NOR Junior Theater’s Production of Godspell

My office for the duration of the show!

Occasionally I like to take a project that is both community oriented and a bit outside of my comfort zone. I feel that this approach lets me do my part to support the arts while simultaneously pushing my abilities forward. So when I saw that a local junior theater troupe was seeking a guitarist for a production of the rock musical Godspell, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I figured that since I had done some large ensemble work in the past I could muddle through easily enough.

Boy was I wrong. Musicals are a whole different animal than what I’m used to, for many reasons. The most obvious one, after the fact, was having to watch intently for the cues to begin a tune at precisely the correct moment, rather than just counting in on your own. Luckily for the band, we had a really great and experienced vocal director who helped us with cues and conducted us through the variable tempos.

Another pretty huge difference from my normal shows was just the variety of styles presented in the musical. Musical theater compositions are great opportunities to showcase anything from Cabaret type numbers to Jimi Hendrix inspired rock blues riffs, and sometimes the style changes can happen in an instant.

Snazzed up and ready to play!

I won’t lie. This production was very, very challenging for me. However, the tenacity and talent of the performers really made it worthwhile. I am grateful to have been a part of the support system that allowed these young actors and musicians the opportunity to gain valuable stage experience.

I’m not sure I’m ever going to pursue any more theater gigs, but at least I have an idea of what is entailed in case another opportunity pops up. I can definitely say that this project really sharpened my musicianship, so I feel that both of my original objectives were nicely met.

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The 30th Annual Bakersfield Jazz Festival

It sure has taken me a while to blog about this pretty amazing experience! I was so completely exhausted after the local Jazz Fest. I took some time off, dealt with a very major change in my living circumstances, and battled some health issues. It’s been eventful and thoroughly trying.

However, I am now fully back in the saddle, as it were, with teaching and performing! I am looking forward to the rest of this year with my students and one more gig with the big band.

With that out of the way, here’s a bit about my experience playing the momentous occasion of the 30th Anniversary for Bakersfield Jazz.

Our job as The Shafter Big Band was to play the auxiliary stage at the festival when there were breaks between the sets of the big names that rolled through, one of which was Aubrey Logan, who I am now a total fan of. We played on the second day of the festival, which was May 7th. For some interesting context, the first day of the festival experienced a horrendous downpour of rain, the likes of which are rarely ever seen in Bakersfield. Being held outdoors, the torrent of rain had performers squeezing into the minimally covered areas of the stages.

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Notice the tiny covered area of the stage and the rain clouds which threatened certain destruction

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The auxiliary stage was better covered, but would still have us floating our gear out in canoes in a heavy rain storm!

 

I freaked out a little, because I knew my usual rig was not rain friendly in the least. Vacuum tubes and water are not good bedfellows. So, I had to purchase a new amp for this occasion to ensure that I could protect my equipment in the case that we got rained out, but would still get the job done. I settled on this pretty awesome Cube 80gx that I have been super happy with since.

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My new amp, complete with amp stand to prevent it floating away during the rainpocalypse

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READY FOR WAR. Or you know, a few sets at a local jazz festival.

It’s obvious I was prepared for the eventuality of rain. Some might say too prepared. In my defense, we had to be there most of the day from afternoon until late in the evening. In my prosecution, it actually didn’t rain a single drop that whole day, so I felt stupid. Yin and yang!

All in all we played three sets, got a comped lunch, watched some amazing big time jazz acts on the main stage, and basically just had a great old time. I honestly feel it’s one of the best shows we’ve done, as well. One big part was having the help of PacWest Sound, who really balanced our live mix with expert precision. Very impressive. The only negative part of the day was that the auxiliary stage was placed in a little microterrain valley with the food vendors, and the constant smoke gave me a pretty bad asthma attack towards the end of the night. But, that’s a personal health condition I’ll probably always have to contend with if I want to be active in any way, including musically.

Here are a few shots of the event from start to finish:

Lastly, for anyone interested, here are a few vids of us swingin it out!

A Long Absence And An Upcoming Gig

So, where the heck have I been?? In short, life got crazy. There has been a change up in living circumstances and a house sale involved, as well as health issues. I’m sure everyone has a similar story about getting busy with day-to-day things.

But I’m back! And with some pretty awesome news. I will be playing the 30th Annual Bakersfield Jazz Festival as part of the Shafter Big Band! I’m very excited to share the outdoor theater that has seen many great musicians, travelling and local, perform their craft.

With that, here’s a video of me running over some melodic ideas over a simple i – Altered V progression, with a bit about the gig at the end.

A Night of Jazz – Benefit For The Shafter Symphony Orchestra

Every year, the Shafter community hosts a fundraiser for their orchestra, featuring jazz music and dancing. A nice dinner is included in the price of admittance. Last year, we lost the newly built venue at the last minute and had to play in the surprisingly nice local high school cafeteria. This year, the Ford Theater, our original destination, is open for business, and I was not lied to when I was told it is nice. What was once a Ford auto dealership is now a theater that I am told can host anything from music performance to live theater!

Since we were not the first act to play, but still had a ton of setup, we arrived early to arrange the stage and set levels.

Checking my tone, levels, and warming up my hands

This used to be a place where cars were sold!

Double checking my tone, levels, and warming up my hands

Double checking my tone, levels, and warming up my hands

After setup, we had some time to eat and rub elbows with the staff and the other musicians who were playing that night.

This man was the pianist of the small combo that played before us. They were amazing!

This man was the pianist of the small combo that played before us. They were amazing!

They played very beautifully

The quintet played very beautifully

They played one of my all time favorite songs: Brazil

They played one of my all time favorite songs: Brazil

After dinner and the wonderful quintet, it was showtime for us!

A great shot of the band

A great shot of the band

A good shot of the whole stage and *all* of the band members

A good shot of the whole stage and *all* of the band members

Our trumpet section belting out some tunes

Our trumpet section belting out some tunes

Live trombones. Better than headphones

Live trombones. Better than headphones

They want to SAX you a question

They want to SAX you a question

Our keyboardist and drummer laying down the foundation

Our keyboardist and drummer laying down the foundation

Our keyboardist and bassist, making sure we all stay on track and focused

Our keyboardist and bassist, making sure we all stay on track and focused

I thought we were really on fire for this gig. I don’t know if it was the venue, or the fact that we had a nice break from performance for a little while before playing again, but I felt a real energy from the band that kept me focused and in the zone. And of course, we played for dancers, which I really enjoy doing.

Some audience members before the show started

Some audience members before the show started

There's no need to feel down

There’s no need to feel down – audience members boogie down to our rendition of YMCA

Dancers dancin fancy dances

Dancers dancin fancy dances

I have to admit, I was pretty exhausted after this show. We were there for a total of 5 hours from setup to call time, to break down. It was totally worth it! I haven’t had that much fun in a really long time. I really hope I get to play this venue again someday, and I had a real blast with the big band again this year.

For those who are interested, here are a couple of videos of our performance that night:

Shafter Big Band – Smooth Dancers 2015

The last time the Shafter Big Band played for the Smooth Dancers, the stage was incredibly tiny. No, I mean really small. The bassist and I had to stand very specifically so we wouldn’t be fencing with the necks of our instruments! This time, we had a TON of room. No in-betweens in The Music Biz, I suppose! The room acoustics weren’t as bad as the last venue, but there was still a bunch of natural reverb.

Usually, I arrive very early to a performance date because of my gear setup, while most of the band just needs to show up with their horn. This time, I brilliantly got lost on the way there and had to rush in with my 64 lbs of amplification on a dolly, gig bag on my back, and guitar in hand. Most of the dancers had already arrived! I’m sure I was quite the spectacle.

"The show must go on." - Yoda

“The show must go on.” – Yoda

Once everything was setup, it was time to play. I’ve expressed this elsewhere, but I really enjoy playing for dancers. It’s easier to feel the appreciation for what you’re doing when the audience is expressing it in physical movement!

Early in the night

Early in the night

As the evening deepens...

As the evening deepens…

You can dance if you wanna!

You can dance if you wanna!

I really felt the whole band was really on that night. The energy of many musicians working together to make something memorable is something that I really love about live performance.

And on that final note, here is a video of one of our performances that night:

Don’t Be A Music Snob

So, I’ve been spending some of my spare time reading The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, which I recommend to anyone with an interest in jazz, music history, or even history in general. The book is densely packed with perspectives on the African influence on American musical culture and vice versa, including the anthropological process of syncretism and the Moorish invasion of the Iberian peninsula all the way back in the eighth century.

However, one specific concept really spoke to me and resonated with my experiences on a truly personal level. Gioia makes the argument that the peculiar fusions of culture which incubated jazz music were a product of the loosened social restrictions that defined 19th century New Orleans. Increased tolerance of foreign cultural influences allowed an absolutely huge range of music to be consumed and internalized by the population. To quote Gioia himself:

Beyond its purely musicological impact, the Latin-Catholic culture, whose influence permeated nineteenth-century New Orleans, benignly fostered the development of jazz music. This culture, which bore its own scars of discrimination, was far more tolerant in accepting unorthodox social hybrids than the English-Protestant ethos that prevailed in other parts of the New World… This comparatively less rigid atmosphere helped shape attitudes and behavior patterns in New Orleans…

What really hit me about this passage can be encapsulated in four simple words: don’t be a snob. When I was younger and studying music in college, I thought jazz was the end-all, be-all of music. I didn’t want to listen or play any other style. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really limiting both my education and musical development. How ironic was it that I held such an elitist mindset when jazz music was born from the open-minded collaboration of all kinds of influences?

It took a real humbling in the realm of pop music to wake me up. I definitely regret the time I spent thinking I had found the best kind of music in the world. I still love and have a passion for jazz music. It’s my comfort zone and my favorite kind of music in which to immerse myself. But I can now recognize the beauty of and connect with more kinds of music than ever before. Even songs or entire styles that one might dislike will have plenty to teach a musician with an open enough mind to really listen. Some really amazing things can emerge from an inclusive, rather than exclusive, creative process.

Even though this lesson took me many years to learn, I am glad that I can strive to be more humble with whatever time I have left in being a musician.

Guest Spot at The Bakersfield Jazz Workshop

So, about a month ago, the leader of the big band I play in approached me about playing a small gig with an impromptu quintet at the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop. For those who haven’t heard (I hadn’t at the time I was asked), The Bakersfield Jazz Workshop is a wonderfully supportive community of local musicians with a passion for Jazz music. At a small venue in a newly reopened restaurant, you’ll find experienced players guiding and coaching younger players through standard tunes, open jam sessions, and local big names stopping by to say hello. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m glad that I was hipped to it!

Honestly, as the gig date began to approach I felt nervous. I haven’t played in a small combo in many years. As the only chordal instrument, I was feeling the pressure. Luckily for me, our quintet was packed with talented musicians. Rehearsal went pretty swimmingly, with a lot of notes taken for repeats and solo breaks.

Rehearsing our set.

Rehearsing our set.

The night of the performance, I arrived early as I always do, to make sure I had time to setup my rig, do a soundcheck, warm up my hands, and so on. Alas, this plan was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Keeping in mind that at this point I had never attended (or heard of) a workshop night, I watched as the gear for the introductory session was assembled and set. I had the pleasure of watching students learn the fundamentals of soloing strategies and playing through standards, backed by a really awesome rhythm section. Quarters were cramped, so I decided to keep my gear stashed and wait until the intro course was over to set everything up.

Soon enough, the beginning jam had ended, and it became clear that we would be playing our set in a matter of minutes. I rushed my amp on stage and squeezed myself into a small space among the gear already present. Somehow I was able to keep from holding everyone up. Luckily, we played through our whole set without any technical difficulties – a small miracle as any amplified guitar player can tell you!

Just duet!

Just duet!

Keeping us on target and straight ahead!

Keeping us on target and straight ahead!

Laid back and cool the whole night!

Laid back and cool the whole night!

Kickin voicings, and I may have done a tiny bit of melodic counterpoint at some part during the gig

Kickin voicings, and I may have done a tiny bit of melodic counterpoint at some part during the gig

I had a great time at the Jazz Workshop. The community is so supportive and filled with talent! I am honored to have been invited, and I hope I did them proud. For any locals reading this who are interested in attending, you can find their website here.

Lastly, here is the quintet playing Blue Skies and The Way You Look Tonight.

Upcoming Bakersfield Jazz Workshop Gig

I’ve got a show coming up at the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop, in a really awesome quintet. The tune I play in the video is just a little free form jazz blues improvisation, but at the show we’ll be playing some classic jazz standards. If you’re in the area, the workshop is open to all musicians and enthusiasts of jazz music, so stop on by for some fun! More details in the video.

The Complete, Unabridged (Slightly Edited, Partially Fictionalized) History of West High School

Monday was a momentous occasion for the local West High School, being its 50th anniversary, and I was graciously offered a spot in the pit band backing the live music aspects of the show. The show ran two hours, and was really a whole multimedia presentation, incorporating a very professionally shot and edited introduction movie, recorded music, and custom arranged medleys by the talented and hard working Mr. Warren Dobson.

When I was hired, I knew we would be mostly playing medleys and that the show had a retrospective, nostalgic theme. It was only once I received the show packet that I understood the true scope of what we were doing. All in all, there was material for over 30 songs in the show! I nervously began my standard preparation procedures for the performance.

But I shouldn’t have been worried. Once we were at rehearsal a few weeks later, I could feel the pieces fall into place. Mr. Dobson knew exactly what he needed out of the band and was able to guide the proceedings. Protip: it definitely helps to have extreme talent like John Barker on bass and Dom Miller on drums.

Right to left: Warren Dobson, Jazz Garcia, John Barker, Dom Miller (not pictured)

Right to left: Warren Dobson, Jazz Garcia, John Barker, Dom Miller (not pictured)

A few days after rehearsal, the show was on! The band arrived early for setup, as is customary, and for an impromptu run through with the choir for a few tunes. Unfortunately, I missed most of the run through as I had trouble setting up my rig. My Twin Reverb has been acting a bit strange on the vibrato channel and emitting an ever louder growing hum as time goes by. I love the smooth, acoustic sound my amp can give, but its weight and upkeep may prove too much for me in the long run. Luckily, Bruce Milburn, the extremely knowledgeable sound engineer running the board was able to assist me in getting an acceptable sound for the show.

An aging guitarist in his natural habitat, setting up his gear.

An aging guitarist in his natural habitat, setting up his gear.

The concert began with a hilarious introduction movie, which really loosened the audience and put them in a great mood for our first number. The music consisted of a few full tunes, but mostly of by-decade-medleys for the 60s, 70’s, and 80’s. Our biggest hit of the night was probably the Beatles Medley which was comprised of In My Life, Penny Lane, and Hey Jude. As a huge bonus, featured on saxophone was none other than Mr. Paul Perez, whose solos and melodies garnered great reactions from the audience. Throughout the performance, touching tribute was paid to prior teachers and staff of West High.

Performing one of many tunes.

Performing one of many tunes.

One of our big medleys

Right to left, in the pit: Paul Perez, Dom Miller, Warren Dobson, Jazz Garcia. Not pictured: John Barker

The Complete, Unabridged (Slightly Edited, Partially Fictionalized) History of West High School was a great show, and a project I am proud to have participated in. Finally, I’d like to congratulate Mr. Warren Dobson for producing an awesome experience for West High alumni and students.

Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church Orchestra – Christmas Concert

Well it seems the holiday season got away from me, as such busy times often do. This performance was on the 14th of December with the Shafter Mennonite orchestra and choir, and was a lovely way to end the year.

Surprising opening acts seems to be a theme of the gigs I’ve been playing, and this was no exception. While we gathered on stage for the performance, there was a set played by a small handbell choir! It was a really gorgeous performance, and reminded me that at some time I would really like to learn some kind of percussion instrument.

The orchestra performance went off without a hitch. During rehearsals there had been a few concerns with sound reinforcement because many of the instruments were acoustic while I was playing with amplification. I was not in a position where I could hear the balance of the ensemble, so we decided to patch me through the house PA system. This ended up ironing out the wrinkles pretty well! There is no substitute for a sound reinforcement professional who knows what they are doing.

The set list was mostly pop orchestra, with a couple of alt country styled tunes featuring solo vocals sprinkled in here and there. I really enjoyed playing for the Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church and their talented musicians, and would love to play for them again sometime in the future.