Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nick Strange at Fishbones, Jazz Trio, Indian Music for CSAS, A.A. Kirtan, Radio Free Bacon, Crazy Wisdom

September has flown by and October seems to be rushing in with cold wind and rain. Thinking back on this month fills me with warm thoughts and feelings. My Guruji, Pandit Samar Saha has been in the U.S. since the end of August and I have been very busy arranging lots of different events for him. I have decided to write about everything that happened with him in a separate blog entry, so this entry is only about the shows I did on my own. Look for that entry very soon!
So this month started off with a gig in St. Clair Shores with the Nick Strange group. It was at the end of a busy week of preparation for the new school year, so it was nice to get on the drumset and just play for a while. For this show we did not have our lead singer, so it was just Dan Orcut, Rob Crozier and myself. Dan sings most of the songs that Jessica usually does, so it was not a problem. Actually, it allowed us to jam a little more than usual and go outside of our regular structure, so it was a nice change. I always have fun playing with Rob and the night seemed to fly by. It was labor day weekend, so the plac
e was pretty empty, which didn't really bother me because honestly, the crowd at Fishbones is usually not too into the music anyway, no matter how good it sounds. It is actually kind of odd, when people do enjoy the music, they usually keep quiet, and then approach the band either between songs or on the set break to let us know that they like it. I have a theory that it has been established by the Fishbones culture that people do not cheer, dance, or show appreciation in any way for the live music. Somehow music is to be treated like background music, no matter what or how the band is playing. Anyway, it is just a theory, and it gets me through the night :)
A few days later, on a Thursday I think, I had a gig with Jesse Morgan, (keys), and Rob Crozier on bass. It was outside in an industrial complex
in Ypsilanti, MI. It was a 30 year celebration for a non-profit company called Synod Residential Services. We were simply background music for the workers and some of their clients. It was the first time that the three of us played together since recording the Rocket Style improve record, (find it here: We actually did not rehearse at all, we just emailed some ideas for songs we could do and then showed up and did a bunch of jazz standards. Rob and Jesse both had their Realbook, so all I had to do was either play swing, latin, or funk. It really got our juices flowing and re-inspired us to play together more often. It is so great to find musicians that you sync with so well. I have found though, that those are also usually the musicians that are the busiest. We always talk about playing with each other, but have not found the spaces in our lives to make it happen. I really believe it will though. Perhaps I will be writing about another good show with them soon. Hope
So about the middle of that same week I got a communication from the Center for South Asian Studies, (CSAS) at the U of M. They were looking for an Indian group to play just a half hour for a cocktail party at the Rackham building for graduate studies on central campus. It was a last minute booking; they needed us to play just two days later. So through the magic of texting I got Meeta, Prashanth and Atmaram to agree to it, (Scott and Dan both had other gigs booked). So on the day of the gig, actually right before I left to go to the gig itself, I got an e-mail from Meeta saying she was sick and could not make it. Meet
a never cancels, so I knew it had to be pretty bad. I called Prashanth and asked him if he knew anyone who could fill in for Meeta. The only person he could get a hold of was Prakash, a mrigdangam player, (the same one who played with me at a Crazy Wisdom gig a few we
eks back. Now, filling a sitarist slot with drummer is kind of like replacing a quarterback with a punter, their roles are very different. So, without warning, the evening became something totally different than I had expected. As odd as it seemed to be, it actually turned out just fine, and it was only a half hour long, so it seemed to be over as soon as we began. I did get something really great out of it, I got to hear Prashanth,
who is trained in South Indian music, play some pieces that he usually does with the mrigdangam. One in particular caught my ear and now we are learning it in Sumkali. So, out of the confusion came a little gem of a song that is very fun to play.
Exactly one week later I was playing with the Ann Arbor Kirtan. Like I mentioned earlier, I was right in the middle of a whole bunch of tabla related events with my guruji, so doing the kirtan was my first opportunity to play tabla out of the auspices of my teachers ear. It was nice to just close my eyes and not think about what I was playing, just play and enjoy the sound. I kept my eyes closed for the entire 2 hours. It is really amazing how different the experience is when you take away the visual. I learned at the Michigan Music Educators conference earlier this year that 70% of what you hear is affected by what you see, so I have been trying to close my eyes a lot more just to observe the difference. The kirtan is the perfect place to do it. I found that it made it a much more personal experience. I enjoyed it very much. The only time I opened my eyes is when my wife Jody made a surprise visit with my son Cha
rley. It made it harder to keep my eyes closed because I found myself wanting, as I do a lot these days, to stare at Charley.
The next day I was in a rehearsal for Radio Free Bacon ( It is a great local live radio show on Ann Arbor's 107.1 fm. They have interviews, stories, and of coarse live music, complete with a different musical guest each week. I was sitting is as the drummer for the house band. The musical guest was Rod and Annie Capps, a pair of local singer/songwriters that have been performing for many years. I think they just came out with their 6th album. The process includes the house band learning 3 or 4 of the guest artist songs and playing a delux version of them. The rehearsal was a lot of fun. I joked with the band that I had never been to a rehearsal that used so many metaphors to describe the music.
To summerise the experience, it was meaty, it floated, so when it came in for a landing, it set down gently, and when it came back in, it really came heavy and pushed it's way through to the chorus, where it opened up, and when get the idea?
Anyway, it was all in preparation for going live on the air the next day. They do 6 shows a year, and this was the third one, it was on Sunday from 2:30-4. The setting was great. It was outside in the West Park Bandshell, right in downtown Ann Arbor. It was a beautiful day and there is a really professional sound crew that makes it sound sweet. We had to be very alert and ready to start playing on a seconds notice. Our theme for the show was 'Movies'. It was great, there were all sorts of local actors and talents on the show talking about the recent insurgence of movie making that has been going on all over Michigan. We just sat and watched, and as soon as they finished an interview we played.
We did the songs with Rod and Annie, and then we also had to do what was called 'incidental' music, which was just background music for live commercial announcements and a few little bits. The whole experience was great and I really liked playing with Rod and Annie.
The last gig of the month was at the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom with Sumkali. We got in a good rehearsal the day before and I was inspired by the entire month spent with my Guruji. We had a great crowd. Playing a regular gig at Crazy Wisdom has been so good for our group. It gives us just the motivation we need to keep pushing ourselves forward musically, but at the same time, it is informal enough that we feel a bit more free to experiment and have a good time. This time we actually played that South Indian piece that I heard Prashanth play at the CSAS gig earlier in the month and it was energizing. I hope we keep up the good pace.