My Hero, Jeff Buckley: How to “Organically” Build Your Music Style

By, Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

Ok, Jeff Buckley is amazing, but he’s not my only- or even biggest- influence/ hero. I chose to write about him because of his process in becoming his own musician. If you aren’t aware of Jeff Buckley or his music, check out his only fully recorded studio album, Grace, or its contents on YouTube. You may have heard his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It is, IMHO [in my humble opinion], by far the most moving iterations of that widely covered song out there. Jeff Buckley’s voice as heard in his album and in live recordings transcends range and race, reaching expansive stratospheres of emotion with nuclear musicality, woven by his elegant balance of refinement and rawness through the medium of that Voice. Unfortunately, he died prematurely by accident in the middle of recording his second album, which is why he has only one complete studio album out. The music world mourns the loss of his potential, yet rejoices in his short-but-sweet contribution.

Enough smoke blown, however, and back to the point. Jeff Buckley was the son of Tim Buckley, a folk-add-jazz musician who gained a cult following and who also died at an early age of 28. Jeff wanted very little to do with his father, especially the music thereof. Because of that huge presence hanging over, threatening to stain his own ‘essence,’ Jeff sought out music scenes in LA and especially New York to educate himself. One year of music school, a reported waste of time, at least opened his eyes to music theory and the rich music of classical romanticists, thus showing him how to play with interesting harmonies. He covered everything: the blues, punk and rock scenes taught him the relevant extremes of guitar-based music; covering folk and jazz music taught him how to songwrite with decent structure and content, while finessing the art of rule-bending; voice lessons came with intense study and emulation of Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, while worship of Pakhistani super-star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan seems to have influenced his supernatural-like vocal acrobatics; and yet, Jeff is just so himself. Google the title song of Jeff’s album, “Grace” [grace jeff buckley] and click on the first video. What do you hear?

How might I apply this? My formal music education lies in a classically based Bachelor in Music during which I studied old to new art song (from Dowland to Faure, Wolf to Lee Hoiby,) and performed primarily opera retaining several lead roles on the opera and musical theatre stage. If you were to hear MY music style (which I’m only starting to realize I’m a baby in my own right) you might hear a glimpse of that, yet more of a folk/ soul / rock amalgamation. Some of my informal music education stems from a younger interest in Frank Sinatra, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Indigo Girls followed by a more mature obsession with Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead all the while enamored by the obscurely fabulous instrumental group, the Rachel’s (I implore you to look them up), and finally an intense devotion to traditional and popular West African music, rhythm and dance for the past 3 and a half years under the masters (Maputo and Mawue Mensah, maputomensah.com , Nii Arma Sowah, and Dr. Kwasi Ampene under whom I’ve had the privilege to perform and converse with some great band/ solo musicians including Victor Wooten, check him out. Serious.)

I believe the truest education of any kind- be it musical, culinary, artistic, literary, medical/ body- occurs when the student widens his/her variety of influence and truly listens to that which moves him or her. Open exploration with a sensitivity to that which resonates most in one’s heart-mind-body will teach one more about his/herself than any school, one style, or single teacher ever could. I know so many “classical” singers (some professional) who don’t know their own voice, their own style at all, because they only know how to RESEMBLE one or two styles. This is not to say that good technique won’t get you anywhere. Technique is an often necessary tool, which is why you should take lessons and search with discrimination for good teachers. The world, and its increasing connectivity, is your school of style. The more you listen, the vaster variety of great musicians and performers you emulate= the more you will know yourself, what you’re about, and how you might want to express that musically or otherwise. Your heart is a magnet and will take what it likes from what you show it. Now go educate yourself and let the open stages be your practice room, if to be your own musician is what you truly want.

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One Response to “My Hero, Jeff Buckley: How to “Organically” Build Your Music Style”

  1. leemcgavinjoey Says:

    Did you ever listen to Mystery White Boy? He really explores a more raw take on his songs there, it’s simply fantastic. By far my favourite musician.

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