Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Wrap up

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne."
- Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

January is fast upon us, hence, 2009 soon be gone. Of course, I’ve chronicled most of the year's events in my blog, The Musical Life, but for those of you who haven’t been regular readers – hint, hint – I’m offering a concise synopsis…well, that’s my intention as I sit here and type!

The grand theme of the year for me has been two-fold: practice more and start writing again. Of course, given the nature of my work, practice is a necessity, but as is the case with many professional musicians, practice time is often relegated to the fringes of life, because, to put it simply, we don’t get paid (directly) to practice. Student wants a lesson? Yes! I’ll practice later. Someone needs a keyboard player for a gig at the last minute because of a cancellation? Yes! I get to be a hero and save someone’s gig. I’ll practice later. A client wants to hire me to write and/or perform on some tracks? Yes! Someone getting married and needs a pianist? Yes! Someone needs an arrangement of a song? Yes! Anything that will pay and allow me to procrastinate doing the WORK of practicing? Yes! Hey … wait a minute! I finally came to the conclusion that the direct path to the musical freedom I seek is THROUGH practicing, and that I needed to shift my focus, at least for a while. So, here at the end of 2009, I’ve decided to make practice and sleep a priority. How did I come to this decision? Let’s go over the year, in my world….

But first a commercial plug! Here are some upcoming shows:

Sat, Jan 2
8:30pm - 11:30pm
Marcello's Restaurant & Piano Bar
Open mic! Come sing! Bring your instrument! Play a song or two with me
515 San Ramon Valley Boulevard Danville, CA 94526 | 925.838.8144 | map

Fri, Jan 22
6:30pm - 8:30pm
E-22 Café
Open mic! Come sing! Bring your instrument! Play a song or two with me
1366 Powell Street Emeryville, CA 94608-2506 | 510.428.9334 | map

Sat, Jan 23
Kymberly Jackson
Taste of Joy
3909 Grand Avenue Oakland, CA 94610 | 510.891.1443 | map

And, now, back to my reminiscence....

As everyone knows, the US economy has been in shambles since the end of the Bush administration. Starting in August 2008, I personally saw signs of impending financial hardship, and that continued through the beginning of 2009. In all of my professional life, I’ve never seen bookings, students, session work, etc., fall off so badly. Without revealing too much of my personal financial matters, I’ll just say that things were challenging, and I respond accordingly. Many of my students were unable to continue lessons because of family layoffs, lost savings, job transfers, and of course home foreclosures. Everyday, I seemed to hear another story of financial devastation from my clients. Things had gotten so bad for people around me, that I decided it was my duty to be a shining light. I declared to the world that I was going to participate in an experiment: no complaining for 21 days! I heard about the experiment from my yoga teacher in November 2008 (A Complaint Free World), and thought that if I could do it, I might be able to offer encouragement to people facing serious life challenges. So, I tried. Oops. Complained. Tried again. Oops. Complained. Ah well, I’m human. But finally in mid February 2009, I completed my 21 days of no complaining, and I’ve made the practice (without wearing the requisite wrist band) a part of my life. Do I still complain? Of course, but I’m much more aware of when I complain and make a different choice when I catch myself in the act.

As for 2009 highlights, in February 2009, Stevie was a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show (I’ve included links to my blogs where you can find complete details). I didn’t get to meet Ellen, but all of the show staff and guests were friendly and gracious. Later in the month, I performed for the first time with Soprano, Candace Johnson, giving a concert of music featuring works by African-American composers. The concert was a tremendous success! One of these days, we’ll take the show on the road!

In March 2009, I performed in a concert entitled “Music, She Wrote”, featuring works written by the women performing in the concert, including 2 of my own works. We attempted to stage a repeat performance, but unfortunately, one of the women suffered a heart attack and it’s been postponed. It was a beautiful night of music, and I’m looking forward to the repeat when it happens. In March, 2009, I was moved to tears at a Stanley Clarke concert, and was inspired to work on my playing and singing chops by witnessing Esperanza Spalding in concert.

April, 2009 was the month I started performing at one of my regular performance spots: Marcello’s in Danville. I’ve developed a few regular “fans” over the year, and am grateful to all of them, and the owners and staff at Marcello’s for their support, understanding of when I have to leave for tour, and love the fact that so many of my talented friends come out to play and sing with me. It just doesn’t get better than that! See you in 2010!

I gave a lecture at the Oakland School for the Arts in April. I was invited by choral director, Cava Menzies, to speak to studnets in the excellent vocal program and answer questions about my life as a musician. The students were awesome, asked excellent questions and even performed for me!

I also had the chance to finally hear the legendary McCoy Tyner in concert in April 2009. He was in concert with his trio, and guest artist Bobbie Hutcherson. I wish I could say he sounded great, but unfortunately, the sound was terrible that night, and I could barely hear the piano. It was a shame. I’ll have to make a point of going to hear him again…and this time really HEAR him!

May 2009: Journey to Africa! Stevie Wonder took us all to Morocco to perform with him in the Mawazine Music Festival. It was my first time in Africa. I used every free moment to my greatest advantage and did some sight-seeing, made friends with some local Moroccans, learned a tiny bit of Arabic, and even had the exciting adventure of being left behind for a day after everyone else. Read my blog for details on that (multiple entries in May 2009).

A week after my African adventure, I had a Classical adventure: I performed with the Oakland Public Conservatory Chamber Orchestra! I hadn’t performed with an orchestra in many years, so it was a real treat to play pieces by William Grant Still and Aaron Copland.

In June, I celebrated Father’s Day by taking my dad to hear Roberta Flack at Stern Grove. San Francisco is notorious for its cold summers, but this day was absolute perfection! Sunny, warm, a crowd infused with love and music. Ah…

Later in June, Stevie Wonder picked up his tour again, and we traveled to a few US cities. After landing in Kansas City, MO, each of us in the band received a flood of text and voice messages announcing the unexpected: Michael Jackson had died. Michael was approaching the start of his upcoming tour, which included several people I knew second hand (the cousin of a former student, the close friend of one of my close friends, etc.), and I’d been excited for those people if from afar. Stevie was devastated and could not contain his grief in that first concert after the announcement. “The way you make me feel”…Stevie’s favorite MJ song.

At the end of June, we performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival...the biggest crowd I've ever seen. What fun!

In July, August and September 2009, I mostly performed local gigs, traveled to Los Angeles with local artist Kaylah Marin, spent some time with some of my musical mentors, and even auditioned for a commercial (I didn’t get it. Oh well!). I celebrated my birthday in September, going to a movie and to dinner at a few great restaurants (I like to celebrate for a few weeks!). Yum! I’m a serious foodie, so every opportunity to enjoy haute cuisine is a complete joy!

Stevie resumed the tour again in late October 2009, including a performance on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert. I had the opportunity to meet and perform with more legends. Surreal

In October, I was further inspired by a series of superlative performers. I don't often take time off to be a musical spectator, but I'm glad I did on these occascions.

November 2009 brought a return to the Oakland Opera for me. I played keyboard for “Dark River”, an original opera by local composer Mary Watkins. The show nearly sold out for every performance, so I’m hoping it will be run again soon.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, opting to provide entertainment rather than cook. Just to be clear, it’s not for lack of ability. I do a mean Maple Roasted Turkey, and don’t get me started with my vegetable dishes. It’s just finding the time to shop, prepare and then cook is simply more than I can take on in tour season. I needed my rest! : >

Just after Thanksgiving, Stevie Wonder performed in Las Vegas…another first for me. Despite falling a bit ill, I had a great time performing, visiting with friends and family and appreciating the opulence of the town (I’m not a gambler, so I just walked around ooh-ing and ah-ing the sights).

Finally, Stevie’s annual fundraiser, House Full of Toys, was held in mid-December. I had the chance to play with more wonderful artists, and even had my photo taken with the heartthrob band of the moment, The Jonas Brothers.

I celebrated Christmas with my family, and will be celebrating New Year’s with family as well. Thank you to all of my friends who celebrated at Marcello's with me during my holiday themed last performance of the year. Thanks to Ric, Stev, Bruce, Amy, Alexis, Nancy, Michelle and Kyle for sharing their talents, and thanks to Diana, Michael, Evie, Dennis, Reinhard, Solomon, Tim, and Dean for being part of the lovely audience!

In sum, 2009 has been good to me. The exposure I've gained from working with Stevie Wonder has opened many doors for me, most of which I can't reveal at this moment. I've been given more opportunites for musical expansion and growth than I could have ever dreamed. I've decided to shift my focus so that I can be prepared to meet the challenge that these opportunities bring, which requires PRACTICING and COMPOSING at a level similar to what I did in Conservatory. I am a confessed workaholic, but I could and will do more in 2010 do further my own musical development and career. I'm looking forward to the journey!

Not every moment in 2009 has been easy, but I choose to see the good in all things (a friend once told me that, and I agree with her!). I look forward to 2010 being a great year of practice, adequate rest, creation, performance, peace, love, joy, abundance and MUSIC!

Happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Cheer

Recently, a friend asked me what gift he should give someone he rarely speaks to and isn't actually fond of. I couldn't help but think "why bother with a gift at all, then?". He should rather turn the holidays into an opportunity to improve the relationship, and even better, help someone in the world who needs it. So, this season, if you are in a financial position to do so, I encourage you to make a gesture of reconciliation to someone in your life, and then seal it with a donation to a charity!

Here are some of my favorite charities, if you don't have one in mind:

• World Vision
Sponsor a child!

• The Girl Effect
Girls can change the world!

• Amnesty International
Protect Human Rights!

• For All Women
Helping one woman helps her entire community

• The Animal Rescue Site
Compassion for all of God's creatures

• Leukemia Research Foundation
Support Leukemia research!

• Bone Marrow Registry
Save someone's life. Now, that's a gift!

I've decided that it's more important for me to celebrate the holidays this year through genuine demonstrations of love, rather than materialistic and sometimes empty exchanges of "gifts". So, I've asked my close friends and family to (gulp) forego gifts for me and to instead make a charitable donation. More than any gift that I may receive (despite my unfettered joy in receiving), I love the idea that some precious person in the world will receive much needed support, aid, attention, and yes, maybe, a gift instead.

I'm in the midst of preparing my annual holiday newsletter, so keep your eyes open for that!

Happy Holidays! And may every blessing imaginable be yours!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stevie Wonder's House Full of Toys 2009

This past weekend Stevie Wonder hosted his annual House Full of Toys Concert in Los Angeles, at the Nokia. Every year, Stevie invites other high profile artists to participate in this worthy charitable event, and everyone comes together to create a great show for the audience all in the name of raising funds to provide holiday gifts for low-income children. This year was no different.

I flew to Los Angeles Friday morning, and after doing some practicing in my hotel room, was driven to the rehearsal space in Burbank. The band, including guest guitarist, Paul Jackson, Jr., spent virtually the entire day learning arrangements for a series of artists. Rickey Minor was our designated music director, and kept things moving along, fun and energetic even as the hours extended past the initial end time…and then further! Thankfully, I was able to get a good night’s rest Friday night, especially since, having done this event twice before, I knew perfectly well how intense Saturday would be.

On Saturday, the band arrived at the venue at 2:30pm, and shortly thereafter, we were in rehearsal. Many of the guest artists were not able to attend rehearsal, but the band certainly appreciated those who could! First up, the Jonas Brothers.

Honestly, I have to confess that I had never heard any of their music, and only was aware of them as a “Tween” boy band with a massive fan base. After learning three of their songs (S.O.S., Lovebug and Burnin’ Up - a medley with Superstition), and having met them, I’m now a fan! All three of the brothers were adorable (ok, maybe not the word young men of their age group want to hear…but they were!), personable, and courteous, and worked closely with the band. No egos at all! It’s wonderful to see such a successful musical act with musicians who aren’t arrogant and off putting! After the rehearsal, which went perfectly, the brothers, Nick, Joe and Kevin, shook each of our hands, introduced themselves (by name, thankfully…of course I didn’t know their names…oops!), and thanked us. And, further, during their set, they gave a shout out to the band.

Next to rehearse with us was India Arie. I’ve been a fan of India Arie for many years, and have both met her and performed with her several times, but I am always impressed by her musicianship and lovely demeanor. We went over a few songs, and all headed off to get dressed for the show.

The show was fun! Each artist performed 2-3 songs, most of which we were prepared to do, though in true Wonder style, there were plenty of surprises! The other artists included the winner of Stevie's Young Singer competition, sponsored by his radio station, KJLH, Trijean, the incredible a capella group, Mosaic, Michel’le, 3T (singing to a track), Robin Thicke, Ledisi (hometown girl and my friend), Kimberly Brewer (my angel-voiced friend and occasional band-mate) and the incomparable Mary Mary. Michel’le opened the guest artist segment with her 1989 hit “No More Lies” and a new song that isn’t yet released. Robin performed “Magic” and his 2006 hit “Lost Without You”, including a rubato intro that I played with him. That was fun because I love that song! Kimberly sang her Christmas hit with Stevie “I Love You More”, and sounded as lovely as ever. Kimberly was a tremendous source of support for me when I was hired to tour with Stevie, and has one of the most beautiful voices around. Ledisi sang an unbelievable version of “Silent Night”. Her voice always has been, and continues to be utterly, and ridiculously amazing. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite singers, and a vocal inspiration for me. As are Erica and Trecina Campbell, better known as Mary Mary. I’ve been a Mary Mary fan since their debut CD, Thankful, and I was thrilled to be performing with them. They sang a Christmas song with their regular pianist, who was incredible, and then performed their latest hit “God In Me” with the band, me playing rhodes. Wow.

During India Arie’s set, she took the band on a musical journey. Just as with Stevie, India is moved by spirit and her performance reflected the kind of spontaneity and passion that I’ve grown to love performing with Stevie. We were set to perform “The Truth” and “Brown Skin” (I played rhodes on both), but we played much more than those two songs, including Stevie and India singing a very cool, up-tempo R&B version of "The Christmas Song". What fun!

Of course, the audience made the loudest noise, most squeals and responded most enthusiastically for the Jonas Brothers. As soon as Stevie introduced them, the audience went wild. The brothers walked on stage, gave a great, high-energy performance, and we all had fun. I was positioned directly behind the guys, so I’m sure that I’m in hundreds of Jonas Brothers photos across cyber-space.

Throughout the evening, Stevie sang various holiday songs, including "Ave Maria" with me playing a harp sound. I was so busy reading the score (yes, I read it...I know, I know... I should have that memorized, but I didn't want to take a chance on making an error), that I didn't even notice the camera fixed on my hands. People in the audience told me that the image on screen toggled between Stevie and my hands, and that my hands looked beautiful as they moved across the keys. Very cool...

After the show, I took photos with journalist Tavis Smiley and India Arie. I had hoped to meet Mary Mary, but it'll have to be another time.

Me, Tavis Smiley, Lanesha Baca

Me, India, Lanesha

Happy holidays to everyone involved with the production and hope to see you next year! Be sure not to miss the next show. It’s always great entertainment for an even greater cause.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cold Weather & Hot Music!

Is this really California? Low 40s in San Leandro? Snow in Modesto? Given the (relatively) frigid temperatures, I didn’t expect much of a turn out for my gigs this past weekend, but I was pleasantly surprised! It was a good weekend…

On Friday, I visited The Zoo, a new recording facility in Oakland, run by a few notable Oakland movers and shakers, including former Google engineer David Watson, Namane Mohlabane (manager and brother to singer Goapele), and others. What an amazing facility! It’s a space, conveniently located in an industrial section of Oakland near Jack London Square, that combines music, art, high tech and businesss saavy, encouraging collaboration across the disciplines. If you’re looking for a space to be creative, check it out!

After being inspired at The Zoo, I performed at E-22 CafĂ©, of course donning my Santa cap. I included a few Christmas songs in the set, as well as a bit more jazz than usual. As I performed, I started thinking that it’s way past time for me to upgrade my keyboard set up. I’ve had the same set up for many years, and I’ve grown weary of it. I’m grateful for the many performances that it’s gotten me through, but I can’t take it much longer. The sounds have grown irritating, the keys don’t feel good in my hands, and the entire set up feels desperately inadequate. Sigh… Nonetheless, I had fun playing and singing for everyone. Thanks to Jefrrey S., Wayne and Tim for listening, to Dale for playing percussion, to Bruce, Dwayne, Brad, Nina, Adrienne and Atiana for singing, to Steve for playing flute (the Mozart was fun!), and to Jeffrey M. for the superb tap dancing! You’re a GREAT dancer!! Wow! By the way, to all of you classical musicians, I LOVE to sight-read, and no challenge is too great for me to attempt (I’m rather fearless, musically)! So come to a gig and sit in! Let’s play through some masterworks!

On Saturday night, despite a rather cold and blustery evening, I had another great turnout at Marcello's Restaurant! I tried out a couple of Christmas songs that I’d just learned, most of which worked well. Thank you to Dale for playing percussion, to Bruce, Nina, Mayzella, Chelsea, Larry, Michael, Brad and Regina for singing with me! And kudos to Chelsea for playing piano and singing while I took my break! You’re awesome, lady! Bruce always brings down the house, and anyone who knows Regina, knows that she can’t help but be exceptional. The crowd was blown away with the talent of my wonderful friends, and my heart was filled with love and joy at seeing their beautiful faces and hearing their tremendous talent. I love you all!

On Sunday, I performed at 1300 Restaurant with Michael Cheadle for their Gospel Brunch. Michael is a singer whose talent I’ve admired since high school when we both were in the Young Musicians Program. What a pleasure to perform with him and his very talented daughter Mickala Cheadle, as well as the other guys in the band: Dante McClinton, drums, Cedricke Dennis, guitar, Nelson Braxton, bass. Everyone in the band exemplifies why I’m so blessed to be in the Bay Area. They’re consummate professionals, excellent musicians, and all around GOOD PEOPLE! People of the Bay Area! I encourage you to get out and support local musicians. We have more than our fair share of world-class musicians in this region. Many of us, like myself, get called away to work with Superstars, but we often come home and revisit our musical roots. Make it a goal to get out at least once a month and hear live music. I’d love to see you in my audience, but even if the performance doesn’t include me, I hope you allow yourself the opportunity to take advantage of the musical cornucopia that waits in abundance for listening ears. You won’t be disappointed!

Speaking of musical abundance, I attended Goapele’s concert at Yoshi’s SF last night, the last of an 8 show run. Despite my fatigue from working all weekend (teaching, practicing, rehearsing, performing, etc.), I did not want to miss an opportunity to listen to Goapele, Mike Aaberg, Errol Cooney, Stanley Randolph and Dewey Tucker. Goapele sounded great! Her voice was clear, warm and beautiful, and her background singer, Erica King, was also excellent, and blended perfectly with Goapele’s. The guys in the band rocked the house! Errol and Stanley are my band mates in the Wonder band, Mike is a Bay Area legend on the keys, and Dewey is awesome on bass, so I knew to expect incredible musicianship. My expectation was definitely met! The grooves were ridiculously strong, and I was virtually dancing in my seat the entire show. Oh, and, Goapele, Mike, Errol and Dewey all have Bay Area claim. ‘Nuf said…

And for you animal lovers, a video of my dogs sleeping:
Sleeping Dogs

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Victoria Theodore Christmas

My Christmas CD is available for online purchase!

Download CD:
CD Baby

Purchase physical copy:
CD Baby

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!