Well this was one of the best July's that I have had in a long time. Lots of good gigs, lots of good practicing, and even a little time to relax. I started off the month with another HOT gig. It was hot in every sense of the word. I was playing tabla/percussion with the Dave Sharp Secret Seven at the Ann Arbor Top of The Park stage, which is set in the street at the end of Ingalls mall, (not the kind of mall where you get smoothies and lotion, but the grassy, flowery, in the center of campus kind). It is a free festival that has live music every day for like a month an a half. It is free and is always full of people. It is very competitive for the bands looking to play there and I can see why. It's great exposure, in a beautiful spot with a top notch sound and stage crew that make everyone sound great.
We were slated to play from 5-6:30p.m. which is the first spot on a night that included 2 other bands and a movie that was shown on a big inflatable screen. When it was our time to play, the uncovered stage was directly under the sun and it was radiating heat. My face was sore at the end of the set from all the squinting. That aside, the music was really uplifting and sounded incredible. It is amazing what horns and an organ does to a bands sound when you put it on top of drums, percussion, bass, and guitar. The music is all original with a cover or two thrown in for a tip of the hat to the inspiration. Dave really works hard to put out a good product and the group of guys he has put together really gets behind the music. When the show was over, half the band had to leave to play at other gigs, which tells you something about the caliber of musician he works with. I was off with my family to spend a week on the beach up north near Traverse City for a long overdue break.
AAAAHHHHH, 2 naps a day, dips in the lake, gentle guitar on the beach, and nothing else.......
So the next gig was the monthly Kirtan at the Freinds meeting house in Ann Arbor. It was a perfect way to get back into the swing of things. I was well rested and ready to play for two hours with my eyes closed. The beautiful thing about the Kirtan is that once it starts it does not stop and it does not require the usual intercommunication amongst the band members that the average night of music making would entail. The only real need for eye contact is when the chant comes to an end.
The routine is key for this group. It has been a few years now and at this point, the set up, sound check and execution of the chant has become a well rooted routine, so everyone knows what to do and expect. For other more performance based musical evenings this sort of routine could be seen as a barrier to creativity, but I think it is just the opposite for the kirtan. The routine allows the meditative dynamic of the evening to begin as soon as you walk through the door. In addition, the fact that we don't speak, except for the beginning and end of the evening, really makes the two hours of chanting feel like one complete piece of work, rather than 7 or 8 different chants.
Another interesting observation I have noticed throughout the years is that it doesn't seem to make a difference if something really good or really bad happens during the coarse of chanting, it is all let go during the final moments of silent meditation. Everything that happened for the last two hours is whisked away into the past and you are left with just the rhythm of your breath to ponder. For me, a great night of chanting reminds me to breath and let go. Letting go of the music is the first and most obvious step, but the key is to keep letting go once you step back into the world. Breath and let go after a fight, after saying something witty, after breaking a glass, after beating your father-in-law in a game of...whatever. Don't hang on to anything and you become available for everything. This is what the kirtan reminds me to do, and I feel lucky to have it as part of my musical life.
So it has been happening for a few months now that the night after kirtan is the Indian Music night at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom downtown Ann Arbor. We have been building this night for almost two years now and it is really turning into an incredible night of music making. It seems to be the perfect balance of creativity and performance with an informality that allows everyone to be loose and fully enjoy what is happening.
At this particular show, we tried a piece of music I could not stop listening to for the past two weeks. It was from a recording from the 70's out of India that was classified as 'Raga Jazz'. It was such a cool piece to play. When the night was over all the musicians were just buzzing about how cool it was. It really inspired me to pursue this sort of fusion. This is exactly the reason why we do these CW gigs, to play, be inspired and celebrate this music with people. Again, I feel lucky to be a part of this all.
Now if you keep up with this blog, you may recall the last time Mike came down to Ann Arbor. Our bass player had to cancel at the last minute, so we played the show as a guitar/percussion duet. It worked so well that we decided to do it again up in Big Bay. It was a show put on by the Peter White Public Library in Marquette and it was a full house. We played for 2 hours and people were so receptive. There were families with children, old friends, some new faces, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It is always so easy and free to play with Mike. When you have been making music with someone for so long, the feelings and passion that you put in the music when you were young never seem to go away. Mike and I played for two hours and we did not even rehearse. We have found that when we don't have a lot of time together, it is better to just hang out before a show, rather than cram a bunch of song structures and diagrams of how the night should go. Once you begin, the show, or more specifically, the music carries you through. The key is to let it take you wherever it goes.
We did most of the songs on his album, some covers, and some plain old improvisation. We were joined for a couple of tunes by Mikes friend Sven, who is an incredible luthier and dobro player. His wife Erica also joined us on stage with some beautiful dancing and some really sweet tap dancing. I had a blast playing with he movement of her feet. I think that tap dancing gives a whole new perspective on the gravitas of the downbeat. Your whole body is pulled down by gravity and the point at which you meet the earth is the point of attack. It is such a pure percussive art form. As a drummer, it is a real treat to accompany a dancer, and when you are onstage with Mike and Erica Waite, the music just seems to create itself. It was a nourishing night of music making.
The final show of the month was with the Dave Sharp Secret Seven. This time we were playing at the Ypsilanti Crossroads Music Festival. It was a great night. The temperature was perfect, the crowd was welcoming, and we had the prime time spot from 8-10. We did pretty much the same show as the Top of the Park a few weeks earlier. It is such a blast playing with this group and I love my newly conceived role as a tabla/percussionist. I even built a nice stand for my tabla so I don't have to sit on the ground to play. It is a bit awkward to sit on a seat and play tabla, but just as awkward to sit on the floor when everyone else in the group is standing up. Anyway, I love the opportunity to bring tabla into a jazz group and it feels really great to have Dave playing with Sumkali. The exchange of ideas between the two groups makes for a very healthy and strong element in our local music scene. I look forward to what the future has in store.
So that is it for July. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.
p.s. If you haven't already, look me up on Facebook, which is where I have been posting pictures from all my gigs. Thanks!