jim murdoch
jim murdoch


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Musician, surfer and composer...

Pacifica Tribune May 16, 2007
Musician, surfer and composer, Jim Murdoch loves to clown around


Musical performer Jim Murdoch remembers one winter day in Pacifica so clearly.

"I was surfing at the north end of Linda Mar. There were offshore winds and the waves were about 9 feet, moving slowly, very powerful and very beautiful," he said.

"As I turned, I saw the top of a wave, spray and catch my friend within its shower. And so I wrote 'on solstice day the sun stands still, spray blows off the winter sea, our breath is white, we head for home; a good hot cup of tea.' "

This tribute to Pacifica's Linda Mar beach in Northern California can be found among the lyrics on Murdoch's newly released CD 'Waltz to the Sea.'

For many fans of Murdoch this CD is a long time coming; but for Murdoch it is an evolutionary process like so many things in his life.

"I went to UC Santa Barbara with the sole intent of studying sociology, which I did. But as fate would have it, I also took a summer class on mime," he said.

One class led to another and eventually Murdoch took a clown workshop. Murdoch also began intense piano study. "After graduation, I worked part-time, practiced piano eight hours a day and eventually volunteered at organizations in need of musicians and/or clowns."

Murdoch then headed to San Francisco and apprenticed with the Pickle Family Circus and had the clown time of his life. "I toured with the Circus for eighteen months and it was a great experience. It allowed me to go out on my own."

Murdoch who has appeared locally on the Bruce Latimer show and at the Sanchez Library is known by Pacifica kids of all ages as Jimbo the Musical Clown. "I'm like the traditional European circus clown in that I don't talk. I do pantomime, the accordion, juggling and a bunch of different musical instruments; and of course the kids participate in the show. They play musical instruments and help me fish and juggle. Sometimes they dance when I enter the room playing the 'Libiamo' (waltz from La Traviata) on my accordion."

Besides accordion, Murdoch plays a variety of instruments which include cedar flute, castanets, harmonica, piano, dulcimer and guitar. When he is not under his big red nose and hat you might find him performing Celtic music at a festival or strumming guitar at a Napa winery; or even teaching flamenco to Chinese American senior citizens at a retirement community in San Francisco.

However, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you will find Jim working at the Cancer Center at the UCSF Mount Zion Campus.

"For the past 15 years, I have worked for a nonprofit program called 'Art for Recovery.' It is an expressive arts program for patients to use simple art media like water colors or marking pens to help express their feelings. My part is to play music. I play on the unit where people have had surgery. I play for those having radiation or chemotherapy. I play in the ICU, and while people are being wheeled into surgery and where their families are waiting. It's so simple. Music just makes the place friendlier and makes it easier for people to go through what they have to go through."

This award-winning program has touched Jim in more ways than he can measure.

"In 2006 a social worker asked me if I could work with a woman who had been in the hospital for almost a year. She was 28 years old, her large intestine had ruptured when she was pregnant with her third child and she bled out in the emergency room in another hospital. They were able to revive her and then she came to Mount Zion. Her injuries were substantial and they didn't think she would survive; but she just kept beating the odds. Her husband had brought her a keyboard and the hospital thought it might help her dexterity and give her something to do."

"She had taped numbers from her book to match the notes on her keyboard and was very determined. I taught her 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' with the right hand only at first and then she learned it using both hands. She told me she had goals: to get well, to go home and to learn the piano."

Eventually the young woman did go home but not until after she had taught Murdoch to sing "Silent Night" in Spanish and he in turn had taught her piano and harmonica.

Jim's recently released CD travels through all the walks of his life, whether barefoot or in clown shoes, by seaside or bedside, using: tango, flamenco, Appalachian dulcimer, Celtic sweeps and even the 19th century American songbook to tell some of his stories.

"Something people may not know about clowns," said Murdoch, "is that they are mythological figures who have been around in all cultures, forever. In other cultures their role is understood to be in spirituality and healing. They are a way to bring people back into balance, within nature and within themselves. This can be done with music and laughter, dance and/or riding a wave."

"One of the nicest compliments I have ever received was from a young boy who asked me if I was a 'real' clown. "You mean this is what I wear at home and I'm always dropping things and things are always going wrong?"

"Uh huh," was his tentative reply. "Well, what do you think?" I asked.

After staring at the big polka dots on my shirt and sizing up the brightness of my nose, he swallowed hard and came to a decision, 'I think that you are..." he informed me."

I don't think I have ever typed this sentence before and very well may never type it again, but ... I really enjoyed the castanets on this piece.

By Jana Pochop

Waltz to the Sea is one of those multi-faceted albums where you can't quite believe the artist pulled off playing all the instruments himself. But Jim Murdoch does exactly that with this varied and interesting batch of traditional and original tunes. Murdoch handles the cedar flute, dulcimer, accordion, piano, harmonica to name a few. Oh, and he arranges it all too.

Murdoch's album starts off with "Tara's Song," a mournful and beautiful tune played on the cedar flute. It blends nicely into the jaunty and stuck-in-your-head melody of "Erika's Reel," on which Murdoch handles both dulcimer and accordion. Already the listener can tell that Murdoch is a man of many instruments, and we're only two tracks in. The Emerald Isle gives way to "Jota," a Spanish folk song complete with castanets. I don't think I have ever typed this sentence before and very well may never type it again, but ... I really enjoyed the castanets on this piece. It's exactly what a folk song from Spain should sound like.

Next Jim throws in some vocals with a great tune about one of my favorite things ... tamales. The traditional Mexican dish wrapped in a corn husk is more than deserving of a song, and Murdoch delivers an almost epic tale about the dish. What I'm curious about is what a "tamale box" is, because it gets played on this record.

One of the standout tracks is "Appalachian Dulcimer," a medley of well known tunes such as "Oh, Susanna," "Froggy Went A Courtin'," and "Camptown Races." The combination of dulcimer and harmonica manage to highlight the melodic aspect of each tune and add an almost mournful tone to it, without making them drag. It's a good approach for this song grouping.

Murdoch is also an excellent pianist, as "Golondrinas" and "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" testify. Murdoch is trained in jazz and classical piano, as well as flamenco dance. And apparently in his off-time, he makes tamales. One well-rounded musician who made a very well-rounded record. Waltz to the Sea is recommended for those who don't mind some variety in their musical palette (or salsa on their tamales, as it were).

thank you note

Thank you so so much for sending me your beautiful cd. It is a wonderfully creative work!

The "Saga of the Tamale" is delightful and "Autumn Again" brought sweet tears. And I love the flower scene on the cover. Excellent job!

Abundant Blessings, Cynthia
From Cynthia Athina Kemp Scherer, Founder of Desert Alchemy Flower Essences

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