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  • Julian Chan

Get Here, if you can..

Sometimes (if not every time), I think it's a great idea to end the day with a great piece of music, regardless of genre or style.


I grew up with pop music in the 80s and 90s, and really pretty much went jazzhead after that. But it is the pop music of that era that has made a huge influence in my playing style and musical sensibilities. Call me soppy, but nothing beats playing a beautiful ballad. You can ask any great jazz musician (if you're really lucky, to ask any of the masters of jazz who are still alive today) - it's one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes it's used as a litmus test to test (young) musicians to see if they're mature or not.


Being a beginner saxophone student, growing up in Asia in the 80s and 90s, whose musical surroundings only came from over-the-air radio (and parents who bought instrumental jazz cassettes), it was not surprising that I grew up with the music of Kenny G and Dave Koz, and in the periphery of my parents' music collection, Grover Washington Jr, among others. Truth be told, my folks listened to instrumental music even before I got into it. I only began digging into their music collection of these instrumental artists after I picked up the saxophone in my early teens. They weren't necessarily jazz fans, per se, but they definitely enjoyed listening to this style of music. In this way, I give credit to my parents for planting that seed in me, which of course has led me to me becoming a professional saxophonist.


As a saxophonist, there's nothing more important to me than playing a good melody (good rhythm is, of course, implied), as that is my primary role as a musician. As I don't have lyrics to convey feelings, emotions, and musical intention, I only have single (line) notes and my saxophone sound to do so to my audience and listeners. That's why I gravitate towards songs with a good strong melody, and a lot of (good) pop* songs have so much of that. Even in the realm of jazz, musicians used popular songs of their day as vehicles of musical expression (which include improvisation, another topic for another day).


As with any era, the sound of popular music changes over time over different styles. Songwriting approaches are also very diverse. There are a lot of songs with stronger emphasis on lyrics than melody, and there are songs that do the opposite, and many more in between. There are loads of Youtube videos with young musical minds analysing the merits (or demerits) of modern popular music, so feel free to check them out. I'm not articulate enough to do so, lest I sound like a jazz snob or something (LOL!)


But for my personal taste and aesthetic, I generally like songs that have strong melodies. Strong melodies are melodies that doesn't require over-embellishment (or in many cases, a heavy use of melisma). These are the songs that when listened to enough, its melodies stick in your head for many years, and quite often elicit certain feelings and emotions when listened to again much later in the future. Great tunes make you feel something simply just from the merit of its songwriting! I often express to my students how challenging it is to play a pop tune (whether it's a vocal tune or a saxophone tune) without having to over-embellish it with too many notes or grace notes and nuances - many cover versions of pop tunes by Youtube sax players fall into that trap, and losing the essence of the song itself. This is where I like this acronym - KISS - keep it simple, stupid!


So, to end this pointless babble of a blog post, I'd like to share with you a great tune by the amazing Oleta Adams, "Get Here". I get goosebumps listening to this tune. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do (maybe I might cover it in one of my upcoming livestreams).



Have a good day ahead, and stay safe!


Love and blessings.

JC


*The label of "pop" songs I use is to imply popular songs rather than a particular radio format. So in my case, a good pop song can be anything from R&B, rock, soul, funk, etc.

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