Travel & Music: Crossing Bridges, Creating Memories

Music... Our Global Connection

Bluegrass, Jazz, Mugham…Music is Our Global Connection

“Where words leave off, music begins.”
― Heinrich Heine

“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.”
― Friedrich Richter

“Music can change the world because it can change people.”
― Bono

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Whisper words of wisdom, Let it be.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. Let it be.

Let it be, let it be, …..”
― Paul McCartney

As Joe and I sat in the historic Birchmere music hall here in Virginia this evening, I thought about all the great musicians who have graced that stage and its many predecessors, one felled by fire and others muted by the ravages of time.

Tonight we heard Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder playing America’s indigenous bluegrass tunes, those that early Scots and Irish immigrants brought with them, then mixed with Indian, Creole (Spanish, French, and African elements) as well as adopting and adapting to elements brought by everyone who has come after, creating an ever-evolving art form.



This is our oral tradition, songs handed down as lyrics and melodies from generation to generation, seldom being written down. It’s a respected way to create memories and share our roots.

But America is far from unique in this. It seems that every country I’ve ever visited, has had its own special flavor of music, making a global kaleidoscope, where elements heard by one traveler tag along, just waiting to be incorporated into a new sound style somewhere else.

That’s the way Mugham of Azerbaijan (read my “Walk On The Wild Side” post here) relates to the jazz of America, both are improvisational but follow certain styles. Academicians have identified similar elements in both, and music theorists say the ancient Mugham style has influenced many styles of music across the globe.

Who knows how music evolves? All we know is what we like.

Caring Means Sharing

When I was in Baku, Azerbaijan, “American Voices,” a music project from the United States (a US State Department Cultural Diplomacy grant program) that tapped generous artists living abroad as well, visited and shared music training and exchanges with local musicians, selecting American music in styles of interest to the host country.

John Ferguson and Liz Smailes came with select musicians to teach and hold Master class workshops that first year, building skills needed for local musicians, singers/actors (young talented artists), to mount a production of songs selected from Porgy & Bess. Ira Spaulding was enchanting as Sportin’ Life. The next year the group came back and worked on West Side Story.

Students loved it all. By day they would train and rehearse special pieces for the public concerts held in formal auditoriums. But after “work”, freewheeling jam sessions went on till the wee hours of the morning.

Students and other “regular” people wound their way down a spiral staircase into a subterranean cavern that became know as the Baku Jazz Club. It was wild and free, unpredictable and unscripted. There was joy that overcame all the language barriers- no translators needed where music bridges divides.

Teaching music is a global diplomacy tool- American Voices Music

Azerbaijani students of music had the good fortune to study under some world-renowned musicians like Toots Thielemans, a Belgian jazz musician known for his guitar and harmonica playing as well as his whistling. Thielemans is credited as one of the greatest harmonica players of the 20th century and has worked with the greats of the jazz age. Coco York, another American jazz singer, visited Azerbaijan many times since those initial days and maintains a strong influence on young singers of Mugham and Jazz in Azerbaijan.

Changing the World Through Music

In the early days, my role with the American Chamber of Commerce offered me an opportunity to work with American Voices in requesting sponsorship funds from the business community and helping to spread the word to the people of Baku and the outlying regions.

Did that change the world for the better?  I believe it did.

Laying the jazz foundations in Azerbaijan has blossomed and borne fruit in the form of the now annual Baku Jazz Festival, attended by popular artists from all over the world.

Who knew where Azerbaijan was in 1994? Yet 20 years on, those young artists who were trained then are now the decision-makers in 2014.

Take a look…


Travel & music… we cross bridges, and create memories.

My favorite memories all seem to involve music, food, and foreign places.  Music makes my world better and experience tells me that sharing music across cultures brings people closer together.

When I can imagine someone in another country having the same type experience I had tonight, the world is a little smaller, a lot less intimidating, and much more inviting. That makes this world a better place after all.

3 thoughts on “Travel & Music: Crossing Bridges, Creating Memories

  1. Nice essay. It sounds like a great concert.

    Both my sons are jazz musicians (among everything else they do). They started with classical piano training when they were small but in recent years they’ve each gravitated into jazz. They play a lot of duets on an electric piano that has drums built in. This way they can play like a combo. Music is an important part of our life.
    Have a good weekend.


    • How interesting… your sons sound like they have a lot going for them! And fortunate to have parents who are so invested in their lives. What a great experience living abroad is for them.

      Have they been able to get a sense of the music culture where you are now, or is still too early in your transition?


      • My boys are the best (I’m the mom so I can say this). 😉 I’m blessed that they both have enough adventurous spirit in them to travel.

        We’re in a modern, small town. I’ve heard kids cahnting along with French rap music on their phones. Most of the music we run into is on the phones of others and overhead speakers in shopping centers. A lot of this is American popular music sung in English. Even the Christmas carols played on speakers of the streets downtown through out the holiday season had a lot of American.

        It sounded quite odd to me when the spice vendor at the market sang along with the American carols on her radio. She didn’t speak much English though. She just sang along the way I learned to sing “Frère Jacques” as a child without understanding what the words meant.

        Culture. It’s an odd thing.



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