Saturday, November 08, 2008

Our new president. Kirtan, PaleDave, Bijoya, Nick Strange, Skylounge

Hello again,

Wow, what a time to be alive!  I just watched the new President Elect Obama give his first press conference since the historic election last week.  It feels so good to turn on the T.V. and see people in other countries cheering the U.S.  We have done the world proud. My hope is that we will now carry ourselves with humility and openness, and maybe, just maybe we can spend a little more time playing with each other and less time being scared of each other.  I feel proud to be a musician in the world today, and I truly believe that music is one of the few universal modes of communicating that which we all share....our human experience.  
The election is not the only reason I am looking forward to the future and feeling hopeful. In less than 4 days my wife Jody will be giving birth to our first baby, Charley Bear Churchville.  Wow, that is the first time I have typed his full name, and like a lot of seemingly insignificant gestures, it has filled me with excitement and joyful anticipation.  I am sure he will teach me more about this world than I ever thought possible and I look forward to.....well, I guess everything!  
O.K. so now my usual patter about the gigs I have played in the last month seem a little less significant, but I will do my best to forge ahead and keep this live documentation of my musical experiences going.  So let's start with  Friday October 17th. It was the monthly Kirtan event.
This was going to be another night where I would participate in the 2 hour Kirtan, and then quickly pack up and rush over to Gracie's downtown to play with the Nick Strange Group.  I had the same situation in the previous month and I remember being very tired and worn out by the end of the night, so this time around was all about energy conservation.  It started with loading in.  I took it slow, asked for help, and focused on being relaxed.  As the music began I kept my eyes closed, focused on my hands being very relaxed, and I made sure to drink plenty of water in between chants.  I was so focused on being relaxed that I did not even break a sweat.  It was actually a great way to do Kirtan.  By the end of the chanting, I was feeling energized and ready for more music.  So I quickly packed up and headed downtown.  
When I got to Gracie's I learned that the band had been double booked and we would not be playing that night.  I was surprised at how bummed out I was to get this news.  I sat in Gracie's for a while to check out the band that was set up ahead of us.  I said hello to some friends that came out to check out the band.  Did all the explaining and then went home.  The fact that I was so bummed actually made me feel good.  It is a reminder that I am very lucky to be doing something I love for my profession.
One week later on Saturday October 25.  I found myself at a bar somewhere in the no-man's land between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.  It was a place called the Bistro.  I was playing with Paledave.  I had agreed to play the show months ago when we were rehearsing for Dave's C.D. release party.  Since the group does not play that much together, and the C.D. release party consisted of just about 2 hours of music, we had to do a lot of rehearsing to play a full 4 hour night.  It is difficult to put 4 hours of quality music together, especially when the music you are learning is all cover tunes and it is only for one night.  Usually bands will develop a full night of music over the span of a few months of playing gigs.  To throw it all together for just one show puts a little too much emphasis on getting it right the first time.  To top it off, the crowd was scattered and not into the group as much as they could have been, (is it fair to say they did not live up to their potential as an audience?).  So you play a song that you rehearsed 20 times and no one seems to mind either way.  Towards the end of the night more people were getting into it and we even got some cheering.  The music was sounding pretty good, and it is a fun group to play with.  It brought me back to my days with the Flat Broke Blues Band.  Smokey bars, rough and gruff crowds, late nights, and a small, almost insulting amount of money for the band.  C'est la vie.  
Exactly one week later I had another double-header. First was a short performance for a group called Mitiali.  From what I understand, they are a community of Bengali's that celebrate religious holidays and other events together.  The event on this day was called Bijoya.  It was at Heritage Middle School in Saline, MI.  The celebration consisted of a full day of music, dancing, one-act plays, and a big dinner at the end.  I actually played this show with Meeta Banerjee the year before. The man in charge of the event is the father of one of my tabla students, and this year he asked me to play a piece with Sarit Dhar.  Sarit is a 10 year old sitarist who I actually played with at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom the month prior.  It was a nice performance.  We played one piece that lasted about 20 minutes.  Sarit is very good for his age and I look forward to watching him grow with his instrument.
Unfortunately, I couldn't hang around for the dinner.  I had to get on the road and get ready to play with the Nick Strange Group at Good Nite Gracie's once again.  This time the show was on.  It was a fun night.  The crowd was good. They were into the music, and the music was sounding great.  Rob Crozier was on the bass, and him and I have a great connection when we play music.  It felt good all night.  The group got a bunch of gigs booked for early in 2009 as an apology for the double booking, so I will be writing about them again soon.
So the final gig of my life before fatherhood was with a new band.  It was on the third floor of the Eastern Michigan University Student center.  They turn a room into the "Skylounge" and people come all dressed up and ready to dance all night.  The unofficial name of the band is the Skylounge Band.  They play swing jazz, and some funky stuff meant to keep people dancing.  There is no smoking and no alcohol, but you would never know it.  The atmosphere is very classy and nice.  The musicians in the band are great.  Jesse Morgan plays great keyboards, and is the manager of the band.  I am sorry I don't know the last names of the other members, but they are Drue and Erin on vocals, and Trent on the bass.  I will be playing with them for 4 or 5 more of these Skylounge shows and perhaps another gig or two over the next few months. I am looking forward to it.  The music sounds great, and I hear they may be adding horns and a percussionist.  
That is it.  The next time I write will be as a new father.  From what I hear, life as I know it will never be the same.  I can't wait to find out for myself!  Thanks for reading.

John 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two at Crazy Wisdom

Hello again,

  A couple of weeks ago I had a show lined up at Crazy Wisdom with Meeta Banerjee and myself.  It was to be our usual Indian Classical music performance/workshop like we have done in the past.  Crazy Wisdom does a lot of great advertising for their shows and since we have played there so often in the past, as soon as I told them yes on the dates, they had pictures and descriptions all printed up and posted online a moth before the show.  I sent out a reminder of the show via my e-mail list a couple of weeks before, and made a poster to put up around town. It is a nice, streamlined operation.  One problem though.  
Meeta, (who happens to be on my e-mail list), got my reminder and realized she had not put the date in her calendar.  She called me and told me she could not make it.  Yikes!
  O.K. so I remain calm and started looking for a solution.  I called every Indian Classical musician in my phone. One after the other told me they could not do it.  It started looking like I may have cancel when I got the idea to send an e-mail the Indian Classcial Music and Dance group at the U of M and see if anyone wanted to perform with me.  I got a reply from 2 singers Vaishno Devi Dasika and Sindu Kutty. I also called on 5 of my tabla students to put together a tabla ensemble piece. They loved the idea.  The show was starting to take shape.  I then got a call from Dr. Rajan Sachdeva who could not perform the show, but had a student who could; 10 year old Sarit Dahr.  Last year I was a judge for the youth talent competition at the North American Bengali Conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Sarit Dahr 
was the overall winner of the competition.  What a handy coincidence.  To round out the night, I
 asked Jon 'Atmaram' Plummer, (Ann Arbor Kirtan), to play some harmonium for the tabla ensemble and tampura for the vocalists.  He said yes and I had full confidence the show would be a success. 
  After a couple of weeks of rehearsing and another e-mail later it was time for the show. In all 9 musicians would be performing at Crazy Wisdom that night. So you must imagine a small tearoom with 9 musicians, all of their friends and family, plus the usual Crazy Wisdom crowd.  It was absolutely PACKED.  Unfortunately, I don't think there was enough space for everyone and so some people had to either stand or leave.  All that aside it 
went very well.  It was a little more like a student recital rather than a rehearsal, but we all ended up having fun and the crowd was very supportive.  I was proud of my tabla students, they
 performed a 15 minute piece without any help from their notes, and it sounded great.  The singers were great too.  after the first few songs, I had all the tabla players accompany the singer.  Sindu said it was great to have so much rhythm to sing to.  I let Meeta know that the show went well, and that it took 8 other musicians to replace her ;)
   A couple of weeks later Meeta, Scott Brady and myself were all set to play again at Crazy Wisdom.  This time Meeta had it in her calendar.  This night was much more mellow as far as the crowd.  I was so happy with how the music was sounding.  We really took our time getting to the venue, setting up, getting the sound just right, and taking time to relax before playing.  It all paid off.  The crowd was small at first, but just kept growing 
as the night went on.  One Indian family wandered in by chance as they were waiting for a dinner reservation.  They had a little boy with them and as soon as he saw the tabla he got
 very excited and wanted to sit right next to them.  His father said 'no, we have to go' and the boy started to get upset.  The father then asked us how long we would be playing for and told his son that they would come back after dinner.  Meeta promised the boy we would still be here and so they left.  This night was very relaxed.  Meeta Scott and I just played, improvised, and vamped on whatever came to mind.  I did a little talking, but mostly we just played a bunch of stuff together and just had fun making music.  
After an hour or so the family came back and the little boy sat in a chair right next to me.  He started moving his fingers and pretending to play the tabla. 
 He then moved to sit on the floor in front of us.  We had laid out a couple of bean bags for people to use for sitting on the floor.  He took two of them and put them in front of him and started playing on them like a set of tabla.  He was very much into it.  After a little while he 
crawled up on the stage area and sat, facing the crowd, right in front of Meeta.  He pulled the beanbags close and began to play.  Everyone had a good laugh.  His mom was a little embarrassed, so she tried to pull him away.  He didn't like that one bit.  Maybe she thought it was too early in his career to start performing :)  Here are some pictured Scott snapped with his phones camera, they are a little blurry, but they could very well be the first pictures of a great master performing for the first time!
Thanks for reading and check back again soon,
John

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kirtan with Guests, Indian/Western Wedding, Day of Peace at EMU

Hello again,

  This past weekend was such a monster weekend of music I had to devote an entire blog entry to it.  I counted it up...12 hours of music, not including rehearsal, set-up, tear down, and all the other stuff associated with playing music for an audience.  I was also dealing with the symptoms of a cold, so all the great experiences cam
e filtered through a tired achy haze.  No complaints though. I actually think that being sick caused me to slow down and take things as they came, rather than stressing about everything all at once.
  So the first show was Friday evening for our monthly Kirtan event at the Friends Center in Ann Arbor.  This was a special event due to the fact that we had some very talented visiting artists joining the group. It was the husband and wife team of Einat Gilboa from Israel and Gerhard Fankhauser from Austria.  They both travel the world doing music, and through the work of Dennis Chernin and Glen Burdick, we were lucky enough to have them join us for a great weekend of music.
The kirtan went very well.  We did our regular chants with a couple of theirs thrown in, which were beautiful.  Just having their voices and Gerhard's stellar guitar and lute playing added into our regular chants was enough to turn our regular experience into an extraordinary one.  They were a pleasure to work with and very nice to talk to as well.  What it must be like to just travel from place to place with nothing but some clothes and your music.  They embodied the tradition of the troubadours and truveres of the old days.
   Normally, I just close my eyes during our Kirtan and let the music take me away without a care in the world.  This night was different. I was constantly checking the time.  I had a gig to get to as soon as the kirtan was over.  We usually end at 9:30, and I needed to be at Goodnight Gracie's downtown to play with the Nick Strange group by ten.  Once again, I had my student Vinnie help me out by setting up my drums for me, so all I had to do was pack my tabla and get downtown.  As soon as the last chant was over I started packing. I made it into the club with 5 minutes to spare.  It was such a change to go from playing this nice meditative music on a quiet instrument to rocking it out on a drum set.  I really had to 'wake up' to get the music out at first, but once the first couple of tunes were over I was fully in drum set mode.
It was a great night at Gracie's. There were a lot of people all night.  Vinnie stuck around to check out the music. On our first set break he told us that he was having trouble staying in his seat because he felt like dancing.  We told him not to hold back, even though no one seemed to be in the dancing mood.  So when we started the 2nd set, Vinnie popped out in front of the stage on the first tune and started dancing with wild abandon.  At first people stared, laughed, and smiled, but it wasn't long before there were about 10 people shaking their stuff.  I guess that sometimes all we need is for someone to show us that it is alright to lose yourself a little and let yourself be moved by something regardless of what the crowd is doing.  I can tell you that having a dance floor full of people will always make the music sound better.  The energy given off by the dancers is felt directly by the musicians, (and vice versa).  It made for a great night of music.
The next day was an unexpected surprise show.  I got a call earlier in the week from one of my former teachers, Dr. Rajan Sachdeva.  For anyone in the southeast Michigan area who has been interested in Indian Classical music, Rajan Sachdeva is a household name.  He has been teaching Indian Classical music for over 25 years and established the Institute for Indian Classical Music in West Bloomfield, MI.  I took lessons with him in Ann Arbor through an organization called Saadhani.  He is also Meeta Banerjee's sitar teacher. Anyway, he called to ask if I could play with him at a wedding in downtown Detroit at the Detroit Athletic Club.  It is a swanky private club nestled between Ford Field and Comerica Park.  Everything about it was high class.  The wedding was on the second floor of the club, (which is at least 5 floors).  We were set up in the room where the ceremony would be held.  It was fully decked out like a traditional Indian wedding.  There was a difference though, this wedding was between an Indian man and a western white woman.  We were to play background music for the ceremony, which was a very interesting mix between Indian and Western traditions.  They circled a fire 7 times, and then stood in front of it and exchanged vows.  All the groomsmen were white, but they were dressed in full Rajastani garb.
The whole thing lasted about a half hour, which is about 4 times shorter than a regular Indian wedding.  All of the differences seemed to work very well together and it ended up as a very beautiful ceremony.  I was happy to be a part of it, and also happy to be playing for the first time with Rajanji.  I hope to play with him again soon.
The next day I had to rise early to make my way to the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, MI.  The Kirtan group was slated to be part of the One Peace event.We were set to kick off the day with some chants.  It was a great opportunity to play in a huge arena for a lot of people and the group had prepared well.  Fortunately for us Gerhard and Einat were still in town, so they were able to join us again.  Just walking into the place got me excited.
Once we set up the instruments and it was time to get the sound pumping through the house system everyone in the group was excited to hear how our simple chants reverberated throughout the arena.

We were there early enough to be able to play for a half hour before people started arriving. This allowed us to tweak the sound and get comfortable playing on such a big stage.
By the time people started to arrive, we were ready to do our chants.  Things were running a little behind, so we had to cut things short a bit, but the experience was well worth the effort. As we chanted, the words were put up on big screens on either side of the stage. As I looked out on the audience it seemed that most everyone was participating.  There were not quite as many people as we had expected, and the sound of the response was difficult to hear on stage, but with our additional backup singers we were able to hold it together nicely.  It was a great effort by everyone in the group and I am very proud of how far they have come.
So that's how the weekend went.  I have not had one like that in a while. I am grateful to have made it through successfully and I am as energized as ever to play good music.  thanks for reading, and please check back soon!

Thanks,

John

Monday, September 08, 2008

Kozora at a Castle, 3 with Nick Strange, Paledave C.D. Release

Hello again,

  September is such a busy month on the gigging front,  I feel pretty relaxed about it, but I don't think I can remember a time when I have had such a variety of shows in such a short amount of time.  It all started on Saturday the 6th.  It was an intimate affair at the Bennett Castle, a private but extravegent residence on the upper east side of Ann Arbor overlooking the Huron River.  I was hear a couple of months back with Kozora doing Indian fusion music for an event put on by the Sparsh organization.  The hosts of the party liked the music so much they asked us to come back for their mothers 80th birthday.  
  So it was Scott Brady, Ken Kozora, Dave Gilbert, Prashanth Gururaja and myself.  We had not played the music since the last time we were at the castle, but we did get a couple of rehearsals in to tighten things up.  The rehearsals paid off.  We arrived to an empty house apart from the host.  She showed us to the room where we would set up and play. Set up went pretty quick, (I only had my tabla, and we used a very small sound system), but as showtime grew closer and closer there was no one around.  5 minutes before showtime there was still no one around, so I took a walk to see what was happening.  I found out that everyone was down at the 'riverhouse' and they would be up shortly.  So the band just relaxed and listened to some music.  I think the quiet time really helped to relax everyone. When the guests came up and it was time to play, the music sounded great.  I mean really great.  I had never heard Kozora sound this good.  I thought it was so interesting how we all came together so well for one of the smallest crowds we have ever played for.  Everything just clicked and it worked very well.  It figures that this would be the one show that no one in the group recorded.  Oh well, perhaps that is the secret.
  Everyone at the party was so nice, they invited us to stay after and hang out, which is rare at a private affair like this.  I was sorry to have to go.  I had to rush off to another show.  Since I was the point person on the gig, none of the other bandmates felt comfortable to stick around either, so they actually ended up coming to my show to hang out.
  So the gig that night was at Good Nite Gracie's in downtown Ann Arbor with the Nick Strange Group.  It was a special show for the band because their regular drummer was moving to California and he would be stopping by to play a few 'farewell' tunes.  I am not sure what that means for me, other than I have a lot of Nick Strange shows booked up in the near future.  Anyway, it was a great night of music.  I was pumped to have the Kozora band their to hear me play something other than what I do with them.  They hung around for most of the night and seemed to enjoy themselves.  The music sounded great.  It usually does in that room. It is just small enough so I do not need to be mic'd, but big enough that I can play with full volume and not drive anyone nuts.  I was a little tired by the end of the evening, but all in all it was a great night.
  The following Friday I was with the Nick Strange Group again. This time it was at the Ypsilanti Crossroads Festival, which is a summertime music series that was supposed to be on an outdoor stage in downtown Ypsilanti.  This day was threatening rain so we were moved into a dance club right next to the outdoor stage.  I think it was called Club Divine.  It looked a little like a booty bar.....dancing poles and cages, lots of blacklights, and even some 'VIP' sections.  We had a little stage to play on and a nice big sound system to play through.  There was a professional sound crew, which was very nice.  Also, Rob Crozier was with the group on bass.  Dan Orcut, who is the founding member of the group, has been doing this a long time. To his credit, he never says no to a gig, even if all the members can not do it.  He will take the time to train a new person with the music and the show will go on.  Having this mentality means that he has a pool of musicians he can call on to play shows.  Granted, he likes to have the same crew for extended periods of time, but if someone can not do it, he always has another number.  His professionalism and dedication to the music itself prevents any sort of drama and/or jealousy from developing and everyone seems to get along just fine.  So anyway, the past 5 or 6 shows I have played with them have been with Jon Sperendi on the bass.  Jon is great and we have a blast playing together, but I have been doing so many other projects with Rob lately that it was great to have him on the bottom end again in this group.
  The same crew was together the very next day for the first annual Michigan Music Expo in Novi Michigan at the Rock Financial Showplace.  The Nick Strange Group had an hour long spot on the lounge stage.  When I walked into the arena, I got the same feeling I get when I have 2 or three music players open on my computer and they all start playing different music. It was chaos.  The main room had booths filled with D.J. companies, radio stations, record labels, and music stores, and they all had a P.A. system blasting music.  I actually got a bit queasy as I walked around.  I quickly made my way to the Lounge Stage, which was in the next room.  The crazy noise disapated into a low rumble. It felt sort of like standing next to an angry ocean.  It definetly distracted from the 'loung' feel.  Regardless, I was happy to be a part of something that seemed to bring musicians together.  The lounge stage featured a pretty unique sound system. It was called something like the Bose L1 sound system and consisted of 5 narrow speaker towers set up accross the back of the stage. Each band member had their own tower complete with a little mixer to mix their own sound.  It was nice to have my drums pumping through a nice system right into my back.  I could really adjust how it was projecting into the crowd.  The music sounded very crisp and clean. I don't think Dan liked his system, but all in all it was nice to be on a nice stage with fellow music lovers as your audience.
  As soon as we were done playing I had to rush off yet again. This time it was back to Ypsilanti to a place called the Corner Brewery to play drums for the long-awaited Paledave C.D. release party.  I recorded Dave's C.D. the same week that Jody and I moved to Ann Arbor. Actually, the studio was just 2 blocks from our house.  That was back in 2006, so needless to say, this was a long time coming.
  Since I was up in Novi, I asked one of my longtime students Vinnie Russo to set up my drumset for the Paledave show.  So I had the luxury of coming into the venue to a drumset all set up and ready to go.  (Thanks Vinnie.)  It was a happy night all around. Dave had a lot of friends there, the music was well rehearsed and sounding good, and all the musicians were relaxed.  It was great to have some closure to this very extended project.  I wish Dave luck with his C.D.

  So that is the first half of the month, and there is plenty more to come.  Thanks for reading and check back soon.

John

Monday, September 01, 2008

Yoga For Peace, Kirtan, Nick Strange, 10000 Villages, Crazy Wisdom Twice, Boychoir Tabla Talk

Hello again and welcome.
O.K. so summertime is winding down, schools are starting up again, Ann Arbor is buzzing with students, and the country is getting ready for a new president. For me, August was a great month. It started off with a full 2 weeks of a completely empty schedule. I looked back in my calendar and realized that it was the first time I have had two weeks off since Christmas of 2007. I took the time to rest, practice, do a little personal recording, teach a few lessons, and hang out at home. Now I am feeling refreshed and ready for the fall.
It will be an exciting end of the year. My wife and I are expecting our first baby in November and we are so excited. I have already been playing music and singing to him, and last week I felt him moving for the first time. Everyone is telling us how different things will be, some things good and some bad. I am not sure what to make of it all, but I know that I have been inspired to play more music and with a passion I have not felt before.
After two weeks off, getting back on stage can feel a little stiff, but I had a great gig to get back into the swing of things. The Kirtan group was invited to play at a gathering called Yoga for Peace at Ford Field in Dearborn, MI. It was Sunday afternoon August 10th. It was a little chilly and the threat of rain was there, but the event was well attended and the atmosphere was calm and relaxed. The idea was that there was free yoga classes happening all day, followed by some guided meditation, followed by some more yoga and then the Kirtan group would do some chanting with everyone. We were supposed to start the music right as a class ended, so we had to get there early to set up before it all started. When we showed up, someone was there with a tiny sound system already to go. It was for a group of musicians that were going to play background music for the yoga classes. The system was a little too small for the venue, so I offered to combine it with our system, (I didn't want to suggest they take it all down, since the lady setting it up had just laid her last chord). So I was tested right off the bat to make our two systems work together in just a half an hour. Not an easy task, but everyone hanging around was very helpful and we got a nice system complete with monitors and extra mics.
The Kirtan group was a little concerned about this gig since we were there without 2 of our regular response singers, (we only have 4, and one is the lead chanter). When the event started we noticed that the group playing the background music had 4 singers, so we asked if they wouldn't mind joining us on stage for our chanting. They agreed and we ended up playing with a nice full sound. By the end of the chant, which lasted about an hour, there were a little over 100 people all chanting. It was great energy and felt very fulfilling. The rain held off and the day ended up as a great success. (click for pictures) Not to mention there was a person in the crowd that liked what we did and asked us to be a part of a huge event in September at the EMU Convocation center in Ypsilanti, MI. It is called One Peace, and they are expecting anywhere from 3,000-10,000 people and they want us to open the event with kirtan chanting. I am excited to see how that turns out.
The Yoga for Peace event gave the group great practice and renewed energy for the next monthly kirtan, which was just 5 days later on Friday. The attendance was a little down from the norm, probably due to the summer and whatnot, but the energy was high and the music was sounding great. The group really has been making great strides since January, when it started rehearsing once a week. That is really the secret behind any successful group, lots of time together playing the music. No amount of discussion, or pre-planning can make up for time spent in the music making experience. It doesn't matter what type of music, or how many people are in the group, if you are paying attention and playing well, the quality of the music is always increasing.
So after those two peaceful nice shows, I was back in the swing of things, and things did start to swing steady and fast. The very next night I was again playing drumset with the Nick Strange Group at Fishbones in St. Clair Shores, MI. The group plays mostly songs composed by the leader, Dan Orcut, with a few covers thrown in to fill out the evening. Dan has been around the Ann Arbor music scene for many years and has played with a ton of drummers. The music is fun for a drummer. Lots of different feels, rock, reggae, swing, soca, funk, etc. The energy is high and Dan likes to keep the quality of the music very high, which I appreciate greatly. It can be difficult to do that at a place like Fishbones where they have 20 t.v.'s all flashing and spreading the focus of the crowd. This night was especially challenging. It was right in the middle of the Olympics and it just so happened that this was the night that Michael Phelps swam in the relay that won him his 8th gold medal. It happened during a song called Lucinda, right before the guitar solo. The crowd went crazy. They were so loud you couldn't hear the band, and like the professional wallflowers we were, we did not stop the music, so once it calmed down, the song picked up and I think it actually helped to carry the energy of the moment. Somewhere deep in the subconscience of those at the place that night lies a strange connection between Michael Phelps and a girl named Lucinda. Something about that gives me satisfaction. The rest of the night went along smoothly and the music sounded great. I heard through the grapevine that the drummer I usually sub for in this group is moving to California, so I may be writing about them much more in the future.
The following Tuesday I found myself sitting on the floor with Meeta Banerjee in a store in downtown Ann Arbor called 10,000 Villages. A few years back Meeta and I played there for their grand opening. I guess Meeta was out one night and happened to walk in. She started talking with a worker, telling them about the gig and they asked if we would play again, so there we were. I like to think of the gig as a live practice. People walk in and out as we play. All we see are butts and crotches as they walk by. It really makes you turn your atttention inward, focusing on the music. I love to play, so I can get into the music almost no matter where we are, and I joked with Meeta before we started that it is possible we could play better than we ever have on this night. She laughed, but when the gig was over we both agreed that the chemistry between us that night was working very well, and the music was great. I have said it before....you never know! You can never count out the possibility of great music happening no matter what the situation. I often tell my students that once a piece of music starts, it is a living thing complete with a pulse, a personality, and direction. If you honor that with focus and good intention, then the possibilities for making great music are always there.
The following Friday I got invited to play tabla at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom in Ann Arbor with bassist Rob Crozier, guitarist Randall Beek, and a drummer known as "O". It was a simple gig. No rehearsals, no charts, no expectations. I just showed up with my drums and played. The first half of the show consisted of some compositions that the group had written, mostly free form, but very groovy. I was able to lock in nicely with the drummer and we had a great time. The second half of the show was much more free form. Two other musicians showed up, a trumpet player, who's name escapes me, and a sax player named Piotr Michalowski who specializes in free form improv. And that is exactly what happened for the next hour an a half. With the group growing in size, the volume increased greatly and I was left for the most part, watching my hands move, but not hearing anything. One of the hardest parts about playing the tabla in fusion groups like this is getting the sound levels correct. Tabla are such a quiet instrument in comparison to the drumset that it takes a lot of amplification and a nice mic to level the playing field. After a good portion of craziness the music did settle down a bit and I was able to hear myself. All in all it was a fun, interesting, and worthwhile gig. I always appreciate any opportunity to think outside the box and just play in the moment.
The following Tuesday I took a drive just south of Ann Arbor to a nice place called the High Scope Retreat Center. I was slated to do a demonstration of tabla and Indian classical music for the Ann Arbor Boy Choir summer camp. There were 21 boys ages 9-17 and I was their main evening activity. I wasn't sure how interested they would be in listening to me talk and play for an hour, so I brought a guitar and a video just to fill some time. To my surprise however, we talked about Indian classical music for over 2 HOURS! I could not believe how attentive, interested and inquisitive they were. It was such a nice surprise. When it was over I hung around a bit to listen to them rehearse. It turned out to be a very nice evening which left me inspired and energized about teaching tabla.
The following Saturday Scott Brady, Meeta and I were up in Crazy Wisdom again. The atmosphere in the tearoom is so great. It has nice tall ceilings, comfortable seating, and it is intimate. It feels full with 20 people, and packed with 30. We always have a great time and this time was no different. We played, talked about the music and instruments, and played some more. I was happy to have Scott with us. He has been working so hard at learning the bansuri, (Indian flute), and it has been paying off. We did a lot of our usual pieces, but I was so pleased to also do a good bit of improvising. It was just a fun night of Indian style music.
All in all it was a great month of music, and left me fully energized and ready to start my "day job" at Go Like The Wind the following Tuesday. The fall looks to be filling up nicely with all kinds of different shows including the long awaited C.D. release party for Paledave's new C.D., a big chant at EMU, more Indian classical, more Nick Strange, and the biggest gig of all...the arrival of a new baby boy! I look forward to writing about it all, so please check back soon. Thanks for reading.

John

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kirtan at Genesis Center, Samar Saha, Concert of Colors, Fenton Concert, Kirtan

Hello again,

  What a great summer it has been so far.  July started with a much needed vacation to my home town in Marquette, MI over the week of the 4th.  It was the first time in over 3 years that I have been in town and NOT had a show to play.  At first it was a little strange. No running around rehearsing, getting equipment together, coordinating everyone involved, none of it.  Just sitting at home enjoying the clean air and great water.
  My first show was not until July 13th.  And, as if to ease me out of my summer slumber, the location was changed at the last minute to be just 4 
blocks from my house.  It was with Ann Arbor Kirtan.  We played for an hour for a Day of Healing and Meditation at the Ann Arbor Genesis Center.  I had to go a few hours early to set up the sound system.  They had a whole bunch of "healers" lined up to do their thing.  There was guided meditation, a Tibetan singing bowl demonstration, group singing, and of coarse, Kirtan.  
  I loved being out of the usual venue. We were in a nice sized sanctuary and there were well over 100 people, our biggest crowd to date.  The sound was very nice in the room, with a very open natural reverb.  The big response crowd created a lot of energy and it carried the group through the chants nicely.  The new situation made for a few issues, like space to sit in our usual horseshoe layout, and a slight lag in the response
 singing due to so many new voices who are just hearing the chants for the first time.  It was all easily overcome and I think everyone had a great time  Here are a few pics taken by Monte Fowler (montefowler.com):


  The very next day was an exciting one.  I was on my way to Fenton, MI to pick up my Guruji, (teacher) Pandit Samar Saha and his wife Madhumita.  They were on tour in the U.S. and would be in Michigan for a week and a half.   I had spent the past few months arranging a week long workshop and two shows.  The workshop was very exciting.  I had advertised by e-mail only and got a great response.


  A big thanks goes out to Doug Collier, the administrator at Go Like The Wind School for allowing me to take over the building in the evenings. It was a very nice set up, all the tabla classes happened in one room, the vocal lessons in another and then there was a room available for practice.  In the hall in between the rooms was a cart with tea/coffee and cookies.  In all there were 17 participants.  I was thrilled to see most of the Ann Arbor Kirtan group taking lessons as well.
  On day one, all the tabla players sat in the room and Samarji listened to everyone play so he could see where everyone was at in their playing.  


  He then split them up into groups and started working on a more individual basis.  The groups not taking the lesson would sit in another room and practice.



  The vocal workshops was where I ended up spending most of the time.  There were a few people coming and going throughout the week, so there was a different group every night.  Towards the end of the week my friend and band mate Scott Brady showed up with his bansuri flute and started learning some songs.  I played tabla and Dennis Chernin, (from AA Kirtan) sang.  It was fun to be part of that process.

  When the week was over we all shared in a meal and then snapped a group picture.  Thanks to everyone who participated.  It was a great time!  Next time I think I would like to arrange for a retreat style workshop where everyone stays in the same place for a few days where the only focus all day is music.  We'll just have to wait and see. 

  So as the workshops came to a close it was time to prepare for a big show on Saturday.  I had arranged a group (featuring Samar and Madhumita Saha) for the Concert of Colors in Detroit.  It is a great event that has been going on over 15 years in downtown Detroit at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.  Judy Piazza was in charge of getting groups for the Rhythm Stage and I told her about the show we put on last September in Marquette.  She said it would be great to have that same thing at the Concert of Colors, so we made it happen.
  This time the group consisted of Samar Saha on tabla, Madhumita Saha on vocals, Prashanth Gururaja on violin, Scott Brady and Dave Gilbert on saxophones, Ken Kozora on bass, and myself on drum set.
  With just a couple days to prepare, the pressure was on to put on a great show.  We had Thursday night to get our sound under control and try some ideas we had been working on. Then Friday we worked all morning putting all the ideas together into on solid hour of music.  Saturday morning we polished the set off and everything was sounding great.  We left from rehearsal and ate together at an Indian buffet. From there we did a caravan down to the "D".
  When we showed up the stage was empty and ready for us to load.  We were set up in about 20 minutes and had about 40 minuted before we had to play.  I was feeling very lucky to be performing with a musician of Samar Saha's stature.  During the week he was telling me about some the venues he has played, Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Theater, the Kennedy Center, etc. I try not to let that kind of thing get to my head, but I can't help feeling honored to play with someone with such great experience and mastery of their instrument.  
  It was rare at a festival of this size that we had so much time to set up, but it just so happened that the group before us was a community drumming group that was out in the crowd doing their thing.  This gave us the run of the stage.  An ideal situation.....but wait!  As it got closer to showtime I noticed that the sound guy was having some major problems with the monitors, (those are the speakers the musicians use to hear each other on stage).  There was no sound coming out!  Now, for those of you who have never played on a stage with a big ol' sound system you must understand that no matter how loud and clear it might be out in the crowd, if you are on stage without monitors, the sound of the other musicians, mixed with the feint echo of the crowd P.A. drowns out your own sound and hearing becomes very difficult.
  So now it was 5 minutes before the show and we still did not have monitors.  The band members were getting a little edgy and the sound guy was scurrying to get things working.  It never did, so we had to do the show without the monitors.  Everyone was experienced enough to be able to pull it off, but in the little amount of time we had, it was hard to get the sound troubles out of our sub-conscience, which left a residue of frustration in our minds once the show was over.  The crowd seemed to enjoy it, so I was feeling pretty good about making it through, but it does go to show you that no matter how much time you spend preparing, you never know what you will have to overcome.



  The next day I was up in Fenton getting ready for a house concert featuring Samar Saha, his wife, Meeta Banerjee on sitar, and myself on tabla.  It was at the Banerjee's house right on Lake Fenton.  The audience was made up of friends of the family, and workshop students.  It is such a treat to see Samarji perform up close and personal like this.  Another bonus of the show, Meeta and I were joined by Samarji for our opening set of music.  Playing drum set with Samarji is completely different than sitting with him on the tabla.  I feel like a propeller plane trying to keep up with a Boeing 747.  As I diligently sputter out my few compositions I know, Samar would answer with a flurry of beautifully delivered poetic statements that were clearly on a whole other level.  Again, I feel honored and lucky.
  The second part of the show was Samarji and Madhumita performing some Dhuns and Bhajans, which are just two styles of Indian folk tunes.  It made me wish I understood Bengali.  The audience was made up of 90% Indians and they were very into the songs.  They kept requesting more and more.  I think she tried to stop about 4 times and they just kept asking for more.  It was a very happy atmosphere.  And her voice was sounding beautiful and clear, again, translations would have been nice.
  The last part of the show was Samarji's tabla solo.  I found out right before the show that I would be playing the lehera on the harmonium along with Meeta on the sitar.  The lehera is a melodic pattern that just keeps repeating, thereby keeping a steady rhythm for the drummer to play over.  I was alright with it, although it did not allow me to focus on what he was playing as much as I had to focus on my steady rhythm, especially when it got going faster.  It was great to play with him on yet another instrument, although I think I would rather stick to the drums.
  
  The days following were filled with nice long lessons with my Guruji.  He taught me lots of things about my technique, and my approach to teaching tabla.  He also recognized all the practicing I had been doing, and gave me inspiration to keep it up.  Without any kind of plan or agenda, it always seems like my Guruji knows what areas need help and knows just how to push me in the right direction.  I have said it before and I will say it again, I am honored to have Samar Saha as my teacher.  Thank you Guruji!

  Samar left on Thursday for Chicago and I don't know when I will see him again. I hope it is soon.  As it turns out, I was not the only one inspired by the weeks events.  All the members of the Kirtan group that attended the workshop could not stop talking about it.  We happened to have our monthly kirtan event that following Friday and it felt very good to be playing together after sharing the experiences of the week prior.  In fact, it was so good that we went a whole half hour later than usual.  That may not sound like much, but from my perspective playing tabla for 2 hours without a break is already pushing some limits, so a half hour more really put me into a whole new mindset. Somewhere between enlightenment and basic survival.  It was a good thing, I think. 
   I had the weekend to rest and take in everything that had just happened and I feel so good.  As the summer winds down and I start looking to the future I feel refreshed and newly inspired to keep practicing.  Thank you for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Deep Blue, Kozora, Kirtan, Gratitude, Looking ahead

Hello again,

  June is coming to an end, (already?!), and I am happy to say the school year is done.  I am fully the most wonderful benefit of being a teacher - summer vacation!  Time to work on bikes in the garage, play golf, sit on the front porch and read a book, or just sit and relax.  Actually, the relaxing part is one I have to work on.  I always seem to find a way to keep very busy. 
  Lately I have been doing a lot of preparation
 and planning for July, when Samar Saha will be coming to the U.S. for another tour.  This time he is bringing his wife Madhumita, who is a terrific vocalist.  We will be playing a set at the Concert of Colors on July 19th.  It will be Samar,
 Madhumita, and the Kozora group.  It should be fun.  I am also organizing a workshop for them as well.  There has been a great response so far, and I am looking forward to spending more time with my Guruji.
  This month has been relatively light on the gigging front.  It started off on a Monday, actually it was the Monday just after the monster weekend I wrote about in my last two entries.  It was a nice, small show at the end of a string of bigger shows, and it was very relaxed.  I was with Deep Blue in a park in Walled Lake, MI.  We played the same show last year.  They have a nice little gazebo in a park close to downtown. One problem though, they don't really advertise, so people don't come out.  This year we had about 5 people show up, (twice as many as last year!).  It is a funny thing about performing though, it doesn't matter if there is just one person, the show must go on.  It is definitely more relaxed, but the quality of the music doesn't, (or shouldn't) change at all.  In fact, the 5 people that did come stayed until the last note, and even hung around while we packed up.  To me, that makes the performance worth it.  I always have a good time playing with that group, and it had been too long, so I was happy to do the show.
  The following weekend I found myself back in the Crazy Wisdom tearoom with KOZORA.  I was excited to play some free form improv.  It seems to put me in the mode of 'youthful thinking' on my drum set.  As I get older, I notice that I am increasingly concerned about quality control.  With improvised music, you never know what you are going to do, so you must give up your sense of control.  It is liberating and refreshing. Especially when you are playing with people who can listen, and don't feel like they need to say too much.  The Kozora group has been gelling very nicely lately, and I am looking forward to more shows with them.
 The following Friday was time for Kirtan.  It was supposed to be a double-duty day.  Gratitude was slated to play for the Go Like the Wind Family Fun Day, but some ominous thunderstorms caused it to be delayed until Tuesday.  That meant my day went much easier.  The attendance at the kirtan was down a bit, but the group sounded great.  All the extra practicing has been paying off.  
  Aside from learning the chants, the group has also been learning the delicate art of using a P.A. system in performance.  Since I wasn't pressed for time, we got a chance to do a nice, full sound check.  I think this was the first time that everyone really got to hear how they sound all by themselves with a microphone and digitally added reverb.  A calm comfort came from everyone understanding how they sounded through the system, that lead to everyone listening much better, and that lead to better playing.  Good listening always does.
  Fast forward to the following Tuesday.  I had to go into GLTW for a year-end meeting, and then it was off to Independence Lake for the make-up Family Fun Day.  Now, to give you some idea of how the gig went, I want to start off about 2 hours before show time.  I went to one of my favorite burrito joints to get some quick lunch.  I got a burrito for the road.  As I'm driving and eating I looked down and saw RAW chicken....Yikes!  I wrapped it up and threw it in the bag.  Just as I am lamenting my lost lunch I got a call from the Steel Band.  They were broken down on the freeway about 45 minutes from the park....Yikes!  
  I was close to the park, so I just went in to see if there were some parents that could help. There was, her name was Jan.  Jan had a big suburban with a hitch that was big enough to haul the bands trailer.  So the band had their van towed and they waited on the freeway next to the trailer for us to show up.  We got there, loaded everyone up and headed back to the park.  The band knows how to set up fast, and we were up and running just about an hour behind schedule.  So, thankfully, the best part of the day was the music.  It is so great that no matter what adversity is in the air, once the music begins, all the worries go away. Especially with a happy group like the steel band.
  So now the music was over and we had another dilemma.....Jan had to leave to take her daughter to a hockey game and no one had a truck big enough to haul the trailer...Yikes!  To top it off, the band had a gig the next day in some far away city and their truck was not going to be done in time.  The solution...call Uhaul.  So another parent took Charles to the local Uhaul to get a vehicle.  When they left I said my goodbyes to everyone and wished them a great summer.  When I got to my vehicle I could not find my keys.  They were nowhere to be found.  I thought back to the last time I saw them......IN JAN'S TRUCK.....YIKES!!  So I walked back to the party and told everyone the embarrassing news.  Everyone put their heads together trying to figure out what to do.  Eventually, we figured out which ice arena Jan went to.  A parent called the arena and had Jan paged over the loudspeaker.  She was there and she picked up the phone.  We told her the news and she went to her truck to look.  The keys were there.  The game was just finishing up, so she had to drive back to the park to give me my keys, (Thanks Jan!).  
  By the time she arrived Charles had gotten back with the Uhaul and everyone was ready to put an end to the day.  One small problem though.....the ball on the Uhaul was too small...Yikes!  Jan had the idea of cutting a tennis ball and using it as a shim. One of the parents had one, so we cut it to shape and the band was off.  I got home about 4 hours later than planned and waited for the chicken to do it's damage.  Luckily, it never did.

Thanks for reading,

John

Monday, June 02, 2008

May Part 2: GLTW Spring Concert, Mike Waite @ Johnny's Speakeasy, Crazy Wisdom, and Radio Free Bacon




Hello,

  So it is now Monday afternoon after a jam-packed weekend of music with my students and my good friends.  It all started with a rehearsals on Thursday.  During the day it was at Go Like the Wind School.  I was appointed the chair of the spring concert comitee, so not only was I in charge of all the music, I also had to direct the graduation ceremonies, (or 'promotion' as GTLW likes to call it).  It was a big job, but very rewarding.  It was actually nice to be the point person of an event that featured all the music groups that I direct at the school, (6 in all).  We do our end of the year concert at a big ol' church just down the road from the school. It fits everyone, and it is air conditioned nicely.  The only drawback is that we can't get in to do any run-through until the day of the show.  That can be tricky when you are trying to direct 150+ children.  So we settled on doing a rehearsal in the school gym instead.  It went well, but took a lot of energy.  From there I went home to teach my private lessons and then have a rehearsal for the weekend's shows with Mike Waite.
  It was great, all the original musicians from Mikes album 'Let it Go' came to Ann Arbor to do a couple of small shows.  I don't know who or how it worked out, but Jared Smith, Ryan Staples, and of coarse Mike all showed up in Ann Arbor for a weekend of music.  It felt a little random, but very happy nonetheless.  
  Friday was a 4 phase day for me.  The first phase was doing the final run through of the spring concert at the church with GTLW.  It meant coordinating busses, lunch, audio, and all the other logistical puzzles associated with such a 'grand' event.  That lasted from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m.  From there I picked up Jared and we went to my house to load equipment for the show that evening.  Luckily, we were able to load in and set up in the middle of the day at the venue, and what a venue it was!  It is called Johnny's Speakeasy, and it is at a private residence.  It was an actual Speakeasy in the 1920's.  Before that it was used as a fruit cellar and ice house by, what Johnny described as 'Crazy Germans'.  It was a basement, but it was about 2 stories tall.  There was a stage, cool seating, and a second loft-type level that housed a makeshift bar.  There were all kinds of old instruments hanging from the walls along with pictures of many of the artists that played there.  It had such a great vibe to it.  As we were setting up I was getting very excited to play later that evening.
  Phase three consisted of me rushing home to clean up, put on a tie and nice shoes, and heading back to the church to prepare for the concert.  I was very worn out, which probably served me well.  I stayed calm and just let everything happen.  The concert went great.  The 1st-3rd graders all sang songs that we had written together and recorded.  The C.D. we created called "Moving Up" was debuted and as a special bonus all the students came together to sing Mikes song 'Spread the Love'.  Mike and his family even showed up to check it out, (Thanks Mike).  After the singing all the bands played, awards were handed out, and the concert was over.  I rushed to get things packed up and head to the speakeasy for phase 4!
  I showed up just before we were supposed to go 
on.  The atmosphere was great.  In the spirit of the speakeasy there was an ongoing dialogue between the band and the crowd, and it just seemed to feed the music.  I love playing music with those guys, and this place seemed perfect. 
   When it was all over I was so tired I could barely drive home.  It was all worth it.
  The next morning it was back to Gladwin Farms for another rehearsal for the Radio Free Bacon show.  This time it was Mike who was the special guest, and the regular drummer was back, so my duties were on the tabla and percussion.  It was fun to watch another group of musicians learn and play Mikes songs.  The rehearsal went great, but I had still not recovered from the day before, so when it was over I went home for a long nap.
  That night we played at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom.  There were a lot of family and friends that came out to see us, so the atmosphere was very warm and friendly.  I felt like we were playing in a living room.  Everyone seemed mellow and relaxed and very subtle. 
 It went very well with Mikes soothing music.  That night we said goodbye to Jared and Ryan and got ready for the radio the next day.
  The radio show happens outside on a patio at Zingermans Roadhouse.  The day was perfect.  Lot's of Mikes friends and family showed up  and there was a lot of great energy.  Mike did some songs with the house band, and then they did a few covers of his songs.  They themed the show "We all Know What to Do"  after the lyrics in Mikes song Spread the Love.  It was a great way to end a beautiful weekend.  By the time it was over I was exhausted and revitalized at the same time.  When I said goodbye to Mike all I could say was, "I guess we will see what happens next....."

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon,

John

May Part 1: Nick Strange @ Greektown, Sparsh@ Bennett Castle, Kirtan, A.A. Book Fair, Radio Free Bacon w/ Madcat

Hello again,

What a month! I am still in a dazed state from a month that included shows with 6 different groups in some great settings. I thought about halfway through the month that I should start writing about these experiences or they are going to pile up too far. Well, here we are, it is the 2nd of June and I am writing for the first time in a month. I think I will split this blog up into two sections - the first section will include the first 3 weeks of May, which found me in Detroit, at a castle, and on the radio. Part two will include just this past weekend, which was a memorable one spent with some old friends. So, here it goes....
On May 3rd I played a show at Fishbones in the Greektown Casino with the Nick Strange group, (Dan Orcutt, Jessica Oberhaltzer, and John Sperendi). The setting was unique. It was at a restaurant wedged between the casino and hotel. The ceiling was 6 stories high and we played in front of what used to be the world's largest indoor man-made waterfall. It was made out of solid granite and was a sight to behold. Fortunately for the band, it had not been in use for a few years, so competing with 6 stories of falling water wasn't an issue. The sound in the room was interesting, lots of echo and reverb. The sound bounced around and filled the room with a lot of noise. Luckily they had a good sound man who knew how to make it work, so we ended up having a good show. I just kept looking up, trying to listen to the sound in the distance. Residence of the hotel could look down on us from whichever floor their room was on, so I had some fun waving at the curious guests. All in all it was a fun, unique experience.
Exactly one week later I found myself on the back deck of a castle playing my tabla to birds in the treetops. I had been working with Sreyashi Dey and her organization Sparsh on providing entertainment for guests at a thank-you/fundraising dinner. It was in Ann Arbor at the Bennett Castle, which used to be the home of Henry Fords right hand man, Harry Bennett. He was rumored to be the guy that did Ford's 'dirty work', and this castle was Ford's gift to him. It comes complete with secret tunnels, hid-a-way's, and foot-and-a-half thick walls meant to protect. It is now a private residence, and it was a great place to play music. The back deck overlooked the Huron River and it sat about 150 ft. above the shoreline. The big grandaddy trees on the shore stretched up to the height of the deck, so we were playing to all the birds in the trees. The group was an experimental Indian/Western fusion group made up of Ken Kozora, Scott Brady, Dave Gilbert, and Prashanth Gururaja. We played about an hour. It was a little chilly, so the instruments were difficult to keep in tune, but the music was still sounding great. The people listening were very receptive and complimentary. I hope to play something with that same group again soon.
On March 16th I was back in Ann Arbor with the Ann Arbor Kirtan group for our monthly chant. The group has been coming to my house for 2 hours every Monday since January to work on new chants and just become a better musical group. The work has really paid off. Chants flow much better now. I can actually enjoy most of the evening with my eyes closed, which I find really enhances the experience. There is also a solid base of responders that come every time and know the chants very well. That helps the whole group sound better, and I think it relaxes the musicians. The group provides an interesting challenge for me. We have to strike a balance between performing good music without being so 'performance' oriented that it distracts from the chanting experience of the whole group, (responders included). I guess it is a lot like any good musical group...the music must be solid and everything else follows and flows from that. Regardless, I have been enjoying the experience more and more.
The very next day I met up with Meeta Banerjee, Dan Piccolo, and Rohit and Amanda Setty for a children's storytelling event at the international studies booth at the Ann Arbor Book Fair. We did a similar show to the one back in February at the Ann Arbor Public Library. Rohit and Amanda read stories, and danced while Meeta Dan and I played music and provided sound effects. It was a fun little show, and the kids who were there seemed to enjoy it. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon in the spring.
The following Monday I was on a plane with 11 middle school students from Go Like The Wind. We were on our way to Washington State for an "Adventure Trip" organized by Colleen Carlson and Outward Bound. It was a week of camping, canoeing, and hiking. No music, aside from some campfire songs on the last night, but I thought it was worth mentioning. We got back late Friday night and I had to get up early on Saturday for another very unique rehearsal.
Saturday morning I drove to Gladwin Farms just outside of Ann Arbor for a rehearsal with the Roadhouse Revival Band and featured artist Peter "Madcat" Ruth. It was a rehearsal for a live radio show called Radio Free Bacon. I was called to fill in for the regular drummer, and what a treat it was. The show is broadcast live on Ann Arbor's 107.1 fm throughout the summer from Zingermans Roadhouse in Ann Arbor. The show is totally locally grown. They have interviews, live commercials, and musical guests. I was so happy to be playing with Madcat. When I was in California I played in a funk band called Mudhouse, and we covered a bunch of tunes by this obscure band from the 70's called Sky King. After graduation I moved back to Michigan and learned that the harmonica player from Sky King lived in Ann Arbor......it was Madcat. It was a great experience to play live on the air. We had to play, then sit very quiet while the interviews and other things happened, then they would turn it over to us and we had to be right on the mark. Very exhilarating!
  The following weekend was so packed, I want to give it it's own post, so please keep checking back, and I will write again soon!

John

Friday, May 02, 2008

CSAS party, Kirtan, Neutral Zone, Graduation, Folk Wave Festival

Hello Again,

  April has come and gone, and summer is just on the horizon.  The spring this year seems especially sweet after an extra long, salty winter.  I have been having a blast playing music this month.  It all started with a last minute call for Meeta Banerjee and myself to play "sitar and tabla music"  For the U of M Center for South Asian Studies end of the year party.  It was a carbon copy of the CSAS beginning of the year party.  It was in the CSAS lobby in their central campus building.  We were the background music as professors and students mingled and ate Mediterranean appetizers.  We were having so much fun with the music it didn't matter that no one was listening and all we could see from our seats on the floor were people's butts.  It was a performance setting, but the energy in the room was so scattered that there none of the pressure to "perform" for anyone but ourselves.  It seems that Meeta and I don't play in that type of setting very often. It allowed us to relax, have fun, and play music however we wanted.
  We played 2 sets, one was about an hour and the last one was only about 40 minutes.  During the break Meeta and I got into this conversation with these two happy old Indian gentlemen about different styles of Indian music.  They kept asking me about styles of Indian music that I was not familiar with, (although later Meeta told me that they were refering to the style of music we were playing!....whoops, I just always called it Bengali folk music, never learning the Bengali words for it).  The conversation was a little akward, and yet very familiar to me.  I have had many conversations with Indian musicians and music lovers who have a hard time understanding how I seem to know so much about tabla, and so (relatively) little about Indian folk culture.  I totally understand their confusion.  
  I was born in the U.P., (of Michigan, not Uttar Pradesh :)  I was raised in the land of the Finnish.  My first introduction to Indian music was a video of Ravi Shankar and Allah Raka at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  I was doing research for a ninth grade english paper on Jimi Hendrix.  The Indian music definitly caught my ear, but I never dreamed I would be playing it one day.  It wasn't until 4 years after graduating high school that I experienced Indian classical music live for the first time.   It has been all I can do to keep up with the huge amount of information associated with tabla alone.  I have accepted the fact that my musical fascination with India will always be accompanied by a certain amount of cultural ignorance.  
  Anyway, I am getting way off track.....on to the next show.....
  It was exactly two weeks after the CSAS show. It was the monthly Kirtan.  It seems the Kirtan chants are growing everytime we meet.  The group has been meeting at my house every Monday since January to work on chants and learn the basics of playing together in a musical group.  All the extra work is definitley paying off. The chants are becoming very solid, and we are adding lots of new material, which is keeping things very interesting.  I look forward to the future with this group.  Even though most of the members are not very musically experienced, their work and dedication is worth any bumps in the road on the way to successful musical execution.
 On the 25th of April Meeta and I played at the Neutral Zone as part of their Weapons of Musical Diversity series (WSD...get it?!).  We played the same show last year, but this year was much different.  First of all, they now have a nice stage and built in sound system.  We were also joined by a few dance groups, so we only played for a half hour or so.  It seemed too short for me, but I enjoy any chance to play.  Here was the description of the show put out by the NZ:

  
Neutral Zone (www.neutral-zone.org), in partnership with SPARSH (www.sparshlife.org), an Ann Arbor non-profit organization which supports healthcare projects for disadvantaged children and women in India, presents an Indian Cultural Showcase featuring youth dances and music - classical as well as modern Indian pop. This show is part of the WMD (Weapons of Musical Diversity) series that Neutral Zone has presented for the second year now to bring people of all ages together for music, dance and celebration of diversity. They are able to offer this free concert with grants from Borders and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Among the performers are youth groups from the greater Detroit area as well as Meeta Banerjee (sitar) and John Churchville (tabla). From 8:30 till close at 10 pm is a dance with a Bhangra DJ. SPARSH is presenting a potluck of Indian food.
  The next day I was back at U of M's art and design building with the Gratitude Steel Band for the second year in a row.  We played their graduation ceremony last year and they asked us back again.  You may remember that last year the keynote speaker was Martha Reeves and we did an impromptu version of "Dancing in the Streets"  that brought the house down, (check the blog archive)  This year the speaker was Bob Garfield, who is a radio host on NPR for a show called "On the Media". He was extremely funny and had a great speech, but no spontanious renditions of the NPR theme or anything like that.  I had not played with the steel band in a long time, so it was great to catch up and play some great music.  I look forward to some shows with them in the summer.
  The very next day I found myself at a beautiful farm/performance venue for something called the "Folk Wave Festival"  I was playing hand drums and percussion with an Irish - type band called "Cairn to Cairn".  I got hooked up with the group through bass player Rob Crozier. Terry Farmer was on the guitar and Rob's girlfriend Kelly was on flute and vocals. They put on this beautiful little concert and had artists come to show work.  It was a perfect day and the venue was great.  It was a nice room with a stage overlooking a beautiful back yard full of spring flowers.  There were not too many people, but they all brought kids, so there was a lot of energy.  The music sounded great and the people seemed to enjoy it.  I had fun stepping out of the usual musical context.  I have a feeling I will be playing with the group again in the near future.

That is all for this month. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!

John 


   

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Live on WCBN, ICMD Grand Concert

Hello again,
  It has been a relatively slow last couple of weeks for me, which has translated into some nice downtime.  I have been spending a lot of time looking ahead and organizing some summer events, including another visit by my Guruji (teacher), Pdt. Samar Saha.  This time he is coming with his wife Madhumita, who is a great vocalist.  I am very excited!
  On the 19th of March I played live on WCBN once again, only this time I did not bring my drumset.  The main reason for that was that they were remodeling the building and the entire radio station was condensed down into one room.  The group was made up of Rob Crozier on the bass, Piotr Michalowski on various woodwinds, and Jason Burbo on electric guitar.  I felt like this was one of the most talented group of musicians that I have done this live show with.  Before we began, Piotr was warming up his bass clarinet. It reminded me of a former teacher of mine from CalArts named Vinnie Golia.  I asked Piotr if he had ever heard of him and he said, "wow, yes, he is actually the one who inspired me to pick up...(all the various woodwinds)... I play".  Vinnie Golia is a very well known artist turned musician who is a big influence in the world of improvised music.  I was excited to play with someone who was connected to my old school.  He was a terrific performer and I think the session went really well.
   It was a challenge to do improvised music for 2 hours just on tabla.  I guess I still feel a bit more freedom of expression on the drum set.  I think it stems mainly from the fact that I played drum set exclusively for 10 years before touching the tabla.  Even though at this point in my life, I have probably spent more actual practice time on the tabla, my drumset still carries the raw, reactionary, instinctive mindset of my own personal musical concept.  Part of it also comes from the fact that my tabla training has been classical. I find it difficult to play the tabla and listen to my playing without the filter of all the classical compositions dictating how I hear and feel the music.  Although it seems like a difficult task to try and 'unlearn' what I have learned in persuit of pure musical expression, it is a journey full of pleasant surprises and liberating experiences.  Samar Saha was the first tabla teacher that gave me the freedom to think about tabla in this instinctual way, which is why I am always so excited and dedicated to the time I get to spend with him.
  On Saturday the 29th I found myself in a familiar setting.  It was the Indian Classical Music and Dance group grand concert "Swaraanjali".  I have performed in many ICMD concerts in the past, but have not been to one in almost 2 years.  I performed a duet with one of my students, and brand new member of ICMD, Arun Ganesan.  We performed the same piece I played at my graduation recital at CalArts with my teacher Randy Gloss, so this felt like one of those 'full circle' type of events.  The concert was great, with lots of performers, mostly singers, doing pieces from North and South India.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nick Strange, Mike Waite, Student Recital, Kirtan

Hello again,

  March is here and almost gone again, and I have been busy busy busy as usual.  This has been a very nourishing month for me.  The first weekend of the month was nice and relaxed with just one show on Friday with the Nick Strange group.  It was the last of a series of shows I played with them, so the music was very relaxed and nice.  We played at Goodnite Gracies in downtown Ann Arbor.  If you don't mind the smoke, it is a really nice venue to perform at.  They have a nice stage, and lots of comfortable seating, which gives it a nice jazz club feel.  It is just the right size so I don't have to worry about amplifying my drum set at all.
  Oh I almost forgot about the very next Saturday.  I met up with Mike Waite and a bunch of his family and friends at a place called Hathaways Hide-a-way, which is just a block away from Gracies. It is this non-descript building that you have to rent out to have an event. It is a very cool, old style bar with lots of character and and aura that makes you forget you are in the middle of the city.  Some of Mike's cousins use it all the time for small events, and since Mike was coming through town this particular weekend, they decided to put something together.  I brought the drums and P.A. system and bunch of other people brought their guitars, basses, banjos, and whatever else.  It was a good ol' fashion jam.  It reminded me of the Hiawatha Music festival in Marquette.  Very laid back, with some great music happening spontaneously.
  The next weekend Mike was back, and this time he, his wife, and 3 kids all stayed at my house.  It was a blast.  I had organized a show at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom on Saturday and his cousins got him a show at Old Town Tavern, both in Ann Arbor just a couple block from each other downtown.  The Crazy Wisdom show was great. We put together a band that consisted of myself on drums, Mike on vocals and guitar, Rob Crozier on bass, and Brian Delaney on guitar, (actually, it was 4 guitars and a banjo....he really came prepared!).  We had put together a couple hours worth of music, which consisted mainly of songs from Mikes new C.D. 'Let it Go', which was released in January.  Mike sold a bunch of C.D.'s and the crowd was with us right till the end of the night.  It was a much smaller show than the big Kaufman show back in December, but it was just as much fun to play.  
  The next day I was in full preparation for my student recital.  It was at Go Like The Wind in the gymnasium.  This recital consisted of the fewest students I have ever had at a recital, but the music was some of the highest quality I have seen.  It was the premier of the 5-piece tabla ensemble that I have been working with, and also the premier of a couple of my students who have made the switch to bass guitar.  Danny Rivet and Jiyan Babaie-Harmon have been with me for over 5 years and decided it was time to take up the melodic side of the rhythm section.  It is so rewarding to watch all these students grow, practice, and blossom into great musicians.  I felt like a proud parent when it was all over with.  
  There wasn't much time to ponder the recital however, because that night Mike and the boys were set to go at it again at Old Town Tavern.  It was louder, looser, and just as much fun.  We were much more comfortable with the music and each other, so we let loose a bit more than the previous night.  Brian Delaney is great with the finger pickin' old-style jazz guitar stuff, so he took many more solos.  I had a blast playing a lot of the songs with brushes, which I don't get to do very often.  The balance was nice, and we had the whole place hoppin'.  It has been a long time since I had a weekend that was so musically nourishing.  I can't wait to play with Mike again.
  The following weekend was a nice relaxing one.  The only music happening was on Friday night with the Ann Arbor Kirtan group.  It was an exciting night to play because not only did we have some new chants prepared, but we were also joined by Judy Piazza.  Judy played with us for almost a year before she moved out to California to be closer to family and soak up the sun.  She is an excellent singer and percussionist and it is always a treat to perform with her.  The group has also been developing nicely.  They have all been coming to my studio for 2 hours a week every week since January to work on playing music together.  All the work has really paid off, they are sounding great, and the music sounds much more balanced and in control. I look forward to playing and working more with them.

That is all for now.  Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you soon.

John

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