Joel Holmes – African Skies & Being A Scientist

Joel Holmes, is a musician, composer, educator and a musical world citizen because of all of his international touring. Initially self-taught on piano as a child, he went on the pursue a formal music education at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at John Hopkins University earning a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Performance where he is now the Director of Jazz. We ask for his take on the current music scene, music education and then his life and music in general.


Of all the things that you teach others about music, what is the most important message that you feel your students should embrace and understand?

First, Thank you for this opportunity.

I tell my students……

We are the messengers of the cosmos.

I generally also speak about the correlation between Music and a foreign Language.

Music is like a library of languages from this realm and beyond. Music has the ability to communicate through the Field being faster than the speed of light. It travels through vibrations which makes us feel the intent of the musicians or even the writer. Music can be simply compared to a foreign language. The theory and understanding of the basics is just like learning grammar and phonics. So if you study, and or consciously are engaged with the language on a daily basis, you will be able to speak in a matter of time. Finally for those people who have a true message from the universe, the universe will make a way for this message to get to the masses. The greater the message, the more people you will reach. The key is us getting out of the way of ourselves.


joel2The evolution of modern music has created totally inorganic sounds — loops and beats. How do you, as a real musician, feel about this “music”?

I feel loops can be powerful as long as the musicians are thinking trance!! Mind over matter.

Hip hop and mainstream Pop music are almost all tied to the beat machine in one form or another. Synchronized time. This is cool. It is a steady beat which allows the unity of the beat. With the unity of the beat, the message can come through much clearer. The dance can begin and The trance will happen as a result. The metronome can be easily compared to something in which almost all humans know of and that is the heart beat. Also with the metronome (the tick tock of the beat machine), one could also hear the imaginary sounds of inner marching. In one since loops and beats help us learn how to play in “good time” or good synchronized time. It teaches musicians discipline. This unity of the beat is cool. On the other hand, it quite often replaces the live musicians and forces us to become studio musicians. The Dj can replace and or copy the exact the sound of a record, live orchestra plus our favorite singers. They can not make the real sounds because of the turn tables, but they can remake. They can mute certain sounds….They can fuse two records together. They can play live with musicians. I would say the DJ took away the Dj roll many musicians especially Pianists had. The Dj also replaced the limited Juke Box. Beat machines have replaced live bands. Some bands feel the need to add loop machines and beat machines to their bands to compete with the sounds of the industry. Hip hop never had a live band period. So It looks like the beats and loops are here to stay at least until the mother ship arrives.


The trend seems to be that younger people do not have a realistic understanding of what music is and how to create it. Do the people that you teach embrace really learning about music theory and actually playing instruments or are they looking for the shortcuts that technology provides?

I am not sure which groups of young people you are referring to. I have been traveling quite a bit and I see a lot of young talent. I think music comes from another place. Age is not important to make Music especially if it is channeled. I believe it is in most cases. Theory is like the grammar and phonics of a language; it is the basic rules. It is required if you want to speak properly. However what is music exactly? I see a large amount of indigo children, Star Children, Children with autism and other conditions who are remarkable young (or old) human beings, depending on if you have a sense of where they are really from. Some children are like the reincarnations of the masters. Jazz is one of the kinds of music where you must understand 3 things, and that is the Blues, Love and Yourself. In the quest for these three things, music will reveal everything you need to know. For me, this takes time in a human experience to learn. In general it is normal in America that a serious jazz musician studies his influences. He studies his teachers and their teacher’s influences etc. So most jazz students run to the local talent, masters and or theory books knowing that after, they will have more knowledge in how to create this music. Many classical musicians prefer to skip the theory, because they are not having the opportunity to create. So learning to write the music they love does not make sense to many of them, but how to play and interpret. Many musicians still go to concerts, some run to the records, but i think youtube and computers are winning. There are a lot of shortcuts these days and my generation is a lazy one. However, Children currently 1-15 years old, seem to be different and full of hope.   You can not shortcut experience. You can not shortcut knowing yourself, love or the blues. You have to live it.


What do you think about rap? Is it an art form?

Good question…

It is an art form, it is an Afro American Art Form. It is real and when done correctly, the elements are there to take you on a ride. I feel that many people who have the real Talent of rapping, prove that it is an art form. For some it is a skill- something learned or acquired through constant studying and practicing. Every now and then we see the Gifted rappers. This is a gift for the World from the Divine. Remember rapping is like poetry put to a beat. It is all about the delivery (how you say your words) and flow to the beat which could be heard or unheard. To me this is what the people feel first especially if they can not understand the lyrics. Rappers can hear it all at the same time. Speed does not stop them from understanding the flow, the message and the delivery. To me, this is what separates the boys from men. I feel that rappers have a very, very important role. They are the rhythmic- poetic channeling messengers with microphones for their people. I wish that many would stop talking about nonsense and begin to focus again on higher consciousness. They tell the blues…. all of the time. Do they know themselves (as a people or spirit) and finally where is the Love? I hope Rap continues to live, as it has always been with us.


You teach a vocal workshop and one of the items listed is “why many musicians dislike singers.”   Do singers over sing, lack the ability to vibe and flow with the music? What is it?

You must come to my workshop. The key is for singers to know how to communicate with musicians. singing songs that are appropriate for the moment in a session. How to study the chords, understanding how to write charts, how to explain to musicians in the language of music. Learning how to count off tunes. Knowing your keys, and tempos. How to resolve conflicts. I have a lot to cover. However this is some.


Pros work with pros. Who are some of the vocalists that you enjoy working with and why?

Nnenna Freelon, George V Johnson, Ruby Glover and Ethel Ennis.

These four singers have been quite influential on me. Nnenna Freelon first took me out to the world. She taught me about problem solving. Writing set lists. Etc. George V. Johnson was one of the first Vocalists I accompanied who does vocalese in the spirit of Eddie Jefferson. Ruby Glover and Ethel Ennis are two of Baltimore’s legends post Billie Holiday. These women had the spirit of the music and knowledge of the blues and Afro American music. Both were wonderful to play with. I am lucky for all of these experiences. I enjoyed playing behind Gregory Porter one time in Harlem at Cleos years ago. Roberta Gambarini to me is a real musician/Singer. I always enjoy her ears and arrangements. Also Charenee Wade and Brianna Thomas are my NYC favorites. I once played with Esperanza Spaulding in NY as well and that was fun to play with her while she sang and played the bass. That was a unique experience. Johnny O’ Neil is also very fun to play with. He knows so many songs… i rather sit and listen to him. In Italy there is so much talent, as well as in Ukraine and Chile. There are wonderful vocalists all over the world. I am happy to have had these experiences as well as the ones in the Church with Gospel Music and world music.


Do you find that traveling throughout the world and connecting with people of other cultures influences the music that you create and if so, how so?

My answer would be yes!!! Traveling gives you an education of the world. You get to hear and see what music moves people. You can learn cultures. You can better understand why people do what they do, think the way they think, eat what they eat, look the way they look. You can understand that we are all (most of us) are still Homo-sapiens. You learn so much about yourself. This human experience can be expressed through music easily since music is a language. I must also mention being inspired. The beauty of this Earth is very inspiring. The dogs bark different, the birds chirp differently. Different kinds of flowers and sunsets. The spiritual vibrations in every city are different. This means to me that the spiritual radio stations differ depending on where you are in the World. In Asia, you could hear music that may open certain chakras leading you on a spiritual quest. In South America you may hear music that makes you want to feel or experience romance. In Africa you could hear music with poly rhythms that makes you feel ancient vibrations allowing you to Dance in a trance, etc.


What made you choose the piano as a child?

My father was a professional trumpet player. He played Classical music most of the time and he would play the keyboard to accompany himself while singing his original gospel/pop originals. So I was programed to seeing him practice for his job everyday. So, one day while I was in elementary school, it was Black History Month (February). I was in the 4th grade. That day the music teacher taught us about Scott Joplin- The king of Ragtime music. My friend in class asked the teacher if he could play the Entertainer on the piano. So he did and I fell in love with the Piano. That was it. Later that year at the age of 10, the Holy Spirit told me I would be doing what I am doing now.


Do you play any other instruments?

I started on violin and recorder. I liked the recorder. The violin did not work out for me. However I love the instrument.


How do you find time to teach and tour at the same time?

I make time and I do not have regular students anymore unless I know I will be stationed somewhere for more than a few months. I do concerts, I make workshops and teach there. Sometimes I do one on one lessons. One day I will continue online lessons.


We don’t know if you are married or not or if you have a significant other. You don’t have to answer this question if it does not work for you. Just trying to give kids an idea of what it is like to be in a relationship and be a touring artist at the same time.

Being a touring musician is not an easy life style. Some men can handle the road like men. Others probably should not be married. Skype and technology has allowed for many musicians to still have skype dates when traveling abroad with a band, etc. Also telephones and emails have helped. Work is work, there is nothing easy about it.


How heavy is your tour schedule and does that impact your home life or any relationship that you are in?

Wow this is personal….I am a very busy musician and I have already made up in my mind that I have to sacrifice quite a bit of my personal life, to ensure the my purpose here on Earth is completed. Time is running out for the world. I am not always able to see my family and old friends, etc. I am not always able to make it back for a funeral of a loved one. I do on average 250 concerts a year. Give or take a little. So yes, the road gets hard sometimes.


joel5From your perspective, is there a difference between a musician and an artist? And which are you?


Dictionary definitions

Wiktionary defines the noun ‘artist’ (Singular: artist; Plural: artists) as follows:

A person who creates art.

A person who creates art as an occupation.

A person who is skilled at some activity.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the older broad meanings of the term “artist”:

A learned person or Master of Arts

One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry

A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice

A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic

One who makes their craft a fine art

One who cultivates one of the fine arts – traditionally the arts presided over by the muses.

I thought an Artist was (in the visual arts category) and We are all in the Arts family. Some are dancers, musicians, theater (actors etc) and like I said Visual arts (painting, sculpture, etc). Once again the english language fails us with another Homonym; the word “Artist.” So I am both a musician, and I draw, so that makes me an artist as well. I am also a Musician/Artist. According to the definition of an Artist. I prefer to be called a “Scientist.” definition: A scientist, in a broad sense, is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge.


joel4Your discography is fairly extensive. The inspiration comes from somewhere. For African Skies, what inspired or guided you on that project?

I saw Africa’s blueprint all around the world. So I began making music and fusing together songs and ideas with Africa on my mind. I also felt that John Coltrane was a great way to share the information. So I did a few songs of his. I felt the vibration was correct for 2009. I also wrote one song, called “A soliliquy of troubled waters.” This was about the middle passage (with the slave trade), and how the water was telling the story of what really happened in those boats.


What do you ask of the music that you create, or do you ask anything of it?

I do not ask anything.


I believe music is an expression — a streaming flow from the universe that is always there waiting to be channeled by someone. What do you believe?

I agree….. it is vibrations from places we may not consciously know or shall I say “remember” in most cases. All of the vibrations meet us here from all over the universe. Music may not be the best word for this force that we call music….


If you did not play piano, do you have any idea of how you would manifest your own expression? Or can you even imagine such a thing?

I would be writing and teaching. I sing everyday to get the music out.


Let’s say that you are 97 years old. You still play piano a little, but the tours and the concerts are long gone. Share what you think some of the reflections on your life will be?

How beautiful the Earth was. God’s creation, my experiences compared to the modern day present. That is a lot of info.