Quite a weekend! David here, reporting back from the field, doing my American Kirtan thing in Utah for 50,000 screaming Mormon kids at the Holi Festival of colors, a hindu holiday celebrating my namesake, lord Krishna. Evidently the church tolerates this sort of thing, who knew!?
I performed with some dear friends and very talented musicians: the group, Mukti, which is a Sanskrit word meaning liberation. Mukti is led by Kirtan singer Prajna Vieira, who has done a lot of notable work in this fast growing genre. We performed together for this amazing crowd–quite a sight to behold.
Turtle Island Quartet is featured on North Country Public Radio! David Balakrishnan talks about Jimi Hendrix, being “alternative” and TIQ’s collaboration with Luna Negra. Listen Here!
Jan 16, 2013 Journal Entries
Turtles Vacation All Over The World
As the Turtles come together for another year of concerts, collaborations and extensive travel, we thought it would be fun to let you know what we’ve doing, and where we’ve been during the winter vacation between the end of our concert season mid-December until the beginning of the new year.
Mark spent the week of Christmas visiting with his entire immediate family of 13, while staying in a beautiful 3-story house in the idyllic town of Morro Bay, California. Morro Bay is a 4-hour drive south of the San Francisco Bay Area where the Turtles make their home. The week’s activities featured long walks to the beach, an adventure in first-time sea kayaking which included getting dunked in the cold Pacific Ocean, and eating breakfasts most mornings sitting outside at the local coffee shop. While walking to Morro Rock, He saw groups of Harbor seals sunning themselves in the bay, and kayaked close to a large group of California sea lions all hanging out together near the boats anchored out in the water. All in all, an extremely relaxing time connecting with family before returning to the upcoming concert season of 2013.
This is the front of the main meditation hall at Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, California, a little town in the outskirts of Marin County. I am always looking for time to do retreats there, which they offer primarily in the Buddhist vipassana style, basically means sitting and walking all day and night from 6AM until 10PM, no cell phones, no reading, no talking, no nothing! The perfect holiday antidote for the crazy life of a touring musician, and I do love it, I try to get here once a year if I can. This was a five-day retreat, on the short side, but nonetheless still a challenge for me. Seems like every time I do one of these, the first night I wake up in a panic, mind made up to jump in my car and split. But I get through it, and by the end, I get what I came for, which actually seems to change every time. I got down to La Jolla later to do a more traditional vacation with my father and his wife, that was more fun in the rich man’s sun, but I will probably be remembering my solitary grind more strongly, which will likely get more and more easy seeming as I remember it. Until the next time…
Mateusz’s Trip Home To Poland
Mateusz flew home to Poland to spend Christmas with his family. He spent almost 3 weeks in his home in Nieporet, 15 miles away from Warsaw. After half a year in wonderful California he finally could feel winter climate… In Mateusz’s home country it was cold, windy and snowy but in his house like always, everybody felt the really warm atmosphere. He had a great time with his parents, brother, grandma and all his cousins. They sang and played Polish Christmas songs together for hours. Mateusz’s mother prepared a delicious dinner with twelve traditional Polish dishes for Christmas Eve. Later all of them went to church for Midnight Mass.
One day before Mateusz was to leave Poland for San Francisco, he celebrated his Grandma’s 99th birthday. It was big, long party. One of his cousins composed a special fanfare for this occasion. Now they are waiting to celebrate her 100 birthdays next year!
Benjamin’s Trip to Switzerland
Benjamin spent his Christmas holidays with his family in Lantsch/Lenz, a very tiny mountain village in Graubünden, Switzerland. Although he is from Germany, he has spent almost every single Christmas at his family’s Swiss ski vacation hut, built by his grandfather in the early 70s.
Benjamin started to ski even before he started playing the viola. When he was three years old his mother was already racing down the slopes with him – his skis between hers – sort of how you’d imagine a kangaroo mum and kid skiing if they could do that. If Benjamin didn’t grow up in the flat lands of Bochum, Germany but in the mountains, he’d have probably become a professional ski racer. But faith apparently wanted him to become a jazz violist.
When Benjamin wasn’t on the slopes, he was either eating (Cheese fondue or Ulber Pommes preferably), playing games with his family (which are lot’s of fun but always tend to get extremely competitive for some reason) or playing the viola. And somehow he also managed to finish a Turtle Island chart for the upcoming collaboration with Michael Doucet.
Oct 9, 2012 Journal Entries
Poets and Prayers
Turtle Island Quartet recently premiered a new program, “Poets and Prayers” with our friend and collaborator, jazz singer Tierney Sutton, at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, California. Tierney is a three-time Grammy Nominee for “Best Jazz Vocal Album” and a selection by Jazzweek as Vocalist of the Year, in 2005.
I had been e-mailing her for several years to try and make this program a reality. Tierney and the Turtles had agreed to work together back in 2011, and the quartet added her to several old arrangements so we could perform at the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC last fall as a trial run. This time we took great care to create something special. There were numerous texts, e-mails and phone calls between David Balakrishnan and Tierney and myself. In fact, David, Tierney and I got together several times before the quintet began rehearsals at my home in Novato, California.
Tierney lives close to where I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, only 15 minutes from my mother’s house. I had met Tierney at the San Jose Jazz Festival about 10 years ago, after getting a copy of her album, Dancing in the Dark, a recording celebrating the songbook of Frank Sinatra, one of my favorites of hers. I have listened to this recording countless times. It’s a beautiful recording, with powerfully evocative vocals and intriguing arrangements done by Tierney and her band. In fact, it was this way of working, insisting on being integrated into the ensemble, as opposed to being simply the singer/diva, that drew me to Tierney’s work. For as we all know, a cellist’s life in a string quartet is one of collaboration, exploration and above all being a team player. I think that understanding helped forge a musical friendship between us.
Our collaboration began last year when Tierney and I met to rehearse an arrangement I had done on Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” from the seminal recording “Blue”, released in 1971. I was nervous, yet thrilled to meet the singer whose work I had admired for years. Tierney was gracious and fun to hang with, yet possessed an intensity and work ethic that helped me to quickly understand how she had achieved her success, and had kept the Tierney Sutton band together for over 20 years.
David joined us for the second round of get togethers, and as the three of us kicked around program ideas, it became clear that we shared a love of all things Joni. Tierney had a special affection for Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green”, a song that Mitchell would later reveal was written about the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1965. We recorded this session, as well as the subsequent trip Tierney took up to my home in Novato, California to flesh out several arrangements including the spiritual “Wade In The Water” that Tierney had suggested. By this time, it was decided that we would present several tunes from “Blue” and eventually we created four arrangements from this iconic recording, adding an exquisite arrangement of “Blue” by David, and a group arrangement of “Carey” to provide musical center to “Poets and Prayers”.
In a brainstorming session, we had decided to include a couple of Beatles tunes extremely well suited to the theme: George Harrison’s “Within You And Without You”, and John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”. After taking dibs on both these iconic tunes, I eventually decided to tackle the one Harrison tune. I spent an entire week singing the melody to myself while walking in the open space near my house. I wanted to keep the best of the original arrangement which Harrison, the producer and arranger George Martin and a group of incredible Indian musicians assembled for the recording had created. I also wanted to change the even rhythmic meter for the verses into something more exotic than the original 4/4 time. I finally settled on alternating bars of 6 and 5. I was grateful to our new violinist, Mateusz Smoczyński for his reading skills in making this complex rhythmic pattern successful. For her part, Tierney put her all into making the arrangement work, and her enthusiasm for the piece has been extremely welcome.
Our rehearsals in Santa Barbara were focused and intense. In addition to the pieces mentioned, we had arrangements of Bud Powell’s classic Be-Bop tune, “Bouncing with Bud” done by Mateusz and “Softly As A Morning Sunrise” written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II and arranged by our violist Benjamin von Gutzeit. Rounding out the repertoire for the program was a fabulous new original piece by David, “Voice Of The River” which was inspired by the Sufi poet Hafiz.
The concert in Santa Barbara, a closed event for donors of the Lobero Theater went remarkably well. We made it through all the new repertoire without injury and spent the rest of the evening basking in our success, before heading back to our homes in the Bay Area, for a concert at San Francisco’s premier jazz club, Yoshi’s SF. Please check our website, www.turtleislandquartet.com for date and venue information on the upcoming fall tour with Tierney.
Oct 23, 2011 Journal Entries
Turtles gather outside the Holiday Inn in Lincoln to van it to the airport.
It has been a great week of traveling through Nebraska. Great concerts, lec-dems, and workshops. But now, it’s time to go home. Last night we said goodbye to our driver and guide, Ciara McCormack and our soundman supreme Brandon Ketchem. Ciara drove the whole week, and took us to amazing places such as the Scotts Bluff National Monument and Carhenge in Western Nebraska, and let’s not forget the little town of Funk.
Brandon set us up at each venue, which meant an hour more of precious sleep in many cases. Both helped make this trip easy and joyful. I hope we get to work with both of them again soon.
For now, the Turtles scatter to the wind.
Mads is going to the Bahamas for a four day cruise, Mark is back at the ranch in Novato, watching his neighbors’ horses and dealing with two teenage girls and their collective angst. Dave is home in Albany, composing, always composing. And Jeremy? No one really knows.
Our next tour stop on the Turtle Island never-ending tour takes us right back to the Midwest. We’ll be playing Indianapolis, Indiana at the Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University with the Luna Negra Dance Theater in a program called “Danzon”. Hope to see you all there! Let me know if you enjoyed this blog!
Oct 21, 2011 Journal Entries
We’re off to Holdrege to do a lec-dem and another Coltrane show. We started the morning with a “Sting Quartet Is Like A Family” presentation in Kearney, at the same hall we performed at the night before.
It sure makes it easy when we don’t have to pack up after a concert. And of course, the next morning is a breeze. After stopping at an excellent Chinese buffet, we’re barreling down highway 44, flanked by dried up corn stalks.
We arrived at the Tassel, our concert hall in Holdrege with just enough time to get the sound up before several hundred children filed in. As always, they were quite excited to hear us. Jeremy got them all riled up with his fiddle playing on the viola; he had to play extremely quietly to get them to stop clapping so loud that they all but drowned him out. I played “Julie-O”, one of my pieces for solo cello and got a good reception.
Oct 20, 2011 Journal Entries
October 17th, 2011
Yesterday was amazing. We performed for what sounded like a zillion 4th and 5th graders in the Scottsbluff area at the Midwest Theater, and then high tailed it to a local Mexican restaurant.
Home made corn tortillas were the feature, along with some very good chicken soup, tacos, shrimp, etc etc. Then we drove the 2 hours to Chadron in Western Nebraska. Our trip took us by Carhenge, an art instillation that uses junked cars in all sorts of interesting ways. We walked around and thoroughly enjoyed both the artwork and the Nebraska sunshine. It was cold in the late afternoon, but the sun was dazzling, with breathtaking vistas of the surrounding prairie.
October 19th, 2011
It’s 9 AM, and we’re taking our longest drive of the trip, from Chadron to Kearney. Supposed to take 5 hours.
We’ll see how that goes. I’ve got my own bench seat this time around, so I can spread out and get comfortable. I’m already thinking of how I’ll spend my time home before we hit the road again November 3rd.
Our first stop took us to a pretty cool gas station. Apparently the owner’s wife is into health foods, because they were selling big bags of bee pollen. I passed on it, but did take an informational pamplet. Seems a teaspoon a day will cure whatever ails you. I bought a small of scented rock salt for the bath. It was only a buck. Can’t beat that. After a hard day in the van, and then a concert, a bath will be theraputic.
After stopping in the town of Ogalalla for lunch at the Home Made Heaven Sandwich Shop, (pretty good sandwiches, great sweet potato chips) we drove onto Highway #80. Immediately, the scenery changed. It was much less interesting than the two lanes we were driving on before. There are still hills but they are in the distance where before they were closer to the road and more dramatic. #80 follows the Platte River, which flows to the east. We’ve got a tight day ahead of us. We won’t arrive until neavly 4:30, which doesn’t give us much time to sound check and eat dinner before a 7 PM show. That this is a different program than the ones we have been playing in Nebraska only adds to the tension.
Oct 18, 2011 Journal Entries
October 15, 2011
Turtle Island’s big push into Nebraska began with a flight from Milwaukee to Denver, courtesy of United Express. I always have trepidations whenever we fly on small carriers, as I never quite know how they will deal with where to put my cello, Daphne. The quartet always buys a seat for her; indeed, if I had a dollar for every time I am asked if the airline lets me bring her on the plane for free, I’d have, well, a lot of dollars.
This time around, there were no hassles with either Daphne or the other instruments coming on board. The flight was pretty uneventful, aside from the inevitable bumps coming into the Denver International Airport. I’ve been making jokes all week about our week in Nebraska, but the truth is, you never know what a tour will be like until you get off the plane and into the van, so to speak. We’ll be sitting in a large cargo van all week, instead of the preferred two rental cars, but the cost of renting one way (we start the tour in Scottsbluff, and end in Lincoln) is prohibitive. As much as I understand the “one big happy family” aspect of being in a quartet, I dislike being crammed together in one vehicle. This time, we have a driver and at least one other passenger, so perhaps the vibe will be an interesting change from the usual. The members of this particular incarnation of Turtle Island manage to get along pretty well. Everyone has lots of electronic toys to plug into, so there are lots of headphones and computers taken out at the first sign of boredom. Last night we were all listening to Eminem, much to my horror. My retort to such situations is “two cars”.
Oct 15, 2011 Journal Entries
My time in Alexandria ended with having dinner with some very good friends from Baltimore. Bonnie and Peter are friends from my Cleveland Institute of Music days. Both were roommates of mine at the infamous 1961 Ford apartment, a block up from CIM. I lived in a huge old five-bedroom apartment for two and a half years with many roommates, (Bonnie’s room was directly opposite mine) during which we watched Saturday Night Live every week, I rode my bike around the apartment (it was that big!) and even sometimes practiced my cello. Peter and Bonnie got together during that time and have been a couple ever since. At some point, long ago, they contacted me and have been coming to Turtle Island concerts and hanging out, supporting me as a cellist and friend, and just generally being wonderful friends. Joining us was cellist and long time friend, Cindy Rosenberg. I met Cindy at the first Stanford Jazz Workshop Turtle Island taught at, sometime in the early 1990’s. Cindy has driven me all around the Washington DC area, made sure I had good food to eat when I’m here, and has been a good friend. We all talked about crazy musicians we knew, and about the good old days of living in a big apartment together. I was able to share some very old photographs taken by another cello friend, David Rosen, who plays in the New Orleans Symphony. Bonnie had a good laugh at seeing picture of both of our younger selves, without all the grey hair. Seeing the photos again gave me the perspective that my CIM days weren’t all bad, and provided the proof of how far I have come in my quest to heal from my baggage of a classical music education. I hope I have truly recovered from classical music!
Oct 13, 2011 Journal Entries
This has been an amazing week. We decided to ask Tierney Sutton, the jazz vocalist non-parallel if she would join us as a special guest for our upcoming concert at the Iridium jazz club in NYC. She said yes immediately, which was extremely gratifying. Tierney will be collaborating with us on the upcoming Poets and Prayers program we’ll be presenting next season. Our first concert has already been booked, and is slated for October 27th in Tempe, Arizona, so this will be somewhat of a preview of coming attractions.
Last night was the very first rehearsal of Force of Nature. I was taken directly from the airport to the rehearsal at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia. The first surprise was meeting the orchestra’s general manager, Adrian Finlay. Dressed causally in blue jeans and tea shirt, Adrian greeted me quite amicably at the front of the hall. Adrian and I had spoken about this program quite a long time ago, so it was great to finally meet him in person. He escorted me backstage, where there were sandwiches and sparkling water waiting in the green room. After a quick look in the fridge, I made my way to the stage where the stage manager was waiting for me. Craig is a percussionist and apparently stage- manages many groups in the Washington DC area. He had really thought through many of the issues David and I usually face when performing with orchestras with Turtle Island. I was grateful to have his thinking, especially since we only have two rehearsals to get this very new program together. He had positioned the drum set used on Force of Nature centered directly behind the conductor, Kim Allen Kluge. The drummer, Don played extremely sensitively throughout the rehearsal. I had asked Craig for a Plexiglas sound barrier, thinking that the drums would be loud. I was wrong, and by the end of the rehearsal, I asked for it to be removed.
I was pretty excited for this first rehearsal! So many months of preparation and practice were finally coming to fruition. The orchestra was waiting when I mounted the cello podium. They are a really nice group. The concertmaster, Claudia is terrific, and the whole vibe of the orchestra is warm and easy going. I was able to talk easily to the whole group, and I let them know that we were excited to be playing with them and were expecting them to groove with us. If we couldn’t get it to happen, it was our fault. I think they were encouraged by the positive attitude, which extended from the conductor Kim as well. More to come!