Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Art of Living: Spider Saloff

I often speak about the importance of getting out of our heads and into our bodies. From experience, I know when I'm trying to make important decisions or move forward on something that's difficult for me, I make better progress when I focus on how I feel versus what I think. My mind can spin in crazy, vicious circles for eternity but my body speaks the immediate, visceral truth.

I thought it would be interesting to ask people whose life's work or creative pastimes require them to be very in tune with their bodies, to share their process and personal stories on this topic.

Spider Saloff is an internationally celebrated jazz singer and she also teaches at the Bloom School of Jazz which is where I took her brilliant Master Class in Vocal Phrasing and Improvisation. Spider actually facilitated one of the peak experiences in my life so far: I got to sing two jazz tunes accompanied by a great band at the famed Green Mill jazz club in Chicago. I saw her recently and knew she'd be the perfect person for this interview. In a beautifully candid way, she shares personal and practical wisdom we can all learn from.

Why is this practice of getting out of our heads and into our bodies so important?

It has to do with the “big picture” concept. Our entire way of living our lives has to do with a balance of body, mind and spirit. When one of these is out of balance, we are open to disorder, unrest and even illness.

What are some of the ways it helps you in your day to day life?

I have recently been through some extremely stressful situations in my life. The big one being the sudden death of my husband. Carrying on with my life and creativity has been incredibly powerful and important in recovering from the experience. A major help to me was the daily practice of being present. By this I mean a real understanding of knowing where I am right in the moment - not being in the past or in an artificial future that I am just making up. When I can get myself to be present it almost immediately removes fear in just about any situation. And from this comes the capacity to be in a balanced state.

What are some of the ways it helps you in your work or creative practice?

As a creative artist I need to be self motivated in order to carry on with my work. This of course can be difficult at times. You don’t always wake up and say, “Hey, I think I’ll write a song today!” Most of the time you just want to put stuff off. But this, too, comes from fear. And that comes from not being present. The part of you that is in the past is saying, “Oh, what if I just can’t do it? I couldn’t do it yesterday. How will I be able to do it now?” And the part of you that is making up the false future is saying, “Oh, what if I do it and it isn’t good? People will think I'm a failure. I'm better off just being safe and not doing anything.”

Yeah. You can see how well that works! So if you can get present you can be with, “What if I just write a couple of thoughts down. And if it isn’t good, it doesn’t matter. I am here and I am safe.

Has this practice affected other areas of your life that surprised you?

Yes. Even in mundane chores that seem overwhelming. Like cleaning out a closet that has not been touched since dinosaurs walked the earth. (They may even be living in there.) If I can just get myself to stop the conversation about how hard it is and take out one thing. All of sudden I can get into the actual joy of it and the release of throwing stuff out and making my life easier. Then when it's over I feel great and can’t believe all the fuss I was making over it. What a bunch of nonsense goes on in our heads!

What are the signs to look out for in your body to know when something moves you? How do you check in with your body when making decisions?

This, I suppose, is what one calls a gut reaction. When a situation calls for it, most of us will hear that little bell go off. It's getting used to knowing what the bell sounds and feels like that fine tunes the process.

Any other wisdom you'd like to share with us?

I think as an artist and a human being one of the most important things to remember is to never get caught up in comparing yourself or your success to ANYONE ELSE. We are all on our own path and we don’t have the energy to waste on such devouring thoughts. Always focus on what is working and what is making you feel good. That is the art of living.

Spider Saloff is a critically acclaimed singer and actress. Her syndicated radio series Words and Music has been heard world wide. She performs concerts with full orchestras as well as in intimate jazz venues. Her most well known work is her Gershwin concert in which Saloff worked directly with the Gershwin family. The show received rave reviews, toured nationally and was featured in St. Petersburg, Russia. Saloff has 7 CD’s to her credit and is the winner of 5 MAC Awards presented by The Manhattan Association of Cabarets. Her newest project is a one woman musical, Entertaining Guests which Saloff wrote the book as well as the music. The play is slated for a Chicago debut in 2010. Check out her website at


Lynn Stevens said...

Excellent reminders. I'm so impressed you got to sing at the Green Mill, and pleased to know of your musical proclivities. I'm keeping you in mind for some neighborhood events currently just in my head.

Dana Joy said...

by all means, please think of me..and thanks for reading Lynn!

Sandy Suminski said...

I started reading your blog a few months ago and really enjoy it. What a great surprise it was to see this interview with Spider Saloff here! I used to take her class as well and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I even met my husband there! She is a great inspiration and your interview captures her well. Keep up the good work!

Dana Joy said...

Sandy! I love that you went to Spider's class! Isn't she the best? And I am very pleased that you like my blog as well. Thank you for reading, I appreciate it more than you know.


dana joy