Business is great, people are fantastic, life is wonderful! The sunny weather and the smiles on near every face have kept me in good spirits as the SAM family rolls into its 5th week of class for this session. The students have been working their butts off to learn the ins and outs of contemporary harmonic ideas, developing original songwriting skills, learning to play music as a group of talented individuals, and continuing to inspire each other every day. I’ve been lucky to have the time and the focus to work on my own music as well. In fact, this past month has marked a few milestones for me:
One, starting down the road to getting my trumpet chops up… more to come with that development…
and Two, playing keyboards on a weekend tour to Kolkata with the Ed Degenaro Band.
The shows, presented by Calcutta Classical Guitar Society, were a whirlwind of sound, energy, groove and of attitude. Ed’s music is dynamic and full of life, which I think was a welcome addition to the typical live music scene in town.
Our first day, we flew in and were escorted to the Park Hotel, a five star establishment with really nice amenities. We met the press and promptly travelled to the venue, Vidyamandir, for sound check. This is typically all-afternoon process in India (as I can recall from past experiences). The show wasn’t supposed to be a show, it was billed as a workshop led by SAM faculty. However, after our introductory few songs, the only questions we seemed to field were, hey can you play another one? So, that was that. Maybe a little more audience participation would have given me a better idea of what the young folks are into around town; it did seem like the crowd was thrilled to have us there.
The next day was open to exploring the city, and although I ended up lounging around the cushy hotel for most of the day (lunch buffet, cold water jacuzzi et al), our promoter, tour guide, and new best friend in town Varun took the band down to the classical music corner of the city. Men were welding brass instruments and carving violins on the floors of open storefronts, and we were welcomed into their worlds, where we got to play sarods, percussion instruments, even a pocket trumpet (a random treat for me).
The town is packed with people, no surprise, but really, rush hour in Kolkata is an exaggerated experience, even in comparison to the Chennai traffic I have seen. The trolleys, the buildings, the environment looks like 1960 has survived through 50 years of erosion, with new brands and technologies slapped on top of decaying paint jobs.
The evening performance was at a pub inside the hotel where we stayed, and it was packed to the rafters with mostly young people (mostly dudes, go figure) on their feet enjoying the music. That night, we pushed the decibel level more than I am usually accustomed to, but that night I learned more about what its like to make music using intuition and relying on the faith that the front of house is rockin’. Wow, what an experience. Ed’s band stretched original rock, reggae and funk songs to extreme levels, and every night we develop virtually a new arrangement in the moment.
On Sunday, after an uneventful morning and afternoon, we returned to Vidyamandir for the main event of the weekend, the big show. This was the culmination of my adjustment to playing keyboards in front of a live audience, and by this point, everything seemed to fall into place. Magic happened, and of course just as quickly as it came, the show was over and thus ended my 3-day tour as keyboard player for a rock band! For our upcoming dates in India, James Carson will be taking over role of keys player, as I shift into the role of vocalist and trumpeter.
We hop on a flight this Thursday for round two of the Ed Degenaro Group India Tour 2011! Stay tuned…