Gary Justice

  "One Big Beautiful Song"-
My Musical and Spiritual Journey


Music 

As children we were singing daily.  Every morning in the assembly hall at school they’d project sheet music up on the wall, with a little bouncing ball popping on the notes as the hymn lyrics scrolled forward.  In England and Canada I sang in choirs, played in orchestras and took music lessons.  At fifteen, four of us put together a rehearsal music group that became a 20-hour a week workshop of group arranging, playing and improvising.  At eighteen I flew to Halifax to play in a “professional” music group.  We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a house with the drums and equipment set up for constant rehearsal, and slept on mats in and around the equipment.  Playing small concerts our only source of income, we subsisted on fish cakes and apples and drove four or twelve hours on the slippery east coast highways to each gig, in a beat up, no heat rental van.  To an eighteen year old aspiring professional musician it  was glorious!

Then there were ten years of performing in music groups of all shapes and sizes, either as a key member or freelance sideman, sometimes learning the repertoire of several new shows each month. Then eight years forming groups as a bandleader, overlapping with teaching and forming several recording studios. So, including the childhood years and early adult years, I found myself   playing the violin & flute, choral and solo singing , six string and (especially) bass guitar,  and percussion. When MIDI came along this expanded to keyboards, sampling and programming. This long span opened at least a visiting awareness of Handel, Beethoven, Holst, Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Brown, The Beatles, BobMarley, various other roots music, reggae, latin, jazz, funk, disco, progressive rock, wedding music, gospel, Indian & Pakistanian Bhangra and Classical, African, English & North American folk music, Euro/tekno/house/dance music, hip-hop, avant-garde, freestyle, “down tempo”...labels and categories disappeared after awhile.  

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I was not an "expert" in many of these fields, or a virtuoso on my instrument.  It was just an attitude of honoring the genre in each case, and finding some way to make a new and valid statement in each context.  The bigger part of the experience was learning to love. To love and feel each culture, each style, each  composer/songwriter, each player  with whom I was playing.

This role morphed from player to writer to band leader to producer/arranger.  If this sounds scattered, it didn’t feel that way. Things more or less came about organically over a period of  years.  I’d meet a drummer while playing a reggae gig, and later he’d be on a C&W gig that needed a bass player where we'd meet a singer who wanted a backup funk band put together... Later perhaps the singer would leave the band, I’d step into that role, we’d end up featuring some songs I wrote – we’d book into a recording studio and I’d naturally become the “producer” of the recording.  On other dates someone else would be doing their material and I'd be supporting their vision as a player. Later, to cut down recording costs (at least that was the plan!) the idea was to purchase equipment and set up a recording studio which eventually “grew” out of the house and into a commercial location.  Then it was natural to meet other writer-producers who made music for film & television, which led to meeting some directors & creators.  Through a friendship with Mathew Bates, Museum exhibit designer I found myself writing music for interactive installations. Then the internet started to happen. And on it went.....

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Spirituality


During my  teens I was interested in spirituality and made various attempts to explore this inclination.  George Harrison, Baba Ram Dass and others pointed us to Indian lineages. Meditation seemed to happen spontaneously, at first without instruction.

At fifteen years old, three of us became Jehovah’s witnesses for about a year.  Much of what was awakened was meaningful and opening, but within a year, the feeling of belonging to a "cult" fixed in specific ideas as though other possibilities weren't the real "facts" seemed narrow. One night, in bed with my then girlfriend who really wanted to do it (for our first time), I refused based on my adopted "moral" commitments.  Later I wasn’t sure it was a good decision, somehow seemed unnatural.  Did these commitments come from embracing something that resonated from an inner understanding? This kind of questioning led to resisting dogmatic or prescribed systems of singular approach. 

In a way you never fully leave anything behind. If your involvement was sincere, you will undeniably see truth and light in some parts of it – how could those parts fall away even after you have stopped that particular practice or membership?  Still, one can expand and evolve one’s perspective spiritually.

So, with a growing inclination to look outside of the kind of Christianity we were automatically exposed to in North America, I began to feel truth and meaning in how one engages with ones “temple” – fitness, food & sustenance -  as an expression of love and purification. This was largely influenced by my best friend and girlfriend at that time,  Jocelyn Lanois, who taught me much about such things. Another big influence was exposure to the culture and magazines one would find at health food stores, which were rare in the 1970's. This included “hygienic” health diets (fasting, respect, compassion & purification through how we eat), macrobiotic diet (balance, energy flow and awareness of the Bigger Systems) as expressed in many books I had encountered, such as Love Your Body by Victorias Kulvinskas (Hypocrites Health Foundation, Boston). 

There was an awareness that doing any one practice sincerely and compassionately can take you far in spiritual development, including how you eat, how you deal with people or how you play music.  Jazz musicians for example, engage in a dedicated demanding constant "practice", have taken a vow of poverty, and become intimate of the workings of spirit and unblocking personal blocks -much like a monk who has taken vows of renunciation. Through learning of others’ path and practices, it became evident that there are many ways, many teachers worth listening to, practices worth trying, and that we as individuals all share very similar issues and aspirations.

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Later was an encounter with the book  “Remember: Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert / Baba Ram Das.   It’s content was so compelling partly due to the brief yet potent “Diary” format of the first section, which intimately told his change from a somewhat self-centered, successful American Psychiatrist to the quietly ecstatic, service-focused, Buddhist and Hindu influenced Baba Ram Dass. In it’s gentle way, the book also outlined philosophy, methods of practice for self-transformation, and a sense of waking up to gratitude, appreciation and sacredness. These insights, along with many other wake-up calls and pointers, rang true to my heart and influenced the unfolding of years to come.

At one point I was playing bass with a mostly black/West Indian group called Ashiba.  We were constantly traveling.  My hotel room partner was Derry Etkins from Guyana. He was a committed yogi. One of his routines was right before going on stage he’d be lying in a bathtub of cold water and ice, absorbing the prana.  Then he’d leap up, throw on his clothes, run down stairs to the ballroom and leap onstage into the spotlight, where he’d be sparkling as he introduced the evening. We became quite close, and over a period of time he coaxed me gently into a fairly serious beginner’s daily yoga practice, which never left me.  As I travel through new focuses and spiritual journeys, a daily practice is the core that keeps my progress fueled.

Then the process of playing music absorbed me blissfully like a mantra for many years, after which there was a great urge for change towards “doing" ordinary work instead of "painting dreams" like an artist. I had a yearning to be living like a "regular person". 

It’s interesting that no matter how you frame it, one’s innate desire to rise up finds it’s way into one’s plans.  I found myself working as a waiter in cutting edge fine dining restaurants, under the guidance of insightful Maitre D’s and sometimes visionary proprietors – learning the art of sincere service.  Here we practiced purity of uncluttered thoughts and intentions, graceful movement, appreciative, selfless attitudes, cheery uplifting demeanor, discipline and reliability.  How different was that from other practices I had engaged in or aspired to?  It wasn’t long before I was quite active musically again and eventually settled into a more conscious and focused spiritual pursuit.

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For several years I was engaged in a Korean style of Buddhist Zen practice. I have taken Buddhist precepts and the name “Kongch’aek” (Empty Book) from Korean Zen Master Venerable Samu Sunim of  Zen Buddhist Temple.  This involved daily meditation and physical practice, chanting, ethical observances and cultivation of compassion, celebration and service in all activities.  My teachers have included my family, my friends, my musical friends, the many music and spiritual teachers, inside and outside of “courses”, and my loving (and deeply loved) partner twenty years, Diane.  Gradually there is a sense of all this merging - music, spirituality, love, life.  A highly accomplished musical / spiritual friend recently said to me “I’d like my life to eventually become one on-going beautiful song”.  His thoughts have helped to set a tone for my current aspirations.

Currently I am becoming involved with a group called Hridaya Yoga (Yoga of the Heart), based around a self realized guru named Mangala Anshumati, who seems to have well opened the hearts of her friends/followers. Their use of music is front and center to their spiritual work. This way of dealing with music includes an aspect not consciously required for musicians per se. Some of the Hridaya people actually are acomplished musicians but they have reoriented to include the Cosmic Heart in how they play and why they play.

What does this lead to?  Love.  Slowly we learn to love it all.  All the work, all the music , all those around us, and through this love, we see truth and peace - within one's self,  and for all beings. All living is the yoga to experience and spread this Love.  Now that's a party!
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Music On The REVsound Web Site


Throughout the broader “REVsound” web site are links to a selected history of periods of work I have output as a player, writer, singer, band leader, producer.  This has spanned some of the periods mentioned above, pulling music out of the changing times around me.  These works, many of them blatantly “pop”, “commercial” or satirical / tongue in cheek, and others more in the "serious" music or folk/roots category span about thirty years.  My state of mind about music during most of this time was that “commercial” or trendy music reaches a lot of people, and these formats are just as deep or meaningful or expressive as the people who create within them, and the moment where it happens.  Laughing, tongue in cheek or dancing with “no mind” all has its place in spirituality.  I was never one to feel that “serious” or “sacred” music was necessarily of more spiritual value than “other” music, it’s all about how it’s done.  Check out Cold Play’s “A Rush of Blood To The Head” for a spiritual record!  Compare that to some time you were in a church or temple or hearing a "meditation" Cd and really not "feeling" it!

Anyway, outside of this "Yogasound" page you'll find other, widely varied  musical work to listen to.  

Thanks for coming.  Peace and love to you and all those in your life.

Kongch’aek Gary Justice, a.k.a. “Greenfield."


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