Interviewed by
Shannon West

visit Freddie at

Music has always touched our lives in ways that go beyond being entertainment.  It inspires.  It can boost our energy or relax and heal us.  It has long been used as a therapeutic tool and a mode of communication between individuals, tribes, and nations.  Music and movement have long been used to free us up and shake us down, but the idea of using music in the framework of a motivational or self-improvement presentation hasn't been explored very deeply. 

Ravel first came to the attention of contemporary jazz fans when his debut solo album, Midnight Passion was released in 1991.  The song "Inettes Forest" is still a smooth jazz playlist staple.  He released Sol to Soul a few years later, then in 2001, his self-titled GRP release delivered the #1 hit, "Sunny Side Up."  He joined Sergio Mendes' band when he was 23 and has collaborated with an array of musical stars including Herbie Hancock, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and Prince.  He was also the musical director for Earth, Wind and Fire and later for Al Jarreau.  He has recently been playing keyboards with Carlos Santana, performing as a solo artist, and with various contemporary jazz stars in the Los Angeles area, and focusing a lot of his heart and energy on developing "Tune Up To Success."

I became fascinated with "Tune Up..." when it was in the developmental stages during the early part of the decade.  If there was ever a case of someone being destined to do something, Ravel was the perfect artist to create an interactive presentation that used music to motivate, inspire, educate and empower.  Combine his musicianship and ability to play everything from classical to salsa to jazz with his personable stage presence and the ability to enter the realm of motivational speaking without sounding smarmy or fake and he is a living illustration of the thought he presents in this conversation - that we all have unique talents and gifts, things that we do well because it is what we were cut out to do them.

This conversation is a holiday gift for you, the reader.  As we enter the second decade of the 20th century we have a lot to think about, a lot to do, and there is much that is in need of change.  Ravel's perspective is beautiful and very much based on music, spirituality, and the need for us to listen and connect with each other.  He was gracious enough to fit this conversation into his schedule with very little notice on a Sunday morning when he was getting ready to leave Las Vegas after a one-month gig playing with Carlos Santana.  As expressive and articulate as he is, I pretty much just dropped a few questions in and let him run with it, and share his thoughts and intentions, doing what the Tune Up presentations urge us to do: listen.

SmoothViews (SV) : How did the idea for "Tune Up" come about?
Freddie Ravel (FR): It all happened in the summer of 2001.  I was touring with Al Jarreau, and we were in Tunisia at the time.  I got a fax from my manager saying that "Sunny Side Up" had hit #1 in the United States on NAC radio.  It was the first time that one of my own pieces of music from my own album that I had produced myself hit #1.  It was very exciting.  I had this walking on clouds feeling for about a week, then I hit the big "now what?"  - that feeling that this is really cool and wonderful, but what's next?  That really hit me hard.  Then we were in Tunisia playing "Take Five' in front of an audience that was entirely Arabic, Muslim, and filled with love in their eyes.  I had my eyes closed and I was playing.  It's a very deep moment when you're digging into that groove with Al Jarreau.  I opened my eyes and saw about 1,000 people in the crowd with their eyes closed and their hands up at face level holding their palms up to us as if they were receiving nectar of the Gods.  I thought, "here I am playing classic American jazz in this country, and they are receiving it like one of the greatest gifts in the world."  Then three months later 9/11 happened.  Then later that year I went to South Africa to play Johannesburg and Capetown, and learned that 9/11 wasn't in the headlines there.  It was all about AIDS because at that time 1 out of 6 people in South Africa had contracted AIDS - some outrageous figure like that.  Then, when I got home, my wife came to me and said, "Honey, we're going to be parents." 

All of that happening within the span of about five months led me to think that I really needed to do something far more serious than making a CD, working to get it on the radio, and going out and doing gigs to have fun and promote it.  I love that.  I've dedicated my life to that.  But now I have to live for something bigger.  I wanted to merge my spiritual belief system with my professional journey - my career and my music  and everything I've learned from these masters I've worked with.  When you work with Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Carlos Santana, Sergio Mendes, Earth Wind and Fire - all these different people that I've had the honor to play with - you start to see patterns that all these artists use that lead to success.  You start to see what they write in their lyrics, what they sing about, what chords they use, what rhythms they use.  I've been creating music for so many years with such a high caliber of people, I started thinking about how great it would be if I could distill what I've learned from them, and what I've learned on my own journey.  I wanted to pull certain properties of the core basics of music and use them in a way that people could apply to their daily life in a personal way and a professional way.  That's what led to my decision to do something significant with this and throw my whole energy and soul into it.

SV: You were coming off a #1 chart hit.  Did you intend to put your career as a solo artist on the back burner?
FR: I knew I was going to keep writing music and making music, I  love doing that.  But I wanted to pull the elements of music from all genres - from classical to funk, to rock to salsa, you name it - and show people that there are lessons in this music that can help us be more effective.  The area I decided to focus on is the art of listening.  We listen to music with a very special kind of ear.  Our ears are very attracted to it and so are our souls.  It's in our DNA, how we feel cosmically about music.  Whether we are dancing and shaking to a good groove or sitting still with the headphones on, it affects how we feel in the heart, in the solar plexus, all the way into the seventh Chakra, the third eye.  I wanted to touch the full range of emotion from the physical, to the spiritual, to the mental aspects of music, and reveal something that was so unique, and yet so elegantly simple, that anybody could hear music with a new set of ears.  Then they can find  that there is something inside of any song that they choose to listen to that has a bigger benefit than just making them snap their fingers and bob their heads.  That there is something else in it that can help them become better people. 

SV: From getting this idea how did you actually bring it into being?  You are talking about mixing these elements, bringing it into being, and you have to become a public speaker, which requires an entirely different skill-set from being a performing musician.
FR: When you put out the intention that you are going to do something, and you put it out big, the universe responds.  That's what happened.  Very shortly after, I made that decision to go forward with this I was invited, out of the blue, to be a speaker.  I had never been invited to be speaker before.  This was in a forum with two other prestigious speakers.  One of them was Dennis Tito, the man who gave the Russians 20 million dollars to be the first space tourist.  Neither of the speakers were music-related and I was speaking after him.  I had titled the program "The Music In You."  I spent a couple of months writing the speech and creating the content.  When I did it, I had a grand piano with me.  I stood up, walked around the room, then went back to the piano and played different types of music that fit the messages I was sharing.  When it was over, I had people telling me they learned more about music from that presentation than they had in their whole lives.  Some of them invited me to speak to other groups. 

At that point, I felt like I had to develop this into something.  Then later that year I got contacted by the Washington Speakers Bureau.  They asked me to come speak for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.  These were people that run companies like Del Monte, Coca Cola, and Wal-Mart.  They weren't musicians, they were business people who made or distributed food.  It was the first time I had ever been a professional presenter.  I presented "Tune Up To Success."  They loved it.  Because of that, we got endorsements from a variety of top corporate entities including Wal-Mart, of all things (laughs).  This was at the end of 2002.  Within the first year, we had picked up some significant traction.  I began to do this for many different types of organizations.  I did it for some corporations, I did it for a group of nurses, then I was invited to do it at the Berks Jazz Festival. 

SV: People who are doing motivational presentations seem to focus on either doing a standard corporate "up and at'em" type program or work solely with individuals in a coaching situation.  How did your path lead to presenting to such a wide range of groups?
FR: I began to connect with some people who really inspired me.  If you go back to my album, Sol to Soul there's a song that I wrote with Deepak Chopra.  That's a relationship that began in 1993 when he was a practicing endocrinologist who had just written the book "Perfect Health" about Ayurvedic medicine.  I was working with Earth, Wind and Fire as their musical director and his publicist introduced us.  He wanted to write a piece of music with me so we put together "Slip In The Gap," which is on the album.  I was also getting to know Marianne Williamson.  I had heard her speak and she used to come to the Baked Potato to listen to my band.  She's really into music, she was in vocal groups before she came to California.  I had always had my foot in the door of defining the word "namaste," defining the word "love," and finding out how that applies to my life.  That has been a backdrop for me since I was in my early twenties and it is the foundation for "Tune Up To Success."  My parents were a big influence too.  My father was raised Jewish and my mom was Catholic.  I was raised in a broad, open-minded setting where they wanted me to experience those faiths and exposed me to others as well.  My father exposed me to Ba'hai, he exposed me to Unitarian Universalism, he took me to all these gatherings to make me aware of them so I could choose the paths I wanted to take. 

Music just fit into this.  A consistent aspect of my journey in music has been being the connector-bridge guy.  It happens in my life again and again.  When I joined Sergio Mendes, I was a 23 year old American kid playing Brazilian music.  I toured Japan with groups of Japanese musicians.  When I joined Earth Wind and Fire, I was the only white guy.  When Al Jarreau first called me, it was to write  a piece of music with a strong salsa energy - the song "Tomorrow, Today," and that's what led to us touring and working together.  With Earth Wind and Fire it was the song "Honor The Magic," which was the first Salsa they ever did and that's how I ended up playing with them.  Now I'm playing with Carlos Santana who is all about bridging everything spiritually and musically.  All those pivotal things that happened to me in 2001, combined with my exposure to so many different spiritual paths by my parents, getting to know Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson, and having a career as a solo artist and as a collaborator with so many other artists has given me this duality about how I've done things.  That was the setup for the work I wanted to do and present with "Tune Up."

SV: The framework of the presentation seems to be the blend of three elements: Melody - what's your song, Harmony - what can we do together, and Rhythm - how do we pace ourselves.  I was listening to a conversation you had with another interviewer and she brought up the fact that most of us are not in touch with our own melody?
FR: Most people aren't.  A CNN poll showed that 83% of Americans don't like what they do for a living and there's a Gallup poll showing that says 26% of Americans feel engaged in what they do.  So that's 74% that don't.

SV: When was this poll taken?  I'm asking that because what seems to be happening now is a lot of people are being laid off from the professions they loved and were engaged in and are having to take other jobs just for an income while they freelance or do part-time work in their chosen fields.  That has happened a lot to people who were in radio or worked for record companies, it's also happening to teachers, pretty much people in all fields.
FR: These are fairly recent.  The Gallup was within the last two years.  There is a tremendous transition going on right now but what I am seeing is that people who do what they love do very well.  They have a barometer of success that is very good because it's real.  It's who they are.  They may be in a path where they aren't making the kind of money they want to make, but their happiness index is more stable than people who are loaded financially.  This gets back to the melody factor.  Melody is about finding all the things that really excite you and make you thrilled to get out of bed in the morning.  They are usually purpose driven. 

The key to making it work is, to me, summed up with a great saying by Aristotle, "Where your talents and the needs of the world intersect, there lies your vocation."  That is really important because all of us have unique gifts and unique talents.  There are certain things that each one of us do better than almost anyone else is because we are cut out for these things.  The tricky part is that if you identify your talents but then invest them in areas where the world doesn't have a need for them you won't have a job.  If you find a place where you can use your talents to address a need, then you're working. 

There are so many needs for so many things that I believe everyone can find work and value with their talents.  They may have to travel, they may have to modify the way they manage their time, but there's a way to do it.  It could be a huge massive agenda like addressing the hunger in the world and work with a soup kitchen or food distribution organization, or they might have a gift for managing people and end up in an HR situation where they help people channel their abilities into something meaningful, or it could be raising their kids to have a strong value system and become effective human beings who make the world a better place. 

SV: So the element of harmony follows that idea of finding the need that your talent fits then taking it into the realm where you are working with others.
FR:  Harmony is how you collaborate with other people, it's a very important element.  In music, when one melody meets another that's enough information to know what the harmony is.  Think of a Bach two-part invention.  There are only two voices playing, but as you are hearing the piece you can hear all the different qualities of a chord.  The same thing happens when there are two singers.  If two human beings come together in their day to day lives there is a merging of melodies.  If they are really listening to each other and the conversation is productive there is harmony occurring.  It's a shared agenda, they are listening to each other and acknowledging each other.  There's a spirit of collaboration happening.  It's a win-win situation where each party is listening even if one is shaking their head and questioning but still listening.  That means they are saying, "I don't totally agree with you, I may not agree with you at all, but let me hear you finish what you want to say then I will come back with my opinion and we can arrive at a compromise."  I would call that dissonance.  In music when you are hitting a chord that is dissonant, but you build the tension and hold on to it, then find a moment when you can release it and resolve it, it creates the moments in all kinds of music where the tears come out of people's eyes, where the hairs stand up on people's arms.  It's what makes a piece of music break through. 

What if we start metaphorically thinking of music in day to day life and have that tune in to how we listen to each other?  We could emerge with tools that are going to carry it into the way you listen to your peers, the way we listen to each other.  It teaches that there is potential for harmony in our social interactions.  What kind of world could we live in if everybody viewed every day as offering a chance to make music in your own live.  What if you got up every morning and said that on this day you were going to hold a conductor's baton to your life and be open to singing your melody and expressing who you are?  Then beyond that, to make a commitment to listen for other melodies to see how harmony can be created. 

SV: Then rhythm comes into play in the way we pace ourselves.
FR: Yes (laughs) you're getting it!  Once you create that harmony you have to find ways manage time so all the goals and things I'm talking about in terms of harmony have a rhythm.  If you have melody and harmony but you don't have the rhythm, a drummer, things are not in synch.  You can set your intention, but without rhythm and time management, things fall apart and don't get done.  The drummer, for many people, is your to-do list, your calendar, the way you organize your week.  You need to have the structure and boundaries if you want do what you want to achieve.  You can have great ideas and wonderful people in your life, you can know your own song and have a lot of harmonic relationships but if you do something like set up a meeting to make plans and either you or someone else doesn't show then you're thrown off track and nothing happens.  It's like a drummer not showing up for the gig and everyone else trying to play without that.  The drummer within us is very important and a lot of people are negligent about that point.

SV: I think a lot of that comes from the fact that we have demands imposed on us by what we must do like what our job requires and  our family commitments then we impose more requirements and take on more commitments beyond that and when you juggle too many plates you start dropping them. 
FR: So one of the things to learn about is when to say no (laughs) and when to say yes.  You have to prioritize.  That goes back to knowing your melody and focusing on what you want to accomplish, not just with your work but the time you need to commit to your personal relationships.

SV: I've been chasing you for a while trying to get you to talk about both Tune Up and your music and there was a point where we were waiting for you to record a new album and I was thrilled that you were willing to share some of the ideas behind Tune Up with us.  It seems like this presentation is your niche, that you've been adding to it and refining it for almost a decade, and your vision for it is expanding.  Where do you see it going? 
FR: My dream is for this to end up being an edutainment infotainment entity that we launch on a much bigger platform and take everywhere.  It uses music - something we all have within us -  as a tool to help us be more effective in our personal and professional lives.  My vision is for this to open up a whole new viewpoint for the way we live, the way we act, and the way we listen.  The underlying agenda is to teach the art of listening, which is summed up by the word empathy.  If you have a tone and sense of empathy in your interactions with people you are going to be a very brilliant active listener.  You are going to be really listening to what they say and how they say it.  You're going to be looking at their eyes, their hands, and their body language.  It comes down to the ability to walk in another person's shoes.  When you have a high level of empathy you are drinking in life.  You really savor what is happening around you and you are living without judgment.  That really heightens your ability to create harmony because you are drinking in life experience.  When you are on stage playing with great musicians you are going out of your way to become completely absorbed by the other musicians you are playing with and how to support them.  That's what I've always aspired to do.  When I'm playing music with people I'm thinking of how I can complement them and the ways I can collaborate with them.  The idea is to take that perspective and bring that into the paradigm of listening in your everyday life.  That teaches empathy.  When you live a life with an empathetic tone you begin to practice Namaste consciousness, which is to say that "the light in me recognizes and honors the light in you."  That of course is pretty much the golden rule of all the great faiths of the world.  We are basically teaching honor and respect of your fellow human being through music.  And to live in a state of gratitude.

When you approach life with a sense of gratitude in every moment it's amazing what happens.  It's amazing how unexpected gifts keep coming forth when you are in grace, when you are gracious, when you are grateful.  Things happen that are wonderful. 

SV: And we are very grateful that you took time from your busy schedule to share this with us! 

Visit Freddie's website to find out more:
Check out the video trailer for “Tune Up To Success” on YouTube