Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why Music?

  One of the most precious lessons I have learned about music came long before music school, or being a professional musician was even a thought in my brain.  It came from my years growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and it is all about silence. I am not talking about quiet breezes through the trees, or the crisp stillness the morning after a 4ft. snowstorm, or sitting alone on the shores of lake superior with nothing but the waves and seaguls to keep you company.  That is all well and good, (and yes, I miss it dearly), but I am talking about one moment in particular that, looking back, has shaped the way I view not only music, but the entire world around me.  So here it goes.
    I was out on one of my late night bike adventures, (literally just riding a bike with my friends all over the town until the wee hours of the morning, it is how I spent most of my summers).  I was on my way home, I think it was around 2 a.m. and I just stopped to listen.  After about 10 minutes of calming my own breath and heartbeat, I heard....nothing.  Or at least the closest thing to nothing that I have ever experienced out in the natural world.  There were no cars, no A.C. units, no planes, trains, no wind to disturb the trees.  It was like the whole world was silent.  I got off my bike and sat down right in the middle of the street and just listened.  The simple act of listening took me on an auditory adventure.  I was listening as far away as I could.  I tried listening behind me, way up above me.  I was constantly distracted by my own breath and body rhythms.  Just shifting my foot caused such a stir in the silence that I would have to wait a moment for the silence to set in again.  The longer this went on the more excited I became.  It felt like I was at the peak of a mountain that only a handful of people on the planet have ever been to.  I was in the center of nothing with nothing on the horizon a full 360 degrees around.  
  It felt an eternity but in actuality it took about 10 minutes before a glint of headlights in the distance alerted me that the end of my little  adventure in silence was about to be thwarted by a late night driver.  The car crept closer and passed quietly, I had moved into a shadow to avoid detection.  It was late and I decided to ride the wave of sounds back home.
  When I got home and laid down, I could not re-create the experience I just had.  The silence in my room felt claustrophobic, and when I really listened, I could hear the fridge running downstairs, and a slight hum from my alarm clock.  I felt trapped by these slight simple sounds.  I could not escape them.
  I can honestly say that now, almost 20 years later, I have not experienced another night quite like that one and yet, the feeling I got from it has never left me.  It is a comfort to me to know that out there amongst all the noise and ephemera of daily life, there is a huge open expanse of silence that is there, ready to embrace us all, and all we need to do is stop for a moment and listen.
  I remember a moment not long after I moved to California to go to music school.  One of my pastimes was riding my bike into the mountains.  My friend Bryn, who was an art student came with me often.  He was from Vermont and we related with each other on that small town boys in a big city kind of way.  We were neighbors in a small village about 10 miles north of the school campus. It was tucked away in a gorge within the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and had lots of great little fire roads that would wind up into the hills.  They were great for short rides to nowhere.
  So one day I took a ride up the hill behind our house. It was about a mile and a half up and when I reached the top I put my bike down and just listened.  At the time I was reading a great thinker named Krishnamurti. He had this great concept about listening in 360 degrees.  I thought that the top of a big hill would be the perfect place to practice that.  When I cooled down and closed my eyes to listen, I was constantly distracted by the sounds of the freeway.  The 405 ran north and south about 5 miles east of our village.  You could not see it, even from the top of the mountain, but you could definitely hear it.  What was even worse is that when I got back down to my house, I could still make it out.  It was now a new sound in my life that I knew would never go away.
  So the interesting part about this story is that when I told Bryn about my new discovery he did not believe me. He thought that I was crazy for being sad about having a sound that I could not escape.  He said there is no way you can hear the freeway from way back up in this gorge. We got into a bit of a heated debate and finally he made us go out to his driveway to listen.  Neither of us could hear anything.  I think now it was because we got so fired up talking about it that our own body rhythms were just enough of a distraction that we were unable to deeply listen.  2 days later I opened an e-mail from Bryn and it said something like...."Dude, I just rode up the mountain, you were right!" After giving him a big fat "I told ya' so" reply, I actually felt a little guilty for bringing the sound into Bryn's consciousness.  Ever since then I have been keenly aware of the sounds around me, and though they do not make me sad, I do long for the days of truly quiet time.

  The purity and beauty of silence is probably the highest form of music I can imagine.  You hear all the time from performing musicians that the space between the notes is the most important part, it is what gives the notes meaning.  What the experience that night on the streets of my hometown showed me was just how expansive and awe-inspiring that space can be.  As I grow as a musician, I must constantly remind myself to leave room between musical ideas.  I am starting to understand now how to let the music bring the listener into the space, and not keep them at bay with a wall of sound.
  Creating music, in my view, is one of the purest and most expressive forms of communication that humans are capable of.  The simplest definition of music is "The organization of space and time".  Isn't it funny that these are two things that we constantly tell ourselves that we have no control over?
   It is fascinating to me how little people are aware of all the sounds happening in the space around them.  I believe that all the noise is the reason why the whole concept of "background" music is so ubiquitous. The organization of the space that the music provides gives us comfort and room to think. It allows us to breath and settle in to a pre-programed rhythm, while pushing all other sounds out. At it's best, it provides an island of salvation that allows us to focus on other things, (like shopping in a mall, or elevator).
  It is precisely for this reason that background music falls short of a certain level of sophistication.  By design, it can not leave space, so it must fill in all the gaps that would otherwise pull the listener in.  Really great music gives us a way to let go of the world around us, but at the same time shows us a side of reality that most of us do not see everyday.  It quiets our mind and resonates our body, hopefully in a way that evokes the purest of joy.  From this we move, dance, and become inspired to create in a way that is truly free.
  The moment a great musical experience comes to an end is the moment you will find people most inspired to do....well, just about anything.  It is in the silence that creation is born, lives, and becomes silent again.  We get ourselves in trouble when we fail to either create, enjoy, or otherwise experience music.  The silence is always around us but we choose to fill it up with noise most of the time. This noise distracts our thoughts, muddles our emotions, and masks the realities of the world.  Music, by it's very nature, suspends our notions of time and shows us just how big the space around us is. It is our window into that which connects us all, and it has been that way since we have been on this planet.  It is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, all we need to do is listen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Secret Seven at TOP and Crossroads, Kirtan, Indian Music Night at CW, Mike Waite in Big Bay

Hello again,

  Well this was one of the best July's that I have had in a long time.  Lots of good gigs, lots of good practicing, and even a little time to relax. I started off the month with another HOT gig.  It was hot in every sense of the word.  I was playing tabla/percussion with the Dave Sharp Secret Seven at the Ann Arbor Top of The Park stage, which is set in the street at the end of Ingalls mall, (not the kind of mall where you get smoothies and lotion, but the grassy, flowery, in the center of campus kind).  It is a free festival that has live music every day for like a month an a half.  It is free and is always full of people.  It is very competitive  for the bands looking to play there and I can see why.  It's great exposure, in a beautiful spot with a top notch sound and stage crew that make everyone sound great.
  We were slated to play from 5-6:30p.m. which is the first spot on a night that included 2 other bands and a movie that was shown on a big inflatable screen.  When it was our time to play, the uncovered stage was directly under the sun and it was radiating heat.  My face was sore at the end of the set from all the squinting.  That aside, the music was really uplifting and sounded incredible.  It is amazing what horns and an organ does to a bands sound when you put it on top of drums, percussion, bass, and guitar.  The music is all original with a cover or two thrown in for a tip of the hat to the inspiration.  Dave really works hard to put out a good product and the group of guys he has put together really gets behind the music.  When the show was over, half the band had to leave to play at other gigs, which tells you something about the caliber of musician he works with.  I was off with my family to spend a week on the beach up north near Traverse City for a long overdue break.

AAAAHHHHH, 2 naps a day, dips in the lake, gentle guitar on the beach, and nothing else.......

  So the next gig was the monthly Kirtan at the Freinds meeting house in Ann Arbor.  It was a perfect way to get back into the swing of things.  I was well rested and ready to play for two hours with my eyes closed.  The beautiful thing about the Kirtan is that once it starts it does not stop and it does not require the usual intercommunication amongst the band members that the average night of music making would entail. The only real need for eye contact is when the chant comes to an end.
   The routine is key for this group.  It has been a few years now and at this point, the set up, sound check and execution of the chant has become a well rooted routine, so everyone knows what to do and expect.  For other more performance based musical evenings this sort of routine could be seen as a barrier to creativity, but I think it is just the opposite for the kirtan.  The routine allows the meditative dynamic of the evening to begin as soon as you walk through the door.  In addition, the fact that we don't speak, except for the beginning and end of the evening, really makes the two hours of chanting feel like one complete piece of work, rather than 7 or 8 different chants.
  Another interesting observation I have noticed throughout the years is that it doesn't seem to make a difference if something really good or really bad happens during the coarse of chanting, it is all let go during the final moments of silent meditation.  Everything that happened for the last two hours is whisked away into the past and you are left with just the rhythm of your breath to ponder.  For me, a great night of chanting reminds me to breath and let go.  Letting go of the music is the first and most obvious step, but the key is to keep letting go once you step back into the world.  Breath and let go after a fight, after saying something witty, after breaking a glass, after beating your father-in-law in a game of...whatever.  Don't hang on to anything and you become available for everything.  This is what the kirtan reminds me to do, and I feel lucky to have it as part of my musical life.

  So it has been happening for a few months now that the night after kirtan is the Indian Music night at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom downtown Ann Arbor.  We have been building this night for almost two years now and it is really turning into an incredible night of music making.  It seems to be the perfect balance of creativity and performance with an informality that allows everyone to be loose and fully enjoy what is happening.
  At this particular show, we tried a piece of music I could not stop listening to for the past two weeks. It was from a recording from the 70's out of India that was classified as 'Raga Jazz'.  It was such a cool piece to play.  When the night was over all the musicians were just buzzing about how cool it was.  It really inspired me to pursue this sort of fusion. This is exactly the reason why we do these CW gigs, to play, be inspired and celebrate this music with people. Again, I feel lucky to be a part of this all.


  Now if you keep up with this blog, you may recall the last time Mike came down to Ann Arbor.  Our bass player had to cancel at the last minute, so we played the show as a guitar/percussion duet.  It worked so well that we decided to do it again up in Big Bay.  It was a show put on by the Peter White Public Library in Marquette and it was a full house.  We played for 2 hours and people were so receptive.  There were families with children, old friends, some new faces, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  It is always so easy and free to play with Mike.  When you have been making music with someone for so long, the feelings and passion that you put in the music when you were young never seem to go away.  Mike and I played for two hours and we did not even rehearse.  We have found that when we don't have a lot of time together, it is better to just hang out before a show, rather than cram a bunch of song structures and diagrams of how the night should go.  Once you begin, the show, or more specifically, the music carries you through.  The key is to let it take you wherever it goes.
  We did most of the songs on his album, some covers, and some plain old improvisation. We were joined for a couple of tunes by Mikes friend Sven, who is an incredible luthier and dobro player.  His wife Erica also joined us on stage with some beautiful dancing and some really sweet tap dancing.  I had a blast playing with he movement of her feet.  I think that tap dancing gives a whole new perspective on the gravitas of the downbeat.  Your whole body is pulled down by gravity and the point at which you meet the earth is the point of attack. It is such a pure percussive art form.  As a drummer, it is a real treat to accompany a dancer, and when you are onstage with Mike and Erica Waite, the music just seems to create itself. It was a nourishing night of music making.

  The final show of the month was with the Dave Sharp Secret Seven. This time we were playing at the Ypsilanti Crossroads Music Festival.  It was a great night. The temperature was perfect, the crowd was welcoming, and we had the prime time spot from 8-10.  We did pretty much the same show as the Top of the Park a few weeks earlier.  It is such a blast playing with this group and I love my newly conceived role as a tabla/percussionist.  I even built a nice stand for my tabla so I don't have to sit on the ground to play.  It is a bit awkward to sit on a seat and play tabla, but just as awkward to sit on the floor when everyone else in the group is standing up.  Anyway, I love the opportunity to bring tabla into a jazz group and it feels really great to have Dave playing with Sumkali.  The exchange of ideas between the two groups makes for a very healthy and strong element in our local music scene.  I look forward to what the future has in store.

So that is it for July.  Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

p.s. If you haven't already, look me up on Facebook, which is where I have been posting pictures from all my gigs.  Thanks!

 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sugata Marjit, Student Recital, Walk for Values, Crazy Wisdom, Kirtan, 2 Nick Strange, Deep Blue, Gratitude, Mastering in Chicago

  June has been a transition month. Spring to summer, no more school, morning practice turns from a half hour early in the morning to an hour or two when I am more awake, and the best of all are the outdoor shows. I love playing music outside when the weather is nice.  It was always so appealing to me to see concerts in outdoor venues and it is even more appealing to play in them.  There are a few lined up this summer that I am very excited about, including the Top of the Park in Ann Arbor and the Crossroads music Festival in Ypsilanti, both with Dave Sharp.
  I started the month off with a gig that stretched all the way to the brink of my comfort zone. It was with a well known Indian vocalist named Sugata Marjit.  I was contacted by the Center for South Asian Studies to  play the show and I couldn't pass it up. But as soon as I said yes I recalled the words of my guruji, who said, "The only type of music a western tabla player would have much difficulty accompanying would be vocal music, especially if you don't understand the words that are being sung."  He told that to me in a casual conversation in the car a few years back, but it hit me like a hammer when I realized that it was exactly what I was about to do.
  I must say, it really put me into the mode of some serious practice, which was much needed considering I have not seen Guruji since last September.  Honestly though, I really did not know what to practice.  I think I was more preparing myself to 'go with the flow' and follow anything he might do.  I did a lot of vilambit ektal, which is an extremely slow 12 beat cycle, (it takes like a minute to get though one cycle!).  This was a hallmark of his style of singing which is known as Khayal.
  When I got to the theater, (it was at the U of M music school), I met him and we had about 20 minutes to go over what we might do.  He tried me out on the vilambit ektal, but I was not able to play it slow enough, so he, being very kind hearted and easy going, said, "No problem, let's just do something else that you are comfortable with."  I was humbled and happy to hear that.  I have always said that the best musicians are the ones that know when to push you and also when to back away and let the music be good.  He was one of those musicians.
  We had a great time and there was a really nice crowd there. I was happy to be joined on stage by Atmaram Chaitanya on tanpura. He is such a calming presence, while at the same time his excitement to be in a new situation is infectious and almost child-like in it's innocence, and I mean that in the best way.  I get energized by this and it is much appreciated.
   I played as simply and nicely as I could. I had a great time watching him perform because he is so expressive when he sings.  By the way, none of what we rehearsed before the show actually made it into the show itself. True to the improvised nature of Indian Classical music, Sujataji called out something different every time we played, it did not matter if we were rehearsing with just us in the room, or if it was filled with people, once a musical experience was had, it was time to move on to the next one.
  He kept it pretty simple, just tintal, (16 beats), but he did do a slow japtal, (10 beats), which pushed my comfort zone just enough.  I relished in the fact that I was the young guy on stage who had a lot to learn, even after hundreds of performances and 11 years of studying the tabla.  I truly believe it is necessary and good to push yourself beyond what you are comfortable with just to see what might happen.  Sometimes you fall, but more often than not, you simply get a renewed energy with a broader perspective on where it is you are headed.

  Just two days later was a completely opposite, but equally rewarding event, it was my student recital held at Go Like the Wind.  What was completely different compared to past recitals was that this recital was almost all tabla students.  Just one student who played the conga, but no drum set students.  I am not sure why this excites me so much, I mean, I love the drum set and I love teaching drum set, but to have a recital with all tabla players just seems so cool.  I think it also has something to do with the set up time and involvement when you have a drum set recital compared to a tabla recital. Usually, with the drum set comes a guitar, bass, and/or keyboard, along with the amps and sometimes a microphone.  With tabla I just need to bring my drums and a carpet.  So nice.  This gave me more time to hang with the students, help calm nerves and meet with the friends and family.  It went great, and I am so happy to see everyone together doing so well and playing this beautiful instrument that I have loved for so long now.

Meeta Banerjee, Dan Piccolo, Anoop Gopal and myself.  I remember looking over at Dan and just seeing him squinting almost in pain.  Luckily we just had to play a half hour after the walk was over, so we didn't get fully cooked.  It was actually nice to play for a good cause and I got to meet the Mayor of Ann Arbor John Heiftje, who was there to make a speech and cut the ribbon that started the walk. He was a nice guy and I really liked that he rode his bike to the event.
  So later that evening, in a cool, air conditioned tearoom we had the same crew, with Atmaram, Mahesh Ganesan and Dave Sharp added to the mix.  It was a fun night.  We tried a totally improvised piece with percussion and bass that was incredible.  Dan played the cahon, Mahesh was on his kanjira, and I played the tabla.  It was one of those things that made me wish I had been recording, but since I wasn't, it was incredible to take in and be a part of.  It epitomized the whole reason for Indian Music night and inspired us to take more risks.  As always, the crowd was great and the whole night went by way too fast.

  The following Friday was the monthly kirtan at the Friends Center in Ann Arbor.  It was a beautiful night of chanting and I was enjoying the music, but at the end things got crazy.  The wind started howling, lightning started to crash and the power started cutting in and out.  All of this happened at the last chant. Usually we do a 10 minute silent meditation at the end, but it had to be cut short because the power was out and people were getting a little uncomfortable knowing they were about to go out in the midst of all this natural chaos.  I believe this is the third time the kirtan has ended with some major weather event like this....coincidence?

  The next day I was back on the drum set with the Nick Strange Group.  This time we were in Ypsilanti at the Tap Room Annex.  It was a nice room to play in with a little stage and lots of room.  The crowd seemed to like the music and we had a special guest sit in with us. He is a well known saxophonist in the area named Martin Simmons.  I loved it, he came in the door with his sax already around his neck.  He had been walking around downtown playing with other groups at other venues, playing on the street, and now with us.  It really felt like a great 'community' moment.  I guess he just decided to make a open mic night out of the Ypsilanti music scene.  Not many people can get away with that, unless you are well liked and well known in your community.

  The whole next week I was back at GLTW for a morning hand drum camp for 3-9 year olds.  I have been doing the camp for about 5 years now and it is one of the cutest things I do in music.  Seeing a 4 year old close their eyes and 'go for it' on a drum is so darn cute.  I spent the whole week smiling.  It was a great way to start the day.

  That weekend I was packed with gigs.  First was with Gratitude Steel band at a private wedding party in someones beautiful backyard in West Bloomfield, MI.  The band was really rockin. We had 5 pan players, plus a timbale maestro and a great conga player.  I have said it before and I will say it again, playing with that band is like playing musical sunshine.  I love the music and the sound so much.  It is like a warm hug of sound that I have never experienced before with any other group.

  The next day I was in the sun again, (though not nearly as hot), with Deep Blue at the Genesee Valley Mall up in Flint, MI.  It was nice to play with them again and I love to people watch.  We had some regulars in the crowd who I found out were mall employees that loved to take their breaks out by the live music.  It made me feel good to know that the people who spend the MOST time at the mall chose to spend there free time listening to live music.  I think it creates a calming atmosphere of sound that drowns out all of the other noise in a mall.
  Playing with Deep Blue is always fun and relaxing.  I think it is also amazing that we have figured out how to get a full sound without the use of a bass player.  Granted, it really pops when we do use a bass player, but as far as a complete sound goes, I think we have managed to get it with just drums, guitar, and sax.  I suppose it is sort of like Indian music in that way.

  The following day I was with the Nick Strange Group again, only this time we were at Fishbones Rhythm Kitchen Cafe in St. Clair Shores.  Being that it is summertime and it is light out much later, we showed up to the gig for the first time that I remember when it was still light out.  I say this because I realized for the first time that we were just a block or two from the water.  I don't know why, but this changed my whole perception of the venue that I had played at for years.  To top it off, we got a response from the crowd that rivaled all other nights.  Usually we play, no one claps or reacts, and then on the set break, people come up and let us know how great it is and how much they love hearing us.  I have always suspected some sort of covert appreciation policy. But this night was different.  People were clapping, dancing and just enjoying themselves more than usual.  It probably has something do do with the magic that is summertime :)

  The very next day I was up early and on my way to Chicago to master the Sumkali C.D. with my good friend Ryan Staples.  He was a music technology major at CalArts and now he works at a big studio in Chicago.  We went to his studio and spent most of Sunday night tweaking and finishing the Sumkali C.D.  So now I am happy to say the audio is DONE!  Yay, now it is simply a matter of putting together graphics and sending it off to the presses.  By the way, our C.D. release party is at the Ark on August 26th, so mark your calendar!

That is it for June.  Thanks for reading and I will write again soon!

John

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Gratitude at UofM, Nick Strange NO SMOKING, Crazy Wisdom, GLTW music highlights


  My first gig in May started off with President Barack Obama flying in Marine One directly over my house.  He was en route to Michigan Stadium to deliver the commencement address for 80,000 U of M grads, friends and family.  I was outside loading my drums before heading to north campus for the U of M Art and Design graduation ceremony.  It was a yearly ritual with the Gratitude Steel Band.  On the way to north campus I passed by the field where he landed in hopes of catching a glimpse, but no luck. The overwhelming security presence and road blocks kept him well insulated from any interested onlookers.  So on I went to the gig.  It had been a while since playing with Gratitude and I was very much looking forward to playing what I like to call 'sunshine music'.  Over the years we have worked out a few songs that include tabla, so I brought them along. When I went to set them up I realized I had left one of my rings at home.  The rings are what the tabla sit on, and if you don't have them, the drums are impossible to play.  Luckily, the bass pans, which are 50 gallon drums, require mini tires to keep them suspended off the ground.  The tires just happen to be the same size as my ring, so Janiela let me use one of them for my tabla.


  The ceremony went great, as it always does and we were asked back for next year.  I am looking forward to it already!

   Exactly one week later I was at Fishbones Rhythm Kitchen Cafe with the Nick Strange Group. It was a landmark gig.  No, not because it was during the Red Wings playoff game, which prompted the venue to be sure we kept our first two sets just 15 minutes, (a Zamboni set, as we liked to refer to it), but rather because it was my first gig since Michigan passed it's No Smoking ban in all bars and restaurants.  I must say, it actually felt surreal from the moment we walked in.  The first thing I noticed - I could smell the food from the kitchen.  Not to mention all the perfume and cologne.  The whole place looked crystal clear, and the colors and lights felt brand new.  It was so nice.  Don't get me wrong smokers, I totally respect your right to your vices, but as a non-smoking musician that has sat so many nights in smokey bars, keeping my coat in the car so it doesn't smell, having a set of 'smokey clothes', and nursing a sore throat and burning eyes at the end of the night, I am SO excited to have it all be gone, done and over with!  I am proud of my state!
  Yea, and because of the whole Red Wings thing, (they lost by the way).  We actually got to play all of our favorites back to back and the crowd, although a little sullen from the game, were actually dancing and cheerful by the end of the night.  I will remember this one for a long time I am sure.
  Speaking of non-smoking venues....I didn't have it on my calendar, but I played with a great singer named Sean Ike at the Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor.  It is a small, cozy little venue that has a lot of great music all the time.  I met Sean through my shows with the Dave Sharp Secret Seven and he asked me to play percussion with his R&B, Soul, and Funk project.  He has been using the Secret Seven musicians, but for this gig they were gone, so he called on the drummer, (Griffin Bastian) and bass player, (Brennen Andes) from local powerhouse funk group the Macpodz.  It was a great night and lots of fun to play impromptu funk with musicians that are livin' it.  It brought me right back to my 'Whipple' Days.

  The third Saturday of the month was back at Crazy Wisdom with Sumkali.  The Tearoom really feels like my musical home.  I stopped my full force advertising for the Crazy Wisdom gigs and now just rely on word of mouth.  The crowd is always full of both fresh faces, and old friends, and you never know what the music might do.  I like to think of it as sort of a musical laboratory where we can curate, develop, stay sharp and spread the word about the musical world.  If you have never made it out for a night of music at the tearoom, I recommend it.
  We had Anoop with us on this night and we tried some arrangements of some kirtan chants that transformed them into more musical performances.  It was an interesting night.  Anoop, who has been a great sport about learning new things and fitting in with our group gave me the nicest surprise at the end of the night.  I had said goodnight on behalf of the group and was just about ready to shut down the sound system when Anoop asked to play one last tune.  It was a nice surprise and a very cool tune.  It put a smile on my face and sent me home humming.  Thanks Anoop.

  The last thing I want to mention is more on the teaching side of my life.  May was the month of the Go Like The Wind Spring Concert.  It has been such an honor and privilege to be the music director at this incredible school.  I love having the opportunity to give students their first introduction to music. This year was the first time I felt like I had the complete picture of the music program I set out to create 6 years ago.
  When I started at GLTW has inspired me to share what I do with other teachers, including presenting our recording program at the Michigan Music Conference.   I feel blessed and grateful and I look forward to another year!

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

John

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kirtan, Sumkali in Saginaw and Crazy WIsdom, Thanks to Randall Beek, Weekend with Michael Waite

  April turned out to be one of the most rewarding musical months I have had in a long time.  It started with a break from music altogether.  I spent Easter weekend with family in my Dad's hometown of Milwaukee, WI.  It was great to relax and be away from the hustle and bob.  The first gig back was with the Ann Arbor Kirtan group for the monthly kirtan chanting experience at the Friends Meeting House.  Going into that gig relaxed felt like something new.  I think it might be what it feels like to be retired, or perhaps so wealthy that you don't have to work.  Many times I am go into kirtan thinking that I will use it as a chance to relax myself and calm my mind, (which usually works).  This time however, I felt nice and relaxed going in, so  I didn't need it for it's regular purpose, so I thought of it as a way to re-focus my energy and get back on the performance saddle.
  I am grateful that the group is confident enough in the music that I can take this sort of approach to the kirtan.  I remember the days when we didn't know if we would make it through each chant, and when one little mistake could throw the whole train off track.  I had to be much more focused on keeping the music together.  The group has done a lot of great work on the music and now it is becoming a much more personal experience for me.
  Isn't it funny how sometimes we have to work very hard and long together in order to forget about each other?  I suppose we do the same thing in our own practice, whatever it may be.  I practice drumming everyday, working on my technique, dexterity, creativity, and state of mind.  It is all very conscious and deliberate and, ideally, it is pointing to the goal of forgetting about myself and just serving the music.

  Speaking of serving the music, the following day Sumkali took a road trip up to Saginaw, MI. to play at an old church, which was now converted into the White Crow Conservatory of Music.  It was a sweet venue.  You walk in and the first thing you notice are lots of amazing acoustic guitars hanging all over.  Look to your right and you see the old church pews facing a nice stage complete with the old church organ.  It made for a pretty dramatic backdrop.  We got there with plenty of time to set up and relax a bit.   It was great to get away from Ann Arbor and hang with the musicians.  We are a very busy bunch of people, and to have time to hang out is great, not only socially but for the sake of the music as well.  I learned a while back that 'hang time' can be just as valuable as 'reherasal time' when it comes to performing music that is improv-based.  It makes sense when you think about it, improvising with someone is like having a conversation with them.  The more comfortable you are with someone, the better conversations you can have.  In all, we played for 2 hours and didn't have enough time to play all of our stuff, (which is a good thing).  The crowd was very appreciative and receptive and they asked us back before we could pack up.  We will be there again in October, celebrating the release of our new C.D.  Yay!

  The following week was like a warm hug of music.  First my good friend Michael Waite came down to Ann Arbor with his family for the weekend and we played together twice.  Friday was at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom.  It was packed, and for the first time, I played drum set and tabla, Mike played acoustic guitar and sang and that was it.  No bass player or additional guitar player, no guest artists, no set-list, and no rehearsal.  It was a breath of musical fresh air.  Mike and I have played so much together, (including on his 2008 C.D. "Let it Go")  that we can sense what the music is doing without questioning a thing about it.  It just flowed.  It is one of those things that felt so easy and nice, but at the same time was so good that we could not figure out why we don't do it more often.  I hope I am writing about more gigs with Mike in the near future.

  The next night Sumkali was back in the Tearoom again for our monthly Indian music night.  It was a nice night of music that just felt good to play.   It has gotten so comfortable to play in the tearoom, that it almost feels like I am playing in some body's house.  Our audience has developed to the point that I don't really advertise the shows actively like I once did.  We have a usual smattering of regulars some newbies, and then the ever-present straggling and curious shopper.  It has become a great place to meet people and introduce them to the music. I am so grateful to have a place like this in Ann Arbor.
  
   It has been my mission, since moving here in 2005, to become a part of, help develop, and cultivate a sense of community centered around music.  The venue at Crazy Wisdom has been a wonderful home-base to do that.  I have played there with over 50 different musicians in musical settings including all the various musicians in Sumkali, experimental jazz fusion group Kozora, Mike Waite, Mickey Richard, Norm Ballinger, Muruga's Global Village, Madcat Ruth, Ann Arbor Kirtan, Rocketstyle, and probably a few I am forgetting.  How does it all fit, and work, in one venue?  I think most of the answer can be found in the man who does all the wonderful booking - Randall Beek.  He has always had an open mind, and a willingness to take risks.  I owe many wonderful nights of music making to Randall, and I thank him for that.

  The next night I was excited to meet up with my fellow Yooper Mike Waite again for another night of music at Old Town Tavern.  We were supposed to have a bass player with us, but he had to bow out at the last minute for a family emergency, so we ended up doing the show as a duet.  I was not going to bring my tabla to the tavern, but once I got the news about the bass player I figured I should bring them so we have more options and a little variety, and anyway, it was a very successful pairing at Crazy Wisdom two nights earlier.  The only problem though, was having to sit on the floor - not advisable in a tavern!  So I called Dan Piccolo and asked him if I could borrow his tabla case and special dolly he constructed so he could play his tabla while sitting on a chair.  He had just made it for a percussion concert he was a part of at UofM.  I remembered him telling me that it worked out well, and it did.
  Mike brought his 'Request Wheel' to this gig and we used it the ENTIRE night.  It is simple:  members of the audience write a song of their choice on a post-it note and then stick it on the wheel.  Mike spins the wheel and stops it randomly.  He then takes the top note and plays the song that is written.  A risky venture for most, but for Mike, he just takes it all in stride and things seem to work.  It helped that many of the people in the place came to see him and knew his music, so a lot of the requests were for songs that he wrote or played already.  The fun ones though were the ones that said things like 'anything by Bob Dylan', or 'a song about a dog'.  It was very homey and warm feeling and we played for 2 and a half hours straight.  When it is good, time is not an issue, and how often is time not an issue?  Thanks Mike for the great weekend.

So that is it for April, thanks for reading and I will write again soon!

John

Friday, April 02, 2010

Hurley Glitz Ball with Deep Blue, Interfaith Center, Ann Arbor Kirtan, Sumkali at Crazy Wisdom

Hello again,

  March started off with a type of gig that I have not done in a while.  It was for the Hurley Medical Center Glitz Ball and it was what we like to call 'fancy-shmancy'.  So I had to bust out my tuxedo, (which I bought for a jazz gig about 10 years ago!).  It was good to play with Deep Blue again. Scott Brady, (who plays the bansuri in Sumkali) is the sax man and band leader, and he did a great job of putting the show together.  We were in the main lobby of a Holiday Inn executive hotel. Our mission was to provide casual entertainment for the patrons of the ball as they got ready to move into the dining area.  Not too exciting as far as performing for others, but we were playing with a new singer and bassist, so it was just enough of an adventure to keep things exciting.
  We played one big long set and then had to make the announcement for everyone to move into the dining area.  The problem was that there were so many people and it was so loud, and they had really been 'tuning us out' the whole time so when the announcement was made, just a handful of people in front of the stage moved. The singer started to have fun with it, she changed the lyrics of the songs she was singing to be all about being hungry and getting food.  Still, no one would pay attention.  So after her attempts failed, I hopped off the drum set and grabbed the mic. In my best announcer voice I made the announcement and people finally started to move.  It reminded me of my club-playing days with my old rock band Scrubby when we had to get everyone out of the club at closing time. ahh memories.

 The next morning I went to the Interfaith Center in Ann Arbor to play a couple of pieces with Craig Brann.  It was the 'music offering'  for their morning service.  We played the same two pieces that we played the month earlier at the Unity church.  One was a nice instrumental written by Craig.  He was on acoustic guitar and I was on tabla.  The sound was great, and it came off really nice. Was was even more special about it was that right before we played there was a 10 minute guided meditation, which I took full advantage of.  It was like my meditation dreams come true....meditate into music.  It is often way to difficult to attain that 'moment before the moment' when you are about to play music. When I teach the bands at GLTW we try to attain about 5 seconds of silence before the first note.  Having 10 minutes was dreamy.  That moment made my whole day.
 
 Speaking of meditation, the following Friday was the monthly kirtan at the Friends Meeting House in Ann Arbor.  It was packed. I think it was our biggest turnout yet.  When you do kirtan with so many people the response washes over you like a wave in the ocean.  It is such a warm feeling. I can see why it has become so popular.  If you have never checked it out, it would be worth it.  It is the yoga of sound.  Every note you sing sends vibrations throughout your whole body. Some notes resonate your head, while others resonate your chest.  The chants sung in kirtan are 'sound formulas' that attain a full spectrum of resonation throughout your whole body.  When it is all over you just sit there in silence and feel the affects of all the wonderful resonance.  It is active meditation that allows you to express yourself for your own sake, (or, if you want, you can really get into the spiritual aspects of it as well, which also run deep).  Whatever the motivation, the result is the same...calm, quiet, clear, still, and open.

  Performing the music in kirtan is really not much different than any other time I perform. It takes focus, quiet hands, and dedication to the music.  When I perform with Sumkali, (like we did at Crazy Wisdom a week after kirtan),  the difference comes in the presentation. It is still a shared experience, but the audience is not required to respond with sining, so it is our duty to keep the music interesting, entertaining, and fruitful.  I am so happy to say that this show at Crazy Wisdom was by far one of the best we have ever played.  It was definitely some release from all the excitement surrounding our recording session last month, but it was also the crowd, the playing, and the spirit everyone brought to the gig.  It was also great to see Meeta Banerjee come out and support us.  She had to step down from the group in January to focus on her Phd work.  Thanks for coming out Meeta!
  Another great addition to the mix was Rushyal Shyamraj, who sang a couple of great pieces and played harmonium.  It was a great addition to an already great night.  Make sure you don't miss the next Sumkali gig in April!

That is all for March.  Thanks for reading and I will write again soon!

John

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

2 Kirtan, Sumali at Crazy Wisdom, Rocketstyle, Secret Seven, Sumkali Recording Project

Hello,

   February has turned out to be a very fruitful month, musically speaking. Otherwise it was full of cold and snowy days, which never seemed to end.  The first Wednesday of the month was the 'informal' kirtan gathering in the back room of the Crazy Wisdom bookstore.  It had been well attended in the past, but this month was sparse, probably due to the frigid cold outside.  The musicians were Atmaram Chaitanya, Dennis Chernin, Simon Ha, and myself.  There was a lady sitting right in front of me who was singing out fully and then a few people sitting in the back.  If it wasn't for the lady in front of me, who I found out later was a choir director, the response singing would have seemed very off balance with the music.  I have always thought that all you need to perform is just one audience member. This is a little different in kirtan since the audience members are actually singing with you and providing a response to the lead chanter, but in this case that one lady was able to carry the rest of the singers along and the whole evening turned out to be really nice.  I love being able to play tabla without a microphone and still be heard in a room. That is the way it used to be done and it just feels much more free when you don't have to worry about sending a signal through a bunch of wires.
     The next show was not until a week and a half later, but it was right back at Crazy Wisdom, this time in the front of the tearoom and this time with Sumkali.  We have been expanding our lineup of musicians so we have been having trouble fitting everyone in the small space, but the music has never sounded better.  Dave Sharp has been playing electric bass guitar with the group, which have given us a bottom end groove that we have never experienced in the past.  He also brought along a friend of his, Chris Kaercher, who is the sax player that plays in his jazz group, (they just released their debut CD, "Secret Seven", which I played tabla for a track".  He did a great job of filling in and doing some killer soloing.  The whole night went by fast, like it usually does when the music is good.  I know I have said it before, but I love playing with this group and I am so excited for what the future holds.
     The following week I had 3 shows in 2 days, which meant I had to call on my student Vinnie Russo once again to help with the logistics.  On Friday I had the monthly kirtan at Friends Meeting House in Ann Arbor from 7:30-9:30 and then a Rocketstyle show at a new place called the Keystone Underground Lounge in Ypsilanti.  The kirtan went great, lots of participants and great energy, and as soon as it was over I had to bolt out of there to get to Ypsilani in 15 minutes to play improvised space funk on the drumset with Jesse Morgan on piano, Paul Bowers on keys, Akili Jackson on freestyle vocals, and new Rocketeer Dave Sharp on bass.  Vinnie had come early to set up my kit for me, (thanks Vinnie), and all I had to do was sit down and play.  It sounds easy, but it was actually pretty difficult to switch gears so fast.
    I find that when I do kirtan lately, I really get into the idea of quieting myself and relaxing into it.  I have been closing my eyes and focusing on releasing tension. This causes me to be very mellow at the end of the 2 hour event.  Coming into a club and pounding away on the drum set just seemed to take more effort than usual. Once the first set was over I was fine, back into the groove and ready to rock, but pulling myself out of my meditative state was not easy.  I think that is a good thing.  I have been so busy lately that any chance I have to relax and be mellow is good.  Anyway, the Rocketstyle gig ended with a bang, people were up and dancing and everyone was in good spirits at the end.  It really caused me to reflect on how much I love being a musician and doing this sort of thing for a living. I truly feel blessed.
   The next night I was very excited to play with Dave Sharp again, only this time it was for his second CD release party for his CD "Secret Seven".  He had a lot of great players on the album and most of them were at this show.  We played at P.J.'s Live in downtown Ann Arbor, which has a nice stage, but it was very tight once you add a drummer, two percussionists, bass, guitar, keyboard, sax, and two singers.  Since this was our second time around we had a much better idea of how to make it all fit, and it actually looked pretty cool up on stage.   I was sitting next to a legendary musician named Muruga Booker.  He has played with Weather Report, Dave Brubeck, John Lee Hooker, Parliment Funkalelic, Jerry Garcia, and many more.  He is such a happy and high spirited guy. It was a pleasure to play along side him.
     The show was also being filmed for a local TV station, so the whole time we played there were cameras in our face. Muruga really knew how to ham it up for the cameras.  My first reaction is to try to look as stoic as possible, but Muruga, through his actions, showed me that it was OK to exaggerate yourself for the sake of the camera.  I can't wait to see how it turns out.  I know how much work it is to put together a group of musicians and Dave really did a great job bringing everyone together for this one.  It was loud, groovy as could be, and very high energy the whole way through.  Again, I was feeling lucky to be a musician.
     The following week was very special for me.  I had organized a 5 day recording session with Sumkali.  My school was on winter break, so I got permission to use a couple of the rooms and a lot of the great sound equipment.  Pulling it all together was no small task.  Just to give you an idea of what you have to put together to do a multi-track recording like this involves I can tell you it took me about 6 hours of set up time and 4 hours just to tear it down.  There were 8 microphones, 8 headphones, all the cables, adapters, extension chords, power adapters, power strips, stands, screens, a computer, a digital interface to convert the audio, a hard drive, playback speakers, baffles to isolate the sounds, all the instruments, and of coarse, all the musicians.  It all had to be set up in a room that I had never used before, so I had to design the layout to give everyone a space they could play without the sound bleeding into someone else's mic.  Fortunately, I had a lot of help from Dan Piccolo, who has had a lot of experience in studios.  Once it was all set up and working, then we had all the time we wanted to create music, and that is all we did for 5 days straight.  The musicians involved were Dan and I, along with Scott Brady, Mahesh Ganesan, Vishrut Srivastava, Atmaram Chaitanya, Meeta Banerjee, Prashanth Gururaja and Dave Sharp. Everyone did such a wonderful job.  We had to take a few hours off here and there to teach lessons and do errands, but it was really a great opportunity to record everything exactly like we wanted to do it.  We got though 8 pieces of music in the 5 days and it all sounds really really good.  I can't wait to get into the mixing and mastering.  I will keep you posted when it all turns into an actual CD. For now all I have is a couple of pictures:




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

John

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Local musician specializes in drum music of Northern India - Life - Heritage

Local musician specializes in drum music of Northern India - Life - Heritage

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Muruga's huge band at Crazy Wisdom, Cairn to Cairn at Johnny's Speakeasy, Unity Church, MMC, Sumkali at Crazy Wisdom

  Hello again,

  The year has started off fast and furious and I can hardly believe January has come and gone.  It was a month of travel filled with emotion, ill health, and healing, and it couldn't have started off with more of a bang.  Well, actually, it was the first time I can remember falling asleep before midnight on New Year's day, but that is because I wanted to rest up for the day after when I would be playing an amazing night of music with over a dozen other musicians.  Muruga Booker is not just a local ledgend, but he has been all over the map with his music experiences, from playing drums at the original Woodstock festival, to recording with Weather Report, Merl Saunders, and Jerry Garcia, Muruga has been around the block many times and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.  So anyway, every year he puts on a show at Crazy Wisdom with all his friends and fellow musicians that he has been working with and this year I was one of them.  Now I have played many times at Crazy Wisdom, but I have never seen it as packed or as energetic as I saw that night.  Muruga started off playing some duets and trios with various people including myself, Dave Sharp, Alex Terzian, Perry Robinson, and Baba Titos.  The night then quickly moved into an all out jam with Ken Kozora on synths, Richard Smith on bass, and (sorry for not getting everyones name), a guitar player, the shaker player straight from Parliment Funkadelic,  and a great Sax man.  It was high energy and just a blast.  People were packed in all the way to the back of the store, which I have never seen.  Anyway, I can't say enough about how uplifted and energized I felt when it was happening.  I played tabla most of the night, except the end where I moved to conga for a couple of tunes.  I hope to do that kind of music making much more often in the coming years.
   Less than a week later I was asked to play with Cairn to Cairn again for a nice little gig at Johnny's Speakeasy.  I was playing tabla on just one tune and their encore, so I got to sit in back and take in the show, which I hardly ever get to do these days.  It is such a great place to play, and the mystique surrounding it makes it that much more special.  It is a house, Johnny's house, that just happens to have an old ice cellar built by Germans many years ago.  It is like 30ft. deep under the house with an arched ceiling made out of brick.  Johnny has it all decked out with old instruments and vintage odds and ends plastered all over the walls.  Word of mouth is how people hear about shows, so it feels really special to be there.  I had a great time, and it was wonderful to play with such a polished group.  I hope to do it again sometime.
   Two days later I met up with Craig Brann for a 'musical offering' at the Unity Church of Ann Arbor.  It was a nice crisp winter sunday morning. We played two songs at two services, one was an original by Craig with acoustic guitar and tabla and the other was guitar, voice, and djembe.  It was a very nice way to spend a morning.   Craig's music fits very nice with tabla and the idea of a musical offering lends itself to self-less playing, which I believe allows the music to flourish.  It doesn't really matter what the religion happens to be, it is simply the idea that the music is itself the thing you are offering, not a show, or a product, but simply the music.  Offering a sound to the air, a moment of sonic organization meant to instill reflection and thought.  I like it, it is very sweet.
  The next week I was in Grand Rapids Michigan for the Michigan Music Conference at Devos Convention Center and Amway Grand.  It is three days of Music teachers scuttling around the expansive grounds going from room to room learning about all the latest techniques, approaches, ideas, and technology associated with music.  This year I hosted a 3 hour presentation on using Pro Tools recording software to create a professional sounding C.D.  It was a great experience, although it was not without it's challenges.  First of all, I was supposed to be in a beautiful Mac lab, but had to settle for the P.C. lab because of some hardware issues, no big deal.  The bigger issue was that Pro Tools would not install on the computers, so I had to vamp for about 45 minutes while the very able tech staff got the computers up and running. Talking has never been an issue with me, so it all came off pretty well.  It was fun to work with music teachers that were learning the software with the intention of using it with their students, which is what I have been doing for 5 years now.  It felt sort of like I was recruiting more soldiers for the cause of creating music.  Getting creative with students was the main idea behind the workshop and I think the teachers involved were into it.  When it was over I was tired. Partly due to the fact that I was going full steam ahead for 3 hours, but also because of what I was involved with the evening before.
  I ran into my friend Joe McGraw, who was also presenting at the conference. He invited me to play with his electronic string quartet on Friday night a a nearby club called Z's.  He said they had the percussion for me to use so I didn't have to bring anything.  When I got there I saw what I had to use and  got genuinely nervous to perform.  It was a cool device called a Handsonic by Roland.  It was basically a circular pad with about 10 different zones on it that all could be assigned to different sounds.  All I had to to was touch the zones.  I had a choice of drumsets, hand drums, and all sorts of special effect sounds.  It had a bit of a learning curve, and I had about 10 minutes to learn before the music started.  It took about a half hour before I started feeling comfortable and could blend with the group.  The strangest part of it was how little I had to move to make such big sounds.  Just a tap of the finger would give me a deep bass sound, or a loud crash of a cymbal. It felt odd not to have to put the energy in to get the sound out.  I enjoyed the new experience and appreciate Joe and his group giving me an opportunity to perform music during a music conference.
  The rest of the time at the conference was filled with classes and workshops.  I took a lot of classes about strings, a few about technology, one really cool one about arranging latin jazz, and a few more about class organization.  I was filled to the brim with new ideas and inspiration.  I also took a bit of time to talk with some music publishers about new music for my ensembles at Go Like the Wind and university music departments about all the great things about Indian music.  Last year I presented on Indian Classical music and I just wanted to try to keep the discussion going.  I don't think I had more than an hour to myself the whole weekend, which was great. It meant I was getting a lot done.  I look forward to going again next year.

  The last Saturday of the month was the first Indian Music night of the year at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom. I was so excited for this night because we had some new ideas about what we wanted to do with the music and we are bringing some more people on board, including Dave Sharp on bass.  On this night we also had Dan Piccolo, Scott Brady, Mahesh Ganesan, Prashanth Gururaja, and Atmaram Chetainya.  The place was full and we had a blast playing the music.  Having the bass really added to the 'groove' factor.  The only thing that wasn't great about this night was the fact that I was feeling terrible.  I had missed a couple of days of work in the days prior and I came about 10 minutes away from calling in sick to the gig.  The excitement about it could not keep me away though and I decided to tough it out. It was worth it.  I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this group's future.  We have some recording sessions planned for February and the Crazy Wisdom nights will keep the performing juices flowing.

So that is it for January.  Thanks for reading!

John

Saturday, January 09, 2010

2 Nick Strange, Ann Arbor Kirtan, Rocketstyle and Sumkali at Crazy Wisdom

  I am starting this entry on Christmas eve and I am sitting on my couch. It is white outside and cold, I'm sure. The overcast sky allowed the morning to turn into afternoon without warning and I am just grateful to have the time to reflect on the past year.  Professionally speaking, this has been a year of organization for me.  I started my business Sangeet U.S.A. which is geared toward promoting music an musicians of Inida, I totally overhauled my website, (with a ton of help from Atmaram Chetainya), went online with my calendar, got some great pictures (thanks to Corey Robinson), went full steam ahead with my Indian music group Sumkali, (including a website, Electronic Press Kit on Sonicbids, and lots of grassroots promotion), and I am happy to say that have one of the newest profiles on Facebook!
  Highlight performances of the year include my presentation at the Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids on Indian classical music, Sumkali at the Top of the Park, playing live on 107.1 for Radio Free Bacon, Kozora at Riverfolk Folk Festival, C.D. release parties for Cairn to Cairn and the Dave Sharp Secret Seven, and all the Crazy Wisdom shows that have been such a creative outlet.  Thanks to everyone who was involved in all of these shows!  I love the community of musicians I have been surrounded with in Ann Arbor.
  So with November being such a light month of gigs, all of which were tabla, it felt great to get back to my roots and play some really nice drum set gigs in December.  I had two gigs with the Nick Strange Group, and they could not have been more different from each other. The first one was at a nice little venue called P.J.'s Live, (I played there for the Dave Sharp C.D. release in Nov.)  They have begun to have live music from 8-10p.m., (they used to have it all night!), and the new format has not really caught on with the regulars, so basically we were playing to the tables and chairs.  Actually, that is not altogether true, there were 2 full tables right in front of the stage. They were filled with family and friends of a girl who opened for us.  I am sorry to say I forgot her name, but she sang a few songs with Dan accompaning her on guitar.  She does not perform very much, but she had lots of support from her family on this night.  They were gratious enough to hang out for our set and they even seemed to enjoy it.
   I have never minded much when there is no one at a gig.  It has always been fine for me to just go deep into the music and forget about what is around.  In that last few years, I have been doing this whether there are people there or not.  The only moments that stick out are the ones right after the music ends.  When a song gets rockin' and then comes in for a swooping landing, all the musicians land on their feet and then BOOM, silence.     This moment of silence is the sweetest part of a Kirtan chant, the silence brings you inward and you are able to meditate, but a rock show begs for a rousing re-assurance from the participants after you lay it all out there. It is about releasing outward, rather than inward.
  The second gig I played with the group was in St. Clair Shores, MI. at a place called Fishbones Rhythm Kitchen Cafe, which is a name I have always really liked, but never thought it fit the establishment.  There are t.v.'s everywhere you look, a big bar, no real stage, and a really strange, seemingly built-in mentality that you do not respond to the live music happening right next to you. It is a very peculier phenomenon that has happened every time we have played there.  No one dances, no one cheers, but they do come up to us on the set breaks and say that they are loving the music.  I have never figured it out.   We played there the Saturday night right before all the Michigan college graduations, so the place was PACKED.  There must have been 400 people all in a great mood.  Sure enough, we played some great sets with lots of cover tunes, mixed with some high-energy originals - no reaction.   We actually had a better reception at the gig earlier in the month with just a hand full of people, so I guess you just never know.

  The second Friday of the month I was at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom with my Indian group Sumkali for the last monthly show of the year.  It was also the last show that Meeta Banerjee would be joining us as a full band member.  She is stepping down as our Sitarist while she turns her focus to her doctoral work at MSU, (good luck Meeta!).  So we did what we have done every time we go to Crazy Wisdom, we sit and play and have a great time.  Playing with Sumkali is such a relaxing and fulfilling experience.  I love to sit back and just take in the wonderful sounds.  I feel blessed to be a part of such a wonderful musical experience.

  The next day was the Ann Arbor Kirtan holiday gathering.  This is the third year and it was, by far, the biggest yet.  The place was filled to capacity and when the chanting started and the first response came I literally got the shivers.  It was like calling out to the ocean and having a huge wave crash down in response.  I could get used to that kind of energy!  I still did just about the entire kirtan with my eyes closed. I have been doing that for a few months now and I am growing more and more fond of it.  I think it is all about letting go of the things you can not control and holding closer the things you can.  When you take out what you see, you are left with what you feel and what you hear, and isn't that what music is all about?

   The third Friday in December I was at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom in Ann Arbor playing with Jesse Morgan, Paul, Akeelee, and Rob Crozier.  It was a re-creation of the Rocketstyle recording session we did in the beginning of the year.  We basically improvised what I like to call 'Space-funk'  for two hours. It was a lot of fun. So much so that it almost felt a little too self-indulgent, like eating nothing but cake for dinner.  It was the kind of show I wished that all my friends could have been at.  Nothing but freedom, fun, and freestyle. Need I say more?

  So that is all the December shows. It was a fun month and now I am looking forward to whatever 2010 has in store.  Thanks for reading and I will write again soon!

John
 

  

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