Thursday, December 20, 2007

Live on WCBN, GLTW Christmas Concert, Kirtan Potluck

Hello Friends,

A few weeks ago I played live on the radio again with my friend Rob Crozier, a bass player from Ann Arbor who curates a live show on U of M's student radio station one Sunday a month. This month we we were with a local radio personality Michael G. Nastos. He was the host of a jazz program at EMU for 27 years, and really knows his music. It was a great show. It is always a treat to play for an audience, even when you can't see them. I also really like the fact that the shows are broadcast over the Internet, so my family can listen in if they feel like it.
The following week was hectic. I was very busy getting ready for the Go Like The Wind Christmas concert. I had to prepair 20 pieces of music for the 1st through 9th grades. The music program has grown a lot this year. It went from one big orchestra to 3 separate, smaller groups. We now have a beginning band, string orchestra, and advanced band. It has been a lot of fun, and it is so rewarding to watch the students who started from scratch come into their own as young musicians. The show went off without a hitch, and I am as excited as ever for the new year.
Just one day after the Christmas concert I was at the Zen Buddhist temple in Ann Arbor for the first Kirtan potluck and chant. It was put together to bring the community together, say thank you, and have one last chant for the year. There were a lot of participants, (I think around 80), and the temple turned out to be a great place to play. It was a bigger room with hardwood floors and a wood burning stove, which made for a cozy evening. Honestly though, I was so wiped out from the crazy week that I was barely able to keep focus. It is an interesting situation to find yourself in...so tired you can barely play and faced with 2 hours of intense playing. By the end my arm was freezing up. It wasn't agony, but it was very close. I guess, to be positive about it, you could say that it is a great way to find the easiest, most relaxed playing positions.....work yourself to exhaustion, and then play 2 hours for 80 people.. *don't try this at home ; )
That is all for now. Just one more show left this year, but it is a great one.....Mike Waits C.D. release party at Kaufman Auditorium in Marquette. I am so excited! I will let you know how it goes......

Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you soon.

John

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude in the U.P., Sitting in with Nick Strange, Kirtan

Hello again,

It has been a nice few weeks since my last entry and there have been a nice array of gigs happening. First, I found myself heading North over the Mackinac (mack-in-aw) bridge again on my way to a gig with the Gratitiude Steel band. We had two shows lined up in the nice little U.P. town of Manestique. The first one was on Saturday. It was the 3rd of November, and the gig was at a grand opening of a brand new elementary school. The old elementary school was burned down due to an electrical fire started by a light in an iguana tank. The iguana was a classroom pet. I guess, in a way, you could say that the iguana gave his life for the students to have a new school. For some reason, it was all I could think about as we played. The band was set up in the gymnasium, where they had just put the final layer of gym-floor epoxy a couple of days before. The toxic smell was overwhelming, and I think it affected the whole band. I remember feeling a bit dizzy and feint the whole time. Later that evening I went for a walk along lake Michigan and felt a lot better.
The next morning we were playing at a church right down the road from the school. It was a fun ceremony, people really appreciated the music, and afterwards we all met in their banquet hall for a meal. Everyone was very nice. I definitely felt like I was back in the U.P. Before we left town a couple of the locals took us to the biggest natural spring I have ever seen. It was called Big Spring, (how fitting), and it was this 100ft. wide, 40ft. deep spring that had more than 1000 gallons of water bubbling up from the ground every minute! The water was crystal clear and there was a cool glass bottom raft that you could float across the spring and check out the huge trout that made their home at the spring. It was a nice send off before the 7 hour drive back down state.
The following Thursday I was on my way to a city called St. Joseph, city on the west coast of Lower Michigan. I was sitting in with the Nick Strange Group, who have just released their latest album titled 'Yesterday Was Better". It was an interesting gig for me because of the venue. It was a smokey club called Czars, and it was one of the first places I played after moving to Michigan from California. It was a pick-up gig with a band from the U.P. called Paulding Light who had just lost their drummer and needed a fill in. It must have been in the summer of 2001. The place had not changed a bit, and neither had the circumstances for my being there. It was a fun night, although there were not very many people.
The next morning we got up and drove back to Ann Arbor. That evening I played with the same group at Good Night Gracie's in downtown Ann Arbor. There was a big crowd and the music was sounding great. Playing multiple nights in a row really helps to tighten up the sound. It was good to fill in for that group again. Gracie's is a great place to play. They have a nice stage and the place is just big enough so you can fit a good crowd, but don't need a big sound system. I had fun and I look forward to playing with them again soon.
The next week was the monthly Kirtan event at the Friend's Center in Ann Arbor. It wasn't our biggest crowd, but the chanting had a ton of energy. I have been really getting into the idea of playing at those chanting events with my eyes closed the entire time. I usually have my eyes on the other group members and my own hands. I find that when I close my eyes, the music and sound is so much more in my immediate focus. This type of music making really lends itself to an inward experience, rather than a group effort to entertain. I am just now beginning to discover deeper levels of enjoyment when I play with this group. It has to do more with my own inward experiences, rather than a purely musical one, although the music must be in very good control in order to let it go. So I guess, the journey continues.....

Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you soon.

John

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October, Kirtan in Brighton and Ann Arbor, Kozora at Edgefest, Everyday Heroines Debut, GLTW with Sameep Kulkarni

Hello, and Happy Halloween!

It has been a nice relaxing refelctive month for me. I have been doing a lot of practicing, and a little bit of playing. One of the nice shows that happened was up in Brighton, MI. at a Yoga studio. The Ann Arbor Kirtan group was invited up to do a night of Kirtan. It went great. I was so proud of everyone pulling together and putting on a great event. The group is really coming into it's own and the sound is developing nicely. Playing outside the comfort of the friends center was a great move. I think we also got a few new regulars. I was so happy I brought my C.D. to sell. When the Kirtan was over there was a line of people ready to buy one. A nice bonus at the end of the night.
A couple of weeks later I found myself playing music again with KOZORA. The show was on Friday the 19th. Ken Kozora got us a noontime show that was part of the Edgefest. Edgefest is an Ann Arbor music festival that features all kinds of experimental and new music. We played in a courtyard just outside the Kerrytown shops.

It was a surprisingly fun show to play. We really loosened up after a couple of pieces and all the work we have been doing this past year really showed itself. There were not many people in the courtyard, but all the store owners and patrons gave us lots of compliments when the show was over.
Later that day I was back at the Friends Center with the Kirtan group again. It was the biggest turnout we have ever had. I think the Brighton show had a lot to do with that. I was just enjoying the feel of the tabla in my hands. I have been enjoying the feel of the tabla so much lately. All the practice definitley has it's rewards.
The next night my wife Jody and I went to the new Arthur Miller Theater on the campus of U of M. It was the debut of 'Everyday Heroines' a dance theater piece by the Sadhana Dance Theater group.
Over the summer I recorded tabla for the piece, so I got to sit in the audience and just enjoy all the work come together. It was a real treat to see the dancers playing to my drumming without having to focus on playing. I could definitely get used to doing projects like this.
The following Wednesday I put on a performance/workshop with a new friend of mine from Pune, India named Sameep Kulkarni. We played at Go Like the Wind for all the 1st-9th graders. Sameep was on a tour for the first time in America mainly doing demonstration shows for students. He was not able to get a professional visa, so this trip was about making connections and sharing his talents. For me it was a taste of real Indian classical improvisation. We only rehearsed a little bit before the performance and then improvised on the spot. He definitely pushed me to my limits on the tabla. In the past it may have made me uncomfortable, but these days I am eager to know what I need to do to get myself up to par for on-th-spot performances like this. Sameep was great with the kids, and we had a great time playing. I am sure I will be writing about him some more in the near future.
So that is all for October. November is shaping up to be another interesting month of shows, and then it will be time to get ready for the big Mike Waite C.D. release party up in Marquette in December. It looks like the year is going to end with a bang!

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!

John

Saturday, October 20, 2007

When Your Guruji Comes to Town......

Over 5 months ago I got a simple email from Kolkatta. It was Samar Saha, my guruji. He was looking into the possibility of coming to America for a month and a half with nothing but his tabla and a performance visa. He wanted to know if it would be possible for me to arrange some concerts and workshops. He said that I was the first person he contacted. Luckily, I had the Lyceum concert being set up around the same time, so it was easy for me to include him, and guarantee him some decent pay. I wrote back and told him about the concert in my hometown, and that I would work on arranging workshops and more concerts in the Ann Arbor area. That is where it all started.
Over the next few months I was contacting people at the University of Michigan, telling all my students, rehearsing like crazy with the KOZORA group, making posters, having pictures taken, e-mailing a ton of people, and having recording sessions with Meeta Banerjee in hopes of making a C.D. to sell at all the shows. (which can now be purchased online by CLICKING HERE).
By the time Samarji arrived at the Amtrack station in Ann Arbor, (he had just performed in Chicago the night before), everything was set. He got in on Monday evening on the 17th of September. We drove up to Meeta's parents house in Fenton, MI. which is where he stayed for most of his time in Michigan. We had a nice dinner and laid out the itinerary for the next couple of weeks.
The following day was the first concert. It was at the University of Michigan music school, at the McIntosh theater. I set up the performance with the help of Rohit Setty, who is the outreach coordinator at the Center for South Asian Studies, and Steven Rush, a music professor. Steve Rush had written a grant for a flute player from Varanasi named Dr. R.K. Srinivasan. The grant was for a month and a half long residency at the music school. The concert on the 18th was to be his first, and what a treat it was to be able to arrange Samar Saha as one of the accompanists. There was also a mrigdangam player named Rohan Krishnamurti, who is based out of Michigan. Srinivasan's claim to fame is that he is well versed in both Hindustani, (North Indian), and Carnatic, (South Indian), music. So it was nice to have both the tabla and mrigdangam there to accentuate the different styles.
For this concert I was the sound guy. It was one of the first shows I have ever done as just a dedicated sound guy, so I felt a litte out of my element. It was great though. There were so many people at the theater that they actually set up chairs on the stage and had people sitting all around the performers. The concert went very well. They got a standing ovation for over two minutes. I was just happy to be listening to my guruji perform.
Next on the itinerary was a 3 day tabla workshop. I hosted it at my house and most of the attendees were my own students. It was such a treat to watch the students I have been teaching interact with my teacher. I learned so much about teaching tabla over those three days. I was also able to type out all the compositions that he taught and give everyone a nice neat copy. It was a sight to see....my whole studio filled with tabla. The sound was great, it reminded me of my CalArts days when we would have lessons with Swapan Chaudhuri, and everyone would be packed into the little tabla room.
Another great thing about having the workshops at my house was that I got to spend a lot of time talking about the music for the upcoming shows. I was getting a little nervous about playing drum set with tabla due to the fact that the drum set is such a loud instrument. Guruji quickly put my mind at ease, (as he usually tends to do), and simply said, 'no problem'. He even got on my kit and tried it out......I think he will be sticking to the tabla!
With the workshops successfully completed, Guruji had Saturday off, which he spent relaxing and practicing in Fenton, (yes, even a world renowned master of his instrument STILL practices every day!). The next event would be a house concert at the Banerjees in Fenton with Meeta and myself opening for Samarji on tabla and Dr. Rajan Sachdeva on Sitar.
It was a small venue, but it was packed with people and the energy was high. Meeta and I started it off by playing just a couple of pieces, then Rajanji and Samarji played for around 40 minutes, then Samarji did a tabla solo with Meeta playing lehra, (which is a melody that just repeats over and over, making the melody act like a rhythm instrument normally would). It was the first time I got to see Samar play a tabla solo and I was completely astonished and amazed at his fingers. I don't even want to try to describe it. I believe it must be seen to be understood. Here are some pics from that night.





An added bonus came that night in Samarji's tabla solo. He played at full speed and complexity the very same compositions the he showed all the students at the workshop, (most of whom were sitting in the audience). That night I started to get the feeling that this whole thing was becoming a very in depth, rich, and comprehensive study for me both as a student, a teacher, and a performer.
After the successful Sunday concert, Monday was another day of rest before our concert on Tuesday at Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor. This was a very special concert for me because it would be the first time I have gotten to play drum set with my Guruji on tabla. I was so excited, although it was a lot of work for me to load my drumset, tabla, and sound system, set it all up, and then have just a 5 minute break before the performance. I was tired, but once the music got going, a surge of energy came over me. First KOZORA did a couple of compositions, and then we brought Samarji to the stage. Ken surprised everyone by asking Samar to play a little solo before we played our rehearsed material. Samarji of coarse said 'no problem' and went right into an amazing tabla solo that brought everyone to their feet. Whew....a tough act to follow. At least he was staying on stage with us! We played through the pieces and some of the grooves that were created felt so good I can only describe it as being a runner whose legs just grew 5 inches, or being a bird whose wings just got a new set of bigger feathers. It was drumming like it has only been in my dreams. O.K. enough gushing...I loved it!
Meeta joined us for the last two pieces. The first was a simple Bengali folk tune called Batiyali, and then the last piece was the big tabla/drum set duet with the rest of the band playing lehra. It was a little more difficult for them to act as the rhythm keepers than I imagined it would be. Especially when Meeta broke her main string half way through and could not play anymore. We held it together and made it to the end and everyone seemed to love it. The real problem was how to find Meeta a new sitar string before we packed up and went to Marquette on Thursday morning.
So Ken and I were on the phone the next day trying to locate a string, which we finally did, so Meeta was good to go. Thursday morning we packed all of our stuff in two vehicles and headed up for the 7 hour trek to Marquette, Mi. I was so happy.
We arrived in Marquette with just enough time to get everyone checked into their hotel, and then we were off to Kaufman Auditorium to do a sound check. We met Sara Cambensy there and she told us about all the press and promotion that was happening. It was impressive. the story was on the front cover of the local paper, T.V. 6 news was coming out to do a report on the workshops and I had to do a radio interview early the next day. We did the sound check, ate a nice dinner and went to bed.
The next day I woke up at 6 a.m. to go to a radio station and do an interview on the Mark and Walt show. Walt Lindala is the lead guitarist in a band that I used to play with called the Flat Broke Blues Band, so we have known each other for years. The music for this show however is much different than the blues, so we had plenty to talk about. It was fun. Right after it was over I was off to the venue to get ready for the workshops.
The workshops were so much fun! It was just Meeta, Samarji, and myself in the middle of the stage talking about Indian Classical music. We played, talked, took questions, and played some more.
In all we did three shows for over 2000 students. T.V. 6 news was there doing a story too. For lunch, my wife Jody and I took everyone up to Mt. Marquette, which is a great look out point over the whole city.
They enjoyed it and began to understand why I am always talking about my hometown.
Once the workshops were over we went over to my Dad's house for a huge dinner. Everyone involved with the concert came and my dad outdid himself and made a ton of food. I was so great to have everyone come together and just have a night of relaxing, talking, and fun. We stayed at my Dad's until the late evening news, where they showed the story of the workshops:
The next day everyone just did their own thing until the soundcheck. I went to Northern Michigan University in the morning to do a tabla workshop for all the percussion students that study under Dr. Jim Strain. He was my first percussion professor. I took a year of music at NMU before going out to Cal Arts. It was Dr. Strain's first year as a professor at Northern. It was great to see him. It was a fun workshop and everyone had great questions. The whole thing lasted over 2 hours. Once it was over it was time for a little rest and getting ready for the soundcheck.
I hired Jim Supanich to do the sound. He and I have known each other for years, and he always did great work, so I felt totally at ease with the sound this experimental instrumentation in his hands. My friend Ryan Staples came up from Chicago and did a nice recording of the concert as well. During the interviews with the radio, newspaper and t.v. I messed up and told everyone the concert was at 8p.m., when actually the posters had it at 7:30,
so we were stuck with a dilemma of deciding whether to wait a half hour and let the people who had planned on coming sit, or start right away and let the latecomers wonder why the concert started early. We decided to start at 7:50 and call it even. Whoops! So the lights went down and the show began....








So....What can I say about the concert itself....well it was truly a dream come true for me. 20 years earlier I was on the same stage for my first public performance ever. It was a drum duet with my friend Rob Parkkonen. It was for the middle school talent show. Now I find myself on stage with one of the greatest living exponents of rhythm doing a drum duet. All the work that went into the show by the KOZORA guys and Meeta and myself all paid off. It was a magical night for me and I am still in a dream state about it. The pictures that my wife took from the front row are a litte fuzzy and don't capture the entire event in one shot, which is exactly how I remember it. I don't know that I will ever have an opportunity quite like this, where my passion, my work, and my roots all come together in one night. I want to thank everyone who was involved with this show. You really made a dream come true.



The next day it was back to Ann Arbor. Before we left though, I wanted to take Samarji and Meeta to a place called Presque Isle in Marquette it is one of the most beautiful city parks in the country, and it was good to take in before the long drive home.



We made it back safely and for the next 3 days I was very fortunate to be able to sit with Samaji for some private lessons. For me, it was the perfect end to his stay here. He had just spent the past week listening me play my absolute best, and in turn, was able to address specific issues and things to work on. It felt like I was getting some of the most in-depth lessons of my life. Now it is time to practice....

Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you soon.
John

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kozora Debut, Back to School, Gratitude at St. Lukes, Live on WCBN, C.D. Debut at Crazy Wisdom, Kirtan

Hello,

It is good to finally be writing again. My blog neglect has gone on for too long and I have a lot to catch up on. I have been planning for the month of September 2007 since February and now that it is here, I have been sort of unplugged from the day to day tasks that I have grown used to. Everything leading up to this month was put into motion by a simple phone call from an old classmate of mine, Sara Cambensy. Sara got a new job as the caretaker/renovator/booking agent for the Kaufman Auditorium in my hometown of Marquette, MI. She heard from a good friend of mine that I had been doing all this interesting music from India, so she logged on to my website, searched around a bit, and then gave me a call. She wanted to submit my portfolio to the Kaufman familly for something called the Lyceum series. This was an series started by Louis Kaufman way back in the 20's. It's purpose is to bring artists to the community and educate the youth. Of coarse I said yes and she submitted the portfolio. A couple of months later I got the news that the proposal was approved! Yay! So then it was my task to curate a show.
Not one week after I got the good news my guruji(teacher) from India, Samar Saha, sent me an e-mail. He was planning a trip to the U.S. and was wondering if it would be possible for me to arrange a concert for him in Michigan. I instantly thought of how perfect it would be to have him come to Marquette and perform with me at Kaufman. The wheels began to turn, and before I knew it, the show was coming together better than I could have planned it. Now, instead of going into the details right now, just read on and you will see how this is all coming together. As I sit here now, the show is set to happen in exactly one week. It has been a magical month and I can not wait to see what happens.

So with that said, let us pick up where I left off in my last entry. I am happy to say that the jazz fusion group KOZORA had it's debut concert at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom on Saturday September 1st. I asked KOZORA to come up to Marquette with me, so this show was set to give us some performance experience and see how this music works in front of an audience before going in front of the big crowd in Marquette. It was a great show with a great reception, a real confidence builder. Doing original music always brings with it a certain sense of vulnerability for the musicians. You have a tendency to question many more details than you would with cover tunes. I am of the mind that no matter what you are playing, you should just have fun, love what you are doing, and everything else takes care of itself. All that said, it does feel good to play music no one has ever heard before and have them enjoy it. KOZORA has been rehearsing almost a year, so it feels good to get out into the real world with this stuff.

The following Tuesday I was back at Go Like The Wind for the first official day of school. I am both excited and relaxed about this upcoming year. Instead of just one big band, we now have 3 groups, the advanced band, a string orchestra, and a beginning band. I had forgotten how insane it is to have the new students all come to class with their instruments for the first time, (I won't forget again!). Now that we have had a few weeks, everyone is getting a good sound and we are starting to have a lot of fun. It is so wonderful to see music flourishing all throughout the school. Students seem to be more into practicing and doing much more than they did last year. I am looking forward to the Christmas concert already!

One of the benefits of being a musician that works at a school is all the community members you are now involved with on a daily basis. One of those contacts paid off in the form of a gig for Gratitude Steel Band that I was able to secure at St. Lukes Church in Ypsilanti. It was on Sunday September 9th. St. Lukes is the same church where Go Like The Wind had the end of the year concert, so I felt right at home. It was an outdoor, end of the summer picnic. We had a great time playing, and everyone was happy. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon outside.

That same night I had another opportunity to play live on U of M's student radio station, WCBN. Rob Crozier is a local bass player who curates the live show once a month. He had myself, a trumpet player, sax player, and a guy on electronics. We did a couple of sets. The first one lasted a little over 45 minutes and the other was about a half hour. I played a little tabla, and then stayed on the drum set. It was fun. WCBN reminds me of my D.J. days at Radio X at NMU in Marquette. My D.J. name was Sprocket and my show was the Geargrinder jam. I did it for a couple of years and had a blast. The station at UofM is very similar and filled me with a lot of great memories.

The following Friday, Meeta Banerjee and I were at Crazy Wisdom tearoom again. I booked this show to get us some performance time in before Marquette, (yea, Meeta is coming too). Well, that was the initial idea. As it turned out, it became the official release of our new C.D. 'Sangeet'. We had been recording over the summer with the hopes of getting the C.D. done for the Marquette show. It just so happened that we got it done early enough to have it for the Crazy Wisdom show. It was a great night. So much excitement is building that there is this electricity at all of these shows that is undeniable. It is such an exciting time to be a musician!

The next night was Kirtan, Aaaahhh. Relax. That is what kirtan has done for me these past few months....given me a musical outlet to just relax and play. This time I tried something a little bit different, I closed my eyes for most of the night and just focused on the sound. It made for a great experience. More than once I opened my eyes and the room seemed much smaller that what I was hearing. The night flew by and my hands felt great when it was over. Not to mention there was a nice plug for the new C.D. and I walked home with a couple of extra bucks in my pocket. All in all a good night.

On Monday Samar Saha showed up in Ann Arbor on the Amtrack. He played a show at U of M on Tuesday with a flute player in residence from Benares, India. It was packed. Lots of music school people there. I hope it will help to get him some exposure to the right people for his next venture over to the states. The following three nights he held workshops at my home studio for most of my tabla students and tomorrow he playes a show up in Fenton, MI. at Meeta's parents lake house. Meeta and I will be opening the show, (which, judging from the buzz, should be packed). Tonight I play again with the Kirtan group at Crazy Wisdom, (my new musical hang-out). I am looking forward to the relaxed atmosphere. I will stop writing now before I get ahead of myself. It is such an exciting time. I hope to write soon!

Thanks for reading,

John

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Short Reflection, Gratitude@ OCC, Cheeseburger Festival, Wing Lake, and Howel; Kirtan

Hello,

When I started this blog back in 2005, my first thoughts were about regret that I had not started it sooner. I had been through a couple of very busy and interesting years in my post-CalArts climb into the real world. Within the first week of moving back to Michigan, had two private teaching jobs, one in Southfield and one in Ann Arbor, and I began playing with the Gratitude Steel band.
The first year was all bout playing any and every show Gratitude would throw my way. If you take a look back at my blog entries, you will see that I play with the band a lot, however, I only play around half of the shows that they do. They work HARD, and in the first year, I was right beside them on almost everything. One day we would be on a yaht in Lake St. Clair, and the next we would be at a 10 year-old's birthday party, then the next we would play for the governor, followed by a community concert. It was a never ending slew of random shows. Usually I did not know where I would be heading, all I would have was an address and a time to be there.
Actually, thinking back, I don't know if I would have even had time to write in a blog. Ecspecially when I began my schooling again at U of M Flint. At one point in life, I was living in Linden, MI. Traveling 15mi. north to Flint to go to school full time, then rushing down to Ann Arbor to teach, (about 35 students a week), having rehearsals at night with various groups, (like the U of M ICMD), and then driving home at midnight to do it all over again. On top of that, for the entire winter of 2003-2004, I was playing with Gratitude at the Motor City Casino for 4 hours on Friday, 6 hours on Saturday, and another 4 hours on Sunday. Thinking back, I am so thankfull I was not in an accident on my hour ride home at 4 or 5 in the morning from downtown Detroit.
Once I finished at U of M, got my teaching certification, and then landed my ideal teaching job at Go Like the Wind, (which, by the way, is a school were a teaching certificate is desired, but not required!). Things began to calm down a lot. This past summer has been one of my most enjoyable, relaxing, and productive summers ever. I don't regret any of the craziness of the past years, and I am grateful for the experience. Perhaps someday I will try and write about some of those past experiences, but for now, I am having enough trouble keeping up with the NOW.......so let's get to it.
As I look back on my calendar, the 14th of August has 2 things written, one says "Gratitude @ OCC" and the other says "babysitting". Usually, when my wife and I are babysitting our 2 nephews and niece, it is desireable for me not to have any shows to play. This time was different though. My oldest nephew Gavin is now 7 years old, and he has been learning music with me since he was just a baby, (he even has his own album with his brother Liam, [one of the tracks is about their sister Delanie : ) ]). I have been waiting for the time when he was old enough to come with me to a show and this was the time. My original plan was that he would come, help out with the set-up, and then sit backstage until it was over. It turned out, (with a little pushing from his uncle), that Gavin was ready to be on stage with the band! I brought a hand drum, and he even got to wear the band shirt. He played the entire 2 hour show, and got more compliments than everyone in the band combined! I was so proud of him, and he actually sounded great. We were on a nice big stage on the campus of Oakland Community College. It was the last show in their summer series, but only the second show that they had outdoors due to weather. It was a nice crowd, around 200 people, very appreciative. A great perfomance debut for a 7 year old.

The following Friday was another Kirtan event. I had missed the month prior because of the Hiawatha Festival, so Atmaram, the harmonium player had the P.A. system. Usually, I am the one who brings and sets up the P.A., but this time I showed up and it was all set up and ready to go. It was a nice start to the evening. Doing a Kirtan show is a very unique experience because as soon as it begins there is no sound except for the chanting. When the chants are over, it becomes completely silent. That is a big part of the experience. I suppose it is a practice of internalizing the feelings and sensations that are created by the singing and meditate on them. I am usually distracted from that due to the fact that I must prepare for the next chant. Also, playing straight grooves on tabla for 15-20minutes at a time can be daunting on the hands at times. I guess I use the Kirtan experience as a meditation for my tabla playing more than anything. I find that towards the end, I am playing much lighter on my drums, and getting much more focused tones. I challenge myself to get to that point of balance earlier and earlier. I think the ideal would be to begin the night in perfect balance, but it never seems to happen that way. I guess I will just keep practicing!

The next day was a little hectic. I was slated to play the Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival up in Caseville, Michigan, (on the tip of the 'thumb'). Everything would have gone great, except for the fact that I misread the directions. I was functioning with the belief that it would take me 1 hour and 47 minutes to get to Caseville from Ann Arbor, when in fact it took 2 hours and 47minutes. Not to mention that the Cheesburger festival is a city-wide event that attracts thousands of people, all of whom seemed to be getting to town the same time as me, so it took me about a half hour to travel the last mile to the stage. We were supposed to start playing at 1 p.m. I arrived at the stage at 12:59, (talk about anxiety!) My tention was relieved in a strange way by the fact that the same thing happened to the rest of the band, so when I pulled into the stage area, the Gratitude trailer was just getting there too. The guy on stage before us had also started late, so we had just enough time to set our insturments up. It all seemed to be working out, and then we got a wrench in the gears......they had a nice big sound sytem set up and no sound guy to run it! What!?! Big festival, thousands of people, sound system, and NO SOUND GUY! It was a little hard to comprehend. So, acting fast, Charles set up the whole Gratitude system seperately, which pushed the whole show back about a half hour. We couldn't go later because the family had another gig to get to in Detroit, so they had to leave right at 3p.m. sharp. It all happened so fast that we hardly had time to say hello to each other.

We had time to catch up the next day at a nice big house on Wing Lake somewhere in Bloomfield, MI. This gig was set up really nice, except for the fact that we were outside and it was raining. Sometimes people plan to have these grand parties and in the intensity of the plan, they leave no room for adjustment. There are not many bands that can play in close quarters and still deliver a quality performance, but Gratitude is definitely one of them. Unfortunately, we were stuck outside, while the party was indoors. The money for this gig must have been pretty good, because we had the family, myself, Guy on guitar, Nigel on pans, Miguel on percussion, and Jaquie on backing vocals. A big group for an 18 year-old's birthday party. Aside from the rain, the view was great, and the band was having a great time playing with such a big sound. Sometimes it all comes together at the right moment, and sometimes it rains on your parade. I guess you just have to play through, keep a level head, and have a good time no matter what.

So after a week of really bad weather in Michigan, including tornatos, rain every day, hail, and crazy wind, I was back with Gratitude, (this time just the family and I), for a 9 hour gig outdoors in Howell, MI. Yes, I said 9 hours. It was like having two full time gigs back to back. We were leary of the weather, (naturally), but the sun came out for the first time all week as we were setting up. We were at a big beautiful house right on a lake and the family that hired us was having a big family gathering. When I asked Charles what they were celebrating, he told me that "Nobody got married, and nobody died". everyone loved the music, and they fed the band well. After the 3rd set, we felt like part of the family. I found it a bit strange that no one danced, with the exception of some little children, but everyone kept telling us they were loving it, so we kept getting more and more relaxed. By the last set, we were all laughing and having a great time. I was impressed that we did not have to repeat any songs, and we still had at least 3 sets of music left that we never touched. I have never been in a band that knows so much music. Despite a sore rear end at the end of the day, I had a great time playing the longest gig of my career so far.

That is all for now. I am looking forward to a very exiting month of September. My new experemental jazz fusion band KOZORA is making it's debut, plus my Guruji, Samar Saha is coming to Michigan for a couple weeks and a bunch of good shows. I can't wait to tell you how it goes! Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

La Trinity, Riverfolk Festival, Gratitude, Deep Blue

Hello again,

What an interesting string of shows these past couple of weeks have brought. First, a couple of Saturdays ago, I played drums with a Reggae/Calypso group called La Trinity. It is actually Kelly's group...(the huge Trinidadian that fills in for Gratitude every now and then). It was Kelly on bass, his brother on keyboards, and a young guy (forgot his name) also on keyboards. Kelly said it was his first reggae show. He was a bit tense, but once we started, it all melted away. He sounded great. I was having fun playing on Kelly's electronic drum set. Actually, there were about 20 different drum kits in the computer bank, so I sounded different on every song. It took me a few songs to get used to the fact that I had a huge booming bass drum even when I would just tap the pedal. It seemed almost too easy!
The crowd at the show was very diverse to say the least. It was an outdoor hula-type party for a subdivision community in Farmington Hills. They had a huge pig roast, and a reggae band. Some people brought their own booze, so they were getting a little crazy on the dance floor. At the same time there were families sitting on the grass behind us, and elderly folks in the seats in front of us. I wasn't sure if anyone quite knew what to do. It must have been one of the first party of it's kind for the community. Oh well, it was fun for the band, and I really enjoyed the music!

Exactly one week later I found myself in Manchester, Michigan for the Riverfolk Festival. I was there to play Indian Classical music with Meeta Banerjee. The festival tried adding a new 'World Music' stage to bring some traditional world music in. Along with us they had a great Irish duo, a Chinese Airhu player, (she was great), and Maruga Booker's Global Village Band. Meeta and I went on at about 1 p.m. The weather was perfect and we were tucked away nicely in the shade. We were up against a fenced in yard that had billy goats on the other side. People said that as soon as we started playing the billy goats came up and hung out right behind us, and then as soon as we stopped they took off. Some said they must have felt the connection with their Indian roots. I don't know too much about that, but it was a nice show nonetheless.
A couple of hours later I was asked to sit in with Maruga's band, so we jammed on a great groove and Maruga and I traded off solo's. I was also happy to play with Peter Madcat Ruth for the first time. He is a very well known harmonica maestro. I was in a band at CalArts called Mudhouse that covered something like 4 tunes from an obscure band called Sky King, and Madcat was the harp player. I was so excited to learn that he lived in Ann Arbor, that I looked him up when I moved back to Michigan and told him all bout how into his old band a bunch of kids out in California were. He seemed amused and we saw each other around town every now and again. Saturday was the first time I got to play with him and it was a great time. He actually played jaw harp for our little jam.
Maruga's group is big in every way. For our jam, Maruga was on his self invented Nada-Drum, which is like a talking drum, Madcat was on the jawharp, Richard was on the bass, there was a guy on Sax, a guy on guitar, Ken Kozora was on the Zen drum, which is an electric drum/gutar/keyboard type thing that was popularized by groups like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and then there was Maruga's wife Shakti, who was on the vocals and congas. It was great to play with them, and I would love to do it again in the near future. A couple days later we got a picture in a review of the festival in the local paper...
The next day I was in Troy, Michigan at the Troy historical museum. We played this same show last year. It was outside in a gazebo. This year however, the rain forced us to move into the old historical church. It was a blessing in disguise. The church was so small that we didn't need to bring in any P.A. equipment. I set up just a bass drum, snare, and cymbals, and we sang the voacals acapella. It sort of felt like what it must have been like back in the 'good ol' days before electricity and amplification. The show was intimate and a ton of fun.
People were enjoying themselves so much, including the band. Towards the end of the performance we all went one by one and told the crowd something about ourselves. I told them about the first time I saw the band. It was just one week after moving back to Michigan from California. It must have been the summer of 2001. I went with my wife's family to a concert in the park up in Grand Blanc Michigan. I was just going as a simple spectator. I saw this great steel band, but I noticed they were using a drum machine. I happened to have my resume in the car, so I gave them one. The rest is history. I have been playing with them ever since. I was so happy to share my story with the crowd, and it just made the afternoon that much more enjoyable. Not to mention the huge amount of work that was saved by not having to wrap chords and take down speakers.
The next day I was slated to play another concert in the park. This time it was with the Deep Blue group and it was in Walled Lake, MI. It was a strange gig. We showed up and there was no one there. No event coordinator, no vendors, and no audience. There were folding chairs set up, so we knew we were in the right place, and we did get spectators eventually, but they all told us they had no clue this was going on. They just happened to be walking by and heard the music. We had a good time playing, and the weather was perfect, but I could not figure out how a community could have it together enough to hire a band to play and then not invite anyone. Who knows?!? At least we got paid, and the people who stuck around enjoyed themselves. Perhaps next year will be a different story.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to write again soon!

John

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gratitude Ice Cream Social, Hiawatha Music Festival

Hello again,

Right now I feel like a new man. My wife Jody and I just got back from a wonderful trek up to my hometown of Marquette, MI. where we camped out at the Hiawatha Music Festival. It was great to see old friends, play some music, take a swim in Lake Superior, and just hang out in the beautiful weather. I was hosting a couple of workshops for the festival. One was on jam circle ediquitte, and the other was a percussion workshop. There were a lot of other people involved in the workshops, so I wasn't as involved as last year, which was fine with me. I made up for it by setting up a carpet in front of our tent and giving free tabla lessons to whoever wanted to sit. It was a great time. I am looking forward to going back in September for the big Indian/Experemental concert at Kaufman Auditorium.
In the meantime I will be playing lots of music with the Gratitude Steel band in August. Actually, before leaving for Marquette, I played with Gratitude at an Ice Cream Social somewhere in Oakland County. The Russell family was not on this one. They had other gigs elsewhere in the state, so I was with Guy Barker, Kelley, Anthony Tollson, and Lamar Woodall. We also had some Hawaiian dancers there to spice up the show a bit. Usually, when the family is on the gig, we play the music behind the dancers, but this time there were new dancers, and the band had not rehearsed with them, so they used their own music. This made for a very easy show for us. We played a couple of tunes and then the dancers came up and danced. We traded off for a couple of hours and then the show was over. It was a simple community gathering and was a lot of fun for everyone involved. I love being involved in anything that brings people in the same neigborhood together for music and fellowship. It seems a little too easy these days to be lost either on-line, on the phone, in the T.V. or in a car. It is good to get out and meet the people you live with every now and again. It reminds us all about how much we have in common.

Thanks for reading, and please come back soon!

John

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nick Strange, Meditation at Crazy Wisdom, and Deep Blue in the Sun

Hello again,

Well, it was another interesting weekend of music. On Thursday I was at Goodnite Gracie again with the Nick Strange Group. A few more people this time, and we had a fill in singer. I can't remember her name right now, but Dan knows her from a show she does called the Cowgirl Cabaret. Sounds interesting. She did a great job, considering most of the material is Dan Orcut original. (Did I mention that there is no 'Nick' in Nick Strange).
The next night I was at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom in Ann Arbor for another night of meditation music with Dr. Chernin and friends. It was very relaxed and nice. I was happy to see Scott Brady, (sax player from Deep Blue), out for an evening of chanting. He said he enjoyed himself very much. We were talking a bit right after the music was over and a former student of mine came up to me and said hello. After a few minutes, the student asked me for a ride home. I said it would be a while because I needed to pack up, but then Scott jumped in and offered to give him a ride. What a nice guy! So they took off and about 20 minutes later I got a call from Scott. He ran out of gas! So I hurried home and got my lawn mower gas and drove to meet him. He still had my student in the car, so I guess he ended up waiting after all.
The next day I drove up to Flint, MI. to play outside at the Genesee Valley Mall with Deep Blue. Not sure how they landed this gig, but it was nice to be playing. When I showed up I saw Scott and thanked him again for offering to give my student a ride home, even though it turned out to be an adventure. He said that it didn't end with the gas. After they took off, there was a bit of confusion as to where my student lived. Scott ended up turning the wrong way down a one way street and got a ticket! What was interesting to Scott however, was that when it was all said and done, he didn't feel the least bit upset. He drove home calm as a cow. He attributed it to the two plus hours of meditation. It was nice to hear that things worked out. Anyway, the gig was just two hours long and we had Scott on sax, Paul Allen on Guitar, and Chris ??? on the upright bass. The music was sounding great. The only drawback to the gig was that we had to be in the direct sunlight, and it was a 90 degree day. It was taxing, but we made it through and only had to stop 5 times to retune, (just kidding).
Exactly one week later I was in Flint again. This time it was indoors at the Greater Flint Arts Council, which is a nice little art gallery in downtown Flint. We were there to play music for a wedding reception. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the band was sounding. It was the same group of musicians, only this time we were about 20 degrees cooler. The wedding party was great, and the response was very good. I think I will be playing with Deep Blue much more in the future.

That is all for now. Sorry there are no pictures this time. I guess I have been getting lazy with the camera. I'll get back on it soon. Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you again soon.

John

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nick Strange, Bengali Conference, and a simple Gratitude show.

Hello again,

I feel like I have traveled half way around the world without leaving Michigan. This past weekend was the 2007 North American Bengali Conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The weekend started off normal as can be. On Thursday I was at Good Nite Gracie in Ann Arbor, filling in for the Nick Strange group. It was a nice show, not too many people in the crowd, but the music was sounding very nice. The next morning I woke up early and drove to the heart of Detroit only to find myself back in Calcutta again. Big tall white guy wandering around amongst thousands of Bengali's. The smell of the food, the beautiful clothes, and everyone speaking in Bengali, so I didn't understand a thing that was going on. I did understand the music however. There was some great music at this event. The main reason I went of Friday was to see Pandit Umjit Ali Khan and his two sons play. They were in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago and the show was phenomenal. It was a real treat to see them again.
So I was at the conference for two main reasons, both of them having to do with Meeta Banerjee being the chair of the youth commitee for the conference. She booked us to present a workshop on Sunday and booked me to be the judge in a talent competition on Saturday. The talent show went well, although it was not easy to judge a sitarist, then to a poet, and then a dancer and so on. The judges only had to pick the top 3 and then the audience would pick the winner, so the pressure was off a little bit. It was all in good fun, and everyone seemed happy with the winner. It was a little boy that played the sitar. He was actually a student of Rajan Sachdeva, one of my former teachers. Right after the show I rushed to one of the main stages to see Bikram Gosh's rhythmscape. Bikram Gosh is one of the best tabla players around and he has this group that consists of tabla, mrigdungam, gatam (clay pot), drumset, a vocalist, guitar player, and keyboardist. They had a real "wow" factor and their playing was virtuosic. I was inspired to see the drumset on stage, and was very interested in how it was used. I have been cultivating a show that will include tabla and drumset, so this was good information for me.
The next day was our workshop. It was called "Sa Re Ga Ma, and Te Re Ki Te - An Introduction to Indian Classical Music". This was the first time that Meeta and I have done a workshop for all Indians, and I must say, I was a bit nervous. It all melted away when we started playing and taking the questions. I was surprised at how many questions were about the relationship between Indian classical and Western music. I wished that we had more time, but it was a good experience nonetheless. Right after it was over, I was off to get ready to come back to America and play a show with Gratitude up in West Bloomfield.
I have played at this place before. It is called Tam o' Shanter golf club. Pretty exclusive and fancy, and the other times I have played it was with the Rusell family and it was for all the members. When I showed up this time there were a ton of little kids running around and blankets lying out on the coarse. I learned that it was their annual 4th of July picnic and that we were just some simple background music. I was with Anthony Tollson and Lamar Woodall. They both played pans and we had no electricity. We set up out near the 18th green and played for just an hour and a half. A simple show. Some of the kids really got into it and were dancing around us. It was a nice way to spend the evening.

That is all for now, thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

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