Scenes from a Benefit Concert

I had some time yesterday to make a compilation montage video from our Benefit Concert which I am sharing at our class website and with our school community, and here. The kids who were on stage had some great talents.

Peace (in the rock and the roll),
Kevin

Playing Saxophone in the New Band

We don’t quite have a name yet, since this formation of the band is really that new (the bass player just joined us two weeks ago), but this is a short video montage of us playing the Benefit Concert at our school earlier this week. It’s a rough cut for now.
That’s me on the saxophone, stage right.

Peace (in the music),
Kevin

Sharing the Musical Stage with Students

rock concert in gazette
(a blurb in the local newspaper earlier this week)
Last night, we held our benefit rock concert to support the American Red Cross in the wake of tornadoes here in Western Massachusetts and in the South. It was extremely hot on the stage — the heat outside was in the 90s — and I wasn’t sure what the audience would look like. But it was OK — there were about 60 people or so, I think.

We raised more than $500 for the Red Cross, which is better than I expected and indicates a high level of generosity by the audience.

On stage, we had a mix of teacher and student acts, and I was so happy to be able to watch my current and former students shine in the spotlights on the stage as musicians and performers. I was up there, too, playing with my new configuration of our band, but it was watching my students that really made the night.

There were about a dozen student performers who performed everything from the Beatles to Kanye West to Lady Gaga to Green Day. It reminded me of my time in high school, when a band I was in took part in a talent show of bands, and although we were not all that great, I still remember that magical feeling of taking the stage and looking out, and playing before people.

Sure, our event (which was organized and run by a student of mine, with a little help) was designed to raise awareness and money for families hurt hard by the weather, but it was also a chance to turn the night over to the students, some of whom don’t shine in the classroom but do shine on the stage.

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

PS — I do have a video of the night and will work on a montage one of these days.

From Japan to Joplin to Just Down the Road

For a few months, a student and I have been working to organize a live music benefit concert at our school featuring staff and student acts. We were motivated first by events in Japan, and then by the devastation in the areas around Joplin, and now local events have overtaken us as a tornado hit hard right down the road from us here in Western Massachusetts, causing significant damage to homes and businesses and families. As a result, our focus is now to gather donations to support the American Red Cross in its efforts to help local families.

The concert is this Wednesday night at our school.

I am playing music with a lot of people that night, and I just realized that I have quite a few songs to learn, along with the songs I am doing with my new R&B band, where I am playing mostly saxophone on songs like Midnight Hour, Do You Love Me, and Johnny B. Goode. But with other groups of teachers and students, I am bouncing around on guitar and bass. I am doing one original song — Innocent Boy, written for my sons when they were just little dudes.

Here are some of the videos I am trying to burn into my brain for this Wednesday night:




Peace (in the reaching out),
Kevin

Where Music is (maybe) Going

Bud Hunt shared this on Twitter and I am trying to  think about the possibilities here. In a nutshell: a band out of Washington DC is putting out new music as an album, but the album is not vinyl, disc or even an iTunes music download. It’s a location-aware App that works only in the vicinity of the Mall on DC. As you wander the Mall, the music changes based on where the piece was composed.

From the news article:

Washington, D.C.-based band Bluebrain’s new album drops Friday, but not in the way one might think. It will be available on iTunes, but not in MP3 form — rather as a location-aware app that only works within the stretch of park in downtown D.C. called the Mall … The disc will not be available for standard download as a musical piece, since it will only work when one is standing in the Mall … The music constantly changes as you wander around the park, Holladay tells us. Ascending the hill toward the Washington Monument, you’ll hear only a cello, then, gradually, violins, a choir, clapping, fireworks and drumbeats will come into the mix as you get closer to the obelisk. — from Mashable

It’s pretty fascinating how indie artists are always pushing boundaries and I love that music is one of those things that can become the cornerstone of re-imagining art. This particular idea not completely revolutionary — museums have been handing out mobile devices for some time, right? You wander with the device and learn about the art.

But here, the listener makes the path, and the music is shaped by the path you take. What you hear is what the composer and musician saw when they were in the act of creating the music. I love that connection. I know nothing about the band, and given that I live nowhere near the Mall, I may never listen to this album.

But it fascinated me just the same.

Peace (in the location),
Kevin

The National Mall by BLUEBRAIN. The First Location-Aware Album from BLUEBRAIN on Vimeo.

Autotune Saturation Point

I just finished Jay-Z’s Decoded the other day. Although I can’t say that I sit around and listen to Jay-Z, I certainly have heard some of his work and certainly know of him. The book itself is pretty cool, as he works through the thinking behind lyrics and offers up some background on his days growing up in the projects of New York City.

Towards the end of the book, he starts to make a stand on the importance of hip-hip music as it stands now, with a somewhat negative outlook on its very commercialized bent (while celebrating hip-hop’s ability to take over the music world, which it surely has). Jay-Z takes particular aim at Aut0-Tune, which has filtered into just about every song that I hear on the pop stations that my sons listen to in our car. Seriously, I hear it everywhere, and I point it out to my sons, too. (Auto-tune is a computer effect that takes a voice and situates the pitch of the voice perfectly. It also can alter the timbre and tone of the voice. That’s that slight robotic effect you hear.)

Jay-Z sees the Auto-tune effect as having a potentially devastating impact on hip-hop music. While he acknowledges that some artists (Kanye West) have used Auto-tune to their advantage as a medium of musical expression,  the problem is that it is now overused to cover up blemishes — slightly out-of-tune voices.  This glossing over rips something special from music, he insists, and he notes that an Auto-tuned track “…gives you a sudden sugar high and then disappears without a trace.”

This quote says it all: “Instead of aspiring to explore their humanity — their brains and hearts and guts — these rappers were aspiring to sound like machines.”

And Jay-Z notes that it reminds him of something similar — the Hair Bands that took an idea and a sound, and pounded its audience into submission, to the point where it took Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, and a slew of others, to come along and dethrone the Hair Bands (Poison, Motley Crue, etc.).

Jay-Z notes: “Musical genres have been known to die, mostly because they lose their signature and their vitality ..”

Which makes me wonder what style of music or what kind of bands/artists are waiting in the wings, with Auto-Tune clearly in their sights, ready to take it down ….. I’m sure they are already there.

Here are some more quotes from Jay-Z that I was sharing on Twitter as I was reading. I was looking mostly for his thoughts on writing and making music.

“That gave me freedom to be myself, which is the secret to any long-term success, but that’s hard to see when you’re young …” (p95)

“I’m a music head, so I listen to everything.” (p128)

“….I also make choices in technique and style to make sure that it can touch as many people as possible without it losing its basic integrity.” (p129)

“Knowing how to complicate a simple song without losing its basic appeal is one of the keys to good songwriting.” (p130) #JayZsez

“…whoever said that artists shouldn’t pay attention to their business was probably someone with their hand in some artist’s pocket.” (p131)

“There’s unquestionably magic involved in great music, songwriting and performances …. but there’s also work.” (p141)

“So I created little corners in my head where I stored rhymes …. it’s the only way I know.” (p144)

“Hip-hop, of course, was hugely influential in finally making our slice of America visible through our own lens …” (p156)

“The entire world was plugged into the stories that came out of the specific struggles and creative explosion of our generation.” (p159)

“It’s one of the great shifts that’s happened over my lifetime, that popular culture has managed to shake free of the constraints that still limit us in so many other parts of life.” (p163)

Playing at the rock concern “…was one of those moments that taught me that there really is no limit to what hip-hop could do, no place that was closed to its power.” (p163)

“Hip-hop gave a generation a common ground that didn’t require either race to lose anything; everyone gained.” (p180)
“I’ve never been a purely linear thinker … my mind is always jumping around, restless, making connections, mixing and matching ideas, rather than marching in a straight line.” (p180)

“My life has been more poetry than prose, more about unpredictable leaps and links than simple steady movement …” (p191)

“Great rappers … distinguish themselves by looking closely at the world around them and describing it in a clever, artful way.” (p203)

“Artists can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people … miss.” (p205)
“… hip-hop lyrics — not just my lyrics, but those of every great MC — are poetry if you look at them closely enough.” (p235)

“Rap is built to handle contradictions.” (p239)

“Hip-hop has created a space where all kinds of music could meet, without contradiction.” (p240)

“… when I started writing about my life … the rhymes helped me twist some sense out of those stories.” (p245)

“Musical genres have been known to die, mostly because they lose their signature and their vitality ..” (p251)

“I remember the music making me feel good, bringing my family together …” (p254)

“I think for hip-hop to grow to its potential … we have to keep pushing deeper … and (do it) with real honesty.” (p279)

“My songs are my stories but they take on their own life in the minds of people listening.” (p297)

Peace (in my blemished voice),
Kevin