It has been an eventful last couple of weeks on the giging front. It seems like I have been playing or rehearsing every other day. It has not been very stressful though, just busy as can be, and for that I am thankful.
So the first show came about as I was giving a lesson to one of my tabla students, Arun. He told me about a show that he voulenteered for through the ICMD group at U of M. The only problem was that no one else signed up to play, so he was thinking he would not play. I told him I would play with him. That was on a Monday, and the show was on a Thursday, so we didn't have much time to work anything up. Actually, we ended up putting something together about 15 minutes before the performance. We strung together a bunch of compositions with a nice chakardar at the end that we played together. To top off the spontaneous feel of it, we had no P.A. system, no rug to sit on, and only 5 minutes to set-up, perform, and take-down. Not to mention we were right inbetween some high energy dance groups. All things considered, it ended up being a big hit with the crowd. I was amazed at the execution, since Arun has only been playing tabla for about 5 months. We were able to keep it together, and it sounded great! I look forward to playing with Arun again soon.
The next day I loaded up my drum set to go play a gig with the Nick Strange Group in Redford, MI at a place called Bullfrog's Bar and Grille. Their claim to fame is "the hottest wait staff in Southeast Michigan". We were playing just one set. We were the first of something like 4 bands playing that night. When we walked in I felt like I was back in L.A., small place with a tall prominent stage, huge sound system, big stage lights, and a 5 ft. tall drum riser that put my head right near the 20 ft. tall ceiling.
It was very strange to play that high up. My feet were at about eye level of the other musicians, and like 3 feet above the audience. I felt like I was in my own world up there. It really felt like L.A., because the real feat of the evening is not pulling off a good set, which we did just fine, but rather setting up and tearing down as quickly as possible. There are a few reasons to tear down very fast and furious as soon as you hit the last note. First, the club wants minimal downtime, so as not to drag the night down. Second, the band following you is always chomping at the bit to get up on stage, and tensions can rise very fast. Third is if you go too slow, you stand a good chance of forgetting something, or unconsciously trade equipment with someone. It is really undesirable to tear down as soon as you are done playing. It brings the phrase 'paying your dues' to mind. All in all it was a good night, and we were packed up and on the road home just 15 minutes after being on stage. We wanted to see a bit of the band that followed us, but they were having some sort of problem with the sound system, so we just took off. Hot wait staff, small club, oversize stage, tons of bands, fast packing.....I felt like I was in L.A. all over again. Putting on a winter coat, gloves, a hat, and seeing your breath...brought me right back to my beloved Michigan!
The following Tuesday Meeta Banerjee and I took our instruments back to the building where we met for the first time, the Institute for International Studies on the U of M campus. This is where I took tabla classes with Dr. Rajan Sachdeva back in 2002. Rajanji happened to be Meeta's sitar teacher. Meeta was at a class one day playing her sitar and I sat down and played a little folk piece with her. We hit it of musically right away. Since then we have played many shows all over Michigan, (most of them can be read about on this blog), so it felt nice to come back to the same building and play together again.
We were asked to be the background music for the Center for South Asian Studies welcome back mixer. It was a 3 hour gig, our longest one yet. I was sure we would be repeating a lot, but I guess I had not realized how much reperatoir we actually know together. With this music, there is also the ability to improvize in every piece, so we took full advantage and streched out each piece. I think we ended up only repeating one or two pieces. By the end we were questioning weather anyone was listening, not that it mattered, we were just happy to be playing together, but we had to put it to the test. For the last piece of the night, Meeta quietly started playing Mary Had a Little Lamb and improvising with the melody. She would come back to the melody now and again and get a little stronger, and a little louder. We started turning some heads and putting smiles on peoples faces. When we did a dramatic end to it people clapped and we said good night.
3 days later I was back at the Friends Center in Ann Arbor playing with the Kirtan. I showed up 2 1/2 hours early for some reason and set everything up. I played an hour before anyone else showed up. I kept playing as the other members came in and then we did a 45 minute rehearsal before the show. We took a 15 minute break and then played the regular 2 hour kirtan. The chanting went great. It a good sized group, about 60 people. By the end my hands felt limp. No pain though, which is a very good sign. There is so much benefit to be had when you play so much that your physical body gets worn out, provided you are not hurting yourself. You learn how to play with as little effort as possible. You also learn how to conserve your energy and get the most out of every stroke. I would love to have the opportunity to do this for a week straight sometime.....
The very next night I hosted a show at Crazy Wisdom with Meeta, Scott Brady on sax, Dave Gilbert on sax, Ken Kozora on bass and zendrum, and Jon Plummer on the tamboura. The idea was to start the night off with straight Indian classical music, and then morph into a west/east mix of Indian folk tunes with western harmony. I had recorded Meeta playing some folk melodies, notated it with a computer program, then added the horn and bass parts. It sounded great, and was so much fun to play. Ken and I also did a zendrum and tabla duet that we improvised. If there wasn't more music to play, I would have loved to keep playing with Ken. The sounds were mixing so well and we really fell into a great groove. Did I mention it was a FUN evening.
The place was packed, and everyone was very into it. I was very inspired to do it again on a bigger scale.....
I am feeling very inspired at the moment, and look forward to the near future, which includes a visit to Ann Arbor by my friend Mike Waite, (whose album I just got in the mail yesterday, look for it online soon!), another visit this summer by my Guruji Samar Saha, and another student recital coming very soon. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!