>>> Jean-Luc Ponty in Concert
Last Friday, a friend and I had the privilege of seeing a live performance by master jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and his four-piece band at the beautifully intimate and secluded One World Theater in Austin, Texas. He was promoting his latest album, Life Enigma. The music and the performers were truly amazing and quite inspiring to someone like myself who is always looking to explore new styles and material by other artists.
For those of you who don't know who Ponty is, this Frenchman
almost singlehandedly paved the way for today's most well-known contemporary
jazz fusion and world music violinists such as Karen Briggs (Yanni), Charlie
Bisharat (John Tesh and Strunz and Farah), and my dear friends Eileen Ivers
(Riverdance and The Eileen Ivers Band) and Lorenza Ponce (Sheryl Crow and John
Tesh). Like Jean-Luc did from the start of his career, all of these incredible
artists, each a "fiddler" in his or her own right, helped to break the classical
mold of traditional violin playing.
By the 1960s, Ponty was already making a name for himself as
a jazz violinist and even helped Zeta Music Systems to pioneer the development
of their first Jazz electric violin. (I own a Zeta, in case you forgot!) He
has recorded numerous albums and collaborated with an amazingly diverse mix
of cultures and wonderful musicians in his musical journey down through the
decades. The evening's concert was highlighted with new pieces from Life
Enigma as well as classic Ponty favorites such as the Caribbean-flavored "Caracas" and his transcendental "Enigmatic Ocean".
At the end of this electrifying evening, I was honored to meet
Monseiur Ponty and his amazing band members, including Thierry Arpino on drums,
longtime collaborators Guy N'Sangue Akwa on bass and percussionist Moustapha
Cisse' (who both performed on Ponty's South African-influenced album, Tchokola), and his new keyboardist William LeComte. Special thanks to my good friend Steve for facilitating this wonderful evening of musical entertainment and to this incredible band for for generously sharing their gift of music with the world. This memory is something I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
>>> Giving Thanks
Joni Mitchell put it brilliantly when she said that "you don't
know what you've got 'til it's gone." Luckily, we're blessed with chance after
chance to start over again before we lose something we love, including our
families. The word "family" means different things to different people. To
some, a family is the people who we are related to in name and in blood. To
others, a family can be a group of close friends. I'm lucky to have realized
that I can still have the best of both worlds.
September 11, 2001, changed the world as we knew it. While some
of us lost our sense of faith and security, others of us lost more than that.
Eleven of my dear friends, each a part of my musical family which I've performed with when touring and recording with the Dreamsound Orchestra, were on American Airlines Flight 11, which was hijacked and crashed into the Trade Center in New York. Other people across the nation and the world lost parents, brothers and sisters, children, and best friends during the terrorist attacks.
Before that day, my relationship with my family was more of
an illusion and a word rather than a reality. I had let emotional and geographic
distances separate me from them and when I was with them, I truly believe I
wasn't doing my part to be there for them. However, experiencing such terror
and loss (which I still feel today) after September's tragic events made me
see that we can't let differences and grudges keep us apart from the people
that we love the most.
I spent this last Thursday with my mother, who recently returned from working with university sororities on the East and West Coasts for the past three years, my father and stepmother, who moved away from Austin to their Gulf Coast home several months ago, my brothers and their families, and the family dogs, including my beloved Kooby. It was very different from past Thanksgivings. We didn't just eat, sleep, and watch television. As a matter of fact, I don't remember the TV at my brother Marc's house even being turned on. Maybe that's because he doesn't have cable... then again, maybe it's because September 11 changed us, too.
Thanksgiving Day 2001 was truly a day of giving thanks for my
family. We caught up on each others' lives, spent time with one another, played
in the backyard, and just enjoyed being there. Last Thanksgiving was very different, since my mother was still in Georgia and my father and stepmother had left town to spend the break in Mexico. Basically, I spent that day between being alone at home with Kooby, eating leftovers, and watching the parades on TV. You can imagine that this year's holiday was a welcome change.
I'm glad that September 11 didn't affect me any more than it
already had. I'm blessed with some very wonderful people that I can call my
family in both name and in friendship. Even though these events two months
ago were a tragedy, the aftermath has strengthened my ties with my parents
and brothers and I hope that this connection gets stronger and stronger. I
sincerely hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving 2001 and spent
it with people that you love. God bless.
>>> Testimonial Ocean
June 4, 2004
Hey friends, hope all is well. I also hope you're as happy as I am that summer is finally here. Not because of this blistering Texas heat, which can be very unpleasant and costly on the electric bill (thank God for air conditioners!), but because it's an excuse to connect with something that I've been fond of ever since I was small: the water. I love the water. It's always brought so much peace and tranquility to have that cool, rushing feeling surround my mind, body, and soul. It really helps me to iron out those crazy thought processes that aren't going quite the way I want them to, since I usually get tangled up within all the music I'm writing and all the events I'm planning.
If any of you have been to any of my solo performances, whether it's my acoustic duo with Jennifer on cello or a full band performance with the addition of Jesse Jack on keys and several other awesome musicians, you've probably already heard the song "Testimonial Ocean". The idea for this instrumental piece actually came to me from a special person in my life who was elemental in helping me to realize my career as a solo artist, and this person and I have remained very close, despite the end of our romantic partnership. Obviously, this piece of music might be mistaken for a "breakup" song, the creation of which I'm sure many songwriters are familiar with, but I never really realized up until lately how much of an expression of my soul that this song would become.
You see, "Testimonial Ocean" was inspired by a dream (possibly a premonition) that my friend had of him connecting with his family after the passing of his parents, and the scattering of his mother's and father's ashes over the Atlantic Ocean, after which he and his brothers proceed to rehash their many life events as a sort of testimony to themselves and each other. I thought that his story was hauntingly beautiful and decided to write a melody using this dream as my inspiration. However, the song took many new meanings for me as many changes occurred in my professional and personal lives, and it almost seemed as though my world was turning upside down. Indeed, it was a very weird and sometimes scary time for me.
However, anyone that has ever been close to me, including my parents or some of the musicians that I've been close with while working with them over the past few years, will always tell me that things always happen for a reason. This same theme was touched upon in my Thanksgiving journal from a couple of years ago. The hardest times of all are what make us stronger. In the midst of putting together my own band (which wasn't easy!), creating music for my first solo album, and dealing with social and love-life issues, I once again fell back on my family for the moral and spiritual support that only they can provide. Recently, my Dad and stepmom moved back to Austin after a couple of years of living out on the Texas Gulf Coast, and they graciously invited me out to their new home and their country club pool.
Keep in mind that although I am still young (a whopping 25 years old!), I have an old soul, and it was in need of some deep cleansing. It was the first time that I'd been in the water in years. Suddenly, everything became crystal clear. It was like I had taken all the metaphorical ashes of past heartbreak, disappointment with past experiences in my profession, and frustration with things that sometimes just weren't right, and dove head-first into my very own "Testimonial Ocean", scattering those ashes and experiencing a resolution within my heart, mind, and soul like no other. I emerged from that day at the pool and in the sun with a newfound clarity and peace of mind, ready to embrace whatever came next.
I know that it's rare that any of us have the time to just drop everything and just live life, but I'm really glad that I've already
been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy the water so early in the summer.
We just have to remember to take time away from all that clouds our minds,
damages our hearts, and twists our nerves, and give ourselves time for our
own spiritual growth, so we can just "be", without carrying around any of
that toxic emotional baggage. I hope this has been as healing for you as
it has for me. See you soon.
Love, O (Thanks, Joe!)
>>> Thanksgiving Sessions with Jen
November 23, 2004
Okay, so cellist Jennifer Mulhern totally rocks. Not like those of you who have seen her perform don't already know this... but I knew it a long time ago back when she and I went to SWT together, and that's why I first recommended her to Katy of Matson Belle at about this time last year after reconnecting with her over summer 2003. She was amazing this weekend! We actually did a "mini-concert" at a wedding before the ceremony actually started at this beautiful Presbyterian church off of Anderson Mill and Olson in North Austin... the acoustics were great. The wedding guests loved her!
However, Sunday's recording session for her parts on my CD was even more unreal! Jen performed with me on an acoustic violin/cello version of "Testimonial Ocean", which then segues into the full-band electronic version of the same song, as well as an extended, morose Middle-Eastern solo on "Fallen" (it's a beautiful tear jerker with her solo, but it segues into the funky Latin beat of "Resurrection"). We ran out of studio time on Sunday, but Jen will be coming back for more takes on other songs (including "Exodus" alongside newcomer cellist Michal Raizen).
Then, on Monday, Michael Rodriguez (leader and featured guitarist of The Brew) came and did one of his trademark fiery flamenco solos for "Exodus". HE HIT A HOME RUN! He'll be coming back as well for more songs on both classical (acoustic) and electric guitars. It's really coming together!!!! Imagining what next year's live show will be like, with the talents of these and other great musicians onstage, just gives me chills. Oh, and by the way... HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!
>>> Introducing... vocalist Karma
November 30, 2004
I was recently introduced to a very cute and sweet young woman while performing at a show with The Brew. I was told that Karma (yes, Karma!) was a singer, but of course, in the Live Music Capital of the World, singers are a dime a dozen. Well, after chatting with her for a few minutes, it was apparent to me that she wasn't like other singers here in town - your typical pop-rock singer-songwriter or lounge jazz crooner.
Karma has been singing since she was a very little girl,
and was inspired by the greats, all across the board, including Etta James,
Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald... even the pre-Bobby Whitney
Houston, it seems! She was also mentored by another very talented local performer, my friend Courtney Rutherford who sings for The Atlantics. I'd been actively looking for a female vocalist with a soulful, jazzy, R&B style to counter my vocals and give the instrumental, violin-fronted pieces on the CD that extra edge, so I invited her to lunch to get to know her a little better.
We hit it off immediately over a delicious King Ranch Chicken and Caesar salad at ZAX Pints and Plates in downtown Austin and I invited her to join Adam and me in the studio later that evening, just so
she could get an idea of the music, since she seemed interested in the project.
Well, it turned out that girl can sing leads, harmonize, solo - you name
it - with great ease. I had the privelege of watching her in action tonight,
since she and I are performing two duets on the CD, and she'll also take
lead vocals on a few of the tracks. You're really in for a treat, now that
Karma is a part of this "eclectronic-jazz" fusion record!
>>> Reasons for Living...
December 7, 2004
If you've happened to catch any of my live shows as a solo artist with my own group this past year and we would launch into "The Never Ending Story", you probably thought to yourself: "Okay, so when did this kid with the red violin start singing?" To be honest, I've always loved singing, but never really found my "voice", so to speak, aside from singing backup vocals on salsa and Gipsy Kings tunes with The Brew for their rotating cast of lead singers - on a side note, their new guy, Luis Angel, is terrific. He gets the crowd going and fits perfectly with the band. Okay, I digress.
Sometimes my fellow musicians make fun of my voice for sounding like an "American Idol", but really, those lucky kids (Go Kelly, Ruben, Clay, and Fantasia!!!) are all very successful and are doing what they love, so I guess that's not a bad thing! I feel very fortunate to be working with Adam Whaley as my producer - he's awakening and cultivating this new side of me as both a singer and a lyricist, and we just completed the lyrics on a very beautiful ballad called "Reasons for Living" which will be appearing on the new CD. It will be performed primarily by the virtuoustic Karma Stewart (see last week's journal), but I'll be duetting with her on this and other songs and it's a real treat to sing with her. To add to that, knowing that these words are coming from God through me is a very humbling experience.
The album, "Forever Red", is about awakening,
reconnecting, rebuilding, and I think more than the other pieces, this song
really captures the theme. Yeah, I'm getting Hallmark on you here, but I
felt that I needed to express with music and song that no matter what hard
times and heartaches we might experience, the only way we can ever survive
is by finding strength in ourselves and our faith, and surrounding ourselves
with people that are going to love us unconditionally and not just be there
through the good times - but through the bad as well. All in all, I'll be
glad when all of the songs are recorded for you to hear, that way my message
will be conveyed through the instruments and lyrics and I can do some moving
on of my own, as I've started to do already in creating new music for my
next solo album. Peace and love, O.
>>> Never Ending Story
December 14, 2004
This 1984 film inspired by Michael Ende's classical fantasy novel is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies. The theme song by Limahl - "Turn around, and look at what you see..." - was always something that I wanted to sing, and having that opportunity to do so with my band is a lot of fun. There's method to my madness for bringing this 80's dance hit out of the shadows and playing it live. If you remember "The Never Ending Story" which starred Barrett Oliver as Bastian, then surely you remember "The Never Ending Story II: The Next Chapter". It wasn't as popular as the first movie, but it did introduce a young actor named Jonathan Brandis to the world and people of all ages - girls and boys - were simply nuts about this kid, who portrayed Bastian in the 1989 sequel.
He was a big childhood inspiration of mine, especially since the characters he portrayed always seemed to be the outgoing, honest, and bright underdog that I saw myself to be. Jonathan starred in other movies such as Stephen King's IT (he played Stuttering Bill), Ladybugs (alongside Rodney Dangerfield), and Sidekicks with Chuck Norris. He also played techie-kid Lucas Wolenczak on the short-lived sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV in the mid 90s. However, Jon fell off of the face of the entertainment world for several years after SeaQuest was cancelled, occasionally resurfacing in independent films or small roles in hit movies such as Hart's War. It seems to be this case with many child actors - their star rises, and falls. It's very sad.
Even sadder - at about this time last year while at a show with Matson Belle, Joe came up to me during the break and informed me that Jonathan had committed suicide in his Los Angeles apartment. The official date was November 13, 2003. That hit me pretty hard - it was probably much worse for the countless fans of his that had plastered his teen-beat magazine photos all across their walls back in the early 90s. I just couldn't believe that someone with such a bright future and classic boy-next-door reputation that everyone wanted to know and love would let go of himself and his ambition
so much as to take his own life.
Earlier this year, after I'd started work on my solo album, I was flipping through the cable channels at my Dad's house and caught a part of the "The Never Ending Story II" on a movie channel - where Bastian sits next to his dying mother, who tells him that we are all part of a never ending story... even if we die. It's no coincidence that, after much encouragement from my stepmom and my friends and fans, I decided to include the song on my new CD. It's a beautiful song, originally composed by Giorgio Moroder and lyricized by Keith Forsey. It's been covered before, but not like this (with vocals and violin) - and due to its nostalgic innocence and popularity, I don't think it's been covered enough. When saw Bastian's conversation with his dying mother, I just had to tell you all about this. We truly are a part of a never ending story, even if we die, and this track was dedicated to Jonathan. His star didn't fall - it's with all the other stars in heaven.