A unifying person – walking the talk with Carlos Santana

The following post was written a few years ago, but I felt the words and actions of Carlos Santana are more needed than ever. Santana is one of the greatest guitarists and is known for his collaborations. And, let me add that collaborations must be nurtured and cultivated.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

A couple of musical memories

As I search my thoughts for writing inspiration, a Carole King song leaped off the TV screen in a show we were watching. We saw the traveling Broadway show “Beautiful” about King’s life.

King is an American treasure and has written or co-written some of our most popular songs. Then, she realized she could sing them as well. “Tapestry” was her first album and for the longest while was the best selling album ever.

It reminded me of another prolific songwriter named James Taylor. He sang King’s song “You’ve got a friend,” at her invitation. She would later record it and include it on “Tapestry.” We saw Taylor two times and it was a treat. Yet, seeing the two of them perform together on PBS was even more special.

Connecting one more dot, Taylor dated another singer-songwriter named Carly Simon. Of course, she has had a wonderful career building off songs like “You’re so vain” and “Anticipation,” which sold more than ketchup.

Three artists with a connection more than music. Three people who have given us their hearts and souls in their music. There are other connections like this to explore.

Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell lived together, which inspired Nash to write “Our House.” Mitchell wrote the pivotal song about “Woodstock” also sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stephen Stills dated Judy Collins, who he wrote about in “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” another CSNY song. And, to round it all out, Collins had a hit with Mitchell’s “Both sides now.”

Connections. Inspiration. Collaboration. Memorable music.