Monday, February 23, 2009

Sky lounge, Nick Strange, Kirtan, Crazy Wisdom, Mind Body Spirit Center, Nick Strange

Hello again,
  March is here already and it is very cold outside today.  It is that time of year where you can't leave your instrument in your car, even for a half hour without worrying about something cracking.  With a busy schedule, it can be difficult to plan a day around having to play a show.  I have been very lucky and have been getting a lot of help from my student Vinnie Russo.  Has been helping me out at gigs by picking up my drums and setting them up at the show.  It has given me some much needed flexibility. 
Flexibility is needed when you teach all day, come home, say hi you your baby, teach some private lessons, and a tabla class, and then have to get ready for a show.  An extra half hour or hour really helps. Especially a gig like the Sky lounge, which I played on the first Thursday in February.  It is on the third floor of the new big student center on EMU's campus.  You must pull your car up to the side of the building bring in the drums, park the car, come back and locate one of the student workers and have them get a cart for you.  You then load the drums on the cart, pull it into the service elevator, wheel it down the hall to the Sky lounge room, set up the drums and return the cart.  That whole process, without even taking the drums out of the cases takes at least a half hour.  
Vinnie, I believe, is also gaining from the experience. He has met a lot of musicians, and even impressed one group so much during a sound check that they asked him to play in the band when I couldn't make it.  I think he actually played his first show with them on Valentines day.  Yes, I remember now because he was not available to help me with a show I was playing on the same night.  It was with Nick Strange at Goodnite Gracies in Ann Arbor.  The place was packed with couples. We were playing for the first time with a new bass player named Sam.  He used to play with a group called Cloud Nine, which was a popular local band.  He was filling in for Rob Crozier who could not bring himself to put a gig above a romantic Valentines day outing with his girlfriend.  
He knew it for a while and hooked us up with Sammy early on, so after a little preparation and rehearsing, the music was still sounding nice.  Sammy was having a little difficulty doing everything in the live setting where one song comes right after another, but his sharp ear and good technical skills could pick up on things very quickly. 
I feel for a guy who has to come into a band for the first time and just go for it.  All mistakes and mishaps feel like they come right from your newbie presence. It is like playing a card game for the first time with a bunch of people that have played the game together for years.  At first everyone is trying to be helpful, giving you tips and things to look for, and then very soon after it starts, they sort of expect you to get it and play along without disturbing the pace of play too much. All in all it was a fun night, and it felt good to be the soundtrack for so many people out to celebrate love.
The following week was a monster tabla week.  I counted it up and from Friday to Sunday I had just over 13 hours behind my drums.  It was actually a very nice way to spend a weekend.  Tabla is a much gentler style of drumming, which doesn't involve nearly as much volume, heavy lifting, physical stamina, and time setting up and tearing down.  It is easy to whisk in and out of playing situations without getting physically worn down, which gives you more energy to put into the music.  (Oh my gosh, am I sounding too much like an old man with all this tired talk!)  Anyway, the weekend started with the monthly Friday Kirtan. When I got to the Friends Center, I had already been playing tabla for about 5 hours. I practiced in the morning and had a rehearsal, so my hands had felt like I already played a whole show.  It really caused me to pace myself with the chanting and focus on relaxing into the patterns.  This mindset is such a powerful place to be when you are studying music.  I love the feeling of being just fatigued enough that I must play conservatively.  I tend to have trouble getting myself to hold back when I play with full energy, so playing in such a state as I was Friday I could hear all the sound and richness that comes when my throttle is turned down.  What is a bit ironic is that in reality, things like speed, creativity, precision, and a sweet sound, which are all constant desires seem easier to achieve with a slow, steady pace.  John Bergamo used to call this the Long Speed Distance, (...."Man, all you need is a little LSD!").
The next night I was excited to play again at the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom for our monthly Indian music night.  Scott Brady could not make it to this one, but we were joined by Dan Piccolo on a tabla that was an octave lower than mine, so the rhythm was nice and fat, (or is it 'phat'?).  Prashanth and Meeta played a rag together for the first time and it was, for me, the highlight of the evening.  It was called Hamstawani, and between the two of them, there was so much melodic painting I felt like I was part of a beautiful mural of sound.  Something seemed to really click with our group and I think it has a lot to do with all the rehearsals we have been getting in.  At the end of the night I had 13 people sign up for my e-mail list, which was by far a record for a CW gig.   
The next night we were all together again for a pick-up gig with Dan Piccolo at the Mind, Body, Spirit Wellness Center in Ann Arbor.  It is a non-profit place where they do all sorts of meditation classes, massages, etc.  and now they are trying to do music on Sundays.  We were just playing for a half hour before some other groups got up but it was a very sweet half hour.  There was no P.A. system, so we were all acoustic and I think that really freed us up to really just listen to each other and play very tight.  I enjoyed it very much.  Not to mention Scott was able to join us so the sound was just that much more full.  It was a great end to a very fulfilling weekend.
The last weekend in February had just one show. It was another Gracie's show with Nick Strange.  The crowd was not as big as the Valentines show, but the music was sounding much tighter.  Sammy was back and he had definitely done some practicing.  Getting through the first gig is always the hardest.  Even thought the crowd was smaller they seemed to be listening much more on this night.  I was still in the mindset from the week before, taking it easy and pacing myself, although it was for a very different reason. Earlier in the day I was changing a light switch in our house and my hand slipped and I cut my left index finger right at the second knuckle.  It bled really bad and I was concerned with how I would be able to play.  I taped it up very well and just played only using three fingers.  My hand was tired and sore at the end of the night, but I made it through alright.
All in all it was a great month of music, and I am looking forward to another one in March.  Hopefully things will warm up a bit around here.  Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!

John

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