On the second tier of our trip, Rachel and I boarded a small boat into the strange yet wonderful place that is Venice, Italy. Strange I say only due to the fact that it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been. Perhaps unusual would be a better fit for it. If you’ve been there, then you know exactly what I mean.
After a full day of exploring we decided we wanted to hear some live music – one of my favorite things to do – so we headed through the dimly lit canals towards the Venice Jazz Club. Unassuming from the outside, we passed it two or three times before asking a stranger for help in finding our destination. Most restaurants and stores in Venice are like that… Old, unassuming, and modest; but on the inside they hold hundreds of years of history and tradition and culture that is completely genuine and unique. Venice Jazz Club was no exception.
We wandered inside and found ourselves a spot right in the front of the stage. Perfect! We ordered cocktails and settled in, observing the room around us. Straight ahead was a small stage, with a black Longato grand piano that appeared to be well taken care of yet used often. To the right of that, a large wooden upright bass being held up straight by an equally large and stout man. Further across the stage was a jazz drum kit. Sitting there was an older man fiddling his sticks, waiting patiently for the music to commence. To his right – just off the stage – was a man named Jacques, who I later became friends with. Jacques was sitting on top of his amplifier noodling the strings of his classic cream-colored jazz guitar with a look of contentment on his face.
Behind us, a room full of people – maybe 20 of us at maximum occupancy – from all different places around the world. It was a small and intimate venue to say the least, which made for optimum recordings for me being so close to the stage. The walls of the Venice Jazz Club were decorated with old photos and posters dating back decades. A busy bartender in the corner was occupied taking orders and crafting the finest of cocktails before the show began.
I pulled my recorder out from my peat coat and placed it between my legs inconspicuously as I did not want to raise any alarm or get us kicked out.
SIDE NOTE: Part of the fun of this whole recording sounds thing that I love so much is moments like these. In order to preserve the authenticity of the subjects that I am recording, sometimes it requires me to go ‘incognito’. In this situation it was a bit risky, as we are in a foreign country and you never know how people will react to this sort of thing. Sometimes just the sheer fact of knowing that you are being recorded is enough to throw your performance off; so I try to do my work undetected, for the preservation of authenticity in the art of recording. Plus I enjoy the rush of it all!
I set my levels and pressed record. Shortly after, a man came on stage and welcomed us to the Venice Jazz Club. After surveying the room with a few subtle jokes and antidotes, he concluded that the best means of communication for the night would be in the English language – which of course, Rachel and I gladly accepted. Then, he sat down at the weathered Longato piano, tapped time with his foot and commenced the beginning of a memory that would become deeply ingrained into my heart and soul forever.
I love music with a message. The O’Jays album Message In Our Music is just that. I was really moved by the excerpt written on the back of the album cover. It says,
“In this day of confusion, we must find the root of the problem in order to solve it.
The problem is the lack of truthand communicationamong man and woman. Therefor, the wrong interpretation of life and life’s purpose has been exposed.
The word with music is one of the strongest, if not the strongest means of communication known to man.
It is the only natural science known to man.
We choose to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” only to help vindicate His name. So His will be done.
The word with music can do it’s part to calm the savage beast that lives in every man.
The message is PEACE
The message is LOVE
The message is WISDOM
The message is UNDERSTANDING
The message is UNITY
The message is dedicated to truth and justice for all mankind.
Man Understanding Spiritual Information Clearly
‘Understand while you dance’
A bit about The O’Jays…
The O’Jays are an American R&B group from Canton, Ohio, formed in 1958. The original members are Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and William Powell. The group actually started singing together in high school! How many of your high school bands made it big time? Not many… This album is special to me in many ways, but it also holds unique value for the members of The O’Jays as it was the last album to feature vocals from original group member William Powell, who would die prematurely from cancer, aged 35, in May 1977. Gone way too soon.
This album is super powerful! Songs like “Make a Joyful Noise” and “A Prayer” echoe the excerpt that I shared above, about man understanding spiritual information clearly and raising a shout to the Lord for the vindication of His name. Songs like “Desire Me” and “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby” – the latter becoming one of the groups biggest hits – speak to a more sensual side; their message is speaking to the ‘root of the problem’, as Kenneth Gamble puts it, which is the lack of truth and communication among men and woman. I love how they say that ‘the word with music is one of the strongest, if not the strongest means of communication on the planet Earth’.
…and there I sat, in a dim lit bar full of social creatures looking to do what we do so naturally. Socialize.
The drinks flowed from behind the bar as people warmed up after a long days work. Moods softened as they took their first sip from a cold beer pint. Shoulders dropped with a deep exhale, as if they too were tired from carrying the weight of the day upon them. On the other hand, some moods intensified as conversations grew personal and stories began to unfold. Hands and arms waived and gestured through the air exclaiming, Some – like me – sat quietly, observing. Lips sealed tight. Eyes open, scanning around the room. Ears attentive, listening for gems in conversation. Listening to it as a whole. Each person having a different background, a different story and perspective. Each totally unique.
I too was in my own world. Living out my own story. Creating. Taking the sounds from the Horseshoe Lounge and capturing them in a moment in time, only to be played back later on. Giving them their own story. Letting them live on.
The Piano, originally named Pianoforte due to it’s ability to be played softly piano, or loudly forte, was first built in 1698 by Bartolomeo Christofori, in Italy. It’s made up of 7,500 working parts, all synchronizing together to create the beautiful sounds that you hear on this record. The piano is actually considered a percussion instrument due to it’s functionality. When a key is pressed it triggers a hammer to strike a set of strings, creating a vibration that is picked up by the ear as sound – or a note. The piano has been named the ‘king of the instruments’ due to it’s ability to produce the fullest spectrum range of sounds of any instrument. But the piano alone is not what fascinates me; it’s musicians such as George Winston, who play the keys and create the sounds that become near and dear to our hearts.
(Bartolomeo Christofori’s original Pianoforte)
Autumn was recorded in Menlo Park, CA in June of 1980. The year 1980 was known for a lot of great music – and this is no exception – but a piano solo album in the midst of top hit records such as Another One Bites the Dust by Queen, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, and Could You Be Loved by Bob Marley & The Wailers? That’s why it’s a gem! A diamond in the rough as they say. Although it didn’t get totally overlooked because 7 years later, in 1987, the album was certified platinum and #12 on the Billboard Top 100 Jazz Albums list. So, if you were in that circle and listening to this type of music at the time, you would have know about Autumn.
This record is special to me because of the way it makes me feel. Ever since I can remember I have always had a certain fascination towards the piano. It’s always had the ability to shut me up – which I need at times – and bring me to a calm and peaceful place. Autumn has been one of those pieces of music recently that I come back to again and again. It’s been my morning coffee. My meditation. My ‘me time’. Many mornings when I have the privilege to slowly vamp into my day – taking my time to wake up, be clear headed, and be at peace with the things in my life – I will throw this record on. It’s really been medicine for me; as I don’t yet have a practice of meditating regularly, or doing yoga, or anything of that nature. So, this my version of all of that.
What I love most about this is the imperfections in the vinyl as the needle cracks and pops across the threads of the record. I love the warmth from the piano sounds being magnetized on tape, then being played back with tiny bits of dust and debris in the grooves. The imperfections in it are what make it beautiful, just like us.
As a piano player myself, I marvel at what George Winston is able to do on 88 keys with only 10 fingers. It’s inspiring, yet un-motivating at times, knowing I may never be able to play that good! So I just submit and enjoy the music.
I hope you enjoy this piece and this weeks For The Record: Side 2.
“For The Record” is a new series I’m starting. It’s going to feature a weekly set list of songs that I sample from records I’ve collected over the years. I am going to try to do songs that are meaningful to me and that people haven’t heard a hundred times. If I really connect with a certain song, I will write about it and share my thoughts on why it’s important to me. And if you don’t care about what I have to say, then you can just listen! (:
Here’s some warmth from an acoustic festival in Berkeley, California at the Greek Theatre in 1977. Let her spin!
Bread & Roses Festival of Acoustic Music, Live from Greek Theatre, U.C. Berkeley in 1979
Just Another Night With The Boys – The Persuasions
Boney Fingers – Hoyt Axton
Save The Whales – Country Joe McDonald
San Francisco Bay Blues – Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
*This is worth the read* … an excerpt from the record.
“Bread & Roses, a nonprofit organization based in Marin County, California, was founded in 1979 by Mimi Farina in order to bring free live entertainment to people in limited environments who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the performing arts. Hospitals, mental health facilities, convalescent homes for the ages, and prisons all house people who desperately need the joy, diversion, and positive human contact that live entertainment can provide. To this end, the Bread & Roses staff produces some thirty to forty shows a month in these institutions, bringing in widely known performers, as well as aspiring amateurs, who generously donate their time and talents. The benefits and pleasures derived from these shows are shared by performer and audience alike – as are, oddly enough, feelings of solitude, inner reflection, and isolation from society.
This two-album set contains some of the highlights of the first annual Bread & Roses Festival of Acoustic music, a three-day event held in October 1977. The Festival concept was twofold: in addition to raising funds for the organization’s operating budget, the Festival was intended to bring back to life the sound of acoustic music. It was a great success on all counts. Proceeds from the sale of this album will help to provide operating funds for Bread & roses ongoing community services to institutionalized audiences. Your support helps to continue our work. We thank you.
Note: This is not a political piece. I am writing as an observer. I will share bits and pieces of my opinion at the end, but I believe my purpose here was to observe and report the impactful event that happened today on March Wednesday, March 14th in Denver Colorado.
This morning as I was making my morning tea I heard an up roaring of people from outside my building. I quickly grabbed my recorder and headphones and followed suit. When I stepped outside I saw a mob of hundreds of young people marching through the streets towards the Capitol Building. There was a certain excitement in the way they were walking. Many of them were wearing their backpacks, which told me that they were students.
I can remember being a high schooler and the feeling of excitement over anything not school related happening on a given day. Whether it was a fight at school, a rally, a basketball game happening that night, or a party that was being arranged for the weekend; anything that would take our minds off of the dreaded school work was something to be excited about. All of this said, I can relate to the emotions these kids were feeling as they marched out of school towards the Capitol Building.
I was surprised when we walked a few blocks that all of the traffic had been stopped. Police had blocked off the streets, and it seemed the peaceful protest was being met with open arms by the powers at hand. As we turned the corner and the Capitol Building was revealed, there was a great cheer from the students proclaiming their presence and confirming their cause. As we approached the Capitol Building I saw working adults leaving their respective buildings – them too, intrigued by the uproar of voices. Some of them took out their phones and recorded the scene, others cheered us on. Suddenly I realized I was now a part of this.
Some students were already there at the Capitol Building, gathered around the staircase leading up to the building. They were chanting and getting people fired up. I arrived in the middle of the pack. I found a nice place where I could be away from the crowd as to remain an observer, yet close enough to record some good audio. I perched myself on a fence in the middle of the crowd, back about 20 yards from the stairs where the bulk of the action was happening. With headphones on, I listened.
“What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now”, the crowd chanted.
Some students, who seemed to be leading the protest, had megaphones that they were using to project their voices across the noisy crowd. Many others were just yelling out. I heard chants like…
“No more silence, no more violence. No more silence, no more violence!”
“We will vote! We will vote!”
“Protect kids, not guns. Protect kids, not guns.”
“Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”
“Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
As more and more people piled in for the cause – not just students, but teachers and other adults as well – I looked back and was amazed by the sheer numbers that had showed up. Hundreds if not a thousand people were now gathered outside of the Capitol Building. Government workers and officials had now started to come outside of the building to look at the scene. I wasn’t sure how they felt about it all as they looked down at the crowd. Perhaps they were unwelcoming to the noise and disruption that gathered outside of their place of work. Perhaps they were inspired that a group of young people in such a large number were able to organize and rally around such an important topic. I wasn’t exactly sure, until a young woman spoke over the megaphone commanding the crowd to be quiet for we were about to hear from Governor John Hickenlooper.
I will post the audio from Governor Hickenlooper’s speech here:
His message was brief but welcoming. I learned that the Governor was very receptive to the protest, and that he was grateful for the students assembling for an important cause. Now whether his message was just a “political dodge” to make things run smoothly or not is hard to say; however I would like to believe that he was sincere. After all, there was no harm done in a peaceful protest and any Governor should understand the rights of the people to express the First Amendment. Shortly after, he went into the crowd and began taking some pictures with the students acting as a liaison between the students and the government. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the students and they told me that they felt happy about the protest and that they believed it had been successful. The students told me that they felt the establishment had heard their voices.
Shortly after, the crowd started to dissipate as the students and teachers returned back to their school.
As I sit back and reflect on this powerful event that happened today, a few thoughts come to mind…
How powerful is it when people gather together? I had the opportunity to witness the Women’s March in Denver a few weeks ago and realized this first hand. When large numbers of people gather together from different backgrounds and walks of life, and get behind a common message, it can be very impactful. Not only does it help spread their message but it also gives the people hope. Hope that their voices can be heard, and that still “we the people” have power in this democracy in the USA.
What’s next? When all of this is said and done, no matter how cool it was to witness this ‘students protest’, it still begs the question, “what’s next?”. How can they actually make a difference? Is it just more noise? Or do the people actually create change? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but it’s a question that resonates through me during all of this. From what I hear, the most important thing to do next is to educate yourself on the laws and the government officials who are in power to create and change those laws, and then hit the polls. Voting is the most powerful tool we have as a democracy to create change. So, that means understanding who you are voting for and what moral values they have, as well as what parties they belong to and who they are connected with.
Lastly, a thought that lingers during the aftermath of this protest is one of sadness. It’s powerful that our students are taking to the streets for a topic that is so relevant, yet part of me can’t help but to feel sad at all of this. In my opinion, kids shouldn’t have to worry about changing gun laws. What happened to just being a high schooler and worrying about your next test, or the boy/girl that you like? Now kids are worrying about gun laws in school?? That’s crazy to me. That’s why I’m saddened by this whole thing. The adults in charge have not been able to get it together so now the kids of the next generation will try to.
I’m always hopeful that things will turn around, but this topic in particular seems to a tougher one then most. What should we actually do? Is there anything we can do? There will always be crazy people in this world who want to hurt people. Can we ever stop mass shootings from happening? Should we try to pretend like we can? Should teachers carry weapons and every school have armed guards? Who will pay for that? What sort of repercussions will that have?
It’s a heavy topic for sure. All I know is that when enough people care about a topic like this, we will see a forward movement towards change. And I believe events like what happened outside of the Capitol Building in Denver today make an impact on the hearts and minds of the people in this city and around the country. Im certainly grateful for this eye opening experience, it has made me consider a lot of things I normally wouldn’t. We are definitely in interesting times right now!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’d love to hear some feedback if you have the time.