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

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