babik” (which was written for his son) at the Samois gypsy jam sessions (the home of the yearly Django Festival and Django’s burial place), you have to get the tempo up to at least 300 bpm. Now that’s le pompe!

Contemporary artists who inspire you?

There are so many good, up and coming players today, mostly in Europe: Paulus Schafer, Olli Soikkeli, Andreas Oberg, Stephane Wrembel (who did the Woody Allen film “’Midnight In Paris”), Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre and Robin Nolan. That’s just a start. Then there are a few American players like John Jorgenson, Frank Vignola, Alfonso Ponticelli, Gonzalo Bergara. But the crown goes to French guitarist Bireli Lagrene, who has performed worldwide in just about every style of music, but continues to return to his gypsy jazz roots in Django.

Give a brief background of your mother’s musical career.

There was always music going on in the household.

My mother performed both on and off stage, playing multiple instruments like piano, accordion and guitar. She performed for the USO during WWII and was able to meet Les Paul, Hank Garland, Bob Wills and many of the jazz and Nashville artists of the day. She introduced me to Les Paul at a concert when I was only six.  

She recorded with others, but also wrote her own songs, one of which I did on the “Djangit” album, called “It Only Hurts For A Little While” that I rearranged to fit the gypsy jazz style. She taught me tenor guitar and I almost didn’t learn the six-string guitar because I had become so used to the four-string. We would sing and play along with recordings of Elvis or whoever and record ourselves on reel-to-reel. I plan to record more of her tunes on upcoming CD’s.

Have you played the Django Fest?

The last time I played at Django Fest was 2011 with my early trio. The festival has become so huge now – both in San Francisco and in Washington – that bands are fighting to get in. I’m not certain when I will be offered the opportunity again. With my new band we usually go on the road during the summer months and play the theater or similar venues besides playing regularly on a local basis.

This summer (2017) we will be doing the San Francisco Folk Festival which is a free festival with all kinds of music. As far as I know we are the only official gypsy jazz group who will be performing there.

Why don’t we hear more of this sub-genre on Internet radio or TV music stations?

Actually, one can hear this music on Internet radio mostly where there is an actual Django channel, or on YouTube. It’s widely played in Europe on radio channels.

Do you have a singer in the band?

I never used to have singers in my band. However, lately I’ve noticed the audience seems to enjoy vocals. The only two tunes with vocals are “Dinah” (on the “Jazz Gitan: Trio” CD featuring bassist Zack Sapunor) and the “JGQ: Live” CD where fellow guitarist Devan Kortan sings “The Sheik Of Araby.”  I recently wrote a tune called “Django Never Played No Gig In Hangtown” which has lyrics specifically geared to a share-along approach. We haven’t yet rehearsed it, so we’ll see what happens. I plan to do another of my mother’s originals that has lyrics.

Do you still teach at USC (University of Southern California)?

I’ve been on the Recommended Teacher’s listing since 1986. I was also teaching at Sacramento City College and a number of music stores, all before 2013. I still offer private lessons, and I’ll also offer online lessons in relation to my instruction books.

Is there commercial interest in the genre?

I think it’s been growing. When I first got hooked on it back in 1996 there weren’t too many people playing this style on the West Coast except for The Hot Club of San Francisco and Pearl Django. The majority of this music came from Europe. Unless a big star like Bireli Lagrene came to town, no one knew much about it.

It’s kind of like the bluegrass and blues phenomena which would attract a certain segment of pop culture but not across the board.

Now with gypsy jazz we have an influx of European players to draw on for inspiration, and you can find Django camps popping up around the country as well the yearly Django Festival in New York.

Current projects?

I’m writing instructional books for gypsy jazz and I’m planning another CD, this time featuring all original compositions. Not certain of the line-up of players yet.

Future plans?

Stay healthy, inspired, and keep swinging!

Photo: Julie Dinsdale (Hinterland Studios)

© Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 7: “We’re Live in 3, 2, 1…” – Tips for Doing Great Radio Interviews


God bless the power of Twitter. Really.

I thought I was too old and too un-hip to use it. But once I started, I began to see its incredible usefulness.

I met a pretty cool guy on it. He’s the host of a jazz radio show at Stony Brook University in New York.

George Rudolph, radio host extraordinaire, found me through Twitter (@jazzauthor). He introduced me to an endless list of jazz artists who have appeared/will appear on this blog, and then he invited me on his show.

WUSB Radio interview “All Things Jazz”-George Rudolph with Debbie Burke

While there is obviously great overlap in how to do a radio vs. TV vs. newspaper interview, the following tips are specific to the world of radio.

  1. Send your interviewer bullet points at least a week ahead of your interview. Be succinct!
  2. A good host who knows his/her craft will have an outline for YOU, but with your bullet points in hand, he can create an outline that aligns with your subject matter. Unless it’s investigative journalism, interviewers are not out to trip you. They want a smooth interview too!
  3. Practice your talking points with your friends, your spouse, your dog. Just as you sound conversational with them, so should your interview go.
  4. Know that it won’t go exactly as planned and that’s okay. Your interviewer can become inspired and take another track. While you can’t predict what curves he might throw, you can make your way back by being calm and tying it to more familiar territory. And sometimes, you just have to go with it.
  5. Mention your website or blog address, your book or CD title, and who published or produced it.
  6. Don’t forget to thank the host for interviewing you, both at the start of the interview and when you wrap things up.
  7. A little thank you is definitely called for. Without this, you are – to be blunt – only a self-promoting user and may not be invited back or referred to other media outlets. Send a hand-written note or card (not an email) thanking them. If you feel like doing more, send a plate of cookies or a box of chocolates to the studio. Hungry people work there! This keeps the door open for future opportunities.
  8. Post to social media and cross-promote copiously, with generous links to their media outlet. The host should be able to get you an mp3 file.
  9. Return the favor. Refer other interesting people to your interviewer, who, just like you, is always looking for new material.
  10. Lastly, have fun. Your smile comes through your voice. Enjoy the experience so listeners will too.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Ragan Whiteside’s Blazing, White-Hot Flute

Ragan Whiteside

Being named Flutist of the Year by Black Women in Jazz and the Fine Arts, well, that’s only the tip of the jazzy iceberg for multi-talented Regan Whiteside.  With a handful of jazz/funk/soul albums to her credit (including Class Axe and Quantum Drive)  – and she’s just getting started! –  her style is way beyond catchy. Hard to believe what a flute can do: Regan makes it sing, scream, wail and tell it like it is.  

You’ve been classically trained – which composers do you like?

I’ve always had a thing for composers whose music pulls at your heart strings, like Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Ravel.  At the same time, I loved playing high-octane pieces like The Planets by Gustav Holst. There is no better place to be than sitting dead center in the middle of the orchestra while performing Mars. Talk about HD surround sound!

When/why the change to jazz? Who were your first jazz influences?

I’ve always wanted to be a jazz musician, but everyone told me that I should get a strong classical foundation first. Initially, I was resistant, but then I grew to love it and changed my whole focus over to performing classical music.

All the while, I was still listening to Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, and Oscar Peterson, as well as a ton of R&B and funk like Stevie Wonder, Rick James and Earth Wind & Fire. By the time I got to my senior year in college (as a classical performance major at a conservatory), I realized that my heart wasn’t in classical music anymore. After graduation, I went to a jazz club where Bob Baldwin and Marion Meadows were performing and I knew at that moment where I wanted to go with my music.

“Valentin Dream” by Ragan Whiteside

Were you inspired by any of the rock bands who were into the flute, like Jethro Tull and others?

Yes – I was introduced to Jethro Tull in college and I was excited and inspired to see the things Ian Anderson could do with the flute. I was also inspired by a lot of Latin jazz bands (which I was often exposed to, growing up in New York). Dave Valentin was simply amazing.

What other instruments do you play?

Piano, but mostly for writing. I can play most woodwind and brass instruments, although not well enough to gig with them (smile).

How early were you trained vocally?

I’ve had voice training off and on since I was 14.

Did you have your family’s support when you decided to make music your career?

Absolutely. They have been my biggest cheerleaders and support system. They have gone above and beyond!

Do you come from a musical family?

Music always had a big presence in my house growing up, but my parents were not professional musicians. My dad did a little singing, my mom played a little trombone. However my uncle, Kenny Whiteside, was a professional musician and had a huge influence on me and my decision to go into music.

What instrument would you want to learn?

Electric bass and drums are very high on my bucket list.

How long to perfect your embouchure?

It’s always a work in progress!

When did you form your band (flute, keys, drums and bass) and why?

I was in my early 20s when I first started performing my own music with a band. I’ve been fortunate to have played with some of the most talented musicians of our time. I love collaborating and vibing off of other musicians on stage. There’s no feeling like it.

Which composers have inspired you?

Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Bob Baldwin, to name a few.

There’s a new album coming out in May. What would you say about the selection of songs?

The name of the album will be released shortly.

That said, this album is probably my favorite one so far. All of the tunes were written and performed with a “feel good” vibe. I also have some amazing guest artists: Kim Waters, Tom Browne, Bob Baldwin, and Frank McComb, to name a few.

Talk about the experience crowdfunding Quantum Drive?

Crowdfunding that album was very nerve-racking. There was so much riding on its success and there were a lot of moving parts to stay on top of. At the end of the day, it felt really good to see the outpouring of support from family, friends, and fans. I am still very grateful.

Grammy hopes and dreams?

Sure, I would LOVE to win a Grammy – but winning or not winning will never define me as a musician.

Your inspiration for song lyrics comes from what sources?

The lyrics are always inspired by life, whether it’s my life or someone else’s.

Where do you go in your head when you play?

I go to the same place as when I meditate. I find that I’m more creative when I don’t think too much and just let go.

What are the unique qualities of the flute and why is jazz a natural fit?

I love that the flute can be both incredibly melodic and percussive. That range gives you a lot of creative options which definitely lends itself to jazz.

Are you involved in any community education, like helping intro jazz to young adults?

I have visited a bunch of schools from elementary through high school and I hope to do more of that in the future. Music education always seems to the first thing to get cut from the budget so it is up to today’s musicians to help keep it going.

Please add comments, thoughts, etc.

I just want to thank everyone who has supported my music over the years. It really means the world to me!

(c) 2017 Debbie Burke

Stirrin’ Up Some Heat on the Bass

CHristian McBride2

Christian McBride is a bassist, composer, arranger and jazz commentator/host. He tours and travels the world with the energy of a man constantly pumped up on the spirit of the music.

It is from listening to him play that you feel his joy for the art form. His tight musical sense of connection with other artists is strikingly apparent in the very rich and easy-going “Conversations with Christian,” his interview show now on Sirius XM’s “Real Jazz.”

What has been the biggest change in the music industry from when you began?

The instruments and sound world have become a lot smaller since early 1980s. In an instant, you can pull out your smartphone and immediately find out what somebody’s doing halfway around the world. You can put music out there and anyone can access it.

What has been the biggest change in the music itself over the years, as in, how jazz sounds?

Probably the last development that has unanimously shaken the boat in the jazz community was fusion in 70s.

Instrument you would love to learn?

Often I have dreams that I’m McCoy Tyner, so maybe the piano.

Top musical influences?

James Brown, Ray Brown, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra.

Top personal influences?

My mother Renee, who has been a huge influence. She has so much integrity, she’s so smart and has a lot of guts.

Benny Green was probably my first really close friend in my school years. I met him when I was 17. He was a major influence.

What is your favorite aspect of your career right now: composing, performing, producing or as a host of your radio show?

I’m pretty good at being able to focus completely on whatever I’m doing at the moment.

Being behind the bass is probably where I feel the most natural.

Most interesting radio interview and why?

I’ve had some fun ones. Maybe Lou Donaldson, he made me laugh the hardest. Also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was so humbled and awestruck. He’ll do that to you.

What is the key to great improv?

Relinquishing yourself to the mood. Never to overthink.

How did you learn the discipline to practice your craft?

No one ever had to tell me I had to practice. I couldn’t wait to do it.

Where would you like to perform that you have not yet visited?

India. I’m dying to get there.

Would you say the bass is your alter ego when you perform?

Big time. Without question.

Describe your experience with the full orchestra doing “The Movement Revisited” and what did you take away from the success of that performance?

There’s been a few of those. The first time, in 1998, my honest thought was I can’t wait to do this again when it’s a little more developed. I knew people would enjoy it in 1998. I learned as a performer that as long as you play your heart out and give them the most you can, people will appreciate it.

If you’re composing something, you know when it’s not quite what you want to give the audience. When we played it in 2008 that’s when I was really excited.

Do you feel we have made any progress against racism in the music industry? Are you hopeful for our society as a whole?

There are two ways to deal with racism in music. One is to channel your anger into the music and be a reporter of your culture. Often you are preaching to the choir. If the person who is a racist is not a fan of your music, then your anger is not going to matter to them. If a racist likes your music, I have a feeling they can turn it off.

I think of someone like Sly Stone. Without making one single radical musical song per se, you look onstage and see he’s got two women, two white guys, two black guys. There’s this amazing racial mix and they’re making this fun music together, they’re harmonizing. That would touch a racist better.

You’re a big football fan. Do you see a correlation between jazz and organized sports?

I think there are a lot of parallels between them. You have a playbook, you have a plan of attack, just like in jazz. The melody is written and the changes are determined. There is a blueprint for you to improvise. Sometimes when you get on a court you have to improvise based on what’s given to you in the moment, based on what you know.

Future projects?

Continuing to juggle all these different new ensembles: my quartet, my big band, and then NPR Jazz, my radio show “Conversations with Christian,” curating for the Newport Jazz Festival and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Photo credit: R. Andrew Lepley

© 2017 Debbie Burke

Improvise to Survive: An Interview with Lawrence Bush

Larry Bush headshot for blog

Lawrence Bush, a many-times-over author and the editor of the progressive website/magazine “Jewish Currents”, has an octopus-like curiosity and a deep reach into the uncountable facets of Jewish life and sensibility. Among the topics he has written on are the Jewish Resistance, showbiz, racism and Apartheid, poetry, Communism and of course, American politics.

Insisting he knows much more about rock ‘n roll and the blues than jazz, he has nevertheless written about jazz, and very succinctly and beautifully so.

With a well-rounded world view and as a critical observer of society, Larry agreed to expound a bit on jazz and a writer’s life.

How do you choose your topics for Jewish Currents, or is it that “they choose you”?

I’m the editor of a small, 72-year-old, progressive Jewish magazine, which also has a very active website, so I always feel the pressure to be writing about what’s happening in the news. But most of my writing is filtered through personal experience — what’s happening in the news, yes, but through the lens of what’s happening in my life. I’m a confessional writer, I do that well. The main emotions that inspire me to write are outrage at how people are getting shafted, delight in people’s creativity, and wistfulness about how, in the words of that great song by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret, “It Could Be a Wonderful World.”

I also write a daily historical blog, “Jewdayo,” about the date in Jewish history. That brings me into many worlds, as Jews have been so extensively and dynamically involved in culture and science and political change over the last couple of centuries.

Do you think the spirit of jazz, especially the improvisation process, resonates particularly with the Jewish heritage?

Interesting question. There’s a Yiddish word, “shpilkes,” that describes can’t-sit-still energy, which often combines anxiety with creativity. A lot of Jews have shpilkes, thanks to historical displacement and the constant need to improvise in order to survive. A lot of Jews also have ambition, which is part of shpilkes. I think both improvisation and ambition are big elements of jazz.

Favorite jazz artists, dead or living?

I love Louis Armstrong, especially playing with Duke Ellington. Did you know that Armstrong wore a Jewish star throughout his adult life? He was paying tribute to this Jewish New Orleans couple who helped him out as a kid, helped him get his first horn. I love Miles Davis, always thought of Kind of Blue as the aural equivalent of taking heroin (which I’ve never done). I love Oscar Petersen, find him very soothing, which helps me tune in. I love the amazing percussiveness of Dave Brubeck’s piano playing, and I love dancing to Paul Desmond, he has provided my wife and me with many moments.

I’ve been encouraged as a musician (guitar player) by Diana Krall because of the simplicity of her playing, and also by Rickie Lee Jones because of the originality of her jazz covers; she makes the songs her own and wrings the emotion from them. I love Cassandra Wilson, another true original, and how she covers such a wide range of material. I listen a lot to Keith Jarrett, and I’ll buy anything with Charlie Haden on it. I’m afraid I’m pretty out of it with current jazz, though I am making some discoveries . . .

Opinion on klezmer?

When I watch Betty Boop cartoons or other creations of Max and Dave Fleischer, I say, Ahh, there’s the true essence of klezmer! And I love the music’s energy. But while I’m very glad that the klezmer revival has brought so many young Jews into consideration of the creativity of Jewish identity, I never put on the music, it doesn’t turn me on for more than a few minutes before I get weary. 

Politically, do you think jazz as an art form bridges ideological differences?

I have no idea, but I think if you love jazz or play jazz you’ve got to have some kind of anti-racist consciousness, some ability to appreciate rather than worry about human variety, and I would HOPE that this makes it hard to be a killer-conservative.

Just like folk music was an expression of social unrest, do you think jazz has (OR had) as strong a connection with challenging the status quo?

Jazz is black music, black American music. Along with West Side Story and “The New Colossus” (Emma Lazarus’s sonnet about the Statue of Liberty) and the polio vaccine and a few movies, I would say that jazz is the greatest American contribution to world culture. That means that black Americans are responsible for the greatest American contribution to world culture. That acknowledgment of black people as quintessentially American is, sadly enough, a strong challenge to the status quo in our country.

Jazz is also about intellect, expertise, sexual energy, cooperation, and uncertainty. All of those elements are challenging to the status quo, which tends to be anti-intellectual and individualistic, often favors the pacification of mediocrity, and is unnerved by sex and by uncertainty.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing forever. I was fortunate to come of age in the 1960s, when people actually believed we would be able to make a living by expressing ourselves. My definition of a writer is someone who, when they’re feeling deeply, wants to go and write (and does it).

How did you get the position of speechwriter for Rabbi Schindler? What is most memorable about those experiences?

In 1984, I was four months into unemployment insurance and my wife and I were driving the Taconic Parkway and talking about what my next job should be. We stopped at a diner and sat at the counter — the place was empty, just one other customer — and I told her that I’d be interested in still focusing on Jewish politics and culture in my next job, instead of trying to write on other subjects, if I could land a job with Al Vorspan. Al was the second-in-command in the Reform synagogue movement and I knew him only by reputation as a politically courageous guy. IF I could get a job with someone like him, I said, and take my radical ideas into the Jewish liberal mainstream, I would remain, professionally, in Jewish life. Well, that other customer came over to me and said, “I hear you talking about Al Vorspan. He’s my brother-in-law.” And he called Al from the pay phone there in the diner, and put me on the phone, and Al wrote a book with me and then handed me over to Rabbi Schindler, the president of the movement, who was looking for a speechwriter. I did that for the next thirteen years.

Another book in the works?

I’ve had seven books published and, while there’s always a novel in the drawer, I’m not sure if book-writing is where I’ll go when I have more time on my hands. I’m involved in visual art, in music, in making little videos, in a lot of non-fiction writing, and I’m not sure if the pace of the culture surrounding me will encourage me to write a book or to spin out a lot of smaller projects.

I will be putting out a book next year of my Jewish essays and artworks, kind of a culminating collection of whatever I’ve had to say of value on those subjects, and there may be another book or two in my future, but who knows? What I don’t want is to be involved in any more is the emotion of “Who’s going to publish this? What if nobody publishes this?”

Current projects/future wishes?
Jewish Currents just landed some significant funding that will allow us to staff up and build generational bridges, so I’m very excited at the prospect of building my own legacy there. I’m also about to become a grandfather for the first time, and I LOVE baby energy.

Right now I’m trying to master John Lennon’s strum on “All My Loving,” which is hard because I play with my fingers, not with a pick (worth listening to!). Overall, I’m trying to learn how to learn, which is the main thing I’d like to be doing for the rest of my life.

For more information, please visit

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 6: Of Typos and Grammar Gremlins

red pencil

Come on, see how brave you are.

Open yourself up to edits. Really; open yourself up. Split your writer’s self wide open and wait…for the inevitable wave of corrections you are about to receive. Some kindly, some not so lovingly, some maybe with annoyance and impatience.

This is me, talking to myself, as I await the changes on my got-it-as-far-as-I-can-go-alone manuscript.

Usually, I’m pretty typo averse. Nobody’s perfect, but I strain to be, with multiple re-readings and a healthy dose of two a.m. anxiety. With grammar, I think I’m pretty darn on the mark as well.

But my mistakes (writer: know thyself) are the stupidest of the stupid. I omit words. Small words (usually prepositions) that get lost in my brain as I cut, paste and fling phrases all over the page, always deconstructing and reconstructing.

Several years ago when I still freelanced for my bread and butter, I was asked by the editor of a community newspaper if I would write a column. I was thrilled and of course said yes.

The newspaper, which had a respectable circulation (this was before print was in jeopardy), regularly featured multiple errors and writing gaffes in the following order: proper nouns were misspelled the most, then came the clumsy writing (huge parenthetical phrases, even more twisted and meandering than my own). Lastly, and this is not a mistake so much as poor writing, the flow and structure failed to address what somebody in the newsroom must have known about – but ignored – which is that the most burning questions that would torture readers when they read the articles would remain unanswered.

And today, having just submitted my beloved manuscript to my publisher and through her, my editor, I await the red pencil of doom.

At the moment, I wait with excitement, because something cocky inside my brain insists the story is superlative and everyone will fall in love with it.

When reality hits, though, the picture won’t be so pretty. I’m sure some mornings will find me dragging butt into work with a long (exhausted) face, having barely survived another onslaught of “Debbie, WTF were you thinking when you wrote this!”

They tell you to “kill your babies,” meaning, get rid of the verbiage you think is perfect because if you are so attached to it, there must be something wrong with it, and it has to be excised from your flawed manuscript. Message being, you need to start writing like a grownup.

My babies and my gremlins, I love them all.

But I’m a-ready.   

Bring on the cruel red hatchet.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


Smooth-Edged Velvet Funk From Brother2Brother


In 2001 the Carter brothers (Chaz and Winston) formed a smooth jazz group called Midtown. Finding initial success, they went on the road and opened shows for national artists like R&B superstar Roy Ayers and many others.

A few years later (2004) they reinvented themselves as Brother2Brother and immediately saw their debut CD “Forever” (Carzino Entertainment) enjoy great results. With a lot of their songs gaining popularity on outlets like CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and mom and pop stores, the Carters are building on that success while booking their calendars and getting the music out. Their plan is to broaden their fan base and “introduce a style of contemporary jazz to ages 30 – 60,” according to Chaz.

Right now, the Carters are looking forward to releasing their as-yet-unnamed new album. It will include a few covers and a special song for their social media platform called “Bumping to the Groove” which will be released with a video.  It’s jazz and R&B and funk, combined.

When did you make the decision to team up and form a group together?

We were born to do this, it’s in our soul.

We were always around music from family members like our grandfather, the late Ernest Williams (guitar) and our dad was an entertainer.

How will you convert your hometown of Pittsburgh into “the city of brotherly jazz”?

We’re bringing a new style of contemporary jazz and R&B. It gives us a change of flavor in the P’burgh market.

Back in the early ’60s Pittsburgh was known for jazz with venues like The Hurricane and the Crawford Grill, and great musicians like George Benson, Billy Eckstine, Erroll Garner and Billy Strayhorn. There is the Billy Strayhorn Theatre and the August Wilson Center.

What instruments do each of you play?

Winston plays lead guitar, keyboards, and drums.  Chaz plays the drums and trombone. Both of us compose, write lyrics and arrange. We do 2 shows in one.

Who are the other musicians in your band?

Al Everson – keyboard player, and Ronnie Biggs- bass and keys

Describe the difference between R&B and smooth jazz, and why does your music straddle both styles?

Most R&B songs became smooth jazz instrumentals.  Our style combines them both.

We like a blend of contemporary jazz and R&B, it gives us the balance we’re looking for. We create our own flow pattern.

Where have you appeared?

Our past performances have been in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Columbus, and Cincinnati just to name a few.  We’ve been on National Smooth Jazz TV with host Carmen Smith, on local radio, and on regional Comcast Cable network. We did the West Coast Jazz Fest, played with George Dukes, Al Jarreau, Angela Bofill, Marion Meadows, Herman Jackson and others.

Which musicians who came before inspire you?

James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Norman Brown, Brian Culbertson, Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke and the list goes on and on.

What gives you your unique sound?

Having the ability to take R&B, jazz, funk and soul and combine the music to please our jazz contemporary and R&B audiences.

What is the most common thing your fans say about your music?  

Our fans say we’re very versatile and smooth and that we provide a great variety of music.

We get write-ups that say we have an electrifying energy. They love our concert styles and our performanceship.

OK, so how do you feel when you perform?

We bring it. We are totally exhausted.

We get almost possessed; out of body. We go to another level, from funk and fusion back into a smooth jazz feel and by that time the audience is lifted and pumped, and we vibe off the audience.

What does 2017 look like?

Currently we’re setting up our 2017 promotional tour. We’ll start off in North Carolina and South Carolina, then Florida. We’re not holding back the train!

Where would you like to perform in the future?

On stage at the Grammy’s!

We feel we have great songs and we have a chance to compete for a Grammy. 

Where do you go (in your head) when you play?

I go into combat, like drill sergeant time.  We go to war.  I become Charles, Chuckie, Chaz Carter, all personalities.  We become ’sessed with our music.

Photo credit: Supplied by the artists

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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