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

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