Category Archives: Artists in Residence

The Magic Of Creativity


“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

With creativity we can create magical things that touch the hearts and souls of people. A song, a poem, a painting or just an idea can have a great impact on somebody’s life. It is like magic.

For us artists, creativity is one of the tools we rely on the most.  And this does not only apply to artists: Anybody whose activities require original thinking or problem-solving benefits from knowing how to increase the chances for creativity to happen. Yet, the ability to produce something new through imagination often seems so hard to do. Look back at your last composition or your last live performance, and ask yourself: Was I truly creative? Did I create something original, meaningful, and artistically strong? Or did I rather reproduce something I already knew, or something I or somebody else had done before? Most of us tend to recreate instead of create. While I don’t believe you have to reinvent the wheel every time you pick up your instrument, I think we can all agree that it is the artist’s sincerity that truly touches the hearts of people.

Creativity has little to do with intelligence or talent. The IQ of a person does not have any influence on his ability to be creative. Rather, it requires a deep, broad, and flexible sense of self-awareness. While, it is hard to come up with a manual of how to be creative, it is possible to learn how to bring yourself into a situation that favors creativity.

Have you ever seen a video clip of Miles Davis playing? Every time he picks up his trumpet, you see him getting into a certain mode. His body language conveys someone who is focused, yet relaxed at the same time. It is this so-called open mode that we need to dive into when we want to be creative. It is the mode in which kids play with their friends. In this mode, mistakes do not exist. Instead, they create opportunities for something new to happen. Most times unfortunately, we are in the closed mode.

In his lectures on creativity, Monty Python’s John Cleese identified four requirements that are necessary for entering the open mode: Space, Time, Time (yes, twice!), Confidence and Humor.
SPACE: Create an oasis separate from your everyday life. Seal yourself off in a place where no interruption is possible. Switch off your phone, unplug your internet, do not check email, avoid Facebook, Twitter, and forget about your TV for a while. Stay in this space for a certain amount of TIME. For example, an hour and a half has proven to be a sufficient amount. This is your time to PLAY. Experiment, try new things out, connect random ideas with each other. Chance is your best friend; it may lead you towards a new path. Notes played by accidents lead you to new ideas. Collect material and don’t judge it. “Exploration leads to discovery”, said Herbie Hancock.
You will probably notice how your mind starts to wander and get off-topic. That is ok. Every time you notice it, bring you mind back to your task.

Once you have created your space and stayed in it for certain amount of time, you need more TIME. It is imperative to stick to an idea for longer than you think. The longer you gently orbit around a problem, the more likely you will discover an original solution. In our fast-paced Western world, more than ever we want quick answers. We might think we are wasting time if we have already found a solution to a problem and don’t go on using that first solution. Furthermore, the unknown creates discomfort in us. However, the better we learn to tolerate this discomfort, the stronger the outcome will be.
CONFIDENCE: The fear to make mistakes stifles creativity. If you work with other people, surround yourself with friends or partners with equally open minds. You must not feel intimidated by them. With confidence, you will be courageous enough to try out the most bizarre things.
Finally, according to Cleese, HUMOR works as an accelerator that can catapult you into the open mode like nothing else. Being humorous does not mean that you do not take your work seriously. There is a big difference between seriousness and solemnity. The first welcomes humor, the latter does not.

Decisions are important of course. Once you decide on something, stick to your decision, at least for a while. Switch into the closed mode, the mode in which you execute best. A perfect example of the closed mode is the time right before an important deadline, in which we are furiously trying to finish an assignment. And we usually succeed. Try setting yourself very short deadlines. This will help you get into the closed mode and execute! After working in the closed mode for a while, switch back into the open mode and review your work. Edit if you need to. Ideally, you will effortlessly switch back and forth between the open and the closed modes.

All these tips and tricks do not guarantee a creative and original outcome. You can sit on your chair or behind your piano for days in a row and feel like nothing meaningful has come out of you. This is part of the process. There is no need to be discouraged. It will come and it just needs time. The beauty of it is that once, something does come out, you will be amazed by its magic.

Posted in Artists in Residence, Timo Vollbrecht | 1 Comment

A European In New York – Comparing The Scenes

Contrary to popular opinion, Jazz is NOT dead. Closely associated with New York City since the 1920s, jazz is flourishing all around the world – thanks to numerous talented and innovative musicians.

I am a German improvising musician, and I have lived and worked in Berlin, Barcelona, and currently New York. Music is a mirror of society and it is exciting to experience the uniqueness of each city’s scene and compare them to each other.

New York City is one-of-a-kind. Since music is heavily influenced by cultural heritage, NYC’s diversity provides an incredible laboratory for musicians. The city is incomparable when it comes the concentration of great and highly talented jazz musicians. Today’s jazz scene is manifold. Yet, the city’s jazz tradition remains a vital part of the contemporary scene. The most important jazz clubs, such as the Village Vanguard, are still to be found in New York, along with innovative performance spaces like the ShapeShifter Lab.

NYC’s music scene contains strong individualism. Many musicians focus on their careers as soloists and invest much energy into improving on their instruments. Whereas the European movement generally concentrates on bands as collectives, New York tends to focus on the individual musician. In New York, band members rotate more frequently, and a gig in the city often requires only one rehearsal or less. The great benefit of this is spontaneity and flexibility. As a downside, working bands that develop a unique band sound are harder to find. The pace of the city is fast, and long-term engagements are close to nonexistent. However, NYC’s energetic vibe proves to be inspirational for many musicians.

Berlin has become one of Europe’s hot spots when it comes to art and music, attracting creative people from all over the world. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it has been a city of change – a perfect environment for artists to shape, design and create. While Berlin is famous for its classical as well as electronic music, improvised music has asserted its place on the scene. On the one hand, in Berlin, jazz lacks the depth of history as found in New York, but the Berlin scene demonstrates the essence of what jazz is, i.e. music that embraces improvisation. The “Berliner sound” is more experimental and jazz incorporates elements from indie rock, punk or electronica. The music from MSV Brecht, as well as Berlin based labels like Traumton Records may illustrate this.

While Barcelona’s music scene is smaller, it is up-and-coming. The region of Catalonia is culturally protective: You will find many music magazines written in Catalan, which feature local artists. So do the festivals like the Barcelona Jazz Festival. Barcelona’s scene is strongly influenced by Brad Mehldau’s former drummer Jorge Rossy who resides in Catalonia, as well as by the label Fresh Sound Records. American artists like Brad Mehldau, Bill McHenry, Chris Cheek and Reid Anderson used to record and perform in Barcelona, and became role models for many local musicians. The great composer Guillermo Klein used to live in the mediterranean metropole and certainly left a mark on the scene before he moved to Argentina, where he currently resides. However, the city suffers from a paucity of performing venues.

In the end, you can find great music all around the globe. The world is beautifully connected and I can only encourage everybody to enjoy the uniqueness of every place’s music.


Posted in Artists in Residence, Timo Vollbrecht | Leave a comment

Expect the Unexpected!

It’s funny how performing for TV is at least a little more tense than many of the other medias. One reason is that they don’t like doing more than one take and, of course, in live-recorded TV shows you usually can’t do more than one take.

I did a Willie Nelson CBS special in Austin once with a live audience and I thought it would be funny to show up right before the show with a sling around my arm just to see Willie’s reaction. When he saw the sling, I quickly figured out maybe it wasn’t as funny to him as it was to me, especially when his face turned pale white. So I took off the sling and started laughing right away, saying, ” There’s really nothing wrong with my arm.” We both had a good laugh. But he got me back… Continue reading

Posted in Artists in Residence, Jackie King | 3 Comments

The Musicians Guide to Better Sounding Drums

The following is part of Travis’ blog series and eBook “The Musicians Guide to Better Sounding Drums”

To me, the cymbals are the most important component to a great sounding drum kit. In fact, I often like to consider myself a “cymbal player” instead of a drummer. Your cymbals are your color instruments, it’s what completes and expresses your personal style.

You can dampen, tune and manipulate your drums all day. But with the cymbal: What you hear, is what you get. Let’s look at three ways to get the best sounds out of your cymbals: Continue reading

Posted in Artists in Residence, Travis Whitmore | 2 Comments

NPR on Banjo Legend Earl Scruggs

A few weeks back I posted about the NPR 100, a series from back in 2000 that recounted “the stories behind 100 of the most important American musical works of the 20th century, across all styles and genres.”

In light of the passing of banjo legend Earl Scruggs, take a minute to listen to this episode which has a brief history of Earl — from his early days in North Carolina to his stint with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys — and the story behind the development of Scruggs style banjo playing and the song that catapulted it into the American consciousness: Foggy Mountain Breakdown (original recording here).

There’s also lots of incredible footage of Earl and the Foggy Mountain Boys from the Grand Ole Opry on YouTube which I’d highly recommend exploring.  Here are some good places to start:

Ground Speed:
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms:
Little Rabbit Run:
Salty Dog Blues (starting with a great rendition of “So Doggone Lonesome” from Johnny Cash):
If I Should Wander Back Tonight (with some fantastic Dobro work by Uncle Josh):

Posted in Artists in Residence, Mason Jar Music | Leave a comment