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!