Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In conversation: Jazz Guitarist Stanley Jordan

WM Tapping into the Healing Powers of Music: Conversation with Stanley Jordan

Guitarist and composer Stanley Jordan easily falls into that category of musician-healer-shaman, even though he might not refer to himself as a shaman. Known for his pioneering tapping technique for guitar and his intriguing recordings, Jordan is also an advocate for music therapy and a practitioner in his own right.

A visit to Jordan’s website provides viewers with information about his the twists and turns of his music career, his discovery of the healing powers of music and an article about music therapy that promises to leave tears of compassion in your eyes.

His 2008 release, State of Nature reveals Jordan exploring the healing connection between the natural world and music. While I have yet to hear this recording, you can find information about the project on Jordan’s website.
I was fortunate to have caught up with the busy musician. A short interview follows.

WME: I think it was about two years ago when I heard an interview with you on KBCS-FM when I was residing in Seattle. You began talking about music therapy in the middle of the interview and I got goose bumps. You had mentioned playing guitar for massage patients. And you did this by an exchange of energy with the patient.Do you still perform this type of music therapy for massage and other patients?

Stanley Jordan: Yes, I've continued this work. Any of a massage therapist's gestures can be translated into musical gestures. I'd like to develop this more, codify it, and teach it.It works on a number of levels. A CD is only a fixed recording, but a live musician canimprovise music that perfectly fits each moment. The massage and the music blend into a single unified experience.

This integrates the auditory and the kinesthetic, which leads to a kind of transcendence.
Plus live music has more soul, which opens our higher awareness. By addressing the spiritual dimension, music allows the massage therapist's healing touch to resonate at every level of the patient's being. The result is a wide-spectrum healing response. One place I often do this work is at Bothell Integrated Health in Bothell, WA.

WME: I read the article you posted on your website in which you mention your own experiences with music's healing potential-you had the flu and felt better after jamming with a pianist. Other musicians including myself have experienced similar situations. Could you elaborate on this experience and how it led you on your current healing music path?

SJ: Once when I was in high school I arranged to get together and jam with a pianist who went to my school. I came down with the flu that day and I almost canceled. But I thought "If I'm going to feel bad today, I might as well be doing something I enjoy." Well, as it happened, she and I played for like 6 hours or something—it was a marathon session! And by the end I felt noticeably better. I felt that the music had processed the flu right through my system and greatly accelerated my healing.

WME: It looks like the article was written over ten years ago. However, you mention a list of music therapists, researchers and healers. You mention music employed anesthetics for children and as relief for people dying from AIDS and other diseases. This information would have been groundbreaking and new to a lot of folks in 1998. What have you discovered as a musician and proponent of music therapy that you would like to mention today that could be considered groundbreaking?

SJ: One promising new technique is called RAS (rhythmic auditory stimulation). Rhythmic sounds and music can improve coordination and control of movement for Parkinson's patients, stroke victims, people with traumatic brain injury and others.

WME: What aspect of music therapy would you like to explore further in the future? Where do you see your own music path heading?
SJ: I've done some work with playing live during surgical operations. Before the operation, making music with the patient can help them to deal with their feelings about their condition, the coming operation, and their whole journey to health.

During the operation, music can be a kind of anesthetic which helps the patient to feel calm both physically and emotionally. At first I play more abstract musical patterns rather than recognizable songs because I want to help the patient turn off their conscious mind and go to sleep. While the patient is under, I assume they can still hear the music on some level, but I focus more on helping the doctors and nurses to stay relaxed yet focused. And of course I'm mindful of not distracting them. At the end I welcome the patient back to the world with a beautiful song such as "Here Comes the Sun."

WME: Now with authors such as Oliver Sacks exploring music therapy in his 2007 book, Musicophilia and more information coming out about the effects of music on the brain, I hope to see an increased interests in music employed in hospital and clinic settings. But my concern after learning about psychoacoustics and exploring different types of music on my own body, is that not all music is healthy (heavy metal and grunge for instance with its angry lyrics and jarring sound feels unhealthy even druglike to me), but obviously John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Taj Mahal, Bob Marley....has a more positive effect.

SJ: I think we need to distinguish between music healing, which refers to the direct healing effect of music on the body, and music therapy, which focuses more on the therapeutic relationship between therapist and patient. In terms of music healing, I agree that heavy metal and grunge would probably not give the best results. But in terms of music therapy heavy metal and grunge might be just the right thing if they can help a therapist to build trust with a troubled child.*

*Disclaimer: Whole Music Experience does not endorse playing music that involves shouting, screeching guitars and angry lyrics (heavy metal, grunge...). While I recognize that therapists work with clients with repressed anger, outward anger, feelings of powerlessness etc..., I prefer Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as the musical remedy for these issues. This symphony starts out in angry place and by the end of the third movement, ends victoriously. Click on the labels "Venezuela" or "Beethoven Fifth Symphony" and you will pull up a review that discusses this symphony and at-risk youth.

For information about Stanley’s tour dates, recordings and work with music therapy, visit

This conversation appears in my book Whole Music

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