Greg Bryant


Born in Nashville, Greg Bryant dabbled with piano in his youth, but was primarily introduced to music by immersing himself in his parents’ record collection. “My education has been [through] listening to a lot of records,” he says, reflecting on those early years via email. “And, I mean a lot of them.” In his teens, Bryant began sharing his love of music with others, taking on his first radio position at age 15 where he began working with a local college station. “Turning people on to the great masters of the music is a special responsibility I feel I’ve been given,” he says. “So doing broadcasts and getting involved with radio was a natural step.” Transitioning into the role of player a few years later (when he picked up the bass while attending MTSU), Bryant’s relationship with music — and particularly jazz — has since become layered, landing him at the intersection between musician and champion.

“[A]s I was around the music more and more,” he continues, “it forced me to want — or created the need — to participate and make music.” The Human Sound and the Cornerstone Jazz Trio marked his first attempts at playing with bands while still in college, each allowing him to gain perspective as a player while he continued to pursue broadcasting. “We investigated a lot of the classic jazz repertoire,” he says of those early groups, “but not always in the classic way.” After graduating he relocated to Chicago to pursue his studies, a move that would impact his relationship with music for years to come.

“Strangely enough,” says Bryant, “aside from a few jam sessions, I didn’t play much in Chicago.” The larger city did give him more opportunities to see and hear influential jazz musicians in the live setting, however, which further solidified within him an urge to not only continue investing himself in the genre, but hone his own sound. An internship in Washington, D.C. followed, which only further ingrained within Bryant a new direction which he would take his music. “The players were way better [than] I was and played with more fire than I had been accustomed to,” he says, relating the period to something of a musical baptism. “The way the drummers swing on the east coast continues to be intense and playing with that rhythm changed me.”

After briefly returning to Chicago, Bryant headed back south in 2004, where he transitioned his new experiences back into performing and broadcasting. He later took on a position with Middle Tennessee Public Radio — then branded JAZZ 89 — while quickly re-establishing himself musically by opening up shop with a pair of new groups in Nashville. The Greg Bryant Quintet was formed with saxophonists Reagan Mitchell and Chris West, guitarist Brian Mesko, and drummer Jason Hoffheins, while Concurrence took form as an improv duo, featuring Bryant alongside pianist Paul Horton. While on one hand the Quintet allowed for a blend between new compositions and covers, Concurrence presented itself as a way to experiment more with sound. “Paul is my musical soul mate,” says Bryant. “We can just show up on the stage and start playing. No tunes or anything. And it will end up in places that inspire us both.”

While Concurrence remains a part-time project, and he has performed, recorded, and toured with numerous other acts since, following the dissolution of the Quintet, Bryant began forming ideas for what would eventually take form as the shapeshifting Greg Bryant Expansion in 2008. “I like to groove as well as swing — and while I don’t like the connotations of ‘jam band’ either — I wanted to make music and play before a diverse audience, definitely including younger folks and people in my generation.” The new group has seen a revolving roster of players, with the consistent being a soft musical focus, allowing for “[improv] and groove as well as swing.” Last year the Expansion released its debut EP, featuring six songs recorded live-to-tape, as performed by Bryant, James DaSilva, Paul Horton, and Joshua Hunt. The Equal Ground blog called the set a product of “incredibly talented musicians flexing their muscles for six songs showing you guitar, bass, piano and drum work people will be in awe of.”

While his radio broadcasting days are now behind him, Bryant continues to represent the scene via the digital airwaves, as in 2013 he resurrected his “Watchman” moniker when he founded the JazzWatch Podcast. And not unlike his position as a jazz advocate, Greg Bryant’s role as a musician continues to evolve and expand. “Simply put — music is about vibrations,” he says, “and to allow them to pass through you creatively and instinctively is a big responsibility. It’s not a job, but more like a calling or a mission.”

[This article was first published by the Nashville Fringe Festival.]

Hope Lodge Relay for Life (Nashville, TN)









Video and photos of the Relay for Life event—featuring the Saturns and Ron Dee & the Music City Soul Dancers—taken June 26, 2014 at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in Nashville, TN.

Social Buddha


“TV Buddha” is a forty year old piece by artist Nam June Paik. Its visual — that of Buddha staring at himself on a television, as captured through a closed-circuit video camera — is striking, through my interpretation stands beyond its original meaning, slightly, given the four decades of technological indulgence that have passed since its unveiling.

Ever since signing up for Facebook in college I’ve struggled with social media, though not because of the social aspect of the interactive medium. As has been said by many of late: the Internet (simply) remembers too much… And in the case of social media, I get hung up on the sticky residue of the past, old relationships now being maintained online despite no real personal connection or the electronic permanence of digital flare, often shared in passing reflection of a moment that becomes forever tied to my “profile.” This doesn’t seem to bother most, and it’s probably not that important anyhow, but in past moments of confusion and conflict over this stuff I’ve deleted social media accounts just as I’ve thrown school yearbooks in the fireplace: letting go of relationships and memories that might only otherwise be triggered by a name or a face from the past; the latter essentially wiping the sort of IRL personal cache that social media refuses to let go of (though each action has had consequence).

The thing about “TV Buddha” that reads different today, for me, than would likely have translated in 1974, doesn’t deal with the infinite feedback loop that exists in the piece, but the reality that we are all now able to get lost in that state of constant narcissistic reflection. Buddha was never watching what was happening, currently, but was always seeing what just happened — the wholeness of reality centering around what the self of the present moment is doing (the “present moment” perpetually revealing itself with a momentary lag caused by the electronic translation between present action and televised happenings). Like Buddha, those using Facebook or Twitter or any number of sites that act similarly, are always watching not what’s happening, but what’s just happened. Except now, we’re encouraged to then participate by reflecting on the moment that’s just taken place with some sort of clarity, insight, or opinion, constantly encouraged to participate in forced nostalgia for something that’s barely finished happening. “Being present” in this sort of arena means being forever trapped in what just happened.

This instinct to “participate” is fueled by the validation of others, noticing, liking, favoriting, or commenting, further solidifying the habit of impulsive clicking to gauge personal value. We are not our Facebook pages, but our Facebook pages often reflect our character, our personalities, our senses of style, and our values… And it’s because of this that the social self, or the televised reflection of self, is so quickly and so often misinterpreted as actual self, since we’re always looking to screens for confirmation of who we are as individuals. If we allow our understanding of who we are to be dictated by an (even a momentarily delayed) electronic representation of who we are on a screen, we’re in for nothing but a load of confusion. The “we”s here are, of course, intended to be “me”s and “I”s… but you get the idea.

A few weeks ago I took a break from social media, logging out on my laptop and deleting the apps from my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted: to access the accounts would then take more than a single impulsive click. It wasn’t long before I wondered about what I was missing. Had anyone commented on something I’d posted? I had sent a Facebook message earlier that morning… “Shit,” I thought, “what if my friend is trying to reply to me?” Twenty-four hours in and I was wondering what was being shared by my “Read First” list on Twitter (which is pretty much my RSS feed in a post-Google Reader world). What are they sharing today that I’m missing? Are there messages waiting for me on Facebook? Four days into my social media hunger strike I cracked and logged back in. I had two messages (and over a dozen annoying like invitations and event invites) waiting for me. On Twitter? Nothing important. Once I logged back in though, I was renewed with the urge to click. Got a free moment? Might as well check it out. Bored? Click away. A few days later I de-activated my Facebook account. I didn’t delete it, because I need it (I actually used it that night for work, only to de-activate it once again after the task was complete) and I didn’t want to completely lose touch with friends online (as I had in the past). I just needed a break.

The result? A few friends checked in via text message to make sure I hadn’t shaved my head and joined a cult, but beyond that, not much… except… I did seem to feel better. Eventually I logged back in, but I’ve tried to be mindful about when and how long I allow myself to log on and “see what’s shaking.” Some great stuff has happened since my recent deactivation, and I’ve started to make strides in finding a more satisfying life-away-from-screens, but that’s not entirely the point here — the point is that the way I’ve misused social media (since college and all the way through the dozen-plus Facebook and Twitter accounts I’ve burned through since) is on its way out. I’m not going to “like” anything anymore, and I don’t think I’ll comment publicly very often, because playing into the system doesn’t seem to work for me. (There’s always a chance I’ll change my mind or let some exceptions slip by, but) I’m not going to post anything else to my personal account because that sorta defeats the point, too. There’s a lot more to this that’s wrapped into general “un-plugging” and “getting a life” outside the Internet topics, but that’s really another discussion for another time. One I’m happy to have in person.

Doorways


A restless mind of late has called for sleeping aids, but despite the deep slumber a knock at the door woke me at three. It couldn't have been my door, I thought. What if it had been? Who could have been knocking at my door? Is it really three? Maybe it was the old lady who calls on my neighbor for the occasional nightcap. That must have been it. It probably wasn't my door. Then, another knock.

My body wasn't ready to get out of bed and acted accordingly when slinking through the doorway of my bedroom out into the hallway. I gently measured my steps so as not to make a noise, and squinted as my face edged closer to the peephole. Sure enough, someone was there. As I thought about whether or not I should say anything the words, "What can I do to help you?" came out of my mouth.

"Sorry, wrong door."

I didn't say anything else and returned to bed. My heart wasn't racing, but it wasn't still either. It took a while to fall back asleep despite never being fully awake. The what-ifs crept in: What if they were testing to see if I was home to break in?; what if they were seeing if I were awake to steal the car?; what if they came back, what did they want? It's the invisible, the unknown, what's on the other side of the door that can't be seen, that is always the most intimidating.

I Hate This Job

I’m sitting at a desk with my headset on and the caller is asking me if this is what we do. I’m sorry, what we do? Yeah, he says, work like this. He asks why I shipped him something in a bucket, suggesting that the lack of packaging damaged the product, and I tell him I’ve never seen products shipped in buckets here, sir, feeling sarcastic but reeling it in. I ask him if he has a purchase order number or something else like that so I can look this up because I’m still not understanding, and he reads something off and I try searching for it. First time through, nothing. I try again and think I find an account. In determining that the problem exists in the system I fear that the problem has now become mine. I can’t hear what he’s saying to me. I can’t read the screen. I hate this job.

Shelby Park (East Nashville, TN)


Photos taken June 15, 2014 at Shelby Park in East Nashville, TN.

More Words on the Screen

I don’t remember when, exactly, but a few weeks ago I woke up in a funk, rolled over, grabbed my computer, opened it, and began typing. “I feel like I’ve reached the end of the tape. This is where I’m supposed to hit eject, turn it over, close the lid, and hit play again — only to go back over a magnetic strip that’s been played out already.”

There's a troubling angle of writing that I've been wrestling with for the past year or so, and it's been my inability to make sense of, digest, sort out, and empower written thoughts and feelings without making them public. So, if making words and thoughts public, on a blog or whatever, helps, then do it — what's the problem? Because, in the past, making personal thoughts public has opened the door for me to carry them into an arena they're not necessarily meant for — the world of social media.

I started my first blog in late-2004, where I dabbled with trying to sort out my feelings, who I was, and what I was struggling with. (I can't remember why I wanted to do that through a public website, or whose writing might have inspired it.) Within months I began writing about music instead of myself, and before long I stopped writing about "personal stuff" altogether. In January 2012 I started writing about Me again, and did so with the intention of using the platform as a way to hold myself accountable for pursuing personal goals. Issues didn't spring from sharing information in public, or using a blog to hold myself accountable... problems came from me taking that thing — whatever Me-blogging was — and trying to force it through the social web. Subconsciously I began weighing success on pageviews, tweets, and likes, and not on whether the writing was actually helping me.

Taking my limited understanding of The Rules of writing-in-public into account, I tried promoting these personal blog entries through Facebook and Twitter as though they were share-worthy, condensed gems of insight meant to actually be interesting to anyone but me. I had started writing as an exercise to keep my mind busy and myself on track, but had allowed that to warp into some kind of twisted content schedule, wrapped around my emotions and struggles, marketed as some sort of "personal brand." This then began dictating the form of the writing. I thought I wanted to be a professional writer, and this felt like a necessary step toward gaining "an audience." Things just got out of control.

This sort of thing went on for about a year. It's not my proudest period, but I don't feel embarrassed enough about the writing to keep the work hidden... despite the gross angle of sharing my struggles (and presumed forthcoming triumphs) as "content," used to accumulate fans or engage readers. What makes my stomach churn isn't the public naval-gazing, but that — like the drift toward "social" — many times I blogged with phantom readers or search engines in mind... hoping, for example, that properly meta-tagged pictures accompanying the articles (even if their connection was tenuous, or whether or not I had the rights to use them) would bring in stray readers through Google Image Search, as if someone looking for a Seinfeld screen-cap would be interested in a blog post about the consciousness of ego. (Because that makes sense.) Dollar store psychology and hacky motivational writing aside, it all still represents a reflection of who I was at the time. Despite a flawed understanding of personal branding, and what I wanted to gain from the process, there remains meaning in it and there is value in looking back and recognizing that it's something that can be left in the past without being forgotten.

The thing I've most gained since going back and reclaiming those deleted blog posts (from archived and cached versions of past blogs) is an understanding of what's needed to move forward. I can't keep going to the Internet to feel important. I can't come here, to this page, and add words, thinking that doing so in-and-of-itself accomplishes something. Ultimately my writing is a seclusive exercise, and sharing thoughts publicly so as to potentially find someone the words connect with (online) does not give the process credibility. (This means something. After all: just look at the words! I'm trying!) But someone might read them, or click on the blog, and more is better, and more clicks validates the words... Throwing ideas online as an act of connecting with others, and believing then that I’ve made progress, is insane. What makes the words important isn't if people read them — or shares them, or likes them, or tweets them — it's whether they encourage change. There's far less resistance concerning myself with social metrics than confronting and challenging personal complacency.

Why do any of this in public then? I don't know. It's a lie to say writing publicly holds me entirely accountable. If that were true I wouldn't have used the first week of a (self-imposed) 103 day challenge to isolate, eat junk food, and rebel against the self I've publicly proclaimed I want to become. And if all this writing is only for me, why do I bother referencing and linking my own ideas to one another? Why write in a tone meant for other people? Why edit? The what-ifs, I guess. Maybe the why-nots? Maybe just to document, writing to myself and no one at all in particular, simply for the sake of doing so. I don't know. I really don't.

Whatever the reason, I'm coming to accept that it's alright for me to do this, so long as I recognize the extent of its value. Writing is not the end. It needs to be the kick in the ass that leads to something greater. Right now I'm searching for closure with parts of my identity that I'd like to leave in my past. Looking back, reading these words I've written just now, it feels good. It feels like I've made progress. I'm starting to learn something. Maybe I have learned something. But the real progress comes with accepting that the moment has already passed and now I have to act. The end goal here is personal change, not words on a screen.

The Junkyard Horns at The Building (Nashville, TN)


Photos of Chris West and the Junkyard Horns taken June 12, 2014 at The Building in East Nashville, TN.