Welcome back my friends,
I recently returned from a great tour with my Tokyo based group, YO. It was an amazing trip which covered some of my favorite spots along the west coast. These two artists are among the top in their field of traditional art and at the very top when it comes to modern and fusion music. So together, we were able to create a show that begins and show cases each of our ancient and very traditional playing styles and then work our way into a true blending of modern styles which we all three have grown up with. All the while, we are staying true to our pure acoustic instruments which as many of you know, are intensely difficult to learn even the basics and very labor intensive to maintain.
I feel very honored to be working together with this trio and it looks like we'll return to the US again in 2014 and hopefully expanding into Europe & Australia in the future. As for this first tour, we met in Seattle where my friend and student Jon Crane was producing the events. They were joined from Tokyo by Yutaka-san's manager Masaji Kinoshita. He is a wonderful and very talented man who in many ways made this band possible. He is the kind of guy who has a vision and can coordinate everything it takes to make it a reality. He was the gravitational force that brought us all together as YO.
Akihisa-san, Yutaka-san, Masaji-san (tour manager), Ty at Seattle Airport
Our first event was held on Bainbridge Island in the beautiful main hall of Grace Church. It is a wonderful hall to play in because of its natural acoustics and inspirational wooden architecture. Jon did a great job in producing the show and we had a nice full house with the music loving audience of Bainbridge. It was our first show outside of Japan and it was a memorable one.
After the concert at "The Pub" our favorite place for oysters & local beer
The next night we took the ferry into Seattle and played the Royal Room, a famous jazz & blues club. It was on that night, I realized I was coming down with a flew which explained a low energy and foggy mind which was more than just jet lag. So I survived the concert with a growing fever and worry that I would become sicker and sicker as the tour got under way.
And my worry was correct. By the time we reached Boulder, two days later, I was in the full throws of Bronchitis with my ears completely clogged and headache and deep cough. Not a fun way to start off a tour with a new band.
But I learned many things during this tour, and one of them was that those hard times can expose the character of the people you are with and their ability to deal in a positive way with a tough situation. The YO boys really showed their kindness, understanding and really took care of me when I was basically just trying to survive hour by hour.
During this time, we were staying in my home in the Boulder mountains. I was able to come out of my room only long enough to do small rehearsals to try to develop the new songs and refine the material we had in mind for the shows. Then I would disappear back into the downstairs "infirmary". However, the guys were upstairs in the living room for up to 10 hours a day practicing and working on the music. There were a few new songs which are totally awesome, I am sure we will perform them on the next tour.
Yutaka-san, immersed in the music
Mid-week we had a nice interview and live performance on the local public radio station KGNU. It was funny, because literally, I could not hear anything at that point and had to watch Yutaka's fingers in order to know where the beats and song sections were. Our friend David Wheeler helped set up the interview and luckily was there to MC for us. I think the show went over quite well and the phones were ringing off the hook to know more about tickets for the big Boulder Theater concert the following sunday.
In the KGNU live concert studio
Akihisa-san and I have an interesting connection through our love of Buddhist spirituality and ancient Samurai tradition. As some of you may know, the shakuhachi has a strong tie to the Monk and Samurai training of the old times. Breath and attention training were at the core of the old style shakuhachi tradition. Thus for those players who are spiritually inclined, there is a great deal of Buddhist, Shinto and meditation wisdom available through the practice. I think with my childhood love of old Japan legends and later, my years of Aikido training, planted a deep seed of respect and fascination for the Bushido mind of Japan.
Akihisa-san & Ty watching videos of master Laido (sword form) demonstrations on Youtube
So mid-week we began our road trip down through southern Colorado towards Pagosa Springs. On the way we stopped at my friend, David Enke's home / workshop / venue in La Veda. His house is like an instrument museum with the most interesting of the instruments built by him. He is also known for his company Pick up the world, which installs custom pickups for acoustic instruments of all kinds.
Hanging with David
The following night we played a concert in the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. And great little theater which opened only a year ago which features art, plays and occasional concerts. It is located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains perhaps 7 hours from Boulder. It is really a total wilderness area, filled with wildlife of all kinds. As a matter of fact, as we were driving into Pagosa Springs at around 11pm, we had to stop the car because in the middle of the road was a mother black bear and two young cubs. They crossed the road right in front of us, in a way welcoming us to Pagosa.
The Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts
The next morning we could not resist to visit the famous "The Buck Stops Here" restaurant/market. It is the only place which serves fresh Elk meat burgers which is perhaps the finest quality burger in the world.
The famous Elk burger restaurant in the middle of Elk country
During our drive down to Santa Fe, we passed by a special natural cliff echo chamber. A place where many musicians stop and play music or record their albums. We walked into the canyon and enjoyed the acoustics for a while. It was an amazingly beautiful day for the drive with the rich blue skies and the classic western desert landscape.
Amazing deep blue sky against the cliffs
Yutaka-san entering the echo canyon
Our concert in Santa Fe was at my dear friend Bruce Dunlap's event space. If you are not familiar with his music, you can see him and his music here: http://brucedunlap.com/home.html His theater is also a venue I have played many times with people like Art Lande, Paul McCandless, Shubhendra Rao as well as some duet shows with just Bruce and myself. Always a pleasure to be at his place.
Live at the Gig Performance Theater w/ Bruce Dunlap on guitar
The spotlight show of our tour was in Boulder Colorado at the legendary Boulder Theater. I have produced Zakir Hussain with many different artists there such as Shakti, Sultan Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, L. Shankar, Masters of Percussion and many more since 1995. It is, I think the premier theater in Colorado.
YO, at the Boulder Theater
Playing with these guys in a proper theater with good lighting and effects was such a great experience because we could really make use of the story telling aspect of our music. We could spotlight a specific soloist for a traditional feature or slowly bring up the mood of a piece using color during a duet. To be able to direct the audience to follow the music in a deeper way using theatrical effects showed us all of the potential of this project and a direction to head with our band.
Our MC for the night was David Wheeler who is a world renowned shakuhachi player himself. His expertise in Japanese culture, music and language made him the perfect person to host us. The last encore of the night, David joined us for some fun improvisations.
It was a great night at the theater and we will have a YouTube movie
coming out soon from that concert
After party with many friends and my son Shaun (next to me)
Next, we were off to Honolulu Hawaii. Our first concert was at the famous Doris Duke Theater. The Hawaii concerts were produced by Mike Crall and sponsored by Bose. We had a great first concert in Hawaii as always when Mike produces my shows. He and I have been working together ever since I use to go to Hawaii with Krishna Das & Ram Dass in the early 2000s.
Akihisa-san, Ty & Yutaka at the Doris Duke Theater in Honolulu
On our day off, we drove around the Island to Turtle Bay where a legendary old broken down bus, serves garlic butter shrimp. It was well worth the drive and we all smelled like garlic for a couple days afterwards.
The famous Kahuku garlic shrimp Bus
Of course we had the hit the beaches a little - it would not be right to leave Hawaii without getting in the ocean. The water is so clean and inviting, almost always a perfect temperature. After jumping in I always feel like reborn.
Akihisa-san & Ty found some special connection to a huge Bayan tree
We found the perfect place to swim!
Our final concert of the tour was near Diamond Head at the Unity Church of Hawaii. I have played there a number of times since about 2005 when I did my first classical Indian tour of Hawaii with sitar maestro Roshan Bhartiya.
We had a lovely audience for our final night on the Island and we all agreed it was our best concert. By this time I was actually feeling much better from my sickness and could hear the sounds around me (which helps when playing music). We were even joined by Yutaka-san's family. His wife (a famous singer in Japan), his child and step parents as well as some well known musicians of the Island. Really a great conclusion for the ending of our tour.
Traditional Set at Unity of Hawaii
Modern, casual Set at Unity of Hawaii - my Aloha shirt was glowing:)
Aloha, Mahalo and back to Japan
Playing with these guys has been a true joy. It is interesting to find ways of connecting even though there is a language barrier. Since we all want to grow as a band and deepen our connection, we will study each others language more and more. One thing I have learned over the years, is that the deep impact a band might have on their audience is greatly due to the interrelationships within the band and who the artists have become as human beings. There are exceptions to this of course, but on the whole it holds to be true. I remember my teacher Zakir Hussain telling me once that it is important to carefully choose and then develop your musical relationships. His collaborations became what they are today because of that commitment and continued interpersonal exploration. I hope this collaboration with YO can become one such relationship.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for another musical chapter coming up soon. I wish you and yours all the very best in all you do.