More on that later : >
It was a weekend full of music, my own and that of others. It all began on Thursday night: I’d been asked to perform in a Stevie Wonder Tribute show with the incredible vocalist, Fred Ross, at The Broadway Grill, a local restaurant where I frequently perform as a singing pianist. Both of us enthusiastic Stevie Wonder fans, we took on the task with glee. Unfortunately, the performance wasn’t sufficiently advertised, so the audience was small and thanks to a subdued sound system, barely aware of our presence. Regardless, Fred and I agreed that it was fun and that our duo (actually a trio, with the drummer) should be repeated. Fred is one of those rare singers who’s unafraid (and actually able) to sing Stevie’s demanding songs in the original key.
Friday was intense. I woke up at 5am and went to the gym, my “reward” for having practiced 5.5 hours the day before. After a brief nap, I went to yoga, returned home to prepare for the day. I drove to the school where I’m the choral program accompanist, and accompanied the very talented teens, rehearsing music for their upcoming music tour. After school, I drove to a senior living community, where I performed for an enthusiastic audience of senior citizens. I received requests for music ranging from Chopin to “In The Mood for Love” to “Phantom of the Opera”; of course, I happily accommodated them all. It was an interesting contrast to play for (and accompany) people of such diverse ages back to back: both have clear love for music, and are demonstrative in their appreciation of my performance, but differ in the type of feedback energy that I sense as a performer, the restlessness of youth versus the focus of maturity.
After my performance for the senior community, I decided to spend my free 2 hours before my next event having a late lunch with a friend. After lunch (dinnertime for most people), my friend and I made an attempt to view a few art galleries under the moniker Art Murmur, a group of galleries in Oakland that have openings every first Friday of the month – and it’s FREE (my favorite word of the moment!). Our first stop, at a gallery in Jack London Square, was a bust: the gallery was closed, despite having been on the list of galleries. So we sped off to the next gallery (as I only had about 40 minutes left to keep my schedule), 510 Gallery. The 510 Gallery featured an incredible series of angel wings cast of plywood. The artists were on hand and happy share their creative vision and process. I was astonished at the delicacy of their work, and how thoroughly the work reflects the character of wings.
Next, I headed to Berkeley to see the Berkeley Playhouse production of “Once on this Island”, directed by Kimberly Dooley. For several years, I worked as an accompanist for Elizabeth McCoy, the artistic director of the Berkeley Playhouse, and was excited to finally have a chance to witness the results of her hard work as an audience member. I had no idea that Kimberly, Erika Bowman and Michael Mohammed, were also involved in the production. I’ve worked with all of them over the years, and it was a pleasure to see them in a musical theater context. From start (with the beating of drums as audience members entered the theater) to end, this production was excellent! Kimberly’s vision of an island in the French Antilles was beautifully rendered through gorgeous set design, vibrant, engaging performances, energetic choreography and lovely music. I had a hard time sitting still! I wanted to jump up and dance with the performers! The biggest surprise was seeing my friend’s daughter, Zendaya, on stage. I’ve accompanied Zendaya in school concerts before, but had no idea she was such a natural stage performer! I enjoyed myself immensely! “Once on this Island” is showing through March 15. Go see it!
After watching the musical, doing my networking (which I always do when in musical environments…it’s a business!), and chatting up old friends, I was thoroughly exhausted. However, I received a text message from a friend who’d invited me to see Stanley Clarke that same evening. After having promised Elizabeth that I’d come see her production, I had to turn down the invitation, but I really, really, really wanted to see Stanley perform. I’ve missed countless opportunities to see musical legends perform over the years, mostly because of conflicts with my own performance schedule, but sometimes because of budget. Well, after receiving that text message, I called and discovered that tickets were still available for the 10pm show. Hm…I was running on fumes at this point, and the tickets were outside of my current budget, but I spoke on the phone with another friend who (thankfully) encouraged me to go to the show. So I did. I sat behind the pianist at a table with strangers (who didn’t seem all that pleased to have me sit with them; at least they were utterly non-responsive to my pre-concert chit-chat…oh well! It was an open seat, so I took it!). One word: amazing. And then, my weepy moment. It came during Stanley’s composition “Paradigm Shift”, which he wrote in honor of President Obama’s election. Stanley’s music can be quite complex, and extremely difficult to execute technically. Through the statement of the theme and solos by Stanley’s pianist and violinist, this technical difficulty was evident. The musicians played with fierce virtuosity and soaring energy. However, during his solo, Stanley played with utter simplicity and delicacy, creating such exquisitely beautiful sound and phrasing, that I could barely contain my emotions. That moment alone justified my fatigue and the expense.
Other notable moments were the solos of pianist, Ruslan Sirota, and drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., during the song “After the Cosmic Rain”, a Return To Forever classic. Ruslan has superlative technical facility and a tremendous musical imagination. I only wish he’d add a greater element of emotion into his playing. Ronald was plain ridiculous! I mean that in the best possible way! His solo was a demonstration of how to have fun when playing music. His joy was irrepressible and his playing full of vitality. Violinist Zach Brock was consistently expressive and passionate in his playing.
Stanley’s first finale was Bass Etude #6, during which he played the acoustic bass as if it were a Flamenco guitar. I’d never seen anything like it. What a show.
Having been duly inspired, back to work I go! And a one, two, a one, two, three, four…