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How Fighting Cancer Led to Unexpected Musical Success

August 02, 2013
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Photo by Merri CyrEditor's note: Jon Regen (shown at left) is Editor-at-Large of Keyboard magazine, and responsible for planning all the music lessons authored by top players that you see every month. He's also an accomplished musician in his own right as are all of Keyboard's contributors. Normally, we prefer not to "toot our own horn" and showcase the accomplishments of our staff. However, we found Jon's story below to be very inspiring and thought that it might be so to anyone in a similar situation to the family health crisis he describes. It's a very personal memoir of how music can aid in healing and ultimately how triumph can arise from tribulation. --Stephen Fortner, Editor in Chief

 

In November of 2011 after I returned from a tour of Europe with my band, my father Martin Regen (now 74) was diagnosed with kidney and lung cancer simultaneously.

He had successfully battled prostate cancer a decade earlier, so needless to say my family was worried that the outcome this time around might not be as positive.

We reached out to my uncle Ron Regen, who had been a patient of Dr. Oz in a weight loss program a few years back. My uncle Ron wrote to Dr. Oz, who wrote my uncle back immediately, offering optimism and recommending two doctors for my dad to see.

One was Dr. Mitchell Benson at Columbia University Medical Center, a famed urologic surgeon (http://columbiaurology.org/about/physicians/mitchell-benson.html), and the other was Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, an integrative oncologist affiliated with Weill/Cornell. (http://gaynoroncology.com)

From the beginning, Dr. Gaynor was nothing but upbeat and optimistic. He told my father that he would beat both cancers, and immediately began a plan to get him stronger. He got my father, a lifelong drinker, to quit booze cold turkey (he hasn't had a drink since November 2011), put him on a daily regimen of herbs and supplements, and made him believe he would get better. Gaynor monitored both my dad's upcoming surgery for kidney cancer with Dr. Benson, and also recommended that my father consult with Dr. Jeffrey Port at New York/Cornell (http://weillcornell.org/jeffreyport/) for his lung cancer surgery as well.

My father had his kidney cancer surgery in January of 2012, and later, his lung cancer surgery in May of 2012, where Dr. Port removed a rare six-and-a-half-pound tumor from his lung.

Over a year later, (and after two long and difficult recoveries), all of my father's scans have been clear. So needless to say, my family is immensely grateful to the entire team of Doctors Benson, Gaynor and Port for helping restore my Dad's physical and emotional well being.

But that's just the first part of the story.

Fast forward to January of 2012, when I was asked to perform at the Sundance Film Festival to support my new album and single "Revolution." (Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xokBKDowYY4).

When I found out the concert was to benefit the Huntsman Cancer Institute, all of the emotions I experienced during my Dad's illnesses came flooding back into my memory. I thought, "What if I could write a song to premiere at my concerts that could champion that same sense of hope we all tried to instill in my Dad during his own battles with cancer?"

I remembered that every time I hoped for something, my father would say to me "My bets are on you." So that became the battle cry of the song, just like we told him all the time in the hospital, "You will beat this."

After writing a first draft of the song, I reached out to my friend Dan Wilson, the brilliant songwriter behind Adele's "Someone Like You," Semisonic's "Closing Time," and countless other hit songs. Dan helped me connect even more with the feelings that made me write it in the first place. He made the song soar.

Dan and I finished the song on the phone the Thursday night before my Sundance concerts. The next day, I recorded it in my New York City apartment. By the time I got to Utah two days later, it was finished.

The song is called "Stay," and it reminds me that family, friendship and hope can help you through even the toughest of circumstances.

The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEgooL62N4A

When my uncle sent the song to Dr. Oz as a "thank you" for helping find the team that saved my Dad's life, Oz loved it so much he blogged about it here: http://blog.doctoroz.com/dr-oz-blog/your-gratitude-makes-it-all-worth-it

And so the circle was complete – so I thought.

On March 26th of 2013, I got a call from Dr. Gaynor's secretary, which scared the hell out of me. I was hoping it wasn't bad medical news.

He got on the phone and said, "I loved your song 'Stay' so much I think we should record an album together. I want to record a CD with my crystal bowls and I want to put some synthesizer and other sounds on it."

Gaynor (shown at left) is an expert in the field of sound and healing, and he uses it in his practice regularly. He plays singing crystal bowls in addition to providing traditional medical treatment, as a form of therapy for patients with a wide variety of illnesses.

In 1991, Dr. Gaynor took care of a Tibetan monk with a serious illness at Cornell Hospital. He helped turn his condition around markedly.

When the Monk saw Gaynor for his follow-up visit, he gave Gaynor a Tibetan metal singing bowl. Gaynor was so taken with how the sound resonated with him – after going to India 30 times and studying meditation for years, he started investigating the science behind it.

He made CDs for his patients, wrote the book  The Healing Power of Sound (http://www.amazon.com/The-Healing-Power-Sound-Life-Threatening/dp/1570629552), and formed mediation groups. He started seeing miraculous transformation in his patients.

Now, I'm a singer/songwriter with a degree in straight-ahead jazz piano. I've accompanied musicians like Jimmy Scott and Kyle Eastwood, released six albums of jazz and pop on my own with guests like Benmont Tench, Martha Wainwright, and Andy Summers, and written pop songs with Rob Thomas. I'm about as far from a "New Age" keyboardist as one could imagine.

But I'm a musician with open ears, and Gaynor saved my father's life. So I was going to make this happen. If for no other reason, because he deserved it.

This was a day before I was scheduled to leave for Los Angeles to play a record release show. Plus, I didn't even have a full-size keyboard in my apartment, as I had just sold mine with plans to upgrade. I only had my Steinway piano, my recording rig, and an Akai LPK25 mini travel keyboard that I use in hotel rooms to write on when I'm on the road. (http://www.akaipro.com/lpk25)

So I said to Dr. Gaynor, "Come on over. Let's try."

Gaynor came over to my 282 square foot studio apartment that night with 20 or so crystal bowls and I positioned him around a vintage Neumann U47 microphone I had recently bought that used to belong to John Lennon. (https://twitter.com/jonregen/status/329953214843715585/photo/1) He would play the bowls into the microphone, calculating the precise frequencies and bowls to use for each track. I would then add sampled tablas, choir, and other sounds, along with sound effects like rain and ocean waves.

By the end of the evening, the album was finished. Gaynor called it Change Your Mind. Ten days later it was up on iTunes.

I went to Los Angeles to play a show the next day, and when I returned a few days later, Gaynor was buzzing with excitement. He had played the tracks for his patients and they loved it. "We have to do three more albums!"

So he came over a few more times over the next two weeks, and we assembled three more albums the same way. Gaynor would play his bowls and sing melodic and rhythmic fragments to me, which I would interpret and embellish. Then he would leave and I would finish the albums on my own. The next two would be called Uplift and Peaceful Sleep.

So by late April, all three albums were finished and available online, put up through my manager Steven Rosen and my lawyer Larry Katz's record label DPM Records. 

Dr. Gaynor was invited onto a taped a segment for the Dr. Oz Show, but we heard nothing back in terms of if and when it might air. I left for a three-week tour of Europe with my band, and heard nothing else about the music or the show. 

Until July, that is, when Dr. Gaynor wrote me and said he heard the show was to air Monday July 15.

That morning I went onto Dr. Oz's website and looked at the SoundCloud player with clips from our album. Each track had around 200 plays or so. This was before the show aired.

I watched the show and heard our music. The SoundCloud player for each sound clip at http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/crystal-sonic-therapy-playlist  started jumping – from 200 views to 2,000 views. Then 4,000. Then 8,000 and more. Last I checked, plays had exceeded 60,000.

I waited for my girlfriend to come home for dinner. Just as we started to eat, almost as a joke, I decided to check the iTunes charts.

Change Your Mind was at  number 10 on the main Top Albums chart. Then 7. Then 6. And finally at number 4--with the likes of Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, and ahead of Kanye West.

The week of July 22, we debuted at  number 1 on the Billboard New Age chart and  number 67 on the Billboard Top 200.

But for me, the gift is that that this music came from a pure place – I wanted to help the doctor that helped save my dad's life. 

If that's not Karma, I don't know what is.


Jon Regen, August 2013

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