Saturday, April 25, 2015

Off to Boston!

4/10/15 Woburn, MA

The six of us are sleeping in a hotel room.  Initially the plan was Amanda would take either Emma or Amanda to spend two nights in her dorm room at Simmons.  Instead, she wanted to spend the night with us.  As we were checking in, I asked the front desk manager for a roll-a-bed, but there was none.  He offered a blow up mattress which we took, but that left one of us sleeping on the floor.  Off to Target to buy some snacks and… a blow up mattress.  Ali reasoned it is cheaper than paying for another room.  True.   These trips are hitting my wallet hard so I was up for the suggestion.  Today, we dropped off Amanda at the state house in Boston where she is working for a representative.   Seeing her dressed formally, like a professional was a surprise, our Mo Cheeks is growing up and she loves her job.   After dropping her off we drove out to the Kennedy Museum and made plans to visit the new Edward M Kennedy wing.   We have been to the JFK museum before and for the most part, the displays are the same.  I was not alive when JFK was President. Still, the Kennedy’s had a celebrity status for us, perhaps a near god realm for many Irish families.  But over the years and decades the myth has cracked and most of us have learned our heroes were fallible humans.   They were closer to all of us.   The JFK museum traces the career of JFK.  There is a short documentary which captures his career up to the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination.   The museum has many displays which are distinct, for instance there is the Attorney General, Robert F Kennedy office, I wanted to sit in his chair yet decided it was best not to.  There is the oval office which has JFK’s favorite mementos, the rocking chair, and special trinkets from his desk.  There is a display of Jacqueline Kennedy and her impact on international relations. 

Next, we were off to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the US Senate.  This is a new facility and for its recent opening President Obama was there as well as Vice President Biden.   The museum is more interactive, after you check in you are provided a device which you will use throughout the museum.  You register yourself as a senator, pick a party and can be from any of the fifty states.  For those of us who are curious how the senate and of houses work, this museum will feed your passion.   What is different; you participate, you learn.  By the end I had more than a memory of displays but gained more insight into our government’s practices.  It’s unfortunate that Mo Cheeks could not join us.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Charles Lloyd graces the stage at the Vanguard

                  After dropping off Emma Tess and her college mate at the Guggenheim I drove down the village.   It was my first trip to the Village Vanguard.  For a fan of jazz the mere suggestion is an insult to the city as well as the national treasure. Yet, I have seen my share of jazz concerts and a few in the city stand out, Miles Davis at Indigo Blue, Betty Carter at the Bottom Line, and McCoy Tyner with Ravi Coltrane at Lincoln Center.  Let’s add the Ron Carter’s 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall which included the living members of the Miles David Quintet Herbie Hancock and Carter and…Wayne Shorter on saxophone who I saw perform with his quartet, Brian Blade on drums at Lincoln Center.  Last point, saw Blade with Pharaoh Sanders at Birdland and had the honor of interviewing Mr. Sanders between sets.

                Last week, the Village Vanguard celebrated its 80th anniversary.  Before the show started Lorraine Gordon, Max Gordon’s widow (the original proprietor & no relation to me) sat in the back and spoke loudly, so loudly in fact most of the establishment was turning their heads to see who was making a scene.  “I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him.  Oh, look everyone is looking at me, they can hear me.”  Who is that?  The owner.  The Vanguard as it is commonly known is an intimate club.  Anyone can hear anyone if they project their voice.  After waiting outside for a good twenty minutes in the frigid March wind, eventually the line moved which wrapped itself around the block, moved. I passed through a narrow and short red door and filed with the rest of the line down steep steps.  I could feel the rumbling of a subway under my feet.  I checked in and was taken to a seat where I would share a table and get to know who my neighbor was.  There is a one drink minimum and a good tip as per the web site is a dollar or two per a drink.  I felt sorry for the usher since he had to maneuver in the close quarters.  His buttocks brushed against elbows and his gentle excuse me… was whispered.  Before I go on, God bless Lorraine Gordon who is 92 was there and ready to see Charles Lloyd.  My sincere gratitude - for keeping the Vanguard open...  This is the place where most of the icons of jazz took the stage and she’s keeping more coming back…

              The lights dimmed, the sold out room clapped and cheered as Charles Lloyd, dressed in a long grey coat, wearing a small hat, darkened glasses and a scarf, took the stage.  He pressed his hands together and warmly bowed to the audience as well as to his band.  Jason Moran who coordinated six nights to celebrate the Vanguard’s anniversary, introduced Charles Lloyd and declared this was a dream to share the stage with Charles Lloyd at the Vanguard.  My seat was close to the stage.  Mr. Lloyd played his horn with a tilt and blew with precision, pushing the chords with sharp accuracy.  I was blown away.   I’m a late adoring fan of his music as well as the man.  I have asked if I can interview him for this blog and perhaps there will be a segment when/if provided I am given the opportunity.  His spirituality flows through his music, the tone, his style… resonates…he is a pure master displaying his unique form.  There is some semblance of free jazz and yet his music and style is distinct.  In addition to the sax, he played the flute as well as another instrument called the tarogato.  His band played the songs like a fluid machine.  Each distinct song flowed from one song to the next like a brook of water tumbling over smooth stones.  On bass, the accomplished Reuben Rogers and on drums the ever present stick of precision Eric Harland and of course the master Jason Moran on the piano.  Thank you Charles Lloyd for sharing the set of songs from the first gig: 1) Part 5 Rumination 2) Nu Blues, 3)Abide with me 4)Requiem 5) Little Peace 6) Ramanujan 7) Hymme to the Mother 8)Dance. 

              Charles Lloyd is playing at the NEA Jazz Masters at Lincoln Center on April 20.  His US premier of his composition Wild Man Dance Suite will be performed at the Metropolitan on Saturday April 18 and if you’re patient he plays in our area again next January at Lincoln Center. 

The picture in the Vanguard is copied from the NY Times article on the show...

            Thank you for reading this.     

Sunday, March 8, 2015

When Henry Rollins tells you to see Suicide YOU go and witness punk history


Driving into the city last night with the radio tuned to WNYC. Johnathan Schwartz's soothing voice as he described Bob Hope and how his name has faded from our fabled American history.   Bob Hope.  He was a celebrity who I’d watch on TV, especially when he was visiting the troops.  And then Schwartz played a Bob Hope song and it brought a smile.  This radio show is a gem.  Not that I want to spend my Saturday evenings lulled to the radio listening to old songs from an ancient age, but I knew what I was doing.  The ride was a solitary voyage into the city since my two likely suspects were not going in with me.  Here;s a secret, I didn’t want to go into the city.  I was ready to find an excuse not to go, but I drove on since I was committed to seeing Suicide in concert.

 Suicide is one of Henry Rollins’ favorite bands and I asked him in an email if he would see them, “Mike, if Suicide are playing, don't pass it up. I cannot vouch for the quality of the show but they are real history. If I was in town, I would be there. Henry.”  What kind of man am I that I would be influenced so much that I’d buy a ticket and see this band?  I have listened to their first album and can appreciate how influential they have been for electronic music, but I have not been a real fan of this genre.  Why go?  If I didn’t find a parking spot since I refuse to pay $30.00 for parking, I would head back home with the memory of the beauty of the Manhattan’s skyline.  I drove in from the LIE, taking the BQE and Manhattan Bridge, and found a spot on 3rd and Broadway and headed up to Webster Hall. I walked past the shops around NYC, passed clusters of students and a homeless man slowly pushing a stuffed shopping cart, with a little dog and Spanish music on the radio. 

I went into Webster Hall, had my ticket scanned and went up the stair case and entered the main hall.  I was hit with a wall of sound.  The Vacant Lots were on the stage.  It was close to a sellout.  I went up to the balcony and bought a beer.  I watched the duo and took a sip and was impressed with the eighties children with dyed blonde hair or jet black, pale faces and faded fatigues.  I was back. When I was a youth and the place was The Ritz.  The Vacant Lots were evicted and the stage was bare.  Within a few minutes the stage was set.  A folding chair was in ready.   Finally, Suicide came on the stage.  In a smoke screen, tunnels of lights and a sound which pounded my chest and screeched in my ears, through a series of howls, guttural screams which contained the ample evidence of a tormented and pained soul.  The thin Martin Rev on the keyboards, decked out in a black rubber or plastic outfit, wild permed hair came to the stage.  Alan Vega appeared frail.  He walked out to the stage very slowly, holding a cane, wore a black sweat shirt and a knit hat.  This band is credited as being the first to use the name punk.  And I took a step back from my critique, my feeble willingness to find an escape and appreciated these men for the art they created.  This is history.  Maybe it was not my style, but here they were playing perhaps their last live show in front of an adoring crowd who barely moved.  They were mesmerized.  Before leaving the stage Vega thanked the audience for coming out and he waved and kissed the crowd like a gracious king who was departing into the night of his distress.

Thank you for reading this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pema Chodron and the art of just thinking in a room


There is nothing like writing from a lonely hotel room on business.  I’m not your average traveler, I work into the night and I mean real work and then perhaps some reading.  I also have a daily goal, to either write or edit one page of my writing.  But there is the joy of reading which can pull me in all directions. For example, I finished Pema Chodon’s book Living Beautifully.  I can see some wincing in my friend’s eyes, beautifully, what kind of man are you?  Hey, this book was a needed reminder of how important meditation can be in my life.  I have seen an improvement in my concentration, for instance I begin this entry in my hotel room and end up writing about an inspiring book.  Just like our thoughts, mine have deliberate stream of conscientiousness.   But back to having the time in a room which can be a blessing our can bring on a wave of isolation or loneliness.  Let these thoughts come and let them pass, like the breath.  What am I trying to convey here?  Each of us has a certain amount of time on this earth and it’s vital for our welfare to use our time to increase our compassion and open up to new patterns of thinking.  For example getting out of the habitual damaging thoughts.  Discover your beauty.  In your time, you will be enabled to break free and experience… an awakening or satori which is a zen Buddhist term…

Thank you for reading this

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The American Pink Floyd Experience-Ameri-Floyd at 89 North Patchogue

07:54 2/15/15

I wanted to get in a review of The American Pink Floyd Experience (Ameri-Floyd) at 89 North a couple of weeks back.  I also wanted to write down some thoughts on the amount of Pink Floyd copy bands that play in the area.  This will be brief and I hope you can relate or share your thoughts.   If you are a Pink Floyd fan, the only feasible way to experience their music live - is through a cover band.  There are no plans for Pink Floyd to tour.  There is no reason for them to tour since there are many options to see these cover bands.  No matter where to live, you can rest your minds there is a Floyd cover band close by.  The band that played at 89 North was their first show, but they were solid and were close to perfect.  Ameri-Floyd are fused from two different Pink Floyd cover bands to form The American Pink Floyd Experience, not the be confused with the Brit or the Aussie Pink Floyd Experience and not to be further compared and contrasted with the The American Pink Floyd, who are based in Nashville which is the home of country music.  What is curious is how Pink Floyd has influenced these bands and the countless musicians who strive to create a show and sound to perfection.  What impressed me was the dedication Ameri-Floyd had at recreating the sound by using authentic equipment which Pink Floyd would use.  The band is led by David Aguirre, guitar and vocals, Matt Ganulin, percussion, Vic Delgado on Sax, Erik Semo on Bass and vocals,  Paul Drollinger, keyboards, Ben Shin, guitar and vocals, Their beautiful and professional back- up singers Samia Mounts and Vicky Modica stood in front of the stage where they belonged.  There was a screen in the back of the stage which ran a series of films from the movie The Wall, to the Wizard of Oz.  Hearing songs from Animals brought back memories of listening to 8-track recording as my cousin drove my brother and me around San Jose.  It was a long time ago and yet this music brought out "hundreds" of fans on a chilly night in January.  It was packed inside 89 North. This is why there are many Pink Floyd cover bands.  It’s the supply and the demand.  Next up for Ameri-Floyd is Revolution Bar in Amityville on Friday May 29th.   If you are a fan, I encourage you to get out and get impressed with the experience.

Thank you for reading this.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Five rows from Idina Menzel and catching two incredible productions in one night in NYC with my beautiful wife

This was a date we have planned for years.  I’m not joking.  The goal was to see a play and spend the night in Manhattan.  We had tickets to see If/Then back in September.  Back then it would have been the first time we would see Idina Menzel, and as fans of Wicked and (in Ali’s case) RENT – we were excited with the possibility.  But, while waiting on line to enter the theatre an older gentleman in front of us turned around and said in only the brutal and blunt way a true New Yorker can express his aggravation, “Can you believe it?   She’s not performing.”  Who?  We asked.  “Idina Menzel.  They’d (a theater rep) come around and you can see tonight’s performance with some schlep and come back for another or get a full refund.  I’m getting my money.  She’s known to bail out on too many performances, finds any excuse in the book!”  Ali and I took the rain check and within a minute Ali received a call from Emma Tess who was on her way to the hospital from Hofstra; she bit through her bottom lip.  Off we went.  Back we came. Last Saturday.  We checked the minivan and our bags in at the hotel and walked up to the theater.  We sliced through the distracted tourists on Times Square as well the annoying characters that loomed outside Toy’s R Us in the frigid air.  Who can do this for a living?  Two short women wore large character heads on top of their small heads as if they had fish bowls.  They appeared frozen as winds whipped around their lopped sided heads.  Who were they supposed to be?  Maybe the character from Frozen?  I don’t know. There were two bat men, Spider men, and the rest of the insane posy.  We made it to the theater and witnessed an amazing performance from five rows back.  The musical was excellent.   It also stars LaChanze, who won the Tony a few years back as well as Anthony Rapp.  Instead of waiting for signatures, we headed back to the hotel and checked into our room.  The view from our window was the back of another building although we were 26 floors up.  It was a small room, but we were not in the city to watch TV.  After lounging for a few minutes we headed back out in the frozen tundra and walked to Junior’s where we hoped to have dinner.  Forty minutes?  We’re not waiting.  We ate dinner at the Brooklyn Diner, no wait and the food was pretty good. I had a veggie dish and a couple of beers.  Ali had her typical burger and fries and Coke.  We headed back out and saw the second play, Constellations which blew us away.  It was as if we were watching two dancers, sometimes intoxicated and others times, aggressive, sensual, witty, shy, vulnerable as their world shocked them out of their personas.   For just over an hour we sat spell bound by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.  After this performance we waited for them afterwards and Ali got her Playbill signed as I snapped some

pictures.  We walked back to Junior’s for cheese cake and tea and felt this was one night that was worth the wait.

Thank you for reading this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Interview with Richard "Sammy" Brooks from The Scofflaws

Dressed in a long military green over coat and a black beret Richard "Sammy" Brooks caught the perplexed attention of the recruiters who were standing in their office.  We passed them, bought couple of burritos at a local Mexican restaurant, a few tall boys at 7-11 and drove back to Rich's house. In his living room was a still Greek tortoise getting warm under a lamp as well as a few cats who were staring at me as I took a seat on a sofa.  There will be two parts for this interview - since we hung out for more than an hour.

In fact, there are not many interviews on the web on either The Scofflaws or Richard Brooks who uses the stage name, “Sammy.”  Yet, this is a band that toured the US and Europe and still have a strong legion of fans.  Recent years, their gigs have been sporadic, playing mostly on Long Island and some gigs in Rhode Island or in Manhattan.   

We covered the very beginning as well as the concept of third wave ska which is what The Scofflaws are considered.  The first wave was bands from Jamaica such as the Skatalites, Desmond Decker and Bob Marley and the Wailors.  The second wave was known as the Two Tone bands.  Two Tone was the record label based in the UK.  Bands such as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners as well as The English Beat.  The second wave captured the energy and aggression of punk.  It is interesting to see the progress of the ska wave; from Jamaica to the UK to the third wave which was global.  Within the US, bands such as Toasters, Fishbone (which was one of my favorites) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Untouchables (who I saw perform back in the 80’s in San Jose) No Doubt, Sublime and Rancid.  The Scofflaws played with many of these bands. 

But they were not always known as The Scofflaws, the band started as The New Bohemians.  You may recall Edie Brickell (“What I Am”, 1986) and The New Bohemians.  There was no affiliation.  Richie sold the name for $500.00 to her management.    

The ska movement peaked in the ‘90’s.  All of The Scofflaws albums were released during this time, The Scofflaws, 1991/Moon Records, Ska in Hi Fi 1995/Moon Records, LIVE (Vol. 1) 1996, Moon Ska Records, Record of Convictions/1998Moon Ska Records.  Some of these bands which sold millions broke up. Some ska labels such as Moon/Ska Records folded.  By 2000 the third wave had crested.  What is left is the surviving ska bands who still tour, play at ska festivals and are adored their passionate fans.  Yet, there are new ska band who continue to create and forge their own “rude-boy” path.

MG: When you were introduced to ska?
RB: The Two tone error had a real impact on me.  I liked the reggae stuff which preceded that.  But when the two tone thing hit and Elvis Costello, it had that punky edge to it, I really embraced it, so that was the late seventies. 
MG:  What were some of the bands who influenced you? 
RB: The Specials came through first and I missed them and people were saying, oh man you should have seen this show, these guys were unbelievable, this was the next new thing.  About a month later Selecter came through and I caught their thing.  It was a lot of fun and that was at My Father’s Place in Roslyn.  That was their first tour.  It was an all black band with one white guy on guitar.  They did the James Bond bit and they put a spot light on the guy and the guy became James Bond, it was really cool.  Now, her whole line up is different, but that original band was very good.  So, around that time I started doing the New Bohemian thing.
MG:  What year was that?
RB:  It was around 1984 when The New Bohemians were born.  Prior, to that I was playing with some garage bands.  But that is a whole other area of my career.
MG:  You had mentioned directing as something you always wanted to do which led you to leading a band, so what inspired you?
RB:  I always like the idea of directing, putting out the right kind of material out there.  What really sparked the idea was when I went into a bar looking for a friend of mine.  The guy is not there and I look around the room and I think it’s pretty cool and I ask them, ever think about putting music in here?  And they tell me, they thought about.  And there’s this guy Gene, he’s a brick layer and he’s sitting at the bar.  And he tells the owner, “Oh, you should hire this guy’s band (Rich’s) they’re really good.  I didn’t even have a group, but Gene thought like a business man.  Get the gig and then get the musicians, so that is how it sparked.   Just as a lark I called a whole bunch of friends and said, hey listen, I’m doing like an open mic this night, come down.  I did that for a few weeks and started getting offers for other gigs after that.  It was formerly known as Snyder’s and became 89 Wall Street.  I’m thankful to Gene to this day.
MG:  So, you had the New Bohemians and Scotto became your manager?
RB:  Scott didn’t come onto the scene till later.  What happened we were playing CB’s and getting in on the scene and then Edie Brickell’s manager contacted me.  I think his name was Monty or something.  So, I explained I was using the name (New Bohemians) for three years by that time.  And I said I can prove it since I had back issues of The Voice for the times when we played CB’s and we’re in the add and it’s dated.  So you, know at that time I sold it.  The name had a kind of beatnik connotation which was very cool, but we were into the idea of getting people dancing and the ska thing was what we were going after so it was a good time to change the name.  My buddy and I were on the phone and there was a good band around called The Citizens and you don’t think of a rude boy when you think of a citizen, you think of a nice guy who cuts his lawn or something.  So we said we needed to go for something tougher than that.  I thought of Scofflaws and from that moment on we started using that and it has served us well.  It’s cool because once you get out of the New York area; a lot of people haven’t heard that.  It’s kind of a regional thing.
MG:  There are four releases as The Scofflaws, were there any more than that?
RB:  Well, there were some rinkey dink compilations we were on.  The first was a vinyl release, we were on it, it had a ska face and it was on Moon Records.  It was us and The Toasters, The Boilers, No Doubt, Let’s Go Bowling.    Shortly after that we recorded the first disk (The Scofflaws  Moon Records 1991) The sessions included Tony Mason and I don’t why he did it, but anyway.  We finished up the sessions and then he left the group.  So, John started drumming for us.  I remember doing this gig at SOB’s and Tony came down.  We were opening up for the Skatalites and the room was filled.  So, I can see the expression on his face.  Tony, we had the whole thing recorded. You really should have let us promote it before you made the decision to leave.  But he wound up getting into other things and I lost contact with him.
                In music that’s the biggest problem, is everybody’s ego.  When the ego gets in there, it becomes this big wrestling match and it stifles creativity.
MG:  How do you deal with that in a band?
RB: When someone brings in something; usually we know right off the bat if it’s going to work or not.  We try it on for size.  If it flies we keep it in.  Anybody can bring anything in.  People know the concept of the band.  I never wanted it to be one sided when it’s always about me and my choice.
MG:  What are some examples when someone else suggested a song?
RB:  Night Train, on our first album.  It was someone else who suggested it.  And it was big.  It was on our first album and we did it for a long time.  I still quote it in Skallacart.  Different band members bring in different tunes…anything can be put to the beat… with the right arrangement.
MG:  What was the relationship between you and Buford O’Sullivan, it seems on the last album (Record of Convictions Moon Ska Records 1998) your role within in the band may have diminished?
RB:  It can be referred to as a Buford album.  At the time I was going through a divorce and stuff.  My life was mired in shit.  I was not the driving force behind that one.  Compared to our first two, but still I let others take the lead.  I didn’t want to make all the decisions. If someone had some expertise in one area, I’d let them have it.  Putting the right guy: in the right place.  I always wanted the musician to do their thing within our thing, that’s when you get the optimum from a musician.  I’ve been very lucky to hook up with people who have been very talented and sympathetic.
MG:  Moon Records was releasing all of your releases and went under.  What was the situation with them?
RB:  It was kind of a musician’s co-op.  It was never a cash cow.  They did this crazy thing where they would give you product and you sell it and supposedly you made more from it.  Rob (The Toasters and owner of the label) had a heavy tour schedule and would sell all of his releases, so by the time we pulled through all of our records were sold.  So, it got it little weird that way.  We did a fair amount through stores.  We never thought we’d get rich doing that.  We aspired to do that and for a little while it happened, but I always had a part time job I could jump back into.  I never really did it full, full time.
MG:  Yet, The Scofflaws toured the US and Europe. Who organized your tours?
RB: Moon had a lot to do with that.  We worked with two different booking agencies.  There was an English lad who was getting us gigs.  When you have a power house agent it makes the difference.  They set everything up in advance.
RB:  He did, prior to us.  Scott did not come till the mid nineties by then things were picking up and MG:   So going back to Scott, I know he managed The Mosquitoes.
we were on Moon.  Scott is a good negotiator and was a good representative for the band.

Look for Part II in the near future…

Thank you for reading this.