Garrison Fewell – Outside Music, inside voices: Dialogues on Improvisation and the Spirit of Creative Music.

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn” – Charlie Parker


Garrison Fewell, American guitarist, composer and author, has written another book, but this one is different. Very different.
“Outside Music – inside voices”, published by Saturn University Press, is a collection of conversations of musicians to musicians around an important topic: spiritual values and how these shape their lives and art.

Fewell has a long-standing reputation as a composer and author as well as a teacher, and I guess the most prominent feature that springs to mind whilst reading these conversations, is the way Fewell has achieved to portray each individual artist (there are 25 of them in the book!) by highlighting something that perhaps we, in this age of super-fast technology, take for granted: the spiritual side.

Garrison Fewell: What is the importance of spirituality in your life and music?
John Tchicai: Spirituality is very important and is of global importance in all areas of my life. Music speaks from consciousness and finds expression through sound.

This is done with care, looking at musicians and their craft, which makes the book a rather intriguing and special journey. The author manages to combine his knowledge of avant-garde jazz and improvisation together with a spiritual one, taking inspiration also from the Nichiren Buddhism (everyone is able to attain enlightenment in the current life), which he has himself studied and practised for over 30 years. This is important.

The steps towards succeeding in reaching the perfect balance between the creation of a piece of music and its total fulfilling result are many and can arise from different sides within ourselves.

Joe McPhee & Milford Graves - photos by Luciano Rossetti
Joe McPhee & Milford Graves – photos by Luciano Rossetti

We can all connect to music, relate to it, but it is, in fact, this connection that makes improvisation even more vital. How we see and perceive a piece of music is totally subjective to our state of mind in that precise moment in time. In his book, Fewell, covering 50 years worth of music, plunges into a multitude of different voices with a common theme, that of jazz improvisation, clearly, all of them offering a fusion of styles and perceptions thanks to one important ingredient: the spiritual in music. It was the great Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) who talked about the spiritual in art. Something that perhaps resonates even more in today’s society’s needs.

So when we approach Fewell’s “Dialogues”, we are presented with a similar spiritual mode. One which elevates, one which comforts and one which, at times, gets downplayed on purpose. Whichever the way, “Outside Music – inside voices” succeeds in an important task: to highlight the vital role that music has within each one of us. Connecting with music leads to the creation of bridges: musician to musician, musician to the audience, individual to individual.

With accompanying photos by Italian photographer Luciano Rossetti, sharp and contrasting even when in motion, this tome is pure joy. Easy to read throughout, Fewell’s book has to be classified as a gem in the firmament of books. A must-have for anyone who loves music and is open to recognizing one’s own spiritual journey and, if this has not started yet, it certainly will when reading Fewell’s “Dialogues”.

Erminia Yardley

Outside Music, Inside Voices is a series of 25 dialogues with the world’s leading creative improvising musicians on topics such as improvisation, creativity and inspiration, the role of social justice issues and civil rights in the avant-garde and free music movement from the 1960s to the present, healing powers of music, African-American spiritual traditions in music, women and improvised music, education, and the positive contribution of artists, poets and creative composer-improvisers to society and culture.

Fewell chats with John Tchicai, William Parker, Henry Threadgill, Roy Campbell Jr., Henry Grimes, Wadada Leo Smith, Milford Graves, Steve Swell, Han Bennink, Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, Liberty Ellman, Steve Dalachinsky, Nicole Mitchell, Dave Burrell, Ahmed Abdullah, Rosemarie Hertlein, Irene Schweitzer, Pheeroan AkLaaf, Baikida Carroll, Marilyn Crispell, Joelle Leandre, Oliver Lake, Myra Melford, and Sabir Mateen.