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Remembering Austin Peralta

this is tripping me out. i just found this video of austin peralta on tour with virgil donati and allan holdsworth. i was in the crowd at this gig in mumbai, india back in november, 2011. i’d never heard austin peralta’s music or his collaborations. and today, i continue to listen to his ‘endless planets’ and all he’s done with other brainfeeder artists.

i remember he was tremendously friendly after the gig. i was baffled to learn he was a year younger than me. we talked about how he decided to leave music school to do his own thing–to gig, play, compose, create. about how he listened mostly to horn players, which i think speaks volumes to his gift for improvising beautiful lines and melodies. it was his first time in india, and he was going to stay for a week or two after the holdsworth/donati tour. he asked for tips on staying healthy and where he might travel to…

i’m not great with names, better with faces. i remembered him as the sick keyboardist that was hands down the highlight of the donati/holdsworth gig. i’ve seen videos of him since, and was thinking, damn that guy looks familiar… it would have been dope to see him perform live before he passed. i’m glad i did. what a talented and kind person!

and just like that… i’m back on the blog horse.

Lasse, In The Flesh

och hans vonner

Lasse Werner, in the flesh.

Been meaning to get this post out for a minute… it’s about more than Scandinavian sauna culture…

After an early evening nap to postpone the jet lag, I zigzagged through Östermalm in the dwindling summer twilight to the Glenn Miller Caféa small, unsuspecting jazz club on a quiet backstreet. It was July 2011, my  first week in Stockholm, Sweden, and the first week of a travel stint that would last nearly a year and a half. The evening featured a Septet headed by Kasper Agnas, a very young, talented guitarist and composer who I’d come to know quite well in the months to come.

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The house was packed, hot as a sauna. I wedged into a corner. While waiting for the forthcoming set, I struck up a conversation with the fellow beside me, Mats Werner, an avid jazz enthusiast, a writer and, as I learned later, the brother of Lars (Lasse) Werner, a great Swedish pianist/composer extremely active in the 60s and 70s avant garde movement in Europe. A local hero to many, Lasse’s wildly whimsical writing shines on a 1967 session, Lars Werner och hans vönner (Lars Werner and his friends), which featured an intriguing cast of the Sweden’s avant vets, as well as one young American:

Alto Saxophone – Christer Boustedt

Bass – Sven Hessle

Drums – Jan Carlsson

Piano – Lars Werner

Tenor Saxophone –Göran Östling, Dave Liebman

Trumpet – Otto Donner

Turns out, Lars Werner och hans vönner would be Dave Liebman’s first record. (Oddly enough, Liebman also arrived in Stockholm in July. Funny I would meet Mats). Liebman actually recounted his episode with Lasse Werner in an installment of Oral History with Bill Kirchner for the Smithsonian Institute, as part of the 2011 NEA Masters of Jazz Project. Liebman tells it:

Got to Stockholm. Had a name from Cameron Brown, who had lived in Sweden. This was Lars Werner. Called him up. He says, “Come over to my house. This is the bus you take.” He said, “Do you know John Coltrane died today?” This is July 17th, 1967. I immediately – I started crying. He said, “Come over. We all know about this. We know what’s going on. You’ll be fine.” I went in, became part of the family. These guys took LSD every day, every day, and played eight hours, ten hours a day. I don’t know what the hell we played. Then you’d go out in the garden, and you’d have lunch. It was beautiful, because Sweden in summer, it’s great. Then you come in and play. I became part of the family. That’s that record. It came out of that experience. He wrote a tune for me called Ballad for Tenor Sax, my first real solo. It was my first recording, outside of high school, doing little 78s with Impromptu Quartet. My first record. Re-released – the guy just released it on CD. The daughter’s in touch with me. He died. He became something crazy. I don’t know what happened to him. He became a nut. I don’t know. Something happened to this guy. He was a Bud Powell kind of – he was a bebopper who went free, as a lot of those Scandinavian – that thing up there. It’s different, as I learned.

Mats Werner has worked hard to preserve the legacy of his brother Lasse, who passed in 1992. After meeting Mats at the Glenn Miller, I scribbled my email address on a napkin. A week later, Mats mailed me a copy of Och Hans Vönner—I’ve been a fan of Lasse ever since. Last February, Mats shared with me another recording of Lassea live, bootleg recording with the great trumpeter Don Ellis, forgotten for over 20 years while buried in Sweden’s national jazz archive. Someone apparently filed it incorrectly.


Poster for the film Lyckliga Skitar, featuring…

Lasse also appeared on the big screen. The sauna photo above is in fact a still from the 1970 indie film Lyckliga Skitar (in English, called Blushing Charlie), directed by Vilgot Sjöman, starring Bernt Lundqvist & Solveig Ternström. Lasse Werner: in the flesh—an event I hope Mats includes in his forthcoming biography about Lasse Werner (perhaps a testament to a relationship… not everyone with a brother would be so kind to write his biography).

Lasse Werner

Lasse Werner’s record Därför dricker jagThat’s why I drink!

And the dots keep connecting. Notice the record label of Lasse Werner’s That’s Why I Drink (on the record itself). While in Stockholm, I met  the founder of Dragon Records, Lars Westin, a music journalist and editor of Orkester Journalen, a music encyclopedia, and a true authority on Swedish jazz. With Dragon Records, Westin produced several hundred  jazz recordsa few with Dave Liebman, countless by Swedish greats like Lasse Werner, an eight CD series of the great Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, and a four CD set of Miles Davis touring Europe from 1960-1961 (alternating John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt). Dragon Records even gifted the world with the “Thong Song.” That’s right, Sisqo, a Dragon.

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Earshot Jazz published a short article I wrote, which summarized my Watson project, from July 2011 – August 2012, a journey I called “Speaking Transnational Dialects of Jazz” that took me, in musical whirlwind, to Sweden, India, South Africa, Brazil and Japan. If you scroll down the page a bit, you’ll also see content on Cuba, where I continued my project from late October to early January, 2012.

Dig on “Jazz Without a Compass” in the May 2013 edition of Earshot Jazz, a mirror and focus for the Seattle community. Also dig on Earshot Jazz! I blogged about the Earshot Jazz Festival in October 2012.

“Jazz Without A Compass” is the condensed and abridged final report I wrote up for the TJ Watson Foundation, to conclude their year-long fellowship program. I held off on sharing the full report both for its length, and because it was tailored for specific eyes. I’ve archived “Jazz Without A Compass” (with photos) in the Writing On The Wall page on this blog, where you’ll find a bunch of other pieces I wrote throughout my travels.

I’m in a major transition right now. I’m presently breaking into the Bay Area scene and striking a new balance in my life, one I welcome after nearly two years off the grid (or perhaps, on the grid elsewhere) and rambling around with my horn strapped to my back. I’ve been digging on this Bay Area cat Ben Goldberg since seeing him live a week ago. He writes incredible melody and counterpoint:

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I’ll try to update every month for now.

Jazz Funding in Norway

Mathias EickMathias Eick @ 2011 Oslo Jazz Festival

I recently read a well-written article on the jazz scene in Norway, “How Norway Funds a Thriving Jazz Scene” by Michelle Mercer. I experienced firsthand the cutting-edge creativity of Norwegians throughout my travels: at the 2011 Oslo Jazz Festival (which I’ve heard Norwegians call “too mainstream”); and the 2012 On The Edge of Wrong Festival (a free, improvised music festival partnered between South Africa and Norway). It was clear a music festival such as On The Edge of Wrong was not for profit. Indeed, the festival largely supported itself, bolstered in part by grants and private donors back in Norway. Morten Kristiansen, founder of On The Edge of Wrong, told me flat out the festival barely breaks even, if that.


Rolf Erik Nystrom @ 2012 On The Edge of Wrong

In her article, Michelle Mercer surveys the financial landscape that supports improvised music in Norway, exemplifying arts organizations such as Cultiva, a 240 million dollar endowment based out of the small, sleepy town of Kristiansand. The endowment comes from, guess where, oil money. Granted, not every country is as oil rich as Norway, but what’s important is what Norwegians DO with their oil profits. Exxon Mobile’s annual 2013 profit: 44.9 billion dollars. Exxon Mobile could use 0.5% of their profits to create such a 240 million dollar endowment… just saying, maybe cut a few exec bonuses. Cultiva used its funds to support individual artists, fund tours, and throw the annual Punkt Festival, where improvised music is performed on one stage, recorded, sampled, and then remixed using electronics on another stage in improvised fashion–a festival that makes creative, improvising musicians anywhere drool.

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The creative edge of Norway’s music does not lend itself to profit. Although, the same is true about experimental music everywhere, whether its noise in a basement in Tokyo, improvised music at Café Racer in Seattle, or the Havresekken concert series in Norway. New, experimental music challenges listeners, especially those who aren’t musicians. And here, we also start moving away from jazz. The clip above could be (and is) classified as jazz (at least in Norway). The musicians in the clip probably studied jazz, and are definitely improvising. While blowing changes over a solid jazz swing beat will always feel great, it was a hip, innovative thing nearly a century ago. What’s hip today? What kind of “jazz” sound reflects today, more importantly , tomorrow? In Norway, arts organizations and government funders prize creativity as much as musicians. And the wealth of funding, support and opportunity are pushing creative music, and jazz, forward.

Read more on the how jazz thrives in Norway.

On Cuba Pt. 3 – La Rumba

Callejon De Hamel

Callejon De Hamel in Habana, Cuba

We wandered the backstreets of La Rampa, semi-lost. It’s Sunday afternoon, and it’s hot. I’ve been here before, but each street looks the same. A jacked cubano wearing a tank top and shorts waves us down and points down a street. He knows where we’re heading. The street narrows before opening into a colorful, bohemian barrio: porcelain tiles dotting the asphalt, bathtub benches, a continuous collage of murals, industrial art; and further inside, food carts, bead vendors, throngs of people, foreigners and Cubans. Live music blasts somewhere within the mob, edgy and over-amplified. No one is without refreshment: Cristal, Tu-Kola, or juice boxes of ron. This is Callejón de Hamel.


The jinateros eye us and flock. We know the hustle by now. ¿Quiere? A CD appears in my hand. Da le, venga chico. ¿Toma algo? What country you’re from, my friend? (The go-to English icebreaker). Tranquilo, mae, I casually say. Mira, ya lo tengo todo. A quick response with an accento cubano helps. This friendliness would normally be inviting, but we know the real intention ($). In a country iconic for socialism, its people seem natural capitalists.

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But enough, we came for the party, I mean, la rumba—a party, Afro-Cuban music tradition and dance. Plus it’s Sunday. Cuba has been spared the American Sunday-isms of football and mega churches. Instead, they have rumba (and baseball). We split up, each finding a nook in the crowd. Dancers bounce around, personifying deities of Santería, such as Oggún (Santerías personification of Saint John), clad in green and black, a (dull) machete in hand, puffing a fat cigar butt. Whether or not you’re a dancer, you’re dancing. A lead singer stands amidst the dancers. A choir stands behind, against a wall. To the side sit the tumbadores.


Los tumbadores

For a foreigner, rumba is all sorts of complicated. Its five-stroke clave functions in 4/4 and 6/8 time simultaneously (seemingly a combination of the Afro-Cuban 6/8 clave and 4/4 son clave)—one feel is usually given more emphasis than the other, which can change as rhythm develops. Only after internalizing the clave (not so easy) do you realize you’re still perpetually off. The clave-ist (almost always the oldest dude) isn’t starting on beat one (beat three, of course). The complexities don’t stop there. Bottom line, it’s all about establishing a hip, sophisticated groove. Anything less would be the Western classical equivalent of playing “hot cross buns” over and over again, with no variation, vibrato… you get it.


¡Es la pinga!

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If you’re not a music nerd, it’s enough to dig on the singing and dancing. Of the three main types of rumba, guaguancó is most popular. Apart from its unique rhythmic sound, you can identify guaguancó from its lyrics (“soy cu-bana, y me gust-a gua-guan-có”—easy enough) and its sexual competition of a dance between male and female. It goes down like this (as seen in the video above): the male dancer impresses and distracts the female with some fancy footwork in order to catch her off guard with what’s called a vacunao—a pelvis thrust, or sudden flick of the hand or foot towards the female’s groin. The female dances seductively to the man’s side, rhythmically opening and closing her skirt to tempt the man, only to block (batao) any attempted vacunao by turning away, closing her skirt or batting the man away with her hand. Colorful scarves are often used for both the vacunao and batao. All movements are interwoven with song and coordinated to certain percussion instruments; thus, there are specific rules of engagement. The blatantly sexual dance is really a good-humored, playful competition—an incredibly blunt version of an age-old dance. And when it comes to such matters, Cubans are always blunt.


Being blunt

Salsa, son or reggae-ton may be more straightforward for most listeners, but rumba is the secret treasure of Cuba. The Cuban Minister of Culture has said what I’m sure many have said before him: “Rumba without Cuba is not rumba, and Cuba without rumba is not Cuba.” There seems to be something deeper in rumba, which isn’t to say that other Cuban music lacks depth. Rumba has never been popular music. It was freedom music. It thrived in time of slavery under the guise of religion. It wasn’t even “discovered” by a second party until slavery ended in Cuba. It is still a stronghold of Santería. It is party music. It speaks on an individual and collective level. It involves all, regardless of race or creed. It mirrors everyday life, the struggles and delights.


Can you tell? This kid $%#@ loves dancing to rumba!


The sound guy comes equipped with bling

Cuba Pt. 2 – Bolero


Santiago de Cuba

Every culture has a ballad. The Cuban ballad, the bolero (not the same as the Spanish bolero) sprouted in Santiago de Cuba (like son and most older Cuban traditions). Back in the day, trovadores armed themselves with guitars and roamed Santiago’s streets, cooing listeners with poetic lyrics (it’s actually not so hard to rhyme in Spanish… when in doubt, add –ito to the last word) and voices that could make João Gilberto jealous (said Miles Davis: [Gilberto] could read a newspaper and sound good). Mostly, trovadores sought bread money and romance, not necessarily in that order. But in the process of trova-doring, these trovadores stumbled upon a human truth: everyone needs a little cooing. Today, bolero and trova (call it a musical twin) are probably the most popular forms of music in all of Latin America.

Bolero and trova branched from their common roots. Trova largely maintains the romantic-singer-songwriter-with-guitar vibe. Silvio Rodriguez’s Ojalá conveys the sound of trova (more accurately nueva trova for its political innuendoes), as well as its massive following: the crowd does most of the singing. This past December, the 34th International New Latin American Film Festival in Habana featured Spanish filmmaker Nico García’s documentary Silvio Rodriguez, Ojalá.

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Bolero expanded to larger ensembles and orchestrated works, especially in the pre-Rev, swanky, though troubled, 40s and 50s . Benny Moré, Cienfuegos native, maestro singer and champion of the loose-fitting-suit style, sings Te Quedarás. Benny is a Cuban icon. Live performance clips commonly portray him song-seducing a foreign girl while her man gazes off at a dancer.

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Dos Gardenias is another classic (oh so many), a mega hit off the Buena Vista Social Club album, as sung by Ibrahim Ferrer.

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But the hit of all hits is Besame Mucho, now a standard just about anywhere in the world. Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez penned Besame in 1940, 15-years-old. Apparently, the girl had never been kissed. She heard kissing was a sin, and believed it. Given the number of people who probably wanted to kiss Velázquez after 1940, I doubt her first-base-abstinence lasted long. Besame was made famous again and again, covered by all the pop cats: Emilio Tuero, Lucho Gatica, The Beatles, Andrea Bocelli, Maynard Ferguson (piccolo to Bocelli), Herp Albert and Micheal Bublé.

It’s also covered as a jazz ballad. Of any Cuban style, bolero readily translates to jazz, albeit after a little reharmonization and groove-change-up. Another Cienfuegos native, trumpeter Alexander Abreu gives Besame a hard-bop touch, the sound popular among many young Cuban jazz heads:

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On Cuba Pt. 1 – Son

Habana Vieja

Habana Vieja

Welcome back faithful readers! “On Cuba” is a blog series on the rich and eclectic music of Cuba. I’ll attempt many things in this series: introduce notable Cuban music traditions (each holds its own), share recordings and videos of Cuban groups, explain how this music has mixed with jazz and other improvised music, and relate stories which shed light on experiences that inform the music.

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And now for my next number… I’d like to return… to the classic! Son is the classical sound of Cuba, one of the oldest established music traditions, which gained popularity in the 1930’s. It’s a good place to begin, as son influenced just about every other Cuban style. Literally meaning “sound” in Spanish, son mixes the Spanish song-style with West African rhythm. The clave is central to any son song, outlining all the melodic and rhythmic intricacies (more on claves later). Over time, son added the trumpet, the sonic “cherry-on-top” of most Cuban music, old and new (though today, other horns are used as well). Legends such as Guajiro Mirabal (still alive and playing, remarkably) defined this style of horn playing. Today, son is widely loved around the world after a come-back spearheaded by the Buena Vista Social Club in the late 90’s. Below is a clip of Buena Vista performing live, intermixed with shots of La Habana.

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In the 90’s, the world was seduced by “Chan Chan” and other classics off the Buena Visa Social Club album. All over Cuba, son bands entertain visitors, performing all the hits in bars, restaurants and the streets. The “making of the band” Buena Vista Social Club is an unbelievable story in its own right. Get your hands on the Buena Vista Social Club documentary. While Buena Vista deserves its notoriety, there were, and still are many traditional Cuban groups producing quality music (and even music videos, a now booming (relatively speaking) industry in Cuba). Compay Segundo, of Santiago de Cuba (the old capital, and birthplace of Son) is another famous group. Below Compay is a clip of Sierra Maestra, which tours the US regularly.

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(Cubans seem to like vibrant color schemes)

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Son is no longer the popular music in Cuba. It’s classical music. Young Cubans today prefer the faster, more exciting and modern timba, salsa, and  reggae-ton. For a Cuban, listening to son would be like an American listening to Louis Armstrong or a 1930’s swing band–quality, timeless music, but old nonetheless. While son speaks to a more distant past of Cuba, today it is cherished and nurtured like a national treasure.

While son doesn’t often mix directly with jazz (though it can), it is the source for most Cuban music styles that do. Anticipate forthcoming posts!


Earshot in Seattle

One quick one. I got back from France (post coming shortly) last Thursday to find the Earshot Jazz Festival going strong in Seattle, wrapping up November 4th with the Robert Glasper Experiment (check out his Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP!).


Dos y Mas, a duo representin’ Cuba.

Elio Villafranca (piano) and Arturo Stable (percussion) of Dos y Mas opened for Lionel Loueke at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). The duo blends music from many traditions around the world, the Cuban tradition being just one. Stable even brandished a knock-off-sounding mbira (finger piano). Both are educators in Philadelphia. Loueke then entranced with strong West African folk melodies, sung in unison with his guitar. Heavy, heavy. The SAM just needs a venue with space to dance.

For the full remaining line up, visit Philip Glass, Chris Lightcap, Christian Scott, Evan Flory-Barnes, Roosevelt High School Jazz Band (my alma mater, heh), Branford Marsalis, Robert Glasper are some at-a-glance highlights. If you’re in town, support an awesome local music event!

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I head to Mexico City on Thursday. On to the next musical world. Taco with a pork chop.

Planet Rock


Naw, I’m not talking about a classic rock radio station, or even a rock climbing gym. I’m talking about the hip-hop song, baby.

I traveled the world for a year seeking dialects of jazz outside of the US. Long before I embarked, fresh dialects of jazz have been emerging within the US, as artists embrace contemporary forms of urban American music like hip-hop and R&B. (I touched on this in a previous post entitled, “J Dillalude”). Jason Moran stands as one such artist. A decade ago, Moran thoughtfully reinvented the 1980s hit “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa on his album Modernistic. Check out a live clip!

Jason Moran & The Bandwagon – Planet Rock

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Moran gives insight on his rendition:

“‘Planet Rock’ was one of the songs we danced to as kids in the early Eighties… when it came on the radio I was like, “Man, this is a serious piece of music.” It actually goes through sections. There are interludes, it’s well put together and it’s lengthy for a hip-hop song. They don’t make ’em that long anymore. Right before I was going to do Modernistic I was thinking, How do I make a solo recording that’s as vast as what I listen to? How can I incorporate “Planet Rock” into solo piano repertoire and have it rub shoulders with Schumann? And how can they be on the same record with Muhal Richard Abrams and Jaki Byard?

It was a matter of finding the connections between hip-hop and the piano-as-percussion-instrument, which I did via John Cage’s prepared piano music. If I could put all that together, I thought, then “Planet Rock” could still work as a hip-hop piece, and not some jazzy version of it. It could still hold some of that drumbeat, it could still hold that bass line and I could play the lyrics. In a lot of jazz versions of hip-hop tunes they never play the lyrics, they just play the background music.

Now check out Bambaataa’s original take:

Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock

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“Planet Rock” refers to the crack game that plagued the US in the eighties. It still does. At the same time, many of the greatest rappers were once hustlers. Ice-T narrates the back-story of the rap game from the outlook of the crack game in the VH1 documentary “Planet Rock.”

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After a month in the woodshed (hence the long break in blog posts), I embark on another, shorter travel stint. I’ll send word from France and Spain.

A Circle

After one year and two weeks, nine countries, an untold number of sessions and gigs, and days of flight time, I’ve landed back in Seattle. The journey doesn’t end here. This past year of travel and music is a beginning if anything. Stay tuned!


On my way home from Japan—the final project country—I stopped briefly in Honolulu, HI for some well deserved R&R. More importantly, I was able to reconnect with old friends and play a nice gig at Wards Rafters—which has one of the best complementary views of any venue anywhere. Honestly, my entire journey began on this small island of Oahu, where exactly two years ago, amidst daytime research at the University of Hawaii and late night sessions in Chinatown, my mind gave birth to a humble idea that one might travel the world with his instrument to converse and connect with people all over the world.


Thank you to everyone who followed and supported the wild year. I’m frankly amazed as I glance at a WordPress summary—an extraordinary amount of views from the US, Nepal, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, India, Germany, UK, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Colombia, Indonesia, Thailand, Denmark, Mongolia, Argentina, Spain, Korea, Italy, Greece, Taiwan, New Zealand, Belgium, Turkey…the list goes on and on, including views from Bhutan, Faroe Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Cyprus and Oman.


Each country I visited boasts an expansive global network, with meaningful musical dialogue between people of vastly different backgrounds. Our differences become our point of interest. Borders blur, lose focus. Exotic presumptions and generalizations subside, replaced by real substance and form. We are all just people, sharing one world and one predicament—life. Music links all of our differences by means of our fundamental similarities. Music is but one means to this end, but what an extraordinary one. The universal language is no myth… but it is not music. It’s goes even deeper than music. Though, music is far deeper than any conventional language.


To all the musos—keep on. To all the listeners and enthusiasts—keep on.


This blog will continue to share beautiful music from around the world, while introducing new themes and inspirations. And I ensure that I will most definitely be keepin’ on.