Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Stanford Weekend

I spent 3 of the past 5 days on the Stanford University campus! A Stanford weekend! On Thursday, I drove to Stanford to attend a songwriting lecture with the incredibly talented Esperanza Spalding. I first met Esperanza at Stevie's 2008 House Full of Toys fundraising concert in LA. I had the opportunity to accompany her on her catchy tune "I Know You Know".

Esperanza is terrifically talented as a singer, bassist, songwriter and pedagogue. During her Stanford lecture, she shared profound musical insight. I was utterly impressed by her ability to articulate the balance between nuanced sensitivity and technical practicality in the creative process. My favorite quotes were: “practice finishing songs” and “be sure that your skill set is fully cultivated”. Esperanza told us a story about recording with bass legend, Stanley Clarke. She had been spending time practicing finishing songs in her down time, flying around the planet, etc. During the recording session, Stanley Clarke asked her to complete a song for him. Because of her diligence in practicing writing and completing songs, she was ready and able to fulfill his request!

Esperanza's story so inspired me, that the next day, my friend Amy and I met for a song writing session. We got to work, with a self imposed time limit of 90 minutes, and we wrote a song that we really like! We are both proud of ourselves for setting an intention, working hard and fulfilling that intention! Thanks to Esperanza for the inspiration!

On Friday, I again drove to Stanford to hear Esperanza in concert. She was kind enough to invite me as her guest. I’d never had the opportunity to hear Esperanza and her band in concert, so I was thrilled. Her band includes pianist Leo Genovese, drummer Otis Brown, and guitarist Ricardo Vogt. Anthony Diamond, a Stanford student, joined the band onstage for a couple of numbers, and was a welcome addition to the vibe. The concert was excellent! If you have the chance to hear Esperanza in concert, don’t miss it! Not only did she perform several of her wonderful compositions (including “I Know You Know” and “She Got To You”) but also brilliantly reconceived and arranged versions of “Body and Soul (Cuerpa y Alma)” and “Wild Is The Wind” – which was one of my favorite performances of the night.

Another favorite performance was a piece that Esperanza sang accompanied only by her pianist, Leo. The piece is based on an Argentinean rhythm, I can’t remember the name of the rhythm, and therefore only remember the second half of the title, which was “Liliana”. Whatever the title, it was a blazing example of pianistic and vocal virtuosity, and at the same time a beautiful example of superlative musicality. The primary melody was doubled in the piano and Esperanza’s soaring soprano. The piece was intricate, esoteric, yet appealing and vibrant! For most of the concert, I couldn’t sit still in my seat. Otis Brown’s groove on the drums was undeniable and Leo and Richard’s comping propelled Esperanza’s natural groove. I had a GREAT time. After the show, we all ate dinner and hung out for a little, ending the evening early because the band had a 5am airport call time.

Finally, this morning I found myself once again on the Stanford campus, attending a lecture by General Colin Powell. He was GREAT! I had no idea he’d be such a charismatic and humorous speaker. He given a lovely introduction by former Secretary of State George Shultz, and then spent the next hour explaining to the audience what his life is like now that he’s no longer a power player in the sense that he was during the Reagan and Bush administrations. What I mostly loved about his speech is that he’s not one of those intransigent Republicans that is so devoted to party, that he won’t admit when a candidate from another party is superior. He brilliantly articulated his reasons for supporting then-candidate Obama over his friend Senator McCain, and offered examples of justification from his own experience as a military leader. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech and enjoyed hearing an example of a “conservative” that didn’t just seem angry and bitter that their side “lost”. How refreshing! Lol I do love visiting my secondary alma mater…

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