by Sheryl Aronson
A Paradise For Musicians and Those Who Love Music
I am a kid in a candy store where I want to sample every piece of merchandise available, except in this case it’s interviewing phenomenal musicians and listening to superb music. It’s 11 p.m., the first day of the NAMM Convention and the lobby at the Hilton in Anaheim is packed with people as an R&B group rock the night with foot stomping music. I’ve been having too much fun and it doesn’t look like the good times will be stopping in the near future.
The day jumped off to a perfect stretch of serendipity, as I had no idea where to begin my journey into this wonderland of booths and concert settings. Thousands of expectant music professionals roamed the alleyways of the convention center viewing the newest state of the art equipment, instruments, and electronics. All I wanted to do is interview artists and hear great jazz and rock.
Allowing my instincts to guide me, I walked to the back of the auditorium bewildered but determined. In front of me stood a poster announcing Marcus Miller, jazz and R&B bass player, and he would be signing autographs at 4 p.m. My first connection of the day…I had interviewed Marcus in Poland last summer when I covered Terri Lyne Carrington in concert. When I turned the corner, Marcus was perched on a stool, bass in his lap, pounding away on the 5 strings. For ten minutes he mesmerized the group of people surrounding him with his funky riffs and jazz lines. I chatted with his business partner, Harold Goode, who informed me that Marcus would be releasing a new CD mid-March, Afrodeesia. After Marcus finished playing and posed for pictures with his fans, he came over to me and gave me a big hug. I asked him what was special about the NAMM Show for him. “I was that kid in the Sam Ash store at age thirteen and fourteen that tried out all the instruments…being here is like being that kid again except this is a big music store.”
My next stop took me in front of Robbie Gennett, keyboardist, award-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter who has played with Lisa Marie Presley, Nick Lachey Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) to name a few. Robbie sat behind a double-layered synthesizer singing songs while his hands throbbed with honky tonk rhythms. He called his music “groovy, boogey, pop.” His latest CD called Green Tea & Blueberry Pie was just released and the song “Olive the Dog,” hit it big with the kids.
I headed toward the woodwind instruments in hope of finding another cool jazz musician…low and behold there was Bennie Maupin, legendary jazz saxophonist. I first heard Mr. Maupin, when I was a student at Boston University darkening the doors of the only jazz club in the city, Paul’s Mall in Copley Square. At that time, he played with Mr. Herbie Hancock. Standing next to the exquisite Eastman’s saxophones, I approached him by saying, “And is this Mr. Bennie Maupin? Do you remember me?” and proceeded to remind him of the days of old. Bennie laughed and we carried on our conversation as if no years had passed.
“I’m trying out three different Saxes here, then I will go to their Pomona location and spend six hours trying out everything,” Bennie said. He had one sax in particular calling out to him. He picked it up and blew some magical notes, filling the air with lovely sounds.
“Do you still have your original sax you played with when I first met you?” I asked
“Of course, the sound on that instrument is fantastic.”
Bennie talked about the two different groups he fronted touring the world. “I have the Bennie Maupin Ensemble and the Bennie Maupin Quartet. The latter are all musicians in Poland and I have been going over there playing for the last eight years. With my Ensemble, I just completed a documentary film which shows us performing at an 140-year old opera house in Manaus, South America. There is also a scene of me playing a solo in the rain forest.” The documentary movie, Jazz In The Rain Forest will preview next Saturday night in San Diego, but has already won 2nd place at a film festival in Texas.
The next booth calling out to me was featuring a fresh new artist JoAnna Pearl who belted out a bluesy ballad. I was informed JoAnna just won best adult contemporary artist album of the year at the Los Angeles Music Awards. Stephanie Rose of ReAmp Recording Studios said, “We are trying to cultivate the arts in Orange County. All of this talent is here. We focus on the younger kids and we treat the business like a family. Tomorrow at our booth there will be a group called the 5 Hats who are 15-year-old jazz prodigies. You must come by and hear them.” (You know I’ll be going with camera and pen in hand!)
Briefly I stopped off to hear electronic music being spun by two DJ’s. The hip modern-day sound blasted from the newest piece of equipment from Gelestrom Electron. I might have swayed a bit to the catchy tunes.
An instrument that gets very little attention in the music world and is difficult to play is the organ. But Dr. Lonnie Smith, one of the jazz masters of this instrument, sat regally on the stool behind the Hammond keyboard mesmerizing the adoring fans with his deft handy work. He began softly scatting some jazzy lines while playing a sweet old-fashioned melody. The next thing I know, Jacques Lesure, jazz guitarist, who I had just met last Friday night at the star studded Shabbat service, is heading over to hear Dr. Smith play. The two are old friends.
“I work a lot with organists.” Jacques told me. “I listen very closely to what the organist does and play off of that.” He smiled at Lonnie and said, “This gentleman is a true Master of the instrument.”
At Eminence Speakers, I listened to the frisky guitar duo of Eric Gales and Tomo Fujita entertaining us with their hands flailing away on the strings. Eric’s head bounced sideways and up and down to the funky rhythms. The two musicians performed in perfect union with one another.
Not wanting to leave out the drums, I headed over to the backend of the convention center and the room exploded with crashing reverberations. Drummers everywhere pounded on the numerous brands of drums. Catching my eye was a reddish clay colored drum set being offered by the cymbal making company, Ziljian. The stunning set was equipped with the most advanced technology as Russ Miller, drummer of film sound tracks and television shows, demonstrated all the bells and whistles of the drums and cymbals. “I am constantly being asked to come up with sounds that have never been heard before, when I work on the soundtrack for a science fiction television show. This drum set helps me create these sounds.” There were mini microphones on each cymbal, which allowed the instrument to change sound tones.
At another company’s booth I watched Cora Dunham, Beyoncé’s drummer for the last few years, try out this new NU2D electronic fused audio-inspire drum set. Watching her play was an old friend from Washington D.C. He told me his son was a 16-year-old drummer who had already played with Sting and Patti LaBelle. I found A.J. Epps sitting behind a drum set trying out the skins.
“How long have you’ve been playing the drums?” I asked the young man.
“Since I was two,” he answered. “I would pick up drum sticks and just start banging on anything I could get my hands on. Over the years I would watch other people and learn from them, but I also developed my own style too.”
“So how was it playing with Sting?” I wanted to know.
“I played two songs with him when he was the guest artist at the Legend Showcase at my school. At first I was frightened but then I settled down and the gig went well.”
The entire day had flown by and it was now 6 p.m. The concert stage at the Hilton fronted many bands from 6 p.m. to who knows when in the morning… because I left at 1 a.m. and the music was still churning, plus the lobby remained packed with schmoozing NAMM Convention characters. I did hear some fabulous music throughout the evening festivities like the super funky Jaco Pastorius-like bass playing of Mike Frost and his straight ahead jazz group with female saxophonist Laura Mecciadoing vocals as well. Upstairs in the main ballroom,
Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked hard and wild with his 5 piece group, all players well known in their own right. Being a seventies girl, I was dancing to the crazed music but couldn’t help notice that most of the audience had their cameras out filming the show, instead of enjoying the get down sounds of this incredible sonic rock band.
My biggest surprise came when I walked back into the Hilton after taking some air and looked up at the stage to see a very familiar face playing the guitar. However, I didn’t recognize him because he wasn’t known to me as a jazz guitar player, I knew him as one of my beloved New York Yankees,
Bernie Williams. He was a homerun hitting, outfielder who I loved watching over the years. Now he fronted his own band and displayed his talents on the guitar strings with excellent chops of jazz improvisation. I danced to his compositions too. When he was done playing I noticed that a fan held a baseball in his hands to be signed instead of a CD.
End of Day One. What is in store for this reporter today? All I know is I want to sample all the merchandise in this big candy store of music!