Philadelphia Accordions / Fountain of Youth

A notable gig that I recently picked up is working as the in-house studio consultant/engineer for Joe Soprani.  For the uninitiated in the Philadelphia accordion scene (no shame in admitting that), Joe is a real legend.  But really, he’s performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra (under Ormandy!), Pavarotti, and has even played for President Eisenhower. 

I’ve been given the task of setting up Joe’s studio and will be engineering sessions of him playing the accordion once we are up and running.  At 77, Joe has this intense desire to record as much of himself as possible, as he thinks that his hands are starting to lose some of the dexterity and motor skills of his younger years. 

To meet Joe is to understand how his hard work has paid off over time with such illustrious gigs and a long and successful career.  At no more than 5’5”, Joe is a fireball.  He gets up at 6 AM everyday, practices for several hours, and can’t fall asleep before midnight or 1 AM (he’s also pointed out that he regularly does push-ups, the kind where you launch yourself into the air a bit).  Joe just lives and breathes music.  It’s incredibly inspiring to see such energy from an elder statesman (seriously, how many 77 year olds do you know that want to learn Pro Tools 10?!).  Joe only reaffirms my belief that music is a fountain of youth.  It is painfully obvious that music is what gets him up in the morning, keeps his mind and body active, and what helps him maintain this youthful curiosity and respect for the craft.  If you need any more proof of my theory, just look at 103 year old composer Elliot Carter.  This is the kind of inspiration that keeps me going as a young & struggling musician/composer/engineer/whatever it takes to pay the rent.

So far, the gig is going great.  The highlights are when we take breaks for coffee or good Italian wine (depending on the time of day), and a slice of pie.  This is when he tells me stories of his life as a musician, educator, and husband.  I’m exceptionally lucky if he’s in the mood to play a bit of his accordion.  Joe’s still got it.

 

October concert write-ups

There always seems to be great music happening, it’s just a question of time and resources to try and catch what you want to hear. 

On a recent trip to visit a friend in the mountains of North Carolina, I had the rare privilege (which I didn’t realize at the time) of seeing legendary bluegrass band Hot Rize perform.  The concert took place in one of the smallest yet most remarkable towns I’ve ever visited: Marshall, NC.  This is the type of place that in some ways is really a time warp: balancing the ever-present old Southern tradition and everything that comes with it while simultaneously possessing a quirky and artsy vibe.  It’s the type of town that has a tattoo shop next to an antique store, a café beside old railroad tracks that presumably brought commerce and goods during a particular time in American history that has long since past.

The concert took place in an open air, town hall style building, and it appeared that the entire populace came out for the show.  This was easily the most proper bluegrass I’ve ever seen – guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass crowding around an omni mic and repositioning themselves for various solos and harmony vocals.>  The energy was incredible, and the performance was air tight.  Bluegrass, country, and folk are all styles that I enjoy but will never claim expertise.  Hot Rize validated the institution of these genres, its importance, and the crowd reinforced the familiarity and comfortability that it brings to an entire culture of people.  That, and the pickin’ was unreal.  My friend was a photographer for the concert

Back in Philly a few weeks later, I decided to check out an Ars Nova show.  This organization does an amazing job in bringing experimental, jazz, and new music shows to Philadelphia.  Held at the equally great and dilapidated Rotunda, Ars Nova was hosting Joshua Abrams’s Natural Information Society.  I wasn’t familiar with Abrams, but I saw that he’s a bass player, and I’m a bass player, so that was good enough reason to attend.  In reading his bio, I saw that Abrams has played with an incredibly diverse and deeply respected range of musicians, from Bonnie “Prince” Billy to The Roots.  This particular gig showcased Abrams playing upright bass and guimbri alternately in a duet with drummer Chad Taylor.  As Abrams explained, the guimbri is a three-stringed Moroccan bass lute.  One of the strings produced a drone tone, so the music that came out was very trance-like and beautiful as Abrams and Taylor morphed time signatures through slightly changing ostinato patterns.  It was minimalism with enough structure for Western ears but also a world element to challenge those same ears in other ways, and above all unbelievably captivating.  Other voices emerged when Abrams picked up his string bass – atonal melodies, jazz stylings, and some very experimental techniques.  A small table next to the bass allowed Abrams to pick up different types of bows and other toys to use on the bass, including a “bracelet” of some sort that he wore as he plucked the strings, creating a new percussive texture with each note.  It was simple yet so inventive.  On a handful of tunes, Taylor picked up an amplified Mbira, an African thumb piano, to produce new pentatonic patterns allowing Abrams to bow the most moving melodic lines over top.

The very next night, I was given tickets to see Dr. John at the renowned Keswick Theater in Glenside.  As I’ve always wanted to see Dr. John, I couldn’t miss the chance (he’s not getting any younger, either).  Of course, the good Dr. did not disappoint.  Really, Dr. John defines cool.  Dressed in a purple suit and walking out with a voodoo adorned cane, the man is a legend.  There’s not much more to say besides that this show made me miss New Orleans.

I’ve got some projects in the works as well, which I might actually progress on if I stop going to shows.  It’s a delicate balance, because seeing live music is so inspiring, but you also have to make time for your own creativity.