Archive for May, 2009

Narada Michael Walden’s Let the Sunshine In: Light Descended

IMG_0247Many of you know through my Tweets and Facebook entries that I attended and have been supporting my friend Narada Michael Walden and his Let the Sunshine In Benefit which took place on Memorial Day evening.

Narada asked me right after his incredible show, “What was the highlight, what was the best part for me?” I was speechless, and I felt somewhat incomplete having failed in a moment to find and express words. The reality is I was overwelmed by the greatness and goodness of the evening. There were so MANY highlights. Now I am ready to attempt to answer that question.

Let the Sunshine In
10+ standing ovations.
The Olympics of Music, with every artist breaking a world record.
Perfect string and horn arrangements as Narada recreated and brought to life so many hits from five decades with the original artists who peformed them.
The house band: has any one stage featured better?
The backup singers: sheer brilliance under Claytoven Richardson’s leadership.
The production: Narada’s impeccable, tasteful and pristine imprint on everything.
The Love: we all felt it coming from Narada’s Sunlit Heart.
Christopher Rodriguez in the house – we send him our love.

Nothing in my life has matched my experience of Let the Sunshine In, the benefit concert staged by the great record producer Narada Michael Walden for Christopher Rodriguez, a young Oakland boy paralyzed by a stray bullet in a senseless and random act of gun violence. It was a night I will always remember and cherish.

Why was it amazing? Simple: Narada is a consummate perfectionist who has realized Music at a very sublime level. He is like a High Priest, a Guru, and it’s no surprise that he has been the force behind more than 50 hit records that have enriched the lives hundreds of millions of people around the world….recorded by the likes of Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand and many others. With three Grammys and an Emmy and recognition as a Top 10 Record Producer of All Time by Billboard Magazine — it is Narada’s spirituality-infused life that makes his work important now and forever.

Narada knows how to make great musicians and great music sound better. He knows how to connect music, spirit and audiences. He knows how to put it all together. And the performance on May 25th was powered by a giant engine:

A 16 piece backup band with the likes of Chuck Leavell, keyboardist with the Rolling Stones, Jim Horn, one of the most influential horn arrangers in pop music, and the great keyboardist Frank Martin, who partnered with Narada on the music that was performed. Two bassists, three guitarists, four keyboardists, two percussionists, six horn players (including my friend Premik Russell Tubbs), and it goes on and on.

Minna Choi’s 60-member Magik*Magik Orchestra backed up the artists with a gorgeous palette of texture and color, and featured exceptional students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music led by Maestro Michael Morgan, musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

And a production team with pros like Merl Saunders Jr., Tim Jahnigen, Vadim Canby and Kimrea who made everything work for the audience and featured artists:

Sting, who sang several of his brilliant songs, including Fields of Gold and joined in a joyous operatic duet with the incomparable mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

Madame von Stade, who performed a breathtaking version of Ave Maria. I loved her beautiful spirit and grace.

The great Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis who performed many Fifth Dimension hits, including Up, Up and Away (a song they wrote), Hair, and One Less Bell to Answer. I grew up influenced by the awesome musicality of the Fifth Dimension so hearing Marilyn and Billy brought back a special magic.

Chris Botti and the incredible violinist Lucia Micarelli surprised us with a duet that touched the Gates of Heaven.

We were graced by the great R&B legend Gerald Alston of the Manhattans who performed Shining Star. And by the contemporary jazz acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh who elevated us to a serene place with his classic performance of Living Inside Your Love.

So many others joined, like Mandolin jazz/bluegrass fusion virtuoso Dave “Dawg” Grisman, singer Lisa Fischer, the incomparable Mary Wilson, and Dale “Satchmo” Powers, who invoked the great Louis Armstrong in a performance of What a Wonderful World. With Narada leading the way, the performers just kept hitting the home runs and the audience was overjoyed and overwhelmed.

And the great Bobby Weir and friends jammed it out and lit up Davies Symphony Hall.

So there were superbly great performances. Why was this a significant event? It all starts with Narada Michael Walden.

We met in 1973. I was an aspiring guitarist and Narada an extraordinary drummer. He joined the path of Guru Sri Chinmoy along with Mahavishnu John McLauglin and learned meditation, and I joined a year later at Narada’s invitation. In those days Narada was washing dishes, giving drum lessons and developing his career. His humble beginnings were short-lived, however. For he soon joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra, met Jeff Beck, recorded with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Jeff Beck, launched a solo recording career, launched a production career, and 11 years later, earned a Grammy as Producer of the Year. Along the way he catapulted the careers of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, relaunched Aretha Franklin’s career, and recorded over 50 hit records for many of the artists who appeared at the concert, including Shanice and Tevin Campbell.

In his life he has collaborated with a who’s who in music because if you’re a really great musician, you probably want to know or work with Narada Michael Walden. Because music always sounds better when Narada is involved.

Narada is aware of Perfection and it’s an intuitive thing. He knows what music can be and should be, and he takes us there. That is a rare place where goodness and greatness meet together with the penultimate peak of musical satisfaction. That’s where Narada lives all the time, which is why so many people like me and the more than 150 people who made this show happen – were deeply grateful to support his work.

So history was made on May 25th in San Francisco at Let the Sunshine In. We were witness to something sublime, soulful, and spiritual. We heard great music and felt Narada ‘s humility, Narada’s love, Narada’s ability to bring Heaven down to earth. And being the giant and generous Soul he is, we all had a chance to participate as performers, as volunteers, and as audience members. We sang Give Peace a Chance and Let the Sunshine In. We were one soulful love fest for sure.

Welcome to the great Song of Love that is Narada’s life. Welcome to the great Spirit who we know as Narada Michael Walden.

We join with Narada in supporting Christopher Rodriguez and the idea that music can inspire youth and should be part of their lives.

And we celebrate the great work of the Narada Michael Walden Foundation. I say, “Rock on!”

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SF MusicTech Summit Hits The Spot

IMG_0097Fourth time’s a charm? Maybe. The 2009 SF MusicTech Summit really hit the spot this year. Organizers Brian and Shoshana Zisk brought together a who’s who of music industry executives, managers, musicians, promoters and lawyers, to discuss the current state of the industry and how it should move forward. Topics covered included technology – tools artists and labels can use for marketing, promotion and measurement, and monetization – new models and legal issues related to how music will be delivered and paid for in the future.

There has never been more opportunity for musicians to take control of their careers. Recording and career promoting technologies are now in the hands of the artist rather than the record label. At the same time, there is lots of competition out there among artists. Someone in the band also needs to wear the hat of a ‘creative director’ for it’s often superlative creative marketing across new platforms (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that helps gain attention for an artist and his/her music and can make the difference and help elevate music among its intended audiences.

There was a terrific mid-day performance by songwriter/singer Matt Morris, whose new album is produced by Justin Timberlake. My friend and triple-Grammy winning record producer / hit-maker Narada Michael Walden showed up at the post-conference reception to promote Let The Sunshine In, a benefit concert taking place on May 25th in San Francisco, featuring Sting, Earl Klugh, Bob Weir, Dave Grisman, and many others.

This year’s’ event was standing room only…and I suggested to Brian that it might be time for a larger venue. One more thing…there was nobody on the floor I met who was bummed out about the economy. People were excited and optimistic.

(PIC: S. Neil Vineberg, Narada Michael Walden, Brian Zisk, )

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Genius

genius-choice1Today David Broder opined in his NY Times piece, Genius, The Modern View, that “the key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.”

I think he’s partially right. Take Beethoven, Mozart, Einstein, John McLaughlin, Paul McCartney and Tiger Woods. They practiced a lot. But they also had two other important qualities: capacity (intelligence) and destiny.

Capacity is a prerequisite to greatness. Without capacity, no amount of practice will suffice. If, on the other hand, it is your destiny to be a Beethoven, Tiger Woods, Paul McCartney, or Barack Obama, there will be a spark in your soul. It will cause you to long for something. It will drive a vision within. It will energise your soul’s deepest awareness. It will guide your search.

So I fundamentally disagree with Broder about divine spark. You gotta have it. Spark enables a search for our destined goal that practice then helps unfold.

Divine spark is a ‘light’ I’ve seen in the eyes of some truly great ones I’ve personally met, like Mikhail Gorbachev, Muhammad Ali, Mother Theresa, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, Joanne Woodward, Eddie Murphy, and Ringo Starr. And in two very close friends Narada Michael Walden, a true musical and soulful genius of the first order and Ashrita Furman, a deeply soulful, spiritual and powerful seeker and holder of the most Guinness World Records. There is a divine spark in each that drives their greatness and goodness. I feel it and I know it myself.

Practice helped make these folks great for sure. But the spark was there to fire up the search they were destined to – each in his or her own way – and the greatness that unfolded through their lives.

My guru Sri Chinmoy was tapped into divine Spark’s Source in such a conscious way that those around Sri Chinmoy – who also resonated with him – could feel it, too. My own understanding of genius comes touching the divine Spark in Sri Chinmoy’s life and teachings, in the soulful time I spent with him for three decades, and in the quietude of my own reflection.

And I can remember during an interview with NBC religion editor Dr. Amritananda Russell Barber, Sri Chinmoy was asked the question: what makes great people great? He offered that God chose them to play their respective roles…and by realizing the greatness of their lives, they had each fulfilled their unique destiny.

What is the greatness and genius of your life? And will the rest of your life be average or memorable? Stay tuned….

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