Explore at Rockwood Music Hall
Today, I had a double-header. I went out to hear something called “Explore” that a friend – and fellow singer - of mine, Sirintip, invited me to come and check out. It was held at Rockwood 3 – the cool, downstairs vibey place on the LES. The event ran from 5:00 – 8:00, with the first hour being a workshop, the next half hour being live music, and the rest of the time, a jam session. I hadn’t seen Sirintip since she came to Miami in February with GroundUp, and I’m ‘new’ to the city again, so I went.
When I arrived, it was all women (except the sound guy) on stage and in the audience. Pretty cool. That rarely happens on a jazz gig. The first woman to speak, Maria Grand, is a saxophonist. She spoke about the value of letting perfection go both in practice and in performance. I related to this. But I also think its something that one can get too only after hours of painstaking practice and rigor on an instrument. Not that we need to strive to be perfectionists – that I’m totally against – but she was obviously very skilled and had spent many hours mastering her instrument and crafting her voice on it. I wonder if she would have come to the same epiphany had she always been allowed to just ‘explore’ whatever she wanted on the instrument? Can we learn excellence and freedom simultaneously? Or is there some kind of rigor and regimen that is required in order to find ones freedom? Regardless, Maria spoke and played eloquently and it was a really interesting hour.
Following this, Magda Giannikou (Banda Magda) lead a vocal circle song. Imagine 10 complete strangers – all musicians of some kind but none of us knowing what the other did – vocalizing in pairs with random sounds and pitches, all to create a song and drone/ostinato of sorts. For anyone unfamiliar with this, Bobby McFerrin is the master of these improvised vocal circles. Just Google him and the word circle songs – it’ll make sense. I haven’t done one in a while – but it was really fun and felt very free. We all laughed and enjoyed making music together in a dark, homey NYC club. The piece de resistance though, was the final collaborative vocal event where we all sat on the floor or on chairs, closed our eyes and just sang tones – short, long – whatever you felt like – listening to the other women in the room. It was pretty magical.
I had to leave at this point in order to catch my second musical event, but if Sirintip organizes this again, definitely go. Totally worth the $20 and really fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday.
I was pretty excited for this. One, I’d heard about Mezzrow since it opened, but never had the chance to go – either it was something I wasn’t into hearing or the thing I wanted to hear was happening when I was out of town. So, when I saw (on FB) that these two monster piano players were playing the club I’d wanted to check out for a while…well, it was a no brainer.
I reserved tickets online – highly recommended as this place sells out quickly – and walked into this lovely little listening room. Mezzrow has a strict quiet policy, which I very much appreciated. It’s always a bummer to go out to hear music and everyone in the audience is simply there to talk to their friends.
Again, I know the performers. Well, half of them. David Cook is a pianist, producer, music director and bandleader whom I have known for about ten years. He produced my last album and is very kindly and generously producing my upcoming album (we’re in the studio later this week to lay down the first tracks). He’s someone I respect greatly – for his kindness, honesty, and forthrightness, as well as his gorgeous piano playing and arranging. Henry Hey I’d heard about and listened to but never heard live, so I was pretty stoked about hearing him the first time as well.
I wasn’t disappointed. They played grand piano/Rhodes duets for their set – switching instruments for different songs. The first song was an original of Hey’s. The second was the standard Someday My Prince Will Come. The first was fun and I remember it leaving me with an uplifting feeling – unfortunately, the title escapes me, although I know it was some kind of blues. It introduced the audience (most of whom didn’t seem to be huge jazz fans due to the amount of time they spent looking at their phones) Their arrangement of the standard was quirky, rhythmic and at times playful. The melody got passed around, and their improvisations over the form were tasteful and at times you would forget who was who, their playing melded so fabulously.
My favorite tune of the evening was one by Cook, I entitled 80’s TV Theme. A Keith Jarrett inspired tune, this left me laughing, as it certainly could have been the theme song to a television show in the 80’s – but with a soundtrack that was way ahead of it’s time. It meandered through beautiful harmonies and run-on sentence solos – and most definitely captured the essence of a Keith Jarrett composition. It’s a tricky thing to do, actually - to write a tune inspired by another tune but that doesn’t copy or infringe on that artist’s music, still maintains an essence of you (the artist writing the new tune) yet brings something new and inspiring to the table. Cook’s composition did all this and more and the two pianos moving through this melody and harmony, dancing against each other, truly did this tune justice. Overall, this gig was just really fun and if it had been the only thing I’d heard that day, I would have stayed for the second set.
Other things I heard this week – honorable mentions:
Jocelyn Medina at The 55 Bar – great jazz singer. Chill vibe with a lot of Brazilian and Indian influences in her music.
Jeremy Nolar & his group at Fat Cat – mind blowing. There was so much rhythmic complexity going on at this gig that I had to take a few notes and go look up videos online just so see if I could figure out what in the heck was going on. Danceable. Fun. Engaging. Inspiring.