Why Jazz?

Jazz is always a staple in our family culture but, in these last weeks of Mardi Gras, it comes to the forefront of our musical revue. In our nod to New Orleans as the premiere celebration spot for Mardi Gras, we listen in on Spotify, watch “The Princess and the Frog” based in New Orleans. I pick up a copy of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” written by Zora Neale Hurston. My husband makes a King Cake to be consumed before Lent kicks in.

A good friend said to me does not like jazz. When I hear this, I first wonder

What sort of jazz this person has in mind?

I do not remember my first introduction to the genre, but I remember when jazz became a staple in my life. We parked near the haberdashery in downtown St. Paul, walked around the corner and down the steps to the blackened entrance, where the man sitting on a stool called us “cats” and took our cover charge. We walked into the space, all painted black with large framed signed posters of jazz legends. At the opposite end of the room was the stage. The bar filled the center with tables all around. Whenever possible we sat near the front, to the right of the stage. There we learned the beauty of listening live, knowing the performers, encountered new musicians we never heard of before, discussing legends those who performed for hundreds of dollars a ticket upstairs, then jammed downstairs for all the after-hours. It cemented itself as one of my most stable and most enjoyable college memories: The Artist’s Quarter.

In all that listening, we distinguished the good from the “meh.” We tuned in during solos to hear each musician creating a melody based on the chord structure on the spot. My friend was not a musician, and neither am I, but we loved it and learned from it and carry that love into our lives lived on separate ends of the country.

Like all musical genres, there are many kinds of jazz.

Yes, there is bland, boring, cheesy elevator jazz. And there’s that man in sunglasses playing the “Careless Whisper” as his life depended on it. But there is also big band, swing, ragtime, and rhythms with its roots in African-American spirituals and other folk traditions.

In the big picture, jazz is a uniquely American tradition. Even the Peanuts Gangs have something to say about jazz in “This Is America, Charlie Brown”. If you want to instill a sense of patriotism in the next generation, teach not just John Phillips Sousa and Johnny Cash but Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

It’s a gift to listen to these musicians at work. The gift lies not just in their ability to play an instrument, the craft of which I have little to no knowledge, but in watching the creator do something all great artists must engage in from time to time: improvisation.

Improvisation looks different in different mediums.

As a writer, I do not only count putting words to paper but also the reading time, the book club time, the impromptu read-aloud time while teaching my children to memorize poetry.

Playing with the medium, like a child handling a batch of playdough, works our mental and creative muscles in important ways, explains Marian Parsons, author of the Miss Mustard Seed blog and several books. To grow and develop as an artist, she argues, it’s necessary.

For the painter that might mean some messy, abstract strokes or color studies, that is, swatches of color on a piece of paper. For the writer, it might be reading nonsense verse out loud. For the musician, it’s very likely improvisation. And improvisation is the heart of jazz, that swinging song with some impressive solos.

This sort of creative play, in whatever the work is, sharpens our senses and develops our muscles for the given work so that when we come back to Bach or book editing or the canvas, we are that much more adroit to take on the challenge required for higher-skilled work.

So you take the time for something like this in your own life?

Something creative. Something playful. Something in which the stakes are low but the payoff is delight?

 “HORSE” for the basketball player.

An innovative mod for the gamer.

A go-cart for the car mechanic.

And jazz for the musician.

The fun of it, the joy of it, has the power to spill over to the benefit of not only the creative type himself but to those in his circle and those with whom that joy is shared. And in this world where international and national events seem so terribly terrible and important, this is the antidote we need to keep us balanced, focused and forward-moving. And that brings us non-musicians, this month, to the jazz of New Orleans.

Home Making 101

A Review of Feels Like Home: Transforming Your Space from Uninspiring to Uniquely Yours

A Little Background

For years I read the Miss Mustard Seed blog. The author, Marian Parsons, gave me confidence to try to new sewing or home décor projects. Her honesty about the world of online blogging taught me that while the photos may be pristine, often a whole mess is just behind the camera. This knowledge helped curb the sense that my home does not measure up. Her photography was beautiful. I loved the way she shopped and styled antiques. Every sign I painted was in some way a reference to her tutorial.

Feels Like Home

So when she announced the release of her new book, Feels Like Home: Transforming Your Space from Uninspiring to Uniquely Yours (Worthy Books, October 12, 2021), getting my hands on a copy was the only natural response. I ordered it through ZIP books, a service for library customers to request books and audiobooks that are not in the Stanislaus County Library’s catalog (see stanislauslibrary.org to learn more about ZIP books).

Parsons, a pastor’s wife and mother of two boys, began blogging in 2009 to connect with other DIY/Home bloggers and advertise her business, Mustard Seed Interiors, and earn extra money for groceries. The book is 300 pages of beautiful photos, tips, tutorials and the wisdom of a woman who has been in the blogging/influencing industry for eleven years. It is the best of her blog in print without it feeling like she is recycling the writing she has already done.

She knows what it is like to rent, to move repeatedly, to be a beginner at things. As her online followers reacted to her 2017 move to a suburban cookie-cutter house in Rochester, MN, the material for this book began to build.

In “Feels like Home,” she aims to show readers that any space can be made to feel more like home and this is the proper goal of decorating.

She writes,

“The truth is, every home should feel like a custom home and not have to break the bank…I propose that a bespoke home, a house that feels more like home than any other place in the world, is a process, not a destination. It’s not all about aesthetics and architecture, but about the feeling the space evokes.”

Who is it for?

It is this principle that makes this the book I would give to a new wife, to the woman searching for decorating solutions, to the woman trying to make her home beautiful on a budget, to the woman who is trying to quiet the voices around her telling her that her style is “ahem, interesting” as if that were a bad thing.

I would recommend it to the decorating enthusiast, to the person who just likes to look at pretty pictures, to the friend who I know would love the blog but prefers print media to digital media.

Why this book matters

And all this because the message is that good design is not something prepackaged with rules that must be followed at all times. Good design is not following trends. Good design is listening to what speaks to you, inspires you, and even makes you feel a little giddy when you see it. The best-designed homes are very different from each other and are likely not at all neutral.

We live in a fast-paced world full of reality television that solves a home’s problems in an hour or less. In my home, we embarked on a kitchen renovation in early 2020 when was needed to replace the dishwasher. The tile countertops came out so the dishwasher could come out. Next, my husband removed the overhead cabinets. He installed wood paneling which I painted a lovely shade of green. I’m still waiting on three more shelves to replace the table leaves we’re using as shelves. 

Design takes time. It is a process. Allowing ourselves to take our time, observe how we live in a space, use what we have before shopping for something new (or vintage), will make the space work better for us in the long run. This is Parsons’ message and it’s one we need to hear.

Slow down. Make it beautiful. Make it yours. Make it feel like home.

for more info…

Parsons’ other books include Inspired You: Breathing New Life into Your Heart and Home (2012), Barn Quilts: Inspirational Adult Coloring Book (2017), The Home Design Doodle Book (2017) and the Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint Lookbooks.

You can read more of her work at www.missmustardseed.com.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.