Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some new music after a long time

It's been a long while since I posted, but I've still been continuing with my music. A lot of what I've been doing has been learning to play with bands, some blues and some jazz. But I took a couple classes this semester at the Jazz School in Berkeley that I've really enjoyed. One was a jazz singing class with Laurie Antonioli, who is a really excellent teacher. And the other is the blues and groove workshop with Danny Caron, who's also a great teacher. Both were fun, and I can feel myself getting better musically. We had our performances for both classes this week, and here's a little music from the shows.

This first one is a version of the great Thelonius Monk tune "Round Midnight," with lyrics written by Bernie Henighen. When I heard this tune, I was somehow reminded of the Indian Raga Kirwani, which is used often in bhajans and other "light classical" music in North India. So I sang an intro to the tune in Raga Kirwani. Accompanying me for this are Lee Bloom on piano, Carla Kaufman on bass, and Doug Kassel on the drums. They were the musicians we practiced with every week in class, and are really quite wonderful.

The second one is my rendition of the classic tune "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" by Louis Alter and Eddie DeLange, which was composed for the film "New Orleans," and first performed by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

The final one is a tune from our Blues and Groove workshop, the Ray Charles tune, Mary Ann. I'm at the piano and singing (if you can see me in the back :). Danny Caron, our teacher, is on bass, Barbara Fitzpatrick on guitar, Jean Fineberg on drums, Dave Ramet on tenor sax, and Vida Bateau on baritone sax.

Hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Come see Swami play with the "Subprime Blues Band"

Following up on the jazz workshop I did last winter, I joined the Blue Bear blues workshop this semester, and it's been a lot of fun. We're called the "Subprime Blues Band," and it's been a privilege playing with such a talented group of guys, led by our excellent teacher, Johnny Nitro. I've been into the blues for a long time, and enjoyed learning how to play it over several years now, so playing with a great band is really fun!

As our grand finale, we have two gigs in December, and I'd love to see you all at either or both! First, we're playing at the Blue Bear showcase event at the Bottom Of the Hill on Monday, December 15, at 8:30. And then we're opening for Johnny Nitro at San Francisco's oldest bar, The Saloon on Grant Street in North Beach, on Sunday, Dec 21 at 9:30 PM. Please note that the Bottom of the Hill is an all-ages show, but the Saloon is for those over 21 only :).

It should be a rockin' set, with a great combination of some down-home Delta Blues, New Orleans funk, and classic blues-rock tunes! I'm even singing some of the songs! :)

Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 30, 2008

It's been a long time since I posted, but I've been musically busy :)

It's been a long time since I last posted. This has been a really tough year in lots of ways. Still, I've kept up with my music as best as I can, and feel like I've learned a lot and improved.

I'd posted earlier about the jazz band workshop class I took in the winter. It was a ton of work, and very intense, but I persevered, and the performance at Cafe Du Nord went really well! I took the class to learn how to play with a band, and ended up learning a lot more. In hard times, having to focus on learning the music and concentrating on it was a lifeline.

I finally managed to edit the video from the show, and post it at YouTube. It's all at, or you can view them by the embedded videos below. It was quite a diverse set of tunes, ranging from standards/classics like "Do You Know What it Means" and "Just One Of Those Things," to bebop tunes (Monk, Charlie Parker) to bossa nova and more avant-garde stuff (Steve Coleman, McCoy Tyner).

I also had the opportunity to perform again with the Contra Costa Performing Arts Society's Jazz Piano workshop in February, and did "Tipitina" and "Georgia On My Mind." Tipitina, of course, is a New Orleans classic, by Professor Longhair, with all the syncopation and multi-cultural influences that made him great. Every New Orleans pianist has a version of it, and it reminds me of the place. And I've always loved the version of "Georgia" by Ray Charles.

Finally, it was Jennifer Clevinger (my piano teacher)'s recital in June, and I played and sang a tune I learned during the jazz band workshop, "Ruby My Dear," by Thelonius Monk (lyrics by Sally Swisher). It's a really hard tune to sing, with continual key changes every couple of measures, so I was glad I could work out the tune!

All the videos are below, or you can check them out at

Swami - Ruby My Dear (Thelonius Monk, lyrics: Sally Swisher)

Swami - Tipitina (Professor Longhair)

Swami - Georgia On My Mind (Hoagy Carmichael)

Infinitude - How Insensitive (Antonio Carlos Jobim)

Infinitude - Time After Time (Sammy Cahn, Julie Styne)

Infinitude - Blues On the Corner (McCoy Tyner)

Infinitude - Silver's Serenade (Horace Silver)

Infinitude - Scrapple From the Apple (Charlie Parker)

Infinitude - Ruby My Dear

Infinitude - Pass It On (Steve Coleman)

Infinitude - Just One Of Those Things (Cole Porter>

Infinitude - Do You Know What It Means (Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Come see Swami play jazz with Infinitude: Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco on April 2

Last winter (in what may have been a bout of insanity), I signed up for one of Blue Bear School of Music's great band workshops. I've never played in a band, and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn how to play with others.

I joined the Jazz Band Workshop as the keyboard player. It's been a great learning experience, with an awesome teacher (Jim Peterson, who plays with the band Mo'Fone). And we're playing a great set of songs, ranging from standards to swing classics to bebop and bossa nova.

It's 10 weeks of lessons, and the class ends with a performance where all Blue Bear's band workshops perform. Ours is on April 2nd at 7:30 PM at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. The band's called Infinitude. Hope you can make it! It'll be fun!

Here's the concert poster. Infinitude is on the bottom left.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Backwater Blues and Amazing Grace

As I'd blogged below, I played two songs with the Contra Costa Performing Arts Society on September 28. It was a lot of fun, although kind of scary, and I was nervous. But it was a great group of performers, and a wonderful audience! I'd love to post the video of all the performers, but need their permission first :).

I played two songs. One is my arrangement of "Backwater Blues," by Bessie Smith. This song is (accidentally) one of the anthems of the great Mississippi River flood of 1927. That flood is associated in many people's minds with the flood in Louisiana that Randy Newman sang about, and there is a connection, but it's a weird one. In April 1927, New Orleans had a huge rainstorm, and the pump that was supposed to pump water out of the city broke, and the city flooded. At the same time, the Mississippi was flooding upriver, and the powerful men of the city decided (unnecessarily) to breach a levy in Lousiana to protect New Orleans. The whole thing was a disaster, and mostly an unnecessary one. The PBS "American Experience" documentary about New Orleans had a great explanation of all of it: one well worth watching.

Coincidentally, Bessie Smith (the highest paid black entertainer of her era) had written and recorded "Backwater Blues" just before the Mississippi River Flood, so the song became an anthem for that flood. The original version had James Johnson on the piano, playing an accompaniment that's very cool, and has a bit in it that later Ray Charles used as the baseline for his song "Low Society." There's a great video on YouTube of the original version with images from hurricane Katrina and folk art from the 1920s. Here's that video:

The other song I played, "Amazing Grace" is one I've blogged about below, and one I really love having learned to play! I like it not just because of its history, being associated with the end of the Atlantic slave trade, but also because I find the concept of grace fascinating, even for a relatively non-religious person like myself. It's a meditative and hopeful song. And this version (which is partially my own arrangement, but borrowed from a version by Charles Brown) is so very slow and soulful.

Both versions obviously need work, but here is the video of both songs (you can also watch it on YouTube, at

Monday, September 24, 2007

Performance this Friday @ 1:30 in Lafayette

It's been a long while since I posted: life's gotten complicated. But I've been playing and practising. This Friday, I'll be taking a little baby step in the direction of playing in public: playing and singing a couple of songs as part of a performance by the Contra Costa Performing Arts Society at 1:30 PM in Lafayette (500 St. Mary's Road). The details are in the flyer to the right. If you can come, do! It'd be great to have supporters in the audience, and all the musicians are great!

The two songs I'll be playing are a version of the Bessie Smith classic, "Backwater Blues," which became, by accident, one of the anthems of the great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. The other is a version of "Amazing Grace."

I'm quite nervous, but also excited. :). I'll post video afterwards if I can.

Monday, May 14, 2007

From the Onion: "Blues Singer's Woman Permitted To Tell Her Side"

This article, from the Onion, is hilarious if you're a blues-lover (maybe more so if you're a blues-hater :).

"Despite what Mr. Jackson would have you believe, I am not an evil-hearted woman who will not let him be," Dobbs told reporters. "I repeat: I am not an evil-hearted woman who will not let him be. To the contrary, my lovin' is so sweet, it tastes just like the apple off the tree."

I can just imagine the country music equivalent:

"While Mr. Johnson claims to miss his Ford F350 more than he misses his wife, I believe his relationship with his Ford was far from loving," said Billy Joe Smith, Mr. Johnson's mechanic. "I can say from personal knowledge that his treatment of the Ford was downright abusive."