Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween!! - Last day of the tour...

Halloween! Friday morning, we left NYC and drove to Atlantic City, where we had 2 more shows to perform. Both shows went well, and on Halloween night, we had James “JT” Taylor from Kool and the Gang join us onstage for a few songs.

After the concert, we all changed into Halloween costumes and hit the club!

Unfortunately, something caused me to have an allergic reaction. I don’t know if it was the tiny sip of tequila that I had (I don’t drink, but only because I hate the taste of alcohol. I’ve tasted several drinks, but have never had a reaction to anything), or the fog that was pumped into the club just before my reaction (I’ve been around fog before and never had a reaction). Who knows? All of a sudden, I turned into a hive monster and had to run to my room and take something to stop the reaction. After a while, I starting feeling ok again, and I returned to the club, where I had been having a GREAT time dancing with everyone, but had to leave again as I felt the reaction returning. Maybe it was the fog…hm…

So, I didn’t get my groove on to the full extent I’d wanted to, but I did cut a little bit of a rug! It was another fun tour, and as always, I can’t wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show day!

I got up early to go get my hair done. Years ago when I lived in Harlem, I came across a hair salon that knew exactly what to do with my hair (an issue my entire life, I’ve tried all kinds of stylists but very few left me happy with the result). It’s a shop that specializes in curly hair, called Ouidad. They’re very expensive, but they do such a great job with cutting and styling my hair, that whenever I’m in NYC, I make an appointment. As usual, I left the shop with my hair looking great, quickly receiving compliments, knowing that it would just look better as the day progressed. Excited, I met the band in the lobby, and headed to the venue.

We arrived at Madison Square Garden at about 1pm, had lunch (with me sitting at the same table as David Crosby – what a great guy!!) and then hit the stage for sound check. During sound check, there were all manner of audio issues taking place. My keyboard set up was apparently giving off wicked feedback, so for about half of the sound check, I had no audio, and had to pantomime my parts. Not fun, but oh well! Finally, that issue was resolved. As each of the celebrity guests came to the stage, they waved and smiled at me as I stood at my keyboard station on stage right (which will be on the left side if you’re in the audience or watching me on screen). Believe me, I was very happy to be receiving waves and genuine smiles from these musical icons. While we were rehearsing with Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt (one of my musical s-heroes, I’ve been a fan since my college days) stood in the audience and grooved to the music. I wanted to meet her, but unable to make that happen, I had to be satisfied to watch her enjoy the band.

For most shows, I do my own makeup and hair, but for this show, we were allowed to work with professionals! My makeup artist, Sarah from Cleveland (thinking proactively…MY makeup artist), painted my eyes in a smoky style, dark, intense and fierce! I loved it! Oh, and did I take a photo? DOH! I’m sure there’s a photo somewhere out there in the Universe…but I don’t have it! Sigh…

On my way back upstairs to our designated dressing room, I passed the host, Tom Hanks, on my left, and Bruce Springsteen on my right. Let me tell ya: SURREAL! Walking by Tom while he spoke to the HBO film crew, and Bruce as he exited his limo, I felt like I was in a movie scene.

Finally, everyone dressed, prayed up (we pray before each performance…God Bless Stevie!), hugged by Smokey Robinson (I even got a kiss on the cheek!), and ready to go, we mounted the stage, which was arranged on top of a rotating table. At the appointed time, the table began to turn, and we faced the capacity audience, screaming at the top of their lungs for Stevie, all of us full of anticipation. Stevie lifted the microphone to his mouth, took a deep breath, and said “-------“

Huh? What happened? He tried again “-----------“.

Houston, we have a problem! Apparently the board through which all of our sound was being projected to the audience completely broke down at exactly the moment we hit the stage. So, the director of the of the program came to the stage (headset and all) and spoke to Stevie while the engineers worked frantically to resolve the issue. I still don’t know exactly what happened, or how they fixed the problem, but after about 15 minutes, we were able to perform, albeit with compromised sound quality. I’ve learned that the audio that will be broadcast on HBO on November 29 was not affected. I hope that’s true.

We went on and performed for Smokey Robinson, B. B. King, John Legend, Sting and Jeff Beck, and I had a great time. Tune in to HBO on November 29, 2009, to see the concert!

After our performance, Lanesha and I ventured out into the audience to watch Bruce Springsteen perform. I don’t really know his music (other than the monster hit “Born in the USA”), but was curious about his concert, as I’d heard that he’s a great performer. I can confirm that it’s true! He was amazing! Great energy, wonderful story telling, exceptional musicianship. Awesome! What a day!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

REHEARSAL DAY 2 - meeting the stars!

I slept late Wednesday morning, just as a precaution, given my impending cold. I felt much better, and decided to take a trip to Steinway Hall, home to some beautiful concert grand pianos. Every time I visit New York, I make sure to stop by Steinway Hall. My friend Amy, also a pianist, joined me and we headed over to West 57th street. I had the chance to meet Betsy Hirsch,
a salesperson at Steinway Hall with an amazing story connecting her to Stevie Wonder. We all had a great time playing these fantastic pianos together. After leaving Steinway Hall, Amy, her brother and I had lunch at The Great American Health Bar, where I had the most delicious salad! I was expecting a typical, eat it in one session garden salad, but instead received a monstrously huge, and delicious, dish that I had to finish later in the day.

Salad for lunch...and later snack

At 3pm, we arrived at the rehearsal studio for a day of rehearsal with the celebrity guest musicians. First up: Jeff Beck! Jeff walked in, cool and confident, after his crew guys set up his rig, and Stevie immediately wanted to play the song “Looking For Another Pure Love”, on which Jeff had recorded the killer guitar solo. This was the first of many surreal moments to come: it was as if the recording had come to life before my eyes. After jamming on “Pure Love”, we then played “Superstition”. Apparently, “Superstition” was originally composed for Jeff, but Stevie’s management insisted that he record the song instead, and the rest is history. Eventually, Jeff recorded the song as well, but in a rock style.

Next on the agenda: Sting! Full disclosure: I’ve been a HUGE fan of Sting since I was a little kid. The Police was one of the first bands that made an impact on my budding musicianship. I bought all of the their records, knew all of the lyrics, made up choreography to their songs, etc. So, meeting and performing with Sting had been a dream of mine for many years. I had to work REALLY hard not to revert into a 12-year-old SuperFan in anticipation of his arrival. And then…he walked in! Outer self: calmly smiling at seeing this musical hero of mine, professional in my demeanor and performance. Inner self: OH MY GOD!!! THAT’S STING!! WOW!! I HAVE TO PINCH MYSELF!! SCREEEEEAAAAAMMMMM!!!

Sting took his position next to his bass rig directly in front of the horn players and myself. We rehearsed “Higher Ground” and “Roxanne” as a medley over the next 2 hours. At one point, during a short break, I began stretching. Usually during a tour, I exercise and do yoga everyday (for real), but sometimes it’s just not possible, so I stretch when I can. I was standing behind Sting, so his back was to me. However, seconds after I started stretching, Sting turned around, saw me and joined in! It’s well known that Sting is an avid practitioner of yoga, so I was doubly thrilled that he was doing yoga stretches with me, albeit across the room! Half Moon pose, anyone?

We rehearsed a while longer, and then, when satisfied that the medley was in shape, Sting prepared to leave, but first stopped to talk to Keith John, Stevie’s background singer of many years. The new singer, Lanesha Baca, and I looked at each other and tacitly acknowledged that this was our chance to meet this musical icon, so we dashed across the room and waited our turn to meet him. I reached out my hand to shake his, but instead, Sting took my hand, pulled me in for a big hug and kissed my face on both cheeks in the lovely way Europeans do. I was stunned, smiled, and immediately reverted to being that 12-year-old SuperFan: all giggles and verbal ineptitude. Sigh…

We then took a dinner break, and came back to rehearse with John Legend. We’ve performed with John before, and he remembered me, greeting me with a hug and kiss on the cheek. John had just returned from a tour in Brazil, so of course, I had to play the one song I know in Portugese “Águas de Março”. My geek side couldn’t resist! John sang the Marvin Gaye classic “Mercy Me”, and as the rehearsal went well, he left after only a few times through the song.

Finally, B. B. King entered the room, accompanied by his manager and assistants. What a gracious man! B. B. King exudes a warm-hearted kindness, similar to that which Stevie exudes, and kindly complimented the band, took photos with us, gave me a big hug, made jokes, allowed all of us to be at ease in his presence. We rehearsed “The Thrill is Gone” with him. Wow. What a day…

B. B. King and me

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

REHEARSAL DAY 1 - I can't get sick!!!

On Tuesday, we actually had a rehearsal! Over the past few days, during sound check, the band had been working on arrangements of the songs we’d be performing with various artists for the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert on Thursday. Today we focused solely on those songs, honing them and getting our performance in shape. It was a long day, and I had started feeling sick: stuffy nose, sneezing, aching, feeling slightly feverish. As usual, I’d packed my various natural remedies for illness, vitamins, teas, tinctures, etc., as I’m very hesitant to resort to drugs to alleviate my suffering. On this trip, I also packed a bottle of hydrogen-peroxide.

My mother has been a huge advocate of H2O2 for years, entreating me to gargle with it at the very first sign of illness. I’d tried gargling a 3% H2O2 solution before to no avail. It just never seemed to work for me. However, recently, I had the idea that I’d try swabbing it around in my sinuses, thinking that perhaps it would kill the germs/bacteria/virus/whatever it may be that was the source of my misery. Eureka! I believe I’ve fallen upon an amazing cure for the common cold. Well, at least it seems to be helping me get over a cold much faster than anything else.

Here’s the harsh part: it BURNS! Having been forewarned, here’s what I tried: I soaked a cotton ball with H2O2, and dripped a drop into my sinuses. OUCH!!!! Determined not to be sick for the rehearsal, and definitely not for the main event, I repeated this every 3-4 hours for a day. By Wednesday night, I felt COMPLETELY healthy again. Can I attribute it to the H2O2? I don’t know. I am wary of using it too much, but in an emergency situation, I’ve never had anything be as effective. I researched online about the safety of using H2O2 in my sinuses, and couldn’t find anything pro or con that was definitive. I just know I felt better. Hm…

Monday, October 26, 2009

SW Tour Resumes

On Wednesday morning, October 21, 2009, I left home for another short tour with Stevie Wonder. I flew to Boston and then rode on a bus for 2 hours to The Foxwoods Casino Resort in Connecticut. There was no time for a band rehearsal, and sound check was cursory at best. But, Stevie has learned to trust that we will all be ready when the time comes. For the first show, Stevie changed more than half of the set list, keeping all of us on our toes as we traversed his massive song catalogue. Back in 2007 when I first was hired, the prospect of performing without a guaranteed set list was daunting (read: terrifying!), but I’ve grown to not only appreciate, but to relish the spontaneity of Stevie Wonder’s concerts. I have no idea how my brain manages to recall the disparate keyboard parts, keys, lyrics, and background parts my job requires, but I’m certainly grateful that it happens!

First show of this run:

On the bus to Syracuse

After the show, we drove to Syracuse, NY, to the Turning Stone Casino Resort. The bus ride was supposed to be about 4 hours, but ended up being closer to 6 hours, thanks to rainy roads, and a fickle headlight on the bus. I settled into my row on the bus, and tried to sleep. Given that so many people on the bus wanted to talk (loudly!), I wasn’t able to sleep. I recently purchased some high quality custom earplugs, and literally forgot to use them (Oops!) until the last hour of our ride. During a rest stop break, I remembered that I had the earplugs, and I placed them in my ear: what a difference! I slept during the last 60 minutes, and was able to take a nap in my room for a few hours during the morning before departing to prepare for the evening’s concert.

Despite exhaustion, we had a good show that night and flew to Virginia the next morning for a much needed day off. We arrived in Virginia to a surprise of 80° heat! It was beautiful weather, and much appreciated by sun lovers, such as myself! After a nice walk with Fausto and Munyungo, I spent the bulk of my off day reviewing the music for the show (so not really a day off), ate lunch with several members of the group at Joe's Crab Shack, and later went to dinner with a few of the band guys in the hotel restaurant. While sitting at the restaurant table, it became clear that the cold was back: the wind was blowing fiercely and rain was pelting the ground with ferocity. The storm only lasted about 20 minutes, but shifted the weather sufficiently the next day to necessitate a change in wardrobe back to cold weather appropriate gear.

Lunch at Joe's Crab Shack

Battleship in Norfolk, VA

The concert was held in a venue on the Old Dominion University campus. My cousin’s son is a student at OD and attended the concert. I hadn’t seen AJ in years, and it was very good to see him, although I didn’t get to spend much time catching up. Every night, after a concert, I’m literally starving and have to eat dinner. By the time the concert was over, I changed out of my concert attire, and had my dinner, it was quite late. It’s my habit to eat late dinner at home, so my body is accustomed to it, and even more ravenous thanks to the tremendous energy I expend during the concert.

Next stop: Manhattan! Over the past 3 years, I’ve performed in Manhattan several times, but not once have I had the time to visit my old Harlem stomping grounds. This trip was no different. I arrived in town, and immediately went searching for food and clothing bargains with Monica, our fabulous new stylist, and my friend Amy, who happened to be vacationing in NYC that week. I was determined to find an old Asian restaurant that I’d frequented 10 years ago. I didn’t have an address, the name of the restaurant, or the name of the street. I just re
membered the general look of the area and the feel of the restaurant. I’m sure that Monica thought I was insane given how I walked her back and forth on Canal Street searching for the “look” of a neighborhood, but finally VOILA! I found what I was looking for! The restaurant is on Baxter. Now, did I write down the name? Nope! But I know it’s on Baxter, so I can find it again. I have an uncanny sense of direction, and literally never get lost. I may get off track briefly, but I always find my way.

Later that night, I wanted to go Salsa dancing with a group of friends, but I had to take a nap (so much travel is exhausting), and by the time I woke up, it was too late to organize everyone, so I ended up having a late dinner with Amy and Elaine at The Fatty Crab (yummy), and talked with them for a few hours before going to bed. I was disappointed that I couldn't meet with all of my wonderful NYC friends, but C'est La Vie! I'll have to visit again on vacation so I have plenty of energy and free time!

Dinner at The Fatty Crab

Monday, October 19, 2009

Local Gigs

It’s been a few days since I wrote anything for my blog. Let’s go back to last weekend. On Friday, I performed for a church function with Tommie Bradford on drums and Daniel D’Lucca on bass. We played a bunch of standards and a little bit of gospel. What fun! I hadn’t performed standards with other musicians in a while, as most of my gigs lately are solo piano and voice. Tommie and Daniel were both awesome and I had a great time. After the gig, I drove to Pleasanton to hear my friend Simon perform at a piano bar. Amy, Bruce and I sat and listened to Simon, and then took turns sitting in. Few things bring me more joy than just having fun making music with my friends. No pressure, just singing, playing, encouraging, laughing, emoting, dancing…MUSIC! Just pure joy.

On Saturday night, I performed again at Marcello’s in Danville. It was a busy night! Several of the guests had fun listening and singing along with me, making various requests and being surprised by my ability to span a huge range of musical styles. Thanks to Jane and Bruce for singing with me, and to Dan and his wife for coming to the gig!

On Sunday morning, I subbed for Simon at his church. The music director didn’t have a predetermined set of music he wanted performed, so he just threw out some names of tunes (“Jesus, I’ll Never Forget”, “Hallelujah”, etc.), wondering if I knew them. Having grown up in church, of course I knew the songs, and played them on an instrument that replicated an organ without foot pedals. On a tangent: I need to go ahead and learn to play organ. I’ve been wanting to learn for years, but have yet to set aside the time to make the effort. One day…

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It’s one attribute that moves me to tears. It explains my drive and commitment to learning, educating, creating and performing. When I encounter excellence, I can barely contain my elation, and I am rendered helpless in the torrent of emotions, all positive and euphoric, that will surely follow. I’m profoundly moved by excellence in every form: corporeal (Ade and Melissa dancing Tyce Diorio’s “ This Woman’s Work” or Kupono and Kayla dancing Mia Michael’s “Addiction”), intellectual (President Barack Obama – the way he ran his campaign, his speeches, his mature responses to the often infantile lunacy of some of his opponents, etc.), compassionate (“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”- every time they give scholarships to the children in the various households, I turn into a weepy mess!), etc. This past week, once again, I encountered musical excellence. More on that later…

On Thursday, I had a session with world-renowned producer, songwriter and percussionist, Narada Michael Walden. Narada’s studio is such a peaceful, warm space, and I so appreciate all of his excellence, encouragement and guidance. You’re beautiful, N!! I love you! : >

Thanks to everyone who came to my shows last week! I was invited to perform with Papa Gianni and the North Beach Band at the most recently opened Caffe Trieste on Piedmont in Oakland on Saturday afternoon. It was just me and the 2 Daves (Sturdevant on guitar and harmonica and Baioni on accordion) in the band, but Papa Gianni and many of the regulars entertained the crowd with stirring renditions of popular Italian-American love songs and classical arias. I was thrilled to see Rev. Lois, Bruce, Tony, Nancy, Alexis, Mandolin and Soriah in the audience, having a good time. Later that night, I joined Kymberly Jackson and the Urban Legends band at Oyster Reef in Oakland. It was a packed house! We entertained two groups of people celebrating high school reunions (from St. Mary’s and Holy Names class of 1984), and my fabulous family members as well! Thanks to William, Carla, Debra, Cecil, Jan and Dwayne, as well as my friends Dwayne, Michelle, Evan, Nancy (2 shows in one day! Yay!!) and Aaron. You all (and of course Kymberly, Brian, CQ and Mark) made it such a fun gig!

On Sunday, my friend and colleague, Amy, and I decided to attend a concert at Yoshi’s SF, featuring the Stanley Clarke Trio. On this occasion, the trio consisted of Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Hiromi Uehara. I’d seen the trio with Chick Corea only 3 weeks before, and with Ruslan Sirota back in March, so I was curious as to what the difference would be. As expected, some of the same pieces were performed as in previous concerts, including “Paradigm Shift” (which I heard with Ruslan on piano), and “3 Wrong Notes” (which I heard with Chick on piano). Each concert was distinctly superlative and beautiful, and tear inducing. At one point in the concert with Ruslan (during “Paradigm Shift”), I cried. I cried during the concert with Chick (on their rendition of “Overjoyed”, by Stevie Wonder), so elated and inspired was I by my piano hero. And in this weekend’s concert, during Hiromi’s solo on “No Mystery”, I cried. Hiromi played with such excellence JOY and emotional connection that the whole room was lifted. I could not contain myself!

I’ve had the chance to meet (and work with) some of the world’s greatest musicians. How utterly awesome is that? I feel compelled to do my very best to achieve my own personal level of excellence in music, body, intellect, compassion, spirit, love, etc. Excellence has been my dictum for most (if not all) of my life. It’s a journey, and I’m loving it!

“I don’t feel no-ways tired. Come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy. I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me!” : > Stay blessed, grateful and beautiful, my friends…

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Lovely Weekend

I had a lovely weekend. My uncle Marcus and aunt Valerie took me to lunch on Friday in celebration of my birthday (yes, I believe in extending the celebration!). Friday evening, I performed at E-22 Café, and felt good about my performance. I was in good voice and had abundant energy, thankfully! Thanks to OD for sitting in and playing congos with me all night! Thanks to Sundra and Amy (who’s performing at the café this Friday – check her out!), as well as Dave, Deborah and Kevin, and Mr. and Mrs. Pascual for coming to see me perform again!

After teaching Saturday morning, I had intended to drive to Sacramento, but thanks to insufficient sleep, didn’t think it wise to make that drive alone. I wanted to go support my niece Naomi in her modeling debut! Naomi was invited to model in a fashion show fundraiser in support of the Keaton Raphael Memorial Foundation, a charity devoted to helping families as the confront childhood cancer. Naomi has been a cover model for KRM and a recipient of their generosity. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I got reports that Ms. Naomi was FIERCE! Knowing my precious angel of a niece as I do, I’m certain that she WORKED the runway! ; >

Saturday night, I was back at Marcello’s in Danville. What a lively house it was this weekend! Familiar faces and new friends enjoyed themselves as I played and sang my usual wide variety of songs. I’ve got to start incorporating some of my own songs into my set list. Maybe I’ll start with 1 or 2 and see how it goes. Thanks to my steadfast supportes Michael and Evie, and Solomon, my new friends Roger, Katie, Calvin, Tina, Dan and his wife (oops, forgot her name…chagrined am I), Matt, Jim, Carro, Gio, John and Linda. I had a great time and hope to see you all again soon!

After working all weekend, I celebrated my birthday again with Amy and her mom Marlene (ah, the celebration continues!). They treated me to lunch and invited me to a movie, but I had to get back into the studio to work on tracks. It’s a busy studio week for me. Last night I finished 2 tracks! 3 more to go before Friday! I’m so happy to be getting back into creative mode after a long, long, long hiatus. : >