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!