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

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