Freddie Ravel is a musician’s musician. He has worked with some of the greats, including Prince, Madonna, Santana, Lady Gaga, Earth, Wind & Fire, Al Jarreau, Kanye, and Chicago. Freddie, however, is much more than a master keyboard player, he is someone who understands how music can not only bring us joy but can also be an agent of transformation. He has published books with Deepak Chopra on the power of listening. He created his Life In Tune program, to help people and organizations understand how harmony, rhythm, and melody can help us work better as teams, and as individuals live more fulfilling lives.
As a master musician who is thinking beyond the notes to the meaning of what is being received by the listener, Freddie hears as few of us do. To him, sound is a world of meaning, that connects, inspires, and moves all of us to a higher level.
Tell us a bit about how you got started in music and how it has guided your life.
I have always been drawn to rhythm…All things drums, percussion and specifically the rhythms of Africa and South America! So when I was 7, a door-to-door accordion school salesman knocked on our front door and I answered and he said: “do you like music“? And I responded: “I love the organ with that built-in bossa nova and samba rhythms you get at the push of a button”… And then he said, “ You’re just a little too short to reach the organ pedals but if you start off on the accordion, you’ll learn the basics and then grow tall enough to reach those pedals!
A week later I was enrolled in accordion lessons! Several years later I would get my hands on a piano and never looked back… 88 keys from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs… I felt like I was at the dashboard of an orchestral spaceship and still do to this day!
Do you find that you listen to sounds in general differently than other people do?
I have near-perfect pitch so I could be traveling in a car and drive over a bridge and hear the vibration of the bridge and tell you what Key it is in! My electric vehicle vibrates on a major chord and even the sounds of the waves at the beach, the chirp of cicadas or the wind through the trees will trigger harmonies that I subconsciously connect to an orchestral chord. So yes, I imagine that most people don’t hear these things and if they did, it might drive them crazy… but for me, it’s delicious.
How do you perceive hearing vs listening?
The biggest technique I am very aware of practicing is to not just “hear” – which is merely a function of the physical ear – but rather, LISTEN. This means to listen with mindfulness, compassion, and empathy. Don’t just listen to another persons’ words but rather listen for the meaning of those words and if you go to the next level, listen with empathy – which means listen as though you are standing in the other person’s shoes.
How would you describe the difference between listening to sound and to music?
The difference between sound and music is that sound contains everything… White noise for example… Or pink noise like a jet plane. Sound can contain everything which includes dissonance and irritating things like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard or a super loud motorcycle with no muffler zooming by. Music on the other hand is generally organized with a blend of melody, harmony, and rhythm… Which is the foundation for the Life in tune methodology that my team and I teach across the world.
What is it like to play with Prince?
Funky funky funky!!! Even after playing with some of the funkiest musicians from bands like Tower of Power, Michael Jackson, and Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince had a pocket he dug into on the guitar that was 1000% infectious. I mean, I couldn’t stop grinning… And he was 2 feet away from me when we played together
What instrument did you play with Santana? How does one align on stage with someone like that?
I played the Yamaha Motif and the Hammond B3 organ connected to a Leslie speaker that came with Denny, my full-time German Hammond B3 technician who traveled with us around the world to ensure that my Hammond was always screaming to match the energy of Carlos’ guitar.
The Hammond B3 is one of the most iconic sounds in Rock and a centerpiece of Santana‘s repertoire for over the past half a century! It was my job to instantly kick off his many hits like “Black Magic Woman”, “Evil Ways “ and “Oye Como Va” and bring them to life.
For me, aligning with Carlos Santana was surrendering to any preconceived notions of typical thinking… He’s transcendent energy and speaks and plays from a cosmic playbook… While he knows all the details of whatever he plays , he sends them out to the universe like a bolt of lightning that he has manifested in the service of humanity… I know that sounds lofty… But I’m very clear that that’s where he is coming from… Which means I’ve got to do my best to be in that state to reflect and amplify his intentions… That’s perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned from Carlos… I mean he’s truly an astral music guru of the highest level.
Could you describe what you are listening to for instance when you hear a piano?
With the exception of being able to bend notes, the piano delivers practically everything: the melody, the harmony and the rhythm! at the same time it’s a percussion instrument and like a violin and guitar it has strings but unlike those instruments, it has 88 hammers that can strike those strings on command… So it’s truly the mother of all instruments
I so when I hear piano I’m listening for all those things, tone, timbre, rhythm, emotion, Articulation, impressionism, virtuosity to utter child like simplicity
How do you see the relationship between music and raising human potential?
Its’ vital. Let’s begin with language. We’ve been using the spoken and written word for approximately 5000 years… But a few years ago, researchers discovered a flute made from a vulture’s bone that they carbon dated back 40,000 years. That’s a flute. Of course, there was music before that. Just think of the drum and the human voice. Music has been raising human potential, emotion, passion, and our ancestor’s spirits for tens of thousands of years; So connecting music to human potential is hardly new…it’s actually right under our nose…or maybe I should say ears!!
What is it about music that makes universal connections across cultures?
It is one of the few art forms that humanity can easily access to help truth and inspiration punch through the relentless onslaught of the noise of the challenges our world is grappling with.
In our present day, music is viewed primarily as an entertainment source.
All good but that’s just a tiny piece of music’s potential to transform the human condition.
In the late 90s when I served as the musical director for Earth, Wind and Fire, I was simultaneously working with Deepak Chopra. This led to a composition called “Slip In The Gap” where music and thought cannot exist without silence to show how the “pause between the notes” is essential to all effective communication. A light bulb went off to highlight the power of listening, mindfulness, and presence. This would lead to the launch of Life in Tune and later an invitation from the family of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a featured author alongside Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and Robert Kennedy Jr. for their book, Open My Eyes, Open My Soul.
I have heard concerts described as an experience of collective effervescence. You have played some pretty big shows. What is it like being on stage when that is happening in the crowd?
Music is a two-way street. The performer is the transmitter while the audience is the receiver. It also reverses because when the audience applauds, screams, cheers, sings or dances, THEY are the transmitters and we performers are the receivers. I’ve been fortunate to play in stadiums for over 100,000 people all around the world… But I will tell you that you can get that same feeling of “collective effervescence“ playing for an audience of 10 or even less. It isn’t about the quantity… It’s always about the quality… And that quality is about the intention that you put into every musical note you play as a performer along with your audience’s intention to experience those notes – true engagement and collaboration in the sharing of art.
You have been known to play a Hammond B3. Tell us about this beast.
So spot on that you used the word “beast“ in your question… Which triggers an entirely different response than I would normally say… So hope this doesn’t come off rude or crude … If you can imagine having a dashboard/palette/keyboard of colors that conjure a range of human experience from the holiness of a priest to the rawness of a prostitute, that’s the hammond B3. Don’t forget, this is the same instrument that gave us “A Whiter Shade of Pale” AND “Smoke On the Water”.
Sooooo, I LOVE THE B3!
What is your favorite venue to play in?
I’d say the Greek Theater in LA. It has close to a 6,000 capacity. Large enough to deliver a rockin’ show but intimate at the same time! And the outdoor setting nestled in the hills is extraordinary for the audience
Are your kids musical?
They both LOVE music and turn me on to their playlists all the time. I might add I don’t always agree with their tastes but then again I love that. We can have healthy debates on the music of today. My daughter played violin and piano but her artistry is more applied to her love of nature and water in particular. My son also played piano but his artistry went towards chess and basketball. Both are critical thinkers which I believe, besides lots of love, is one of the most important things to guide our kids towards.
What do you listen to when you are hanging out at home?
I love all kinds of music. Tower of Power for their tightness, James Brown because it’s James Brown and practically everything Latin – it’s got it all – romantic, sexy, afro roots, classical harmonies, sophisticated rhythms and horn arrangements.
Favorite car tunes?
What is Hip, Celia Cruz, Corazon Espinado, September, Sting’s version of Windmills of my Mind
What is your favorite guilty pleasure streaming show?
Crazy show but deliciously outrageous: Breaking Bad
Favorite is your favorite pre-show food?
Wow – it ranges from a chunk of 70% Chocolate to a Japanese Sumo Orange w/a little Sparkling water.