Stephanie Griffin

Sometimes when I'm trying to do too many things at once, I forget what day it is. And sometimes, I can even forget what week it is.

Not long ago I received an email blast about one of Stephanie Griffin's upcoming concerts, a duo recital with pianist Cheryl Seltzer at the Kaufman Music Center (where I performed my original score for Buster Keaton's The Frozen North as part of the New York Guitar Festival). 

Because I'd never heard Stephanie perform in duo format, and because the program looked musically adventurous (including the World Premiere of Ukrainian composer Valentin Bibik's "Sonata No. 3 for Viola and Piano"), I marked it on my calendar just in case I ended up having a window of time that night.

Last Wednesday, I made my way to the recital hall at Kaufman, getting there just a few minutes past the start time of the program because of a stalled subway train. I ran in, breathless, only to find...the music in progress, and exactly one other person in the audience! Well dang!, I thought to myself, it's just getting harder and harder to get people out to attend concerts, isn't it?

I'm glad I was wrong. As it turned out, I'd arrived exactly one week early. This was the duo's rehearsal session with their musical director, and I was not only gifted with an invitation to stay, but alos encouraged to engage in dialogue with the artists between pieces, a wonderfully intimate and unexpectedly provocative way to engage with the stunning music being made that night.


And stunning it was -- all of it -- though I have to say that the Bibik sonata was the most astonishing of all for me. I've recently had the honor of having Stephanie perform with me as part of my No Further Instructions ensemble, and I've heard her play with her terrific Momenta Quartet here in the city, but hearing her and Cheryl tear into the mad passion of Bibik's startling piece was a hair-raising revelation.

The good news is, if you live in or near the city, you have a chance to catch this recital on the RIGHT date, this Wednesday, May 8 at Kaufman. All the info is here.

 Photo by Jim McLaughlin

PS  I'll be performing No Further Instructions again this November, at The Jewish Museum in NYC (the photo above is from the recent show at Skidmore college-- more photos of that one here). With any luck, Stephanie's performance schedule will allow here to join me again.  But if you're around and available this Wednesday, do go and hear her and Cheryl at Kaufman. You'll be happy that you did!


Marika Hughes

MARIKA HUGHES is a phenomenal cellist, singer, composer, and all-around singular human being. Whether I'm out hearing her perform, having the honor of her sharing the stage with me, or just bumping into her somewhere all of a sudden, she never fails to bring a smile to my face. Marika is bursting with good energy and is such positive spirit -- qualities that can't help but shine through in her musical performances.



I've had the good fortune to have Marika's playing grace three of my recordings: NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS (that's her beautiful solo on "Your Voice"), THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT (occupying the cello chair in the string quartet that's featured on most of this album) and BETTER GET RIGHT (where she sings and blows another gorgeous solo on "We Shall Not Be Moved").

Marika is currently in residency on Tuesday nights at BARBES in Brooklyn, playing with her fine, fine band BOTTOM HEAVY (a group that includes another excellent, too-infrequent collabortaor of mine, drummer Tony Mason).  I had the pleasure of hearing them againthere  a couple of weeks ago, and boy was it good. Tasty and grooving and full of joie de vivre. This is as good a time as you can have anywhere in New York on a Tuesday night.

Go see Marika and her band. Go tonight, if you can. You won't be disappointed.



Once in a while some live concert footage pops up that's worth posting about. This one is from a show at Barbes in Brooklyn, and the band is just cooking. With Mazz Swift on violin, Andrae Murchison on trombone, Ron Caswell on tuba, and Jordan Perlson on drums.


Another Way To Connect

Our favorite sites are always urging us to connect. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, each one implores us: Connect with your friends! Connect with your family! Connect with your favorite bands (or, if you are a band: connect with your fans)!

Is there something going on here? If we're being urged so, is it because we may collectively be in need of more and more ways to connect because we are more and more disconnected? 

Nothing trumps real human interaction when it comes to connection, and that means being present with other people in the same place, at the same time, preferably away from our devices and electronics.

Have you ever been to a house concert?  Have you ever hosted one, or thought about it?  House concerts are the sorts of happenings that provide real connections.  I've been invited to perform a bunch of them over the years, and I count those shows amongst my most memorable musical experiences.

Not much is needed to make a house concert happen. A room, some places for people to sit, some people. You can encourage folks to bring food and drink. Kids are welcome (and universally love the experience). Anyone there can hang out with the band before and after the show. You can even record the concert for posterity and have your very own, private, live album.

* * *

Bianca Garza, who shot photos of me and the band performing at the Black Swamp Arts Festival in Bowling Green, Ohio last September (and whose pictures grace this blog post) has an extraordinary series of House Concert photos on her website. I urge you to have a look -- her photos convey the power of these experiences far better than I can with these words.

Think you might be interested in hosting a concert in your home?

Shoot me an email. Let's work it out.


DOC WATSON (1923-2012)


In my always-growing tree of musical influences and heroes, Arthel “Doc” Watson was/is a part of the main body, the trunk...the heart, even.  He springs from the roots, of course -- from nearly every strain of early American Southern rural music there was -- but he also branches off and informs so much music that followed.  Doc’s passing this week wasn’t a terrible surprise -- he was 89, and in failing health -- but it was a shock nonetheless.  I had never before paused to consider the world without Doc Watson.

I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s not that I ever took him for granted.  It’s just that he was such a force of nature, an inherent, vital piece of the fabric of American music.  I didn’t pause to consider the world without him in the same way that I don’t pause to consider the world without the sky, without fire, without the color green.   

Like so many people who were touched by Doc’s gifts, it was more than the sum of his virtuosic guitar picking and his plainspoken, unaffected singing that got me.  Listening to the recordings he made over the last five decades, or hearing him live (which I was lucky enough to have had the good fortune to have done a number of times), it is/was impossible not to hear more than simply music. Embedded in those performances, part and parcel of their enduring, universal appeal, a person can hear kindness.  A listener, without exerting any effort whatsoever, can hear warmth, humanity, humor, grace.

There’s a generosity of spirit in Doc Watson’s music. Even in his darkest ballads, he speaks in an emotional language that says “I’m just like you. You’re not alone in those things you think, in those feelings you feel. I understand. I think and feel those things too.  Maybe together we can help each other make some sense of it all.”

Doc Watson’s open mind also greatly influenced me. “I can’t be put in a box,” he told his biographer Fred Metting in 2006, and that was true.  Although he incorporated elements of hillbilly music, gospel, country, bluegrass, swing, blues, ragtime, parlor songs, old-time, rockabilly and folk into his unique voice, he was none of these things and he was all of them. You couldn’t categorize the music he made. He made Doc Watson music.

Once upon a time I had my own radio show on WVKR, and sometimes I would juxtapose Doc’s renditions of old songs with those recorded by people in other “genres” to help demonstrate the idea that if you go far back enough in American recorded music, all roads lead to one, mythical place where categories and genres burn off and vanish.  I might have chosen to spin a song like W.C. Handy’s “Hesitation Blues,” and then play the same song interpreted by Doc, then Louis Armstrong, then Rev. Gary Davis.

Later, when I moved to New Orleans to begin what would become my musical career (it wasn’t one then; I was singing for my supper), I brought along a handful of tapes CDs with me.  These were the days before portable MP3 players and i-Tunes...whatever music you had, you either made yourself or possessed in some sort of physical form -- in my case it was cassette tapes and CDs. Doc Watson’s Memories was part of that handful of music, and -- listening to it again now, after a long absence --  I’ll be damned if the band I formed down there didn’t perform half of the songs on that record, including the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away From Me," Jimmie Rodgers' "Miss The Mississippi and You" and the old traditonal “Columbus Stockade."  Doc had great taste as a curator of songs.  He both honored and kept alive his own heroes, and led us to them.

For someone whose music touched untold listeners and influenced generations of musicians, Doc Watson was never a household name.  He continued to perform year after year well into his 80s, at country fairs and outdoor festivals and listening rooms, always carrying himself with the greatest of dignity and muted flair.  There must have been times when Doc Watson felt bitter or resentful about the fact that his records didn't sell in the millions, or that we wasn't the retro-flavor of the month with the hipster crowd, but he never showed it. Fads came and went, superstars were made and burned out, icons caused seismic shifts in the musical landscape. Doc Watson showed up, sat down on a stool or a chair, and played and sang songs that he loved in an honest, pure and humble way.  For five decades.  He was a model for growing old gracefully as a traveling musician.  Though he would ever as much as admit to it, he was a national treasure.  Our music -- a part of who we are as a people -- was in the songs and stories he chose, in his flying fingers, in his steady, firm, loving voice.

I wish Doc Watson could have lived forever.  I wish my unborn kids could have heard him play. And their kids. And their kids’ kids.  It’s hard to imagine my musical experience, my understanding of what music’s function can be,  without the profound contributions of Doc Watson.

There wasn’t anyone like him, before or since, and I doubt that there ever will be again.  I’m grateful to have lived during his lifetime. Thanks Doc. Rest in peace.