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Marcus Miller Workshop @ Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, Montreux Jazz Festival

Fairmont LeMontreux Palace - GORGEOUS!!!

Fairmont LeMontreux Palace - GORGEOUS!!!

Right this way... (c) Josh Raskin

Right this way... (c) Josh Raskin

Walking up to the GORGEOUS Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, I couldn’t help but smile. This was my favorite structure along the entire lake. The yellow awnings and its ornate classical design were simply stunning amongst the green background of The Alps. No matter where you walked along the water, the striking building made itself known amongst the grey and less-colorful buildings.

I arrived (with Josh) in time to walk right in with Marcus Miller on my left.  He was clicking beats with his tongue softly, wearing his signature hat and a vest.  I smiled and said “Hi.” He nodded and smiled with his eyes.  He was genuine, I could feel it immediately.

Up the stairs to the left we went.....

Up the stairs to the left we went.....

As we entered the Hotel, we were directed up a grand staircase into an elegant space with pink and peach toned walls.  Cherubs and damsels carrying vines of flowers were carved into the grand windows and arches.  There were about 200+ chairs set up in front of a tall stage but they were all full of fans.

I got a bit sad at the thought of having to stand in the back but within a second Josh had grabbed me by the hand and seated us on the floor directly in front of the people seated in their comfortable wooden chairs.  Within a few seconds there were two rows of fans that followed suit.  (Shout out to my Front Row Hoes Posse!)

Marcus Miller walked on stage after a few minutes.  His drummer, Sean Rickman of Garaj Mahal, immediately went into it with funk. I was immediately reminded of Victor Wooten and my mind drifted to the Stanley Clark, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller project called S.M.V.  I had forced Josh to listen to their CD just weeks earlier and it was a project Marcus would touch on later in the workshop.

After the rhythm duo finished playing there was some banter. Miller joked about how “this wasn’t a workshop but by the looks of things, it appeared to be a concert.”  The space was bursting and the unlucky late arrivals were spilling into the hallways.

Miller explained how “these workshops are for you, the audience, and the hungry learner. I could stand up here the whole time and play licks or I can field questions,” which were welcomed at that time.

One of the greatest parts of the entire experience was hearing how each question was fielded by someone from Germany, Austria, France, America, Jordan or Spain. Each questions yielded a different accent and I just found that part totally intoxicating on its own merit.

And here we go... (c) Josh Raskin

And here we go... (c) Josh Raskin

Question #1: “How do you decide to use a fretted or non-fretted bass?

The Fret Neck

The Fret Neck

Here is a little background info on frets:

The metal strips running across a guitars neck are called frets. Now, here’s what might be confusing: the word has two different meanings when used by guitarists. It can be used to describe:

1. The actual piece of metal wire

2. The space between the metal strips

Both of these are referred to as frets by guitarists. The space between the frets or metal wires is the place where you should put your finger to make notes. You do not put your fingers directly on the metal strips. So, the area of the neck between the nut and the first strip of metal is referred to as the first fret. The area on the neck between the first and second strip of metal is referred to as the second fret, etc…

Miller explained about frets and how they help one stay in tune. “When you don’t use frets, it’s like you are playing a violin or cello.  Without the frets, you can use vibration to create a singing quality which I love because of the more natural sound that is made.”

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #2: “Are you doing a tour with this show?

“Yes, 9 shows.  Not a lot but it’s really very special to honor the 20 years since Miles Davis’s death.

Miller spoke of producing Miles’s album TuTu Revisited and how he really didn’t know if he wanted to jump right back into a Miles Davis session for another couple of years. However, the 20th anniversary of his death is so special and so Miller took his idea to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and vowed that if they wouldn’t be part of the project then it wasn’t meant to be.  The two jazz legends were immediately on board and so the project came to life.

[Some shouts out about “TUTU” being a choice on the set list]

As we were creating the show, we thought, let’s finish with something everybody knows and then we can go to the Blah, Blah, Blah part which allows for so much space within  the notes of the song.

Miller then went on to explain that on their set list for the show written below each song was “Blah, Blah, Blah.” He spoke about how they didn’t want to do the songs the same and it was when they began to have fun with the songs that the “Blah, Blah, Blah” would happen. It was the “Blah, Blah, Blah” that made this experience its own and where the beauty in the performance was meant to show itself.  So, during each song, the group would go off into “Blah, Blah, Blah” and that was when the magic happened.

Another song like that is Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” Breaks into “Footprints”

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #3: “Who were a few of your influences growing up?

This was Josh’s question and it provided for great content for this article!

I grew up in the 70s, the golden years of bass playing. I had musicians in my head like Larry Graham, who taught us the importance of the E-string.

With that, Miller broke into Sly and The Family Stone‘s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)”.

Before Larry Graham, there was James Jameson, a Mowtown session artist who played on so many tracks that you might recognize.

With that Miller broke into The Temptations‘s “My Girl” Here is Jameson’s bass line:

James Jameson was a very inventive man and yet he could keep it really simple and make a statement.

Then he broke into The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Want You Back.” Here is the bass line:

Then I got into Jazz with the acoustic bass players like Paul Chambers and Ron Carter.

With that, Miller broke into “So What” from Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue CD. The intro for this song is something that Paul Chambers is extremely famous for! Listen to the intro here:

When Stanley Clark came on the scene, I was so excited.  He was the first one that made the bass an instrument that was allowed to be in the front of the stage.  As a bass player, to see that was liberating.  Jaco Pastorious was a continuation…

And then one day, I stopped listening to everything.  I was in high school and my roommate told me to stop listening because I had to find my own voice, my own style.  We needed to get rid of the negative of not having our own style.  I really respected this guy and so I stopped listening.

Now, it’s very difficult to stop listening to your heroes when you are a young person. After a few years, I felt I developed a personality.  Then Miles Davis called and said ‘Be at such-and-such studio in 1 hour,’ and he hung up.

So, I ran to the studio and during that session, I really tried to find my own voice.  I didn’t want to walk away without leaving my own signature.  I didn’t want people, years from now, looking back and saying, ‘Hey, you sounded like [insert name of famous bass player here] during this track.’  I wanted my OWN voice.  It was during that Miles session that I feel as though I found my own sound. I didn’t know if I liked it, but it was all mine.”

Miller breaks into “Power of Soul” by Jimmy Hendrix, the reflection of his bass was shining on the walls and off the faces of the multiples smiles in the room.

Question #4:  “I would like to know why you chose and how you developed ‘Time After Time’ for this tour.

“Miles was playing [Time After Time] towards the end of his life.  He was always seeing the beauty in songs that other artists were unable to see.  He would choose songs you never thought he’d play like the Broadway tune “If I Were a Bell.” He’d show you the beauty in the songs other thought were cheesy.”

Flowers at the Reception Desk... (c) Josh Raskin

Flowers at the Reception Desk... (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus produced the Miles Davis Tribute and how he thought by choosing Time After Time he could explain that concept of finding the “beauty in the cheese” musically.

We needed to expect the unexpected. During rehearsals, Wayne Shorter would suggest taking the song to a C-Sharp, something none of us would have ever thought of.  When they did it, it was like the sun came out.  It just evolved…

He then somehow got to speaking about his discovering Samba and how hard it is to discover new music these days.  He spoke about record stores and radio stations the beauty they used to entail.

“Remember old record stores?  The owners were true music lovers.  I used to frequent the type of stores where you would walk into the store and just ask, “what ‘cha got?” The owner would put on the latest find and many times we would walk out with as many as we could afford. It was the same with radio DJs. They used to play what they loved. They were the ones who were discovering music back then.  It’s very hard today.

People call musicians masters. When I think of masters I think of athletes. I do not believe that musicians can master music. That is not something that can be achieved as a musician. As a musician, you are constantly evolving, constantly learning, constantly absorbing. I like to refer to them as endless searchers.  Wayne Shorter is an endless searcher, always finding new things.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #5:  “How do you find your personality? How much technique vs. feelings is needed?

Miller answered with the greatest answers ever delivered after this question.

You are not allowed to choose,” he said. “When you need it, you can reach for your technique and it’s great to have that.  However, you need your feeling all the time.  Best is when you have the head and the heart working together.

Miller then breaks into The Staple Singers‘s “I’ll Take You There.” Just listen to that bass line:

I come from an R&B background and it makes you have to stay doing the same thing over and over again in a song.  But I try to add something that makes it different.

He proceeded to play the bass line of “I’ll Take You There” in its simplest form.  And then as he continued to play the measures repeatedly, he would throw in a few extra notes and colored outside the lines of the measures.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #6: “How did you choose the two Seans?

Just so you know both of their middle names are Christopher. These are things that happen when you have Wayne Shorter involved in a project. Sean Christopher Jones was on TuTu Revisited and Sean Christopher Rickman had a video on Youtube that I showed Herbie [Hancock] and Wayne [Shorter].

Here is the video that got Sean Rickman the job, his work with Dapp Theory at Montreux in 2003:

Question #7: “Over the past 20 years, I have heard Quincey Jones state that the electric bass changed live music. Please explain.

Before the electric bass, live performances didn’t have the low-end because you couldn’t mic an electric bass properly enough to fill the low end sound.  The electric bass allowed for Rock N Roll to develop and evolve and for the music to be FULL.  [Plugging in] changes the music and makes you play differently. Take it from me; I know how it feels to not be heard while playing vs. hitting one note and changing the entire landscape. The art of amplification is what truly changed live music.  Once the bass was properly amplified.

Question #8: “Will you be producing a CD from this tour?

Perhaps. We have had 9 shows and we have recorded all the shows with great outcome. Perhaps I can get everyone on board so we can pull together a DVD.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #9: In a thick German accent: “Back in your youth, you were part of slapping competitions in school and it helped you with the ladies.  Can you please show us some good slapping to get girls?

Everyone broke into laughter, including Miller who then spoke of Thunder Claps and competitions and how “you only want to do competitions when you are young.

Miller ended the set playing Larry Graham‘s “The Jam”.  One of our FAVORITE songs. One of the greatest bass lines to open a song EVER!!! Here is Larry performing it:

And now with Marcus Miller:

“The Jam” a song that we would hear so many times over the next four days I would wager that “The Jam” was, by far, the most played song at the festival.

~~~

The workshop ended with Miller walking off the stage into a puddle of fans wanting to just pass him a smile, shake his hand or just be in his presence! I had enjoyed my tiny moment with him walking in and so I went to find Josh who had skirted around the venue trying to take pictures with his fancy camera.  The staff was constantly asking others to shut off their cameras.  Thank God Josh is sneaky because we wouldn’t have had much visual content for this article!  🙂

Turns out, Josh had found himself just on the other side of the wall in the room where they would eventually bring Miller seconds after he got off stage. When Josh saw him, he said: “Marcus, when you spoke of attending a performing arts school in NYC did you mean La Guardia High School?”

Miller: “Yes, you live there?

Josh:  “Yes, I teach in a middle school that tests the most students into La Guardia.

Miller: “Where do you teach?

Josh: “Booker T. Washington Middle School.

Miller:  “NO WAY! I know that school…

And so it continued for a few more minutes of talking school, music and Manhattan.  My lucky Josh had gotten the final interview of the session even though Marcus Miller had ended up getting in the last question!  🙂

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Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

(179 McDougal Street)

(w/ Higher Nebulae, D.V.S., & Orchard Lounge)

Show Pamplet

Show Pamplet

In my mind, I consider myself just beginning to learn about (and possibly appreciate) these late night NYC music scenes.  A scene where the music doesn’t start until 11:00pm, maybe.  A scene where, unless you asked for help, you can’t find the door to the establishment, a scene hidden under the bowels of the city streets.   I normally rage a live concert where the doors open at 6pm and the show start at 8pm.  And THEN, if I have the energy (if?…who are we kidding?), I end up in a dark and grimy basement venue for the remainder of the night.  Most of the time it’s because a friend has talked me into raging harder and not because I feel as though there will be true talent on a stage.  To me, these are the times to mingle and dance till your a puddle of water on the floor.  I have no idea what is going on music wise as…how do I put this….it doesn’t register to me as live music.  It just doesn’t.

Rage Equipment!

Rage Equipment!

Dj-ing is clearly an art.  Sampling music, producing sounds, splicing tunes, putting them back together like a puzzle.  I get it.  I can see the DJs gears working in my mind’s eye when I hear some of the get-down beats we dance too.  And when they rage, I stop dancing and I embrace the lift in the room’s energy, nodding my head in recognition that they just mixed a dope track that got the floor jumpin’.  So, I love it, don’t get me wrong.  I do dance into a puddle and I have fun but it’s not the same thing if it’s just a person and their turntables.  It doesn’t drag me in and make my jaw drop.

Now, take that atmosphere, with that talented puzzle maker and throw in a live instrument.  Like Break Science who has Adam Deitch on the drums bringing forth that extra layer that makes it intoxicating, or The Sullivan Street Shakedown, which combines DJs with numerous live instruments rotated each month.  It lies in the fact that it’s alive to me at that moment.  It’s organic.  I can see it being created.  Tonight, I would be enjoying the performance of Jeff Bujak and he brought me exactly what I needed to have my jaw drop.

Rage equipment!

Rage equipment!

The show was held at Club Love.  Never having been before, I immediately was drawn to the name, wondering what it must look like.  I imagined it being dimly lit, a loungy-vibe with bright tones like purples, yellows and reds.  Slightly Disco-esque with plush couches and anything you would find in a Austin Powers movie.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

With no sign to the establishment and the entrance being a door hidden by on of those large gate walls that businesses pull down when they close up shop, I only knew I was in the right spot thanks to the store owners around the area.  The show was to start at 10pm but I don’t think the doors even opened until 11pm.  I went across the street for a beer with the three other people foolish enough to come so early…see, I am still learning.

Rage Equipment!

Rage Equipment!

Upon entering Love, you head down the stairs into a dark, concrete floored, cavern-like basement and are forced either left or right.  If you choose right, you are met with the room that would be throwing us the get down grinds.  Probably holds about 250 (??) comfortably, one wall had bench style seating but that was it.  This was a room for dancing.  Period. There was a bar set up with caution tape around it, I assumed to give the waitress some room?  Flat out, not cool waitress.  I bought a $7 beer, gave her a $10 and she just ran with it.  When I asked her for my change, she was like “What? You want me to give you back 2 bucks?”  First of all, take a math course and Poor Service!!!  Seriously? Does it matter?  I used to be a waitress and I was a friggen princess even when I wanted to kill someone.  I will NEVER get used to the poor customer service practices in New York City.  There is TRULY nothing comparable in terms of shitty attitude .  Needless to say,  I was not amused.

Dancing and Hula Hooping

Dancing and Hula Hooping

There was no “stage” per say, just a portion of the floor that had been utilized for the equipment.  As well, there was an elevated portion that held the DJs booth.  I got to be sadly honest and admit that the front of the DJ booth was so high, I could barely see the tops of the DJ’s heads, let alone see them do their thing.  That made me sad.  But I am sure the rest of the world saw the Dj’s as they are all over 5 foot zero!!

If you took a left from Love’s entrance, you are taken to the restrooms, another bar and a separate room that looks cave-ish, like the walls were made of crappy styrafrom, the other walls were glass so that the patrons in the room were viewable from the bar area.  This room was for those who might need to take a rest from the intensity in the other room.  It is small but with stadium seating, more like concrete stairs.  It’s always good to have one of these rooms to retreat into when you have partied to hard.

Higher Nebulae started the night off with some dirty dance beats. There was some gospel layers and rock layers all with some deep whoomping bass.  When the bass beats were dropped we were given some familiar rock favorites and unexpected old school gems such as Metallica‘s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”

D.V.S.

D.V.S.

Like I said, it’s hard for me to focus on the music when it’s just the DJs so I was wondering around trying to catch a buzz with the $10 beer in hand and attempting to get in the right frame of mind to dance into that puddle I was talking about.  The Banana Mafia was out in full force greeting what appeared to be half the venue who had come under his list.  He brought the energy, he brought in the dancers.  I appreciated that!  However, this Mafia member was without his Banana Suit?  Is that even allowed?  Am I supposed to be outing him over the internet?  Opps.  Either way, he raged all over that dance floor, as well as his friends, and we all had a blast together!!

D.V.S. was up next, his real name being Derek VanScoten.  Where as Jeff Bujak uses a piano to layer on top of his electronic beats, D.V.S. uses a Telecaster guitar.  I stopped my mingling and started focusing on D.V.S..  His music mixed Hip-hop, Soul and even Motown.  He sampled Jimi Hendrix‘s “Foxy Lady” and raged a great guitar during his samples.  He has recently toured as a solo artist supporting Ana Sia, Big Gigantic, Beats Antique, Boombox, Lynx & Janover, JFJO, and M80 Dubstation.  Honestly, not sure if I cared for him that much.  It didn’t do anything for me.

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Let’s talk about Jeff Bujak, the man of the hour!  Duuuuude.  Having just discovered him earlier this summer at Rock The Resort, I was VERY eager to see him again live.  Jeff Bujak is a true musician.  A truly technically talented piano player who, from the moment I stepped foot into his performance at RTR, has had me hooked.  To me, when I listen to his music at home, Jeff reminds me of a mix between Tori Amos and Bruce Hornsby. I could come up with a ton of combination but seriously, his music is beautiful and quirky and demanding with organized chaos and it is all his own! He has coined his music “Intelligent Dance Music.”  Intriguing, no?

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Jeff comes armed with everything needed to run his one-man show including light, sound, and smoke.  Cables and pedals everywhere, there is a laptop, a sound deck and his dual level keyboard at the helm of his personal electronic monster.  There is a row of lights above his left shoulder flashing us the light show in various colors and mixed to rage with the beat. His shoes were off and the show began.

The set list:

SET 1
Utopia > Kicker > Crowd > Machinist > Slimmy > Cascadation > Sunny’s Song* > PUTV > Mutator

* written by Benevento-Russo Duo (section of)

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Utopia got it started with a synthesizer drop and a deep beat. Very quickly the layering of faster beats were released and right away it was a dance party.  His songs have catchy samples, this one, sampling Cake’s The Distance by using the lyrics “Reluctantly crouched at the starting line…”  After a while, amid the heavy beat of smashing cymbals, I feel a reggae vibe that quickly turns back into a deep electronic beat.

Kicker into Crowd brought us the classical, straight out gorgeous technical chamber piano skills that I adore him for.  These gorgeous notes layer over the rest of the dance worthy beats.  They are hit hard, there are sounds of electric guitars playing but I know that is Bujak manipulating the keys.  The sequenced drum loops made it sound like the drummer was in the room with us at times.  Then we got a little more of the pure keys, nothing manipulated, just beautiful piano sounds.  It’s a gorgeous mixture of electronic and organic.  I mean, there is just GORGEOUS composition amongst his hectic beats.

So, being that I am a romantic female, I found it to be just lovely music and I was pleased to see mainly men in that basement dancing.  In reality, I wondered if these wookies heard what I heard.  They were certainly dancing to the beats but I wonder if they realized just how good he sounded in that basement.  Club Love is rumored as having one of the best sound systems, so perhaps that helped.  There are parts of the songs that got so slow and so sensual.  Preferring to be a stand alone dancer at most shows I attend, it was my pleasure to dance intelligently with some dudes that night to this intelligent music.  A real pleasure. 😉

The music pierced my ear drums and so my ear plugs remained in the entire night.  I love my ear plugs because they helps break down the sounds and I can hear the music very clearly.  I recognized that I was in a grimy basement but being raised on Broadway shows and Classical theater and concerts, I was able to close my eyes and get thrown into the plush seats I imagined earlier.   The raging beats faded away and all I could hear was the gorgeous classical technical training he was throwing at us.

The music sounded like this (around 5:15ish mins he busts out the chamber piano):

But my mind would shut out parts and I would just hear something that sounded like this, beats faded away…just gorgeous:

Machinist is a song that amuses me. I imagine being at an Insane Clown Posse  or 311 show raging out and then Jeff layers some beautiful unmanipulated organized piano playing over it.  That is what does it for me.  I know I always say I love my horns, but I grew up listening to my father plays his piano every night after dinner while I cleared the table and did the dishes.  This fact also makes me overly critical towards keys players and I don’t have a single negative thing to say about Jeff’s work. It was a complete package, a complete pleasure.

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Jeff Bujak @ Club Love

Slimmy was mainly a synthesizer song and pretty sure I heard some Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” in the mix.  It was HEAVY, deep, and a raging dance song.  This producer/composer really does delivers a vibrant sound so full of melodic energy it stirs even the most timid of dancers. No one was sitting. I make my way up to Jeff’s side, watching him play…oh the essence of a musician when they are in the zone.  Sometimes I swear can feel their energy radiate off them.  It’s what brings tears to my eyes sometimes.  We stand in the audience in love with these musician’s music but what we have to remember is they either love or hate what they are playing as well and you can fell it, you can see it.  The lights and the music and the venue were helping big time.  It was so beautiful and overwhelming.  One man was making all this happen.

I stepped outside for an adventure during Cascadation so I can’t tell you anything about that song. That is one you will just have to go and see to experience 🙂  I came back in towards the end of Sunny’s Song, partially written by Benevento-Russo Duo. Pretty, melodic, slower then the rest.  PUTV gave us a manipulated synthed start to the song with samplings from Eric B. & Rakim’s “Pump Up The Volume” gently layered on top of the rest of the tune.  He goes back and forth between the manipulated sounds and the organic sound the ivories make.  Again, the looped drum beats are stellar and fast forcing Bujak’s fingers to go full blast.

Mutator was last for the evening. To be honest, I wasn’t sure when one song ended or began.  My notes are full of lines where I believe one ends and another beings, arrows shooting up the page because I felt as if he had gone from one song to another and back again, not sure.  Sometimes it was clear and other times it was so well-played that if the change occurred, I had no clue where it was.

Here is the video I took of Jeff @ Club Love…sorry for the sound quality. I had my ear plugs in and it sounded GORGEOUS and crisp in my ear…you get the point 🙂

Orchard Lounge raged our faces off for the rest of the evening but I will have to review them another time.  Jeff was what had brought me here tonight. I had come with the intentions of leaving after Jeff’s set but there was NO WAY. Not only was I one of the first people to arrive that night, I ended up being one of the last people to leave.  Jeff hung out a bit and, when we weren’t dancing, I wandered with my dance partner, getting in to trouble here and there, totally full of energy.  It was a great night and all thank to Jeff….thanks Buj 🙂  Be sure to check out Jeff Bujak’s newest full-length released on Harmonized Records:  “Alive Like the Spine

And as I hit PUBLISH, the irony is not lost on me as I listen to my neighbor begin giving one of her lovely piano lessons…..life is magnificent!

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