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Singing quietly in a darkened room is not the only way to get a baby to fall asleep. You can also dance with them to loud, beat-driven music in a room full of people. Babies like all kinds of grooves, from gangsta rap to eighties pop to death metal. My favorite thing to dance to is funk, so my kids are grooving to a lot of that.

With their cover of “Love The One You’re With,” The Isley Brothers turned a pretty good Crosby, Stills and Nash song into an absolute funk classic. It’s part of the proud tradition of black musicians improving white hippie songs—see also Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. The Isleys own “Love The One You’re With” so completely that, sitting here typing this, I can’t even remember how the CSN original sounds.

I play harmonica. It’s the instrument I play the best, and the one I’ve been playing the longest. Usually you associate harmonica with the blues, but it fits well into all the vernacular genres descended from the African diaspora: rock, country, R&B, reggae, and of course, funk.

When I was younger, I did a lot of playing music in bars around New York. That included sometimes going to jam sessions. One standout night for me was at a funk jam on Bleecker Street. I was there with my drummer buddy Doug, who was in several bands with me. New York jam sessions are not friendly, casual hangouts. They’re networking events and de facto auditions where people get discovered.

The vibe is superficially casual, but in reality stiffly competitive. You can’t just show up and jump onto the stage. If you’re a drummer, you have to wait get invited up there, and you might be one of half a dozen drummers standing around. Being a harmonica player is easier, because there usually isn’t more than one, and all you need is a mic. So I got waved up to play, and the house band did “Love The One You’re With”, Isley style. I don’t mind telling you that I shredded. I have aged out of any desire to be in bars at all, much less on a regular basis, but I do miss a good jam session.

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About the Curator - Ethan Hein

Ethan Hein is a Doctoral Fellow in Music Education at New York University. He teaches music technology, production and education at NYU and Montclair State University. With the NYU Music Experience Design Lab , Ethan has taken a leadership role in the creation of new technologies for learning and expression, most notably the Groove Pizza . In collaboration with Soundfly, he has developed a series of online music theory courses . He maintains a widely-followed and influential blog , and has written for various publications, including Slate, Quartz, and NewMusicBox.

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