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

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