An Exclusive By: Sheryl Aronson & Mikey Adam Cohen
It’s the two- year anniversary of The 1st Annual Fender Rhodes Festival held in Oxnard, California. What an amazing lineup of musicians that graced the stage for one evening of music. All of these musicians gathered together to celebrate this iconic keyboard that changed the face of the music industry forever.
Oxnard, Oxnard College ‘s Performing Arts Center, August 2015
Gerald McCauley and Benjamin Bove were the producers of the 1st Annual Fender Rhodes Music Festival that featured a superlative line-up of musicians that surpassed a music lover’s imagination.
Both gentlemen were also responsible for producing the documentary film, Down the Rhodes: The Fender Rhodes Story that goes along with Hal Leonard’s book with the same title. Numerous celebrated artists were interviewed about their experiences with the Fender Rhodes keyboard. This innovative instrument of the 1960’s became many keyboardists’ favorite go to when playing the piano because of its unusual sound.
McCauley and Bove wanted to celebrate and honor one of the first kings of electronic sound that revolutionized the jazz, R&B and rock scene – first in a documentary movie, and secondly in a music festival.
Gerald McCauley commented, “One of our motivations for creating the documentary movie was that the Rhodes’s sound is everywhere. We were shocked it had never been done before, because the Fender Rhodes is an integral part of musical evolution. The sound of this instrument affected music all over the world.”
Bove lent a few Fender Rhodes keyboards from his personal collection for the 1st annual Fender Rhodes Festival. The selection delighted the musicians. Now they had different models to choose from for displaying their unique sound. “It took me a decade to acquire all these instruments.”
Both Gerald McCauley and Benjamin Bove are dedicated, professional musicians and also have their own careers in the industry. McCauley produced two CD’s, The McCauley Sessions and Gerald McCauley West Coast All-Stars. He’s been the A&R Director for Monster Music and A&R Production/Consultant for George Benson and Al Jarreau. McCauley firmly believes in preserving music education in schools and keeping the arts alive in the world. He said, “We had a starting point and hoped the concert will grow into an annual concert so the natural next step for us would be to raise money for education and the arts.”
The week-end of August 22nd, these were the musicians gathered in Oxnard to perform at the 1stAnnual Fender Rhodes Festival: Mark de Clive-Lowe, Larry Dunn, Rodney Franklin, Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Jeff Lorber, Frank McComb, Greg Phillinganes, Patrice Rushen, Kandace Springs, Trina Broussard, Butterscotch, Natalie Cadet, Kenneth Crouch, Eric Marienthal, Rahsaan Patterson, Shelea, Sidibe, Antonique Smith, Take 6, Stokley Williams
RHODES GIRLS: Angelica Abrams, Kayla Waters, Estella Yun
BAND MEMBERS: Alex Al – Bass ,Michael Angel – Guitar, Gorden Campbell – Drums, Eddie Miller – Keys Terry Dexter – Vocals, Shannon Pearson – Vocals Rashawn Ross – Trumpet, Miguel Gandelman – Sax Anthony Crawford – Bass, Frank Fluker – Drums.
We received a special invitation by Mr. Larry Dunn to attend the concert and cover it for The Hollywood360. The members of the team that week-end were: Sheryl Aronson, Mikey Adam Cohen and Fran Manzano.
We arrived the day before the concert and were able to interview many of the musicians before they took the stage. Another wonderful benefit of being there early, we observed the rehearsal for the show. Gerald McCauley was the perfect host and welcomed us into the private domain of the sacred space, where the musicians assembled to play the revered Fender Rhodes keyboards.
As Mark Kimmel, one of the original members of Take 6, commented, “We all cut our teeth on the Fender Rhodes.”
Robert Glasper touted the Fender Rhodes ‘s qualities, “The sound of it is like a bed you lay in. It’s warm and cozy. There’s such personal sound. There’s nothing like a Rhodes.” He added, “Puts you in the vibe as soon as you hit the keys. It’s a freak of nature.”
Patrice Rushen said in the interview for the documentary, “There’s nothing like a Rhodes. It revolutionized the way we approached playing. It’s a sound in of itself.”
Larry Dunn also commented, “It gave me that sound. I went so far as to rip the 16 tips off my 1988 model so the wood would hit the tines to get the special sound of twang and percussive that I was after. What’s so amazing is I heard that same sound on a very expensive Yamaha setup of equipment when I hit the DX-7 Yamaha to hear the Rhodes sound.”
The one special moment of the long evening of rehearsal was when Larry Dunn and Take 6 got together to practice their song. A murmur of excitement swished through the concert hall; and immediately everyone’s phones and cameras whipped out to record this monumental amalgam of talent. Something historic was happening and the result provided such a stunning blend of Take 6’s textured harmonies with Larry Dunn’s blissful yet earthy phrasing on the Fender. Not wanting to spoil the surprise of these artists playing together the next evening, we were asked to keep the rehearsal secret. Another wonderful moment was watching Estella Yun’s blazing hands blister the Fender keyboards as she practiced her number. Her long silky hair flew everywhere while she concentrated intensely on the funky rhythms.
Yun was chosen to be a Rhodes Girl by sending in her music video to Gerald’s McCauley. He had posted on Facebook that he was looking for women keyboardists to be Rhodes Girls. Estella had an unusual experience attaining her first Rhodes. She said, “Actually I have one Rhodes, and it’s 1976. My husband gave it to me as a proposal gift last year.”
The other two Rhodes Girls were Angelica Abrams, singer/dancer/ keyboardist and Kayla Waters also keyboardist, Director of Music and Worship at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church – DC and Music Director at Early Learning Program at Howard University and daughter of jazz saxophonist, Kim Waters. “My dad is Kim Waters and I have played two times on his Christmas CD,” Kayla said proudly. Both young women were super excited to be performing at the 1st Fender Rhodes Concert.
A wonderful surprise awaited us as we ran into Sangin Shannon Diva (or Pearson as she is listed) who we had just interviewed at the Summer Breeze concert in Long Beach, the weekend before. Shannon was one of the vocalists for the Fender Rhodes concert. This singing star had recently come off her tour with Katy Perry as a back up singer.
The atmosphere backstage bubbled with excitement as the musicians chatted with each other and waited for their turn to rehearse. For some, the concert provided a reunion with friends, and for some, they were meeting artists they’ve admired for a long time.
Even Grammy winner Robert Glasper marveled at the fact that Patrice Rushen tinkled the keys while we interviewed him. “Wow, that’s Patrice Rushen playing,” he said happily. When asked about his first experience with the Fender Rhodes piano, the musician replied with a funny story, “My first experience with a Fender Rhodes keyboard was… my band director in high school wanted to give me one. I looked at it and said no. Fast forward… I get to college and my first jam session was with the Roots. We were playing a new music genre- neo soul. I sat in with them and when I heard the Rhodes this time, I thought it was amazing. I bought one and literally carried it around with me everywhere, even on the subway.”
Glasper revealed he had completed two big projects – his newest CD called Covered and scoring Don Cheadle’s directorial debut movie, Miles Ahead.
Reporting on his experience, “Don Cheadle’s is an amazing actor. However, he’s also a musician and I made him play some of instruments on the score. This is my debut scoring and it’s his debut as a Director.” He also talked about how he composed the music, “I wrote in the style of Miles, but also infusing this modern time period.”
The beatboxer, Butterscotch was thrilled to be singing with Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway on Saturdayevening. “The combo of Robert Glasper and I performing was nuts and mind blowing. I just went up to him and asked, ‘when am I coming in to sing?’ He told me, ‘you could stay there.’ It was a grand improvisation. I looked up to see Lalah Hathaway singing with us. I loved it.”’
Kevin Crouch said that he been playing the Fender Rhodes for a very long time. “The Fender sound … I sing with my fingers, my fingers are the paint brushes of different colors. The Rhodes is like the easel. It can look like splatter, but it makes all complete sense.” Crouch was thrilled to have met Robert Glasper for the first time. On Saturday night he would be playing with Rashaan Patterson who would be singing Street Life. “ It’s a great feeling working with someone who gets me. I’m doing Street Life with Rashaan Patterson. I produced that record on Hoodlum soundtrack. It’s an added treat playing for Trina Broussard.”
Eric Marienthal seemed to be the one special guest horn player invited to play at the concert. He and Jeff Lorber were performing together on Saturday night. Marienthal just completed a new CD called Bridges. “Today is the release date of Bridges, a duo record, with guitarist, Chuck Loeb,” Marienthal told Musecially Inclined. When asked about the Fender Rhodes connection to himself Marienthal said, “When I was in the high school jazz band, we were using the suitcase model where the bottom was a giant speaker; and Chick Corea played one when I was in his electric band. The Fender has a unique sound, which is timeless. From the late 60’s to now, the sound stays current.”
Mark De-Clive Lowe started off as a keyboard player, but recently performs as an electronic, DJ. His job was to introduce the audience to the history of Fender Rhodes through a compilation of music. “Gerald knows my love for the Rhodes. He wanted me to come and put the electronic world and the jazz worlds together, so I created a story with the different styles of music played on the Rhodes. De-Clive Lowe’s involvement with the Rhodes involved playing the instrument when he gigged in his homeland, New Zealand. “ In the mid- 90s, Rhodes was my go to. I had a beautiful Rhodes and I took it on my first world tour. My band mates hated me because it was so bulky, but I loved the sound of playing Rhodes because of it’s heavy harmony and lush soulful melody.”
The concert on Saturday night ran four and half hours. It was a love fest to this grand instrument. Mark De-Clive Lowe didn’t disappoint with the lively, eclectic mix of straight ahead jazz, fusion, which was infused with the electronic sound. Part two involved his tribute to Ray Manzarek of the Doors. Beautiful Sidibe/vocalist spun soulful sounds while energizing the crowd with the get up and dance song, Let’s Get Funky. The crowd went wild when Larry Dunn and Stokley Williams of Mint Condition took the stage. Stokley’s improvisational skills as a vocalist combined with Larry Dunn’s echoing him on the keyboards soared to improvisational heights. They were joined by the great backup band of Alex Al, bass and Michael Angel, guitar, and Gordan Campbell, drums. When Take 6 came on afterward to sing Badya, Dunn’s indomitable celestial touch mixed with the sumptuous harmonies, created the perfect blend. The tribute to the iconic Joe Sample with Crouch on keyboards, Patterson’s and Hathaway’s vocals gunning down Street Life, put a smile on one’s face. Back and forth the two vocalists scatted and interchanged clever improvisations. Robert Glasper showed off his superb handwork of releasing layered tones as he performed Herbie Hancock’s, Tell Me A BedTime Story. Butterscotch broke improvisational barriers with her adroit beatboxing when she sang Nature Boy. The modern day sound scatting resounded delightfully up and down the chord structures. Frank McComb pounded his Rhodes so hard whopping the keys to Superstition,and at the same time skillfully handled the song like a veteran.
The 1st Rhodes Festival plowed into the early hours of the next morning because of the voluminous amount of talent Gerald McCauley and Benjamin Bove presented. It was such a success that McCauley decided to produce the concert on an annual basis. He said, “History was made tonight seeing the level of talent being brought together. We have opted to take it further…even go to other countries that celebrate this great instrument. There are many other artists on the Rhodes stage in Europe. Music is the language that brings humanity together and I want to continue to promote it using the Fender Rhodes.”
Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson / The Hollywood 360, Mikey Adam Cohen and Fran Manzano.