Interviewing people about the music they love to listen to is endlessly fascinating. Every story is different. Yet, a common thread runs through them: they are all stories of discovery and a deep commitment to consciously choosing the music in their lives. We find this inspiring and contagious.

We hope you can approach the music we include in these posts with a sense of curiosity and in a spirit of exploration. Perhaps you will want to share your musical preferences with us too. Perhaps you will find yourself listening to “your” own music more consciously–with even greater appreciation for its value to you in ways you have not recognized before.

So, as the last interview of 2014, we bring you the story of Frank. Now 58, Frank has been passionate about the blues since the age of eleven. He speaks of how he gets a thrill–a physical feeling–“everything starts to tingle”–as a melody gets into his heart.

Growing up in a coal mining family in West Germany during the years of the Cold War, he was always hearing music around him. His grandfather sang in a Communist choir, and his father played guitar and sang German and French folk songs. The American Music Hour broadcast by Radio Luxembourg made a lasting impression on him. He vividly remembers lying in bed at night, listening enraptured until well after midnight through his hand-held transistor radio and ear plugs while reading under the covers with a flashlight.

The death of his father when he was still quite young brought a time of great trial and tribulation. He ran away from home and ended up living with three different families. Music was his salvation during that dark period, he says.

As he grew older, and especially after coming to the States, Frank developed ever broader musical tastes, ranging from Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, and Dvorak (he particularly loves the artistry of the great violinist Jascha Heifetz) to the music of Africa and Latin America to American icons like Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

But the heart and soul of his musical passion is still the blues, particularly the work?of the acoustic slide guitarist Ry Cooder. Frank is in awe of Cooder?s gift for interconnecting a great variety of?musical genres. Frank has created a website to celebrate his passion for acoustic, folk and country blues in the 21st Century (http://www.thecountryblues.com).

You can find dozens of artists? profiles there, ranging from the internationally famous to more locally or regionally known musicians. He speaks with special warmth about John Jackson (1924-2002), an illiterate musician from the Fairfax, Va. area who was deeply immersed in the oral African-American tradition.

Here is a sample of Jackson?s music-making called “Red River Blues”:

Like many of our interviewees, Frank is someone with a passion for music who has other passions that are also important to him. He has been director of marketing and communications at a major manufacturer of motor speed controllers for battery-powered and electric vehicles for some twenty years–work he enjoys. Music is a vital part of his day in the office. He credits it with being a source of inspiration, sparking his mind when he writes. It is his comfort food too, helping him deal with everyday stress.

Here are two more examples from his must-have listening list:

Ry Cooder, “Chicken Skin Music” –(Hawaiian and Tex-Mex fusion)

Jimi Hendrix, “Axis: Bold as Love” (the first record Frank ever bought)

What music helps you deal with stress? Share in a Comment.

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One of the more inspiring ways different generations can bond through music is described in this post. Research tells us that positive inter-generational connections are important for our well being.

Here is an exciting example of one way to create a bridge when you listen to music with someone of another generation. If each of you shares what you like about the recording, what happens?

Let us know here. Leave a comment.
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Singer, Tony Bennett, now 88, has just released a duet album, “Cheek to Cheek,” with Lady Gaga, age 28, which quickly became No. 1 on Billboard.

Drawing upon the wisdom of his long and rich experience, Bennett says of his current music-making: “I’ve learned that it’s what you leave out of a performance, not what you put into it. Less is more. It’s not because of age, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The extent of his engagement with other singers, many of them half his age and more, is nothing short of astonishing. This goes back more than ten years now and includes names like K.D. Lang, Amy Winehouse, Sheryl Crow, Andrea Bocelli, and Mariah Carey. What is even more remarkable is how these collaborations have tapped hitherto unknown abilities in singers like Lady Gaga, who in the current duet album performs against type–and does so in superb fashion.

The title track,”Cheek to Cheek,” a 1935 classic with words and music by Irving Berlin, first made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is given fresh life here by our two virtuosi. Listen to how the melodic line is developed from a simple melodic cell of adjacent notes. (If you listen carefully, by the way, you can hear a resemblance to Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53!) The word painting is such that the melody perfectly matches the intimacy suggested by the lyrics.

For your listening pleasure (share it with someone younger or older, please!):

Vital cue: Track 2, 2:04 on bottom of screen, Lady Gaga sings “Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Vital cue: 0:42 on bottom of screen for melodic cell that quite possibly inspired Irving Berlin.

Vladimir Horowitz performing Chopin Polonaise in A-flat

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George Gershwin: “Stairway to Paradise”

October 12, 2014

From Josh: I am having a ball these days teaching a course, for mature adults, on George Gershwin for the Lifetime Learners Institute at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. The many people in my class are so engaged that they give me a special energy. In fact, we seem to energize one other. One of the […]

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A Poignant Tribute

September 1, 2014

Early in the morning of Friday, August 15, 2014, less than a week after the fatal shooting the previous Saturday of African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, rapper J. Cole ( Jermaine Lamarr Cole) posted his tribute song “Be Free” to the online audio platform SoundCloud, where users can upload tracks and share them […]

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Alive Inside: Music and Memory

July 20, 2014

We recently saw a documentary film that is just opening now, so we want to call it to your attention. As you will read below, the film–Alive Inside–is quite novel and inspiring. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Memory is the measure of who we are as individuals. And much of our self-identity as human beings is defined by the pieces […]

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