Tag Archives: music

Getting ready for 2013

It’s been quite awhile since my last blog entry.

So much has happened. Probably the hardest to bare has been the loss of my dear friend and mentor Johnnie Bassett back in August. I think of Johnnie daily, I really miss him and there was so much I had hoped we could do together. I am working on a collection of written remembrances and there are plans for some tribute events. I can’t say I’m ready to play all of the music again yet. I am truly lucky for the time I had with him but I never realized how little I actually had left. It has changed the way I view however much time I time left on this earth and the relationships that I have. I will value the special ones all that much more, we never know how much time we left with someone we love. It’s important to enjoy every moment.

In lighter news I’m happy to announce that The Brothers Groove are going to begin a weekly residence on Thursday nights at Northern Lights Lounge (660 W. Baltimore Detroit, MI). The large club has a cozy atmosphere with a pro-sound system and stage, leather lined booths, a shuffleboard table , a well stocked bar, and a kitchen that’s open late. We begin on January 3, 2013 at 9pm. The band has been rehearsing new original material and re-working the materials of others. I’m looking forward to having many great nights of music and fun along with special guests routinely dropping in to jam with the band. Make sure you put it on your radar! I want to see your face in the place.


In January of 2013 I’m going to begin private instruction at the Detroit School of Rock and Pop in Royal Oak.

There will be more details to follow shortly. You can contact the school directly if you are interested in setting up lessons.


That’s all for now. I’ll post more details about upcoming shows and projects soon.

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I can hear the difference

I can hear it when it’s a fake organ, or a fake wurlitzer or Rhodes or whatever. It’s not the same thing. I can hear the non-Hammond percussion tone generator by Trek in my Hammond C2 and I can tell it’s not the same as a classic B3 hammond designed and installed percussion generator. I wish it was. It’s subtle and it bothers me.  It’s passable and most people think it sounds really good. But I can hear the difference.It detracts from my enjoyment of playing the instrument.

I’ve been overtly critical of recordings with bad organ sounds. It’s hard not to, they just sound really bad.  I’m kind of a nut when it comes to really listening to something. That’s how you learn to become a better musician and it even seems a better human. You really listen. 

I can hear the piano sample fart out in most keyboards while I’m playing. And sometimes I can’t hear the notes at all like in the mid to high octave of the Yamaha piano sample on my Nord Stage 88 a keyboard that I’ve owned for about five years. “Where does the note go?” I often think while I’m playing it. I’ve got a good line and the note disappears in the fray of sound around me. It doesn’t cut through and it takes me out of the moment of creating because I can’t hear myself and it’s made me think of something other than the music I’m making. 

Over the last week I was able to play two really fine Steinway pianos at both Cliff Bell’s and at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. As a keyboard player most of the time I soldier away at my role in the music business war on either my Nord Stage 88 or Yamaha Motif ES7. I play emulation of keyboards I own like the Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hammond, Piano, etc. and some basic meat and potato synth stuff. But I rarely get to play a fine piano. I’m fortunate enough to have an early 20th Century Chickering to practice on at home and it’s decent but it ain’t a Steinway. It made a huge difference in my performance and enjoyment. I can hear the difference. I just with I could afford the difference.

I can hear it when a guys been practicing a lot. I dare say I can hear it when a guy’s been practicing too much and I can hear it when they ain’t been playing at all. There’s a time to step away from the instrument and have some life experience’s too. Maintain and develop your chops but don’t close yourself off to non-musical human contact and relationships. Go ride a bike or take a walk once in awhile. Read a book. Hug somebody. Listen to what someone else has to say for a moment. Especially someone older and more experienced. Time and time again it seems that the people who I really enjoy listening to are also very genuine, diversely educated, warm and engaging and this often comes through in their music and even beyond that in their personal presence. You could say I enjoy those who have cultivated their human side and allow it to permeate their music. 

I dread being in the audience or worse onstage and witnessing a musician continuously display chops (scales, patterns, licks, etc.) and very little in the way of emotion, development, interaction, timing, restraint, and space in chorus after chorus on every tune. They showboat forever never noticing that they’ve lost the audience and perhaps their fellow musician’s with their extended trip to solo heaven. Get in get out and get on with it.

The best improvisers, performers and entertainers are those who actually take the music somewhere and thereby bring the band and the audience with them. 

That’s what I believe we need to be striving for as musicians and performers. Engaging the music, your band members, the audience, and the space you’re in at the moment. Can you hear the difference? Have you listened? 

….and on that note I’ll be discussing the merit’s of taping oneself in an upcoming post.

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Practicing tip #1

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

(wait for it) Practice, Practice Practice!”

It’s an old joke but it’s true. There’s so much to practice. Where does one start? We all have a finite amount of time to practice, and it’s important to get the most out of the time you spend at the instrument. In an effort to help both efficiency and proficiency and in the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to share a few tips I’ve found helpful in honing my musical skills. I’ll share more in upcoming posts so if you like what you read here, sign up for more by pressing the follow button at the bottom of the page.

1. Always practice with a metronome. A lot of people resist this concept for whatever reason. Perhaps they feel it ‘limits their freedom” or that it’s “too restricting” or something of that ilk. Please, do yourself a favor and forget those statements. They are not true. Having ‘good time’ is an essential (and perhaps overlooked) element of being a good musician. The best way to develop and strengthen your internal pulse is to practice with a constant, steady and unchanging beat. I can almost hear some of  you say you can’t stand sound the ‘tick tick tick’ of your grandmother’s metronome, or the annoying chirp of an electric model. I hear you, and I feel your pain. If the sound of the metronome drives you nuts I’ve got some solutions. There are many metronomes and metronome applications for smart phones (I use Frozen Ape’s Tap Tempo for the iPhone) that allow you to change the sound of the pulse. Or try practicing along with a drum machine, software synth or a loop. It can be more inspiring than just a steady quarter note pulse. There are lots of cool loops in different styles  in programs like Garageband and there are plenty of free loops on the web. I’ve also found band-in-the-box to be a lot of fun for practicing. I like using a drum machine because it’s easy to change the tempo and you can’t often mute out a distracting or annoying sounds right from the controls. Or you can create your own patterns. Something to keep in mind when using electronic beat makers; make sure that the beats are simple enough that they don’t get in the way of the material that you’re practicing.

The metronome I've been using for years....

1a. Start playing the material you’re trying to learn a little slower than you want to play it at first. Yes, SLOWER. S-L-O-W-E-R. SLOW IT DOWN!!! Your ego will get in the way and say “I can play this fast right now, I don’t wanna play slow” and I admire your enthusiasm and your confidence! But all too often I hear rushed tempos, notes and passages that reveal that the performer has not spent the proper amount of time with the material. Learning a lick or pattern slowly and then gradually increasing the tempo by a few B.P.M (beats per minute) at a time after you’re able to play the material solidly, confidently and with assurance is the best way to get a difficult passage under your fingers. To the impatient mind this can be a maddeningly slow process but it truly is the best way I’ve found to improve one’s playing. I’m certainly not advocating robotic, metronomic playing on the stage but it’s a essential tool to work with during your practice time. As your sense and awareness of time as a constant becomes stronger you will be able to push or pull against the beat and that’s when the fun really begins. Why is it that you can play a transcription of a great solo and still not sound like the artist who played it? Part of what makes the greats great is there “time” and “feel” and the way that they played the notes made you feel something.

One compliment I’ve gotten from other players over my career is about my “time” or “feel.” I’ve made a point of practicing with a metronome when I first started to get into playing jazz. Before that I didn’t really like to use it. I thought it was a restriction. I was wrong. It’s been an essential part of developing my feel for walking bass lines with my left hand and being able to comp or solo with my right while playing Hammond organ. I think having “good time” is a truly important element that is often overlooked in the “I can play everything faster and better than you” mindset. (I also think that having a “good time” while playing is often undervalued as well…but that’s a topic for another post.) If you’re not using a metronome in your practice regime I suggest you give it a chance and watch what happens. (Yes, you can turn the metronome off during rubato passages you’re playing, but if you’re playing music with a pulse, use a metronome so you can be in the groove!)

I hope this helps your playing and I’d love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have, so leave a comment if you like. (A note to young musicians with minimal time commitments. Practice as much as you can right now. I’m here to tell you it get’s harder to find the time to practice as much as you once could as life hands you more responsibilities.)

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‘Concert of Colors’ performance by The Brothers Groove video now available on the web!

On Saturday July 17, 2011 James Simonson, Skeeto Valdez and myself (better known as The Brothers Groove) along with special guest Dino Lewis on percussion performed at Orchestra Hall in Detroit Michigan as part of the ‘Concert of Colors’ produced in part by Don Was.  I was pleased to be asked to participate in the event and it was a rare treat and an honor for me to perform on the stage of such a beautiful and historic venue. The feeling of walking out on stage to perform that night was really special. That room has some serious “vibe” and the crowd was definitely showing us some love. It took a few moments for us to settle into our groove because the onstage mix was not what we were expecting. We did not get a soundcheck so each us had to deal with a less than ideal monitoring situation. We quickly adjusted our attitudes and focused on ‘doin’ the thing.’

The video of our performance just became available today on Don’s channel and the audio and video are top notch. It’s definitely one of the best looking/sounding live performances of The Brothers Groove that has been captured and made available to the public at large. We’re doing a song wrote a few years ago entitled “unavoidable.” I’ve been a fan of the band ‘Was not Was’ since my teens especially their weirder stuff  like “Dad I’m in Jail” (plus there’s a lot of Detroit talent on those records.) I also love Don’s production work with the B-52’s, Dylan and the Rolling Stones. It was a great treat to be able to meet him and perform for him.  I also look forward to seeing what he’ll be doing at Blue Note records. I know a group or two that he should check out…


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Part Quatre (my last two days in Paris)

Before leaving Paris I had to see the Eiffel tower in person and set out on Friday afternoon. After consulting my Timeout iphone app  I took a direct but slightly out of the way route. After passing up and downhill through narrow streets lined by five story classic hotels. I passed boutiques and furniture shops as well as a Lamborghini dealership and numerous scooter sales/repair shops that all take up residence on the first level of many of these buildings. I came down a hill and through a park and saw the Eiffel tower through the trees from across the river. It’s really quite impressive to see in person. It ‘towers’ above the landscape. I took shots as I crossed the bridge in the warm afternoon sun and saw hundreds of tourists all taking photos at marveling at this amazing structure. There were little booths selling gellato, sandwiches, and various trinkets as well as beret topped, assault rifle armed, young French men in camouflage making sure everybody was…cool.

I walked under the tower and peered up into the immense iron work and was truly impressed. There were people traveling up and down it’s four legs in elevators, carts, and stairs like ants climbing up and down an immense iron ant-hill. The lines were too long for me so I milled around underneath and around the tower. I listened to some young musicians who were drawing a crowd then walked through the gardens enjoying the afternoon sun and taking the pictures of at least three people who wanted to be captured in front of the tower. I decided to head back to the hotel via the metro and grabbed some dinner before getting ready for the show.

On a side note I highly recommend the timeout guide (even though they slightly poo-pooed the club we played at because they tended to hire too many American musicians…) I sent it to all of the guys in the band who use iOS devices (which is most of them) and they all seemed to find it useful. It contains a great city map that works with your GPS and saves you on roaming and data fees big time. I used it to navigate around the city on the cheap. I could brandish my tech/navigational wand at will which gave me the confidence to navigate the streets assuredly as well as use the metro system effectively. And I speak/read/understand a bit of French so that helps a lot as well. Not like walking around in Russia and trying to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet, but that’s for another blog entry. Here’s a link it’s free in the app store http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/paris-travel-guide-time-out/id403959017?mt=8

Friday’s show was decent but I don’t think we really achieved full lift off until Saturday night. The management had opened up the back wall of the club to allow for the additional seating needed to accommodate the full house that was seated before the stage. Johnnie was feeling a little under the weather and he let me know before we hit the stage. I told him the equivalent of “man let’s just have a good time and play some music” and we did. The crowd was giving us love and we were giving it back to them. The staff told us they enjoyed us and we were all talking about coming back soon. We hit the cafeteria to grab a few last items off of our meal cards before turning them in at the bar. I tried to lay down to get some sleep and was very tired. I flipped through the channels and found some swinging Ella Fitzgerald live in the 60’s. I relaxed and was ready to fall asleep so I turned off the TV because as tired as I was I couldn’t sleep when hearing such good music. I couldn’t fall out and turned the TV on. James Brown was on and the band was cooking. I think it was the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1981? I couldn’t sleep to that so I just made sure I had packed everything and got ready to come back home. We gathered in the lobby and loaded into the two vans which took us through the crowded freeways (On early Sunday morning!) to the airport. Shout out to John Rutherford for stepping in with Johnnie Bassett and the ticket agent with the AFM letter/agreement with the TSA granting musicians the ability to bring an instrument with them as carry on luggage. Be sure to keep your baggage under 40 lbs. to avoid gouging overweight fees. A Sony Playstation 3 was available in the waiting area and I was watching a guy play what appeared to be the latest version of the ‘Burnout’ car racing game series. I got to play a few games and was impressed by the graphics. It helped pass of the time I’d have to wait before I returned home.

The flight was long. It’s always longer coming back home for some reason. For one thing there’s daylight forever. And your less likely to fall asleep or doze off, especially when there are screaming babies on board. There were a few moments during the trans Atlantic flight that I thought I might go stir-crazy and had to remind myself it would be over soon. Being 6’5” and +/- 215lbs I’m not exactly comfortable in a coach seat. Bill Heid was really on to something when he coined it “the flying jail cell.” I did watch the latests installment of the Pirates of The Caribean franchise with Johnny Depp. I really enjoy these films, I think Depp does a great job. Simonon says Depp based his character on Keith Richards. (Which reminds me I want to check out his autobiography soon.)

We arrived in North Carolina and cleared customs without incident. It was clear at this point my ear was blocked. It was painful and I had a slight cold coming on. We got back to DTW, off the plane, picked up our luggage and went off in separate directions to return home. It became apparent that Detroit was a lot colder than Paris had been. When I walked in the door I noticed how cold the house felt and also how happy Freida was to see me. I unpacked slightly and decompressed by watching The Simpsons. I fell asleep about 9pm and woke up around 6am not being able to fall back asleep. I headed to the 9am Bikram Yoga Class to help stretch myself out after sitting for 14 plus hours. It felt good to stretch and sweat. It’s good and strange to be home. It always is.

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Trip to France: Day 1

I’m on tour right now with not only a great group of musicians but some of my closest friends. It’s a veritable “super group” of Detroit based musicians including Johnnie Bassett , Thornetta Davis-Anderson and her husband James Anderson, Keith Kaminski, Mark Byerly, John Rutherford, Skeeto Valdez and James Simonson. I’ve been making music with these folks for many years and it’s a rare treat to be on the road with what I consider to be my musical family.

We left Detroit on Thursday September 22nd via US Airways and flew to North Carolina where we had a few hour layover. Our flight to Paris left around 4:50 pm. I passed the time by watching “Thor” and playing Bejeweled on the in-flight entertainment center. The six hour flight actually passed by pretty quickly. I’ve found that if I can keep myself distracted and not looking at the clock constantly I’m less anxious to get out of “the flying jail cell.” I also enjoyed a nice glass of Cognac after dinner which put me in a nice mellow mood.

The plane touched down in the darkness and I breathed a sigh of relief. We got through customs and picked up all of our luggage without incident. We had a brief moment of anxiety when we did not see anyone holding up a sign with our names on it after walking out of the baggage claim. It turns out our drivers had gone to the wrong terminal. After a quick phone call we were assured they were on there way and they found us shortly thereafter and loaded us and our luggage into two mini vans and station wagon. We drove about three hours to the town of Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk where we are to stay two nights and play at the Bay-Carr Blues Festival.

We arrived at our hotel tired and ready to get some rest. I checked into my very small but comfortable room and after spending a few minutes trying to figure out how to get the storm shutter to close to facilitate darkness I got some much needed sleep. I awoke around 6:30pm and got ready to go the venue where we to play the next night to get some dinner and hear some music.

We were served a delicious meal including a baked potato and chili con carne with some excellent French bread with some delicious beer and wine (in a box!) I sat with Johnnie, Thornetta and her husband James and our contact Didier and enjoyed Johnnie’s stories about playing in Detroit in the old days. After dinner we went to check out the venue. It’s a very large building with many rooms and it host many different events and activities. There was a belly-dancing class going on next door to the dining room area. The main room with the stage was very large and sounded surprisingly good, I’m sure in part due to the extremely large curtain that covered one of the sides of the room. It really cut down on the sound reflections. The first band we saw was the James Hunter band and they sound really good. I was glad to see they had a chopped Hammond C3 with Leslie and a Nord StageEX on stage. After they finished we watched Preston Shannon do his thing with the guitar backed by a group of French musicians. They opened up their show with the classic “Sissy Strut.” It’s good to know that some things never change….

We were considering going to a late night jam session but decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest. But you know the saying “There ain’t no party like a Detroit party…” and after we learned that the hotel bar was closed we decided to hang out in John Rutherford’s room (he got the suite) which had a window which opened out to a small terrace. We climbed out the window and enjoyed the cool night air while James Simonson played us groovy tunes from his iPhone through a small pair of speakers. Life is good.

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