It shouldn't matter. It really shouldn't matter and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it does. Today I learned legendary jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is white and my head feels light as I navigate disorientation and re-read the words. I hadn't planned to Google Keith Jarrett today but was inspired to learn more about the man who in a very real sense inspired me to love jazz back in the 70s as a teenager living in Germany with my mom and siblings. Prior to hearing Jarrett's music, I'd met black jazz musicians living and performing in Europe through my mom, an elementary school principal in the Department of Defense School System, and her bohemian friends -- some fellow teachers and others just passing through. I'd listen to these musicians jam and they produced sounds very different from those I'd known as a black Catholic in Richmond, VA. I can safely say, my world was devoid of jazz before moving to Europe. It wasn't in our home or other homes I knew. It wasn't in my school or church and I didn't hear it on the radio.
Ironically, given the United States gave birth to jazz, moving to Germany changed all that for me little by little. The white parents of my best friend were jazz lovers and some of the black jazz musicians I met in the early 70s hung out at their home. Folks like Charles Jefferson, a gifted trumpeter from Seattle and Ernie Butler, who played tenor sax, often dropped by and sometimes pulled out their instruments. Charles was married to my music teacher Sueellen and they were the first interracial couple I'd ever laid eyes on. Charles was a "cool cat" -- light-browned skin, slight frame, huge fro, sometimes wearing a dashiki and shades, whose voice sounded as smooth as the tones he made jump from his trumpet. As a budding songwriter, I could not help but be influenced by these new sounds and the folks who made them.
Almost 40 years later, I can't remember how I learned about or got hold of Keith Jarrett's 1975 live jazz piano masterpiece, The Koln Concert, but it was transcendent. I'd never heard anything so beautiful and yet primal, including the grunts and other noises Jarrett made as he played. I was hooked. Jarrett had made this music not far from my home and he looked like he could be Charles Jefferson's brother -- same complexion, same fro. I'm not sure how many times I listened to The Koln Concert in my last 2 years of high school but it was one of the treasures that came with me when I returned to the US for college. The Koln Concert inspired me to explore other Jarrett works and through my college years I came to associate him with other jazz greats like Herbie Hancock -- that rare breed of gifted black musician as comfortable in rock, gospel, R&B and classical. I just assumed Jarrett was black and though largely unconsciously, that fact somehow made him a role model in my efforts to defy genre in the music I write.
Of course my love for Jarrett's music is no less now that I know he's white. But this recent experience reinforces for me how important role models can be in the lives of our youth. Would I still be writing music had I known in the 70s Jarrett was white? I'd like to think so and I'd also like to think I'd be as adventurous with my music. But I don't know, I'll never know. And I guess that's the point.
Sandy grew up in Southern California and started drumming at age 12. After forming a band with friends at 13 he knew music was what he wanted to do in life and never looked back. At 16, he Iearned the elements of jazz and mixed with a rock background, formed a love for creating music with new horizons. In the early 90's he relocated to the Pacific Northwest and stays busy playing, recording and teaching. In addition to PAULA BOGGS BAND, of which he’s been a member since 2007, Sandy works with many singer-songwriters in Seattle and is often busy working in the studio. He’s played shows all over the US and some in Canada and leads a jazz group called Urban Improv. Sandy also plays with Seattle Central Jazz Orchestra and Mach One Jazz Orchestra, one of Seattle's top big band ensembles.
As we gear up to release a new record in 2014 of course burning questions include where to tour and how to give the best show? I thought Austin was a natural --lived there 5 years, it's a music town, etc. Our recent trip was a great learning experience about the where and how:
1. The marketing formula works but not always. We've had success in cities beyond Seattle -- Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York, New York -- through a combination of social media exposure/marketing, tapping into networks -- HS, college and law school alum, business, lawyers, associations I or other band members are connected with, etc, tying our performance to speaking engagements, at least 1 favorable blog/article and word of mouth. We weren't able to get that traction in Austin though the 50 or so folks at The Belmont dug the music and had a good time. Lesson: we need to refine our list of tour cities. 2. When you ask people to dance, they often will. Our encore was "The Way You Look Tonight" and when we urged folks to dance, they did! I could have done that earlier in the show -- lesson learned. 3. Opening bands can set a great tone. I thought The Belmont did a good job pairing us with local Austin band Rixon. Their music was different than ours but upbeat, sophisticated and well played. It was also not so different to cause something akin to sonic whiplash. 4. Stuff always happens in a show...deal with it. We couldn't play one of the band's favorite songs -- Lenny -- because of my guitar's warped neck. After a couple attempts to tune the darn thing unsuccessfully we moved on -- the right answer for our crowd and show flow. 5. There's always another show. You gotta keep getting on the horse so this Saturday I plan to do 2-3 songs solo at a local open mic.
We've been at it awhile now. The band started recording July 22 at Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, WA, a half hour drive on a good day and a lifetime away from bustling Seattle. Time stills at Bear Creek, a repurposed barn that evokes Americana and all that's good. For 10 days we tuned, retreated to boxes aka sound booths, played and replayed songs and their parts, nursed egos as instruments and voices were chosen...or not by intrepid producer Jonathan Plum -- going through his own "thing" as he did what he did at a rival's studio. We got through it with a little drama but lots of joy and since August 1 we've been laying down overdubs and vocals at Jonathan's palace aka legendary London Bridge Studios.
Exhausted but determined, most of what we need is done before passing the baton to veteran mixing engineer Josiah Gluck. Right now it's all about the small stuff that when added together makes big stuff. Too many strings? A flat note or mispronounced word? Too much vibrato? Not enough congas? Too flat? A hundred decisions swirling now will hopefully lead to something special. Stay tuned! 🎶
"It's not good enough," said the producer. " I don't know what you're saying." I wasn't quite prepared for this reaction because I wrote the song 7 years ago and performed it for almost as long. Moreover, many of my band members say it's their favorite song. So, yes, I was a little taken aback. But then I remembered why I hired this guy -- he's one of the best in town and it's his job to hear things I can't or won't. After a deep breath, I was ready to listen and read the chorus. And he helped me. We started reworking the chord progression -- a little less jazz, a little more "accessible" and making it longer.
We started with me playing the chords agreed on with made up words and a melody I created on the fly. He liked it so now it's time for homework: I need to write a new chorus based on the new chord progression and melody. I've never done this before and delayed for a couple days before tackling my assignment.
I started with:
"Where's it gonna go? Honey I don't know. It's a strain of Coltrane Sands in the hourglass..."
My local Starbucks served as perfect host as I settled in with a little lunch, Klipsch headphones and a MacBook Pro. I started with John Coltrane. What more could I say about him in the context of this song? After refreshing myself on Coltrane's story, and a couple false starts, I decide to work with the lines in tandem rather than separately. I then google and read about "hourglasses" before returning to the verses and story I hoped to tell when it all comes together. The story is about "dangerous attraction" so the chorus needs to put a fine enough point on it for the listener. My old chorus failed that test -- and helpfully I could see that now.
With work and a little serendipity, here's where I ended up:
'Where's it gonna go? Honey I don't know. It's a strain of Coltrane -- raw emotion -- free fall jazz. Every moment with you leans forward then snaps back. A bolero of human circumstance, doing a dance that has no chance, You and me are just sand in an hourglass.'
Though I'm not sure that's the "last word" on "Traces of You's" chorus, I do know I've grown as a songwriter by having someone challenge me to leave my comfort zone and "do better."
As a birthday present to "me" I decided to spend a week on Big Island, Hawaii focused on yoga, reading, learning more about the ukelele and just being good to myself. It's a little after 7am and I've just woken...my first morning at Kalani Retreat near Pahoa on the East Coast. It's the first 8 hour sleep I've had in awhile and besides my little too loud ringtone alarm there's a cacaphony of nature singing outside my door -- whistles, caw-caws and an ocean's rumble just steps away.
It took almost 3 hours to get here from Kona -- along mostly winding and rural roads -- driving almost 2 hours before seeing my first McDonald's -- one road deadends and then you take a left and at the T you take another left before reaching Kalani -- between mileposts 18 and 17 on the left. It's sorta metaphoric how many lefts one has to take to get here.
My cabin is charming and off the cell phone grid though I do get spotty "OVI" -- ocean view -- wireless on my MacBook Pro. Guess I'll need to read a book!
Gotta go -- breakfast is from 7:30-8:30 and I'm hoping for great coffee, KONA of course.
Every now and then a special campaign hits us here at posterGIANT, like working with Paula Boggs to announce her bands upcoming gig at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle. There are a lot of great bands in the Seattle music scene, so what makes the Paula Boggs Band special? Let us count the ways. To start with, everything their front woman touches turns to gold. Paula has worked at the Pentagon and The White House, was the Executive Vice President at Starbucks Coffee and worked on President Obama’s second presidential campaign. She sits on the board for the American Red Cross, the School of Rock and KEXP. It’s pretty safe to say she’s had the career success that every college student dreams of, and most recently she has devoted her time to writing her memoir, and working with her band to release their second CD and gear up for their upcoming national tour.
Listening to Paula talk about her band mates and their music is inspiring. There’s so much respect and consideration for each person and their talent, it’s hard to not get excited about getting to know the band better and seeing their styles blend LIVE at the Nectar Lounge on Wednesday May 8th!
Tickets for this great show can be purchased here: http://tktwb.tw/12jkMez See you there!
I don't usually like airports. Even with "Pre Check" - a nifty invention allowing me to breeze through security without removing shoes or bagging 3 ounce liquids, the stale air, harried faces and overall hassle is usually a total turnoff as I get to and from Seattle, a less than ideal hub.
My recent 24 hour turn-around trip to DC started like most: the alarm rings way too early, "no, I really don't need makeup," the 40-minute drive to SEATAC and navigating the boarding pass/luggage/security boogie. So I was surprised to turn a corner and spot former colleague Martin Coles gathering his belongings. “Martin!” “Paula!” I’d not seen Martin since he’d left Starbucks and didn’t know but hoped he was well. Martin was fit, happy and now CEO of a small company. We talked for 5 minutes and I left him with joy as I contrasted this “new” Martin with the one I’d last known.
Meeting Martin was only the first of four serendipitous airport encounters over the next 24 hours. Upon landing in DC and pausing to check email I heard my name called – it’s a dear friend, Margaret McKeown, who’d just attended the US Supreme Court arguments in the DOMA/marriage equality case, heading back to San Diego where she lives and works as a federal judge. Through Margaret I got a second-hand front row seat to this historic argument and we also brought each other current on life and family.
The next day after conducting business in DC I’m at Reagan International Airport and pause before retrieving my boarding pass. I look up, focus, and mutter to myself – geez that guy looks like Rob Porcarelli…”Rob!?” And it is. Rob used to work for me, is a fellow Hopkins grad and veteran, and I just love being around him. I hadn’t seen Rob since leaving SBUX a year ago and in a word, it was a “treat” spending a few minutes with him before we headed back to Seattle on different airlines.
Seeing Martin, Margaret and Rob though could not prepare me for what happened next. I’m at O’Hare now and waiting my turn to board when a man next to me says, “did you speak at SBUX annual meeting last year?” When I say “yes,” Doug Lo introduces himself, tells me he loved my remarks, we know several folks in common and he shares his emotion in being a friend of Seattle leader Cheryl Chow – at the time living her final moments. I am moved beyond words, grateful for the encounter and reminded afresh how fragile life can be and how precious true friends are. Somehow, I’ll never think of airports quite the same.
With only days before "Ides of March" -- anniversary of Julius Caesar's death, inspiration for Shakespeare's famous quote and gateway to Spring -- I've been reflecting on 2013 so far and what it can be. Musically I'm trying to up my game by learning some cool new stuff on electric guitar and working with master voice coach Robert Lunte. And, a few weeks ago brought our first major personnel change. Brian Miller, band bass player for over 6 years -- hugely talented, great guy and good friend -- now follows a new and different muse so we've welcomed Jeff Volkman, an amazing musician.
Band chemistry can be fragile, but I think Jeff's got huge talent, great work ethic and is low maintenance...in other words, perfect.
Next steps: choose a producer and studio for upcoming record, lock down a couple Seattle-area gigs, polish the newer songs and write a few more.
Stay tuned and don't forget to smell those Spring roses.
Upon realizing I'd be in Dallas rather than LA on Grammys Night, I sprung into action to RSVP for a Texas Chapter party after checking in with amazing Denton, TX (30 miles north of Dallas) guitarist and sometimes Paula Boggs Band sub Robert Gomez to see if he'd go with me. Two years ago I was in Atlanta on Grammys night and had a blast so knew what was possible.
Well Dallas didn't disappoint. Country singer Easton Corbin opened at Gilley's -- The Loft, a cool bar and music venue not far off I-35. Robert and I got there around 6:20pm and everyone was really polite...even the guy helping us park the car.
After checking in and receiving our red ID wrist bands, I spotted some empty seats at a table not far from the stage and a mega-screen so quickly introduced myself to the folks already there. They included a guy who'd won a Grammy in the 80s for gospel from Atlanta, his Dallas girlfriend and an indie rock trombonist from Cedar Park just north of Austin.
Easton Corbin played a stripped down acoustic set and entertained the crowd well for 30 minutes before the show kickoff. The food was tasty and the folks serving it seemed happy to be there.
Once the show began, with TVs throughout the club, the Grammys crowd turned its attention to LL Cool J and onscreen activity. During the commercial breaks the hosts quizzed us with Grammys trivia. Not sure what it says about us but both Robert and I won Grammys blankets -- that is, the prize, from answering some arcane question correctly before anyone else.
I was happy to see Mumford & Sons and Frank Ocean win, Elton John perform with Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys with Maroon 5. On the flip side, Adele again, really? And, I didn't get Carrie Underwood's projector-aided gown. Personally, I'd love to see more jazz, folk, blues, Americana and real rock on the televised show but again, maybe that's just me.
All in all, it was a great evening. I got to hang out with some of the "beautiful people" of Dallas/Austin, Robert and I reconnected, I made a couple new friends/contacts and hey, I've now got my very own Grammys blanket!