Concert: Grooves & Moves Concert
After a week of intensive rehearsals by the Aargau Youth Funk Band (AYFB) and 10 American guest musicians, everyone was really excited to finally take the music to the stage. The concert hall at the KuK was packed and there was great anticipation among the audience members for the program featuring songs by Fritz and Helen Renold as well as two by guest drummer Michael Baker and the Earth Wind & Fire chestnuts “In the Stone” and “Jupiter.”
The funky dance groove of “In the Stone” set the tone for the energetic program to follow. Vocalist Kevin Ross’s soulful tenor voice capably handled the lead vocal chores and tenor saxophonist Simon Spiess (of the AYFB) and guest guitarist Vernon “Ice” Black each took solos. Michael Baker’s breezy jazz tune “Supplication,” featured singer Rashad McPherson on lead vocals and thoughtful solos by keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell and guitarist Vernon Black.
“Cause and Effect” with its easy-going funk groove, was the first of the new tunes by Fritz and Helen Renold. The 13-soong program covered rich musical and lyrical territory with rhythmic grooves from Ghana (“Onipa, Onipa Pa”), salsa (“Campesinos”), funk (“Jupiter”), and jazz (“Lyle”). The lyrics by Helen Renold spoke of politics, Mexican worker woes, religious salvation, and more.
Standouts of the night included “Onipa, Onipa Pa” with it’s a cappella chorus introduction; Michael Baker’s song “Lyle” (inspired by pianist Lyle Mays) which featured a wordless vocal by McPherson, and an astonishing bass solo by Reggie Hamilton. The catchiest tune of the night was “Look What You’ve Done.” After a flute intro by Anna Diem (AYFB), Ousley sang the uplifting words about renewed faith. Drummer Michael Baker drew hoot and hollers from the crowd with his dynamic drum solo. The show closed with “A Freedom Anthem”, another Renold original, but the steady applause indicated that audience wasn’t ready to have the music end just yet.
After a reprise of “Look What You’ve Done,” the crowd wanted more, so organist/vocalist Dennis Montgomery began playing some gospel organ music. He moved to center stage with a microphone and sang the American gospel hit “Oh Happy Day” among others. The whole band joined in and the audience clapped and sang along. Before the night came to a close, Montgomery led the band in five impromptu gospel encores, sending the overjoyed KuK audience home with a sample of the sound and spirit of an African-American church meeting.
Workshop: Life Skills for Musicians
For the final workshop of the festival on Friday was given drummer Michael Baker who has played with such artists as Sting, James Taylor, Missy Elliott, and Whitney Houston to name a few; and bassist Reggie Hamilton, whose credits include work with Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and more. The pair, who met as professionals two decades ago, offered advice for those aiming for a career in music.
“While you are young and don’t have a family, build the foundation of your career,” Baker said. Hamilton told the young musicians, “Listen and practice a lot, become familiar with all styles of music. This is a privileged time in your lives because you can focus on the kind of music you really want to make. Once you have family obligations, you may have to set aside your musical preferences sometimes and play music you may not like that much. You’ll need to have a professional approach at this to make a living.”
Hamilton began playing bass at 11, and was soon practicing four or five hours per day. He started playing professionally a few nights a week as a teenager, and later attended Philadelphia Music Academy. As well, Baker said that he started playing drums as a youth. He told of attaining poor grades in school because he only cared about music. He warned others not to do that. After working harder at his studies, he was able to enroll as a music composition major at North Texas State. University.
Hamilton and Baker agreed that a lucky break comes to musicians who are both prepared and in right place right time. After that professionalism will assure your livelihood. They told the audience that no matter whom they play with, to do their very best. They stressed the importance of always treating other musicians with respect and to always part on good terms. “One day your paths may cross and you may have the opportunity to work with them again,” said Baker.
Hamilton told of working steadily with Bette Middler, and that one day she announced that she felt she needed a new band to try a new musical direction. Many of the band members took it graciously, left the door open,” said Hamilton. “But some got angry and argued with her. I told her I could understand her decision. A week later, she offered me the job back when her new bass player didn’t work out.” Baker and Hamilton were unanimous in saying that a musician’s good attitude and reputation are keys to a successful career.
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