Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Many Musical Faces of the Gratitude Steel Band

Hello,

Last week I played 3 very different shows with the Gratitude Steel Band. On Friday we had a gig in Livonia at the Laual Manor. A hospital was hoding a graduation ceremony in the next room and as a surprise ending to the ceremony, they would open the dividing wall and expose a room filled with tropical decorations, food, drinks, Hawiian Dancers, and us. We did all Hawaiian tunes as the dancers danced, changed costumes, and danced some more. Songs like Blue Hawaii, Rock a Hula, Tiny Bubbles, etc. The two and a half hour show ended with a really nice Tahitian drum breakdown that starts pretty fast and just goes faster and faster. It was a nice way to spend an evening, and the food was great!
The next morning I hopped in my car and headed to downtown Detroit for the first ever Michigan Steel Drum Festival. Gratitude was slated to open the festival at 12pm. It was a really easy gig for me, because they had a drumset there already. The sound crew had a bit of trouble getting their stuff together, so the band skipped the soundcheck and just started jamming. It was so much fun, and all the people that were playing after us were totally into the improvisation. I always love playing in the morning or during the day when everyone is their most alert and attentive. The jam that started with Dayjumbe playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on some break drums turned into a 20 minute collage of musical ideas, swells, and releases. At noon, when we were supposed to go on, the sound wasn't quite ready, so it cut our show time from an hour to just over a half hour. We were featuring all the gospel tunes that the band plays at churches and religious events, so we had a small choir with us made up of members of the Russel's church choir, including Charles' cousin Jaquie Crawly. It was short, but high powered and sweet. 8 other bands performed at the festival, but we did not get to see any of them because we had to high tail it over to Canton, MI for the Liberty fest.
We finished in Detroit at 1pm and had to start in Canton at 3pm. The whole band got to Canton at about ten minutes to three. We were ready to play at about 10 after. Luckily, the performer after us was just one guy and a mic, so we didn't have to worry about stepping on another bands toes. By this time, everyone was very relaxed anyway, and the sound crew was understanding and really good at what they did. The gig was so much fun. We were playing with the family, myself on drumkit and the big bad Kelly from Trinidad on electronic drumset. Some of the beats we played together were so powerful that the whole band couldn't help but jump up and down on stage while we played. I think there was a drum solo in every song. I am not sure how it sounded to the audience, but on the stage everything was fat and juicy and it was so much fun!! I just kept looking at Kelly and smiling. We were in polyrhythmic bliss. The band did alot of reggae and calypso tunes for this show, which are great for dancing, but it was really hot, and there weren't very many people in front of the stage, so we kept the party right on stage with us and had a great time. It was one show that I wish that I had recorded.
This week I am playing another 3 shows with Gratitude. One is a community concert in Gross Ile, MI. another is a house Party in the burbs, and the last is at the Jefferson St. Jazz festival in Detroit. I have been playing with this band for almost 5 years now and I still never know what to expect when I show up for a gig. I am sure this weekend will be the same. Thanks for reading.

John

Monday, June 05, 2006

Summer is Here!

Hello Friends,

Summer is here and things are heating up. As the public schoolyear comes to and end, so do my presentations for the Center for South Asian Studies. I did a presentation for a Asian Civ. class at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor a couple of weeks ago. It was set up by my good friend and freelance reporter Deborah Pohrt. Thanks Deb! Later that day Meeta Banerjee and I played for a world cultural night at Lincoln Elementary School near Ypsilanti MI. It was a bit chaotic. We were sitting in between the China and Japan rooms and people were passing by all night. It was fun though. When the crowd is ever-changing like that, then the music can repeat, which is what we did. We played our favorite pieces over and over. It was a great, rare practice/performance. I brought along Hartley Combs, one of my drumset and tabla students. He got into all the food, and even sat in with Meeta at the end and played a blazingly fast Keherewa folk medly. It was fun. He is going to try to get Meeta and I into his class at Slausson Middle School before the year is out.
In just a few minutes I will be going to teach my last music class for the schoolyear at Go Like The Wind Montessori in Ann Arbor. I will be at the school full time next year, so this feels more like a beggining than an end, but it will be nice to have the summer off. We had our big spring concert on Thursday the 1st of June. It was coupled by the release of the Go Like The Wind C.D., which turned out great! 6 tracks, all original, and all original C.D. cover artwork by the students. It was a fun project. We performed a couple of the tracks at the concert and the audience loved it. Although, it is really not that hard to win over an audience made up of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters!
The next day I played with Paledave at the Taste of Toledo festival, which was right downtown. It was an easy gig for me, they had a drumset already set up, so all I had to bring was my sticks. It wasn't the prettiest drumset, but it sounded great.



I believe Dave has been working on the recording project some more, and you may be able to check it out soon at paledave.com.


We finished playing, had some good Toledo food and then it was back home to record a demo with Deep Blue before our gig at Cafe Felix. It was great to use my new home studio. Both Paul and Scott were really happy with the new space, and we are planning more recording in the future. Here are some pics from that.




The gig at Felix felt a little long. It was really slow, and I think it was partly due to the Pistons game. They lost the playoff series that night to the Miami Heat. I guess we won't have to worry about that conflict for a while. My condolences to any Pistons fans. It wasn't all bad though, by the last set, we were really feeling the groove and playing some fun stuff.
The next day Scott and Paul came down to record some more. It went well, and afterwords we went with Deb Pohrt to the Firefly to check out the Joe Summers Trio. It is a rare occurance to have a whole band with a Saturday night free to check out another band. We stayed the whole night, had some good food, and the music was great.
The Summer is going to be filled with lots of playing. I just booked about 7 gigs and counting with the Gratitude Steel Band, including a gig next week at the first ever Michigan Steel Drum Festival at Hockeytown in Detroit. I will also start doing some gigs with the Ann Arbor Kirtan group, and I think I will be at a Chapman Stick festival in Ann Arbor playing tabla with Steve Osburn. I am excited to take it easy and just play. Thanks for reading, and come back soon.

John

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