Performance Art

A Musician in Your Midst

I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to two thousand people at once before, so you’re all going to have to lean in nice and close.

More like Pale BLUES Dot.I’m Smashley! I’m a jazz saxophonist, a writer, and a skeptic. I’m really excited to be able to fuse the three of those into one awesome bloggin’ bundle by getting to post for such an innovative new site.  Really, really excited.

I just got my master’s in jazz studies from the University of North Texas in May, after which I moved on to a new exciting life in Chicago. I gig here and there, and I pay my bills by writing for a popular company’s website that shall remain nameless because it is popular. And a company. But suffice it to say, the things I write for them are nothing like the things I’ll be writing for you. They’re not that special. You’re the only one for me, bebeh.

My move to Chicago coincided with my discovery of Skepchick, and, soon after, my introduction to all sorts of amazing and brilliant skeptical people in the city. The idea that I actually get to post on an offshoot of Skepchick, a site that’s respected and admired by everyone I respect and admire, is unimaginably awesome. See? It just goes to show that you can accomplish anything if you bribe Elyse handsomely.

The connection of music to science and skepticism is something I’ve thought about for a long time. With visual art, you can depict humbling astronomical wonders or draw hilarious skeptical comics and show things, really establish ideas in a concrete way. Music is abstract by its very nature. Sure, there are plenty of brilliant skeptical musicians out there who sing songs about rationality and critical thinking, the two most inspiring to me being George Hrab and Tim Minchin, but it’s a completely different ball game when you bring this to purely instrumental music. I can’t exactly communicate that “Everything Alive Will Die Someday” with a saxophone and a rhythm section.

Still, I have a few ideas, and I’m bursting at the seams to share them with you. A couple of topics I’m especially interested in are the curious effects music has on the brain and the everyday skepticism of being a jazz musician (there really is some. It’s not all sunglasses and smoky bars, you know). I may share some of the things I researched in my master’s, in hopes that it doesn’t get too terribly dry. But you guys are skeptics. Skeptics can handle dry with a smile and a thank you.

I’m looking forward to it!

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. 1st: That picture is AMAZING!
    2nd: Bribing Elyse has become my M.O. as well.
    3rd: Welcome to the fold. This is already rocking and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

  2. This makes me ridiculously happy.

    And not just because of the sweet-ass bribes I’m bilking out of you filthy rich artists!

  3. ” It’s not all sunglasses and smoky bars, you know.”

    Dangit. *strikes jazz musician off “when I grow up” list. *

    I am looking forward to what you have to share. The hubster is a non-professional prog-rock musician and I am a lazy dabbler in folk. Yay music!

  4. I’m also a musician (as Skulleigh said: “Yay Music!”) and a long-time Skepchick reader, but non-commenter.

    Looking forward to reading and hearing your work!

  5. Sagan’s mouth is perfectly pursed for saxophone photoshopping! I tried to put an alt caption that says “More like Pale Blues Dot,” but it’s not showing. My techiness is failing me.

  6. @Skulleigh and ElasticPlanet – If you guys have music-related topics you’d like to see, let me know! I’m excited to be able to write about music for musicians!

    and ElasticPlanet, I too am guilty of infrequent Skepchick comments. Let the healing begin!

  7. Can’t think of anything right now, but will try.

    Just wanted to say that I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. Though I now live in Los Angeles, I still miss the music scene in Chicago. So much great stuff.

  8. One thing I’d like to know is what an actual academic musical education is like. I’m self-taught all the way, except for one Circle of 5ths workshop that I understood about – maybe – 20% of. I bet a lot of people think it’s “just” sitting around playing music all day.

  9. I’ve been thinking about elaborating on some of the more nitty-gritty details of playing music in a post or two, but it has the potential to be mind-numbing. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to get into every nook and cranny of music theory, but there IS an evidence-based process to figuring out if, say, the standard melody you’re learning is the right one, since there are all sorts of misprints in storebought music books and the only way to know if you’re playing a tune the right way is to listen to the original recording. But how do you find which recording is the original? It goes from there. I’m completely unsure of whether or not this would be interesting to anyone but myself.

    Personally, I envy self-taught musicians. The learning by ear and free improvising you do is something that academically trained musicians don’t learn to do until five or ten years into it (and for some, it’s never).

  10. I may do just that, then. 🙂

    By the way, after we got your message about the Scopes Monkey Choir podcast, I dove into them hardcore. I think I’ve listened to six or seven already. Love love love the show!

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