“I wouldn’t be anywhere without music.” — Inmate at Sing Sing

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As musicians, we identify strongly with this sentiment, but for inmates, some facing a daunting number of years behind bars, it is a matter of reconnecting with their humanity. This is one of the many reasons that  my continued association with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections and Chris Washburne and SYOTOS remains one of the most meaningful and rewarding of not only my career, but my lifetime. In 2015 we spent 9 months at Sing Sing participating in songwriting workshops and performing the music of the inmates in three concerts for their fellow inmates and administration. Prior to that we worked all over the five boroughs with teens in juvenile detention facilities, adults on probation, teenagers born HIV positive, a men’s shelter, senior citizens and high school students. A senior at a homeless shelter songwriting workshop may have crystallized what so many feel when he said,  “Even though I’ve been homeless and I’ve been through a lot, I can stand on the square with anyone now because I’ve become human again.” Musical Connections continues to reaffirm in me the power of music to make a better world. Organizations like Musical Connections are vital to society and deserve our gratitude and support.

Learn more about them here:
EDUCATION & COMMUNIITY

HIGHLIGHTS – GIGS, TOURS AND RECORDINGS

Last year I took somewhat of a musical left turn for me by joining 70s progressive rock legend Annie Haslam’s band Renaissance, reuniting with old friends Mark Lambert, Rave Tesar and Frank Pagano. The band is acclaimed for their unique blending of progressive rock with classical and symphonic influences. We performed in the U.S. and Europe in 2015 and toured the UK in 2016. In our NY area performances, we were joined by former Yes keyboard wizard, Patrick Moraz. In the photo below, we’re performing and recording our DVD at Union Chapel in London.

Union ChapelHere’s their blog with some tour videos: RENAISSANCE

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For the last couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed working with the Requinte Trio – Nanny Asis, John Martino and the wonderful Janis Siegel – in their exploration of the Brazilian Song Book.The gigs led to recording our first CD Honey and Air. Here’s the promotional video for that recording which was released in 2015

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It’s always a pleasure to play with the great NYC pianist out of Philadelphia, John DiMartino. Thanks to John, I was able to tour India in 2015 with his Quartet of the Americas featuring Vince Cherico and Peter Brainin. We performed in Pune, Bangalore and Mumbai. I finally had Indian food at the source and it was incredible and of course, any time you play with John Di Martino the music is stellar

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These incredible fresh flower designs were created each morning on the patio floor by the wife of the venue owner.

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On the heels of Bobby Sanabria’s Grammy nominated CD Multiverse, we performed to a week of sold out audiences at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola with the big band. My association with Bobby goes back a long way to the Nuyorican Poets Café and our Multiverse recording is a great representation of the band and Bobby’s history of spreading the gospel of jazz through the musical melting pot of New York City.

KJ Denhert – Fierce and funky  – a great songwriter and friend.  It’s my honor to sub for Mamadou Ba when he can’t make the gig. Two 2 week stints in St. Barth’s (where she’s been performing for fifteen years) were great and it’s always fun playing Saturdays at the 55 Bar in NYC with her stellar band featuring my old friends Aaron Heick, ATN and Ray Levier

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This year I performed and recorded with John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey on Jessica’s beautiful Joni Mitchell project, performing Joni’s music with Brazilian and jazz arrangements. We performed it at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in 2015 along with  jazz greats Larry Goldings and Duduka da Fonseca. I’m looking forward to the CD release and more performances in the future.

In the past few years I’ve been fortunate to meet and perform with David Krakauer, a powerful and creative Klezmer/ Jazz clarinetist, composer and arranger. Subbing in his band for an old friend (and early inspiration of mine) Jerome Harris, I always love to get the call to play his music. It’s expanded my knowledge of Klezmer music as I’ve learned so much from David about the interesting history of the music. I even found out that some of it involves my current neighborhood in NYC, the Lower East Side.

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Justice Sotomayor Celebrates Bronx Kids Who “Dream Big”

On Saturday, August 4th, my old friend and colleague Bobby Sanabria was honored in the Bronx. For those who may not know him, Bobby has been a long time advocate for Jazz and Afro Caribbean music and the legacy of Puerto Ricans and their contribution to music in New York City. In addition to being a great musician with extensive credits and a Grammy award nominated band leader, he is also known for being an educator not only in universities but in classrooms where he exposes young students to the history and sounds of Jazz and Latin music. This only begins to describe him, but suffice it to say, he is more than worthy of the honors bestowed upon him by his hometown, the Bronx, N.Y.  It was great to be there to play with him on this special day.

Saturday was also a special day because one of the attendees at the event was Supreme Court Justice and Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor who was there to celebrate The Bronx Children’s Museum’s third annual Dream Big initiative. She has been a strong supporter of the Bronx Children’s Museum and its many programs for years. The BCM was present at the event and the kids prepared dance routines to perform with Bobby’s big band. It was a thrill for me to meet Justice Sotomayor. She couldn’t have been more gracious, approachable and sincere in her desire to help out this important cause and give back to her community. Very impressive.

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                                                                                       Review of Bobby’s Grammy nominated CD “MULTIVERSE”    The rhythmic drive on this recording is life-affirming and, when you add the rock-solid bass of Leo Traversa, sitting still is not an option. “Multiverse” hits the streets on August 14 – do not pass it by.
– Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest

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Playing in Zimbabwe at HIFA


 

 

 

 

 

 

These past months, I’ve been back at work with the people of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Program, performing community service which took us (Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS band) into a juvenile detention center in Brooklyn for another songwriting workshop. Although it was a completely different experience with a completely new set of challenges, once again, the resulting songs were pretty incredible, written by kids 12-16. We got to spend a good amount of time with these kids and it was as much a learning experience for us to live in their world and get to understand their situations as it was for them to learn about songwriting, collaboration and working with live musicians. It’s amazing what’s inside people who have no experience writing songs or music, once you can draw it out of them. I’d really like to credit Chris Washburne and Claudette Sierra for doing a great job under difficult circumstances.
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Carnegie Hall Musical Connections

As a member of Syotos, I have been a part of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program, which offers diverse musical experiences for people in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters across New York City. This is an article about a concert we performed with some very talented people following a three month songwriting workshop.

 

Songs of Their Lives: Uptown Seniors’ debut as composers

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

By Heidi Evans / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Wednesday, January 11 2012, 7:03 PM

If you’re a senior from Washington Heights or the Valley Lodge homeless shelter uptown, Carnegie Hall comes to you.

This past Tuesday night, the stirring music and lyrics of 17 budding songwriters were performed before a cheering crowd at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on Convent Ave., the culmination of a unique collaboration sponsored by Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections.

“I was floored,” said Chris Washburne, whose eight-piece Latin jazz band SYOTOS helped make the elder composers works come alive with fabulous harmonies and rhythms during a three-month workshop.

“I was skeptical at first,” he added. “The result was way beyond my expectations. In the end, I think I learned more about music going through the process than maybe even the participants.”

Under the direction of composer and Juilliard instructor Thomas Cabaniss, and a women’s pop and cabaret trio “The Lascivious Biddies,” seniors from the ARC Ft. Washington Senior Center on 174th St. and the Valley Lodge shelter on W. 108th St. met weekly since October for the songwriting workshop.

They wrote about love (Rhoda Weston’s “The Warmth of Your Love”) ; about growing old and invisible to men ( Ruth Baez’s “They Don’t Look At Me Anymore”); about punishing pace of New York ( Ronald Cavallo’s “I Need to Leave the City; ) about happy childhood memories (Emalyn Caliva’s “116th Street – Shuff-a-lin Fast”).

In one number, what began with the simple instruction “Complete the sentence: If I Could……” evolved into “Si Yo Pudiera” a rousing group song with a gorgeous melody written and sung onstage by the nine Ft. Washington seniors: “If I could get into your heart, I would dare to live that passion…”

Wearing a black and red pinstriped suit and red bowler hat, David Broxton, 74, of Valley Lodge, kicked off the evening with a standard he wrote called “Autumn Love.”

“A lot of people have the idea that shelters are dope dens, but most people are trying to turn their lives around,” said Broxton. “I’ve gained inspiration and self worth that I can do something good in this workshop. I have a talent to produce music people would enjoy.”

If critics had come, they would have declared the evening a triumph. More than 200 people gave the debuting songwriters a standing ovation by evening’s end.

“It’s an ignition of joy,” said Cabaniss, of the experience for the seniors and musicians alike.

Miriam Canaan, a retired and widowed social worker, wrote a swinging, salsa number that Washburne said his band will take on tour: “Temor a Amar – Afraid to Love.” While her son, Hassan, looked on proudly, Canaan took center stage to sing and sway to her creation.

“Oh my God, did I write that ? said an incredulous Canaan, 67, when she first heard the arrangements of horns and harmonies. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for such a long time. I hope to God it continues.”