Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A crazy weekend in music: another song-a-day, dancing with Angelique Kidjo and meeting Wynton Marsalis


With baby faced Wynton Marsalis backstage at Davies Hall

This last weekend was one of those crazy weekends where I was so overbooked with stuff, I finally had to go home and take a nap.

Friday I recorded another song with Jonathan Mann, the song-a-day guy, called "One of These Mornings". It came out pretty darn good considering that one of the computers totally crashed. I got to overdub all sorts of fun Doo-Wap vocals. I also love that the more Jews there are in a room, the more likely Jesus is bound to be referred to as small club entertainer...

And Jonathan, why do all the songs I record end up having super-creepy videos of you staring into the camera? I swear readers, they're not all like that. Jonathan isn't creepy, well not too creepy... okay maybe he's kind of creepy...



Here are some behind the scenes... including some funny faces at :45... and one by Miss Sarah Dabby at 1:38.



Friday night I went to see Angelique Kidjo and Youssou N'Dour presented by SFJAZZ at the exquisite Paramount Theater in Oakland. I saw Angelique perform last year at Stern Grove, and she likes to invite folks to come dance with her on stage. So we did. It was pretty excellent. She's a tiny person with a huge personality. She acts tough and full of attitude, but really, she seems like a sweetheart who likes to boogie. And boogie she does.

The Paramount Oakland marquee, I love this place. It's an art deco fantasy.

The ceiling of the Paramount Theater

Youssou was fabulous as well, but I almost felt like his band was so polished that it lacked some of the excitement that I felt with Angelique, but that could have also been due to how freaking tired I was by the time his band went on.

Saturday I rehearsed with The Backorders for our upcoming show covering the entire Kinks album Muswell Hillbillies on July 14th at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. I sing lead vocals on a song about booze and one about tea. Haha! This is "Alcohol", I'm going to sing it sort of like this lady...



Sunday was the first show of the 2011 Stern Grove Festival, and what an amazing season it is! We saw Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings with Ben l'Oncle Soul, both were phenomenal. l'Oncle is a French Soul Singer and busts out Ray Charles and Otis Redding vocal deliveries with no problem. He had these incredible dancers/backup singers with him. Stern Grove is a LARGE stage, and I've heard reports that there were ten thousand people there. And l'Oncle rivaled the Dap-Kings for sure, but I still love me some Sharon Jones, that little lady is FIERCE. And at 55, she's still getting down like no one's business.

Between her and Angelique, who is 50, these women give any performer 30 years younger than them a run for their money. They are amazing!

Check out this performance of Ben l'Oncle Soul's cover of The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army":



(Tip: if you are driving to Stern Grove, park just north of the park and enter on Wawona and 23rd. I got to the park ten minutes before the music started and I parked two blocks away on Ulloa, entered right there in the back and walked right in down the hill. I couldn't believe how little of a hassle it was. And even if you aren't driving to Stern Grove, it's still a much easier place to enter the park than 19th.)

Sunday evening, I headed on down to Davies Symphony Hall for Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The show was incredible. My favorite piece, hands down, was Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" performed in its original "chamber" (my quotations) arrangement: rhythm section (bass, piano, drums) a single clarinet, trumpet and trombone. It was subtle and gorgeous.

My friend knows the drummer, so she got us backstage to say hello, and then we hung out with them for drinks and shot the breeze. Everyone was super nice and I always love listening to folks who spend too much time together banter, this was no exception. It was really cute.

Another tip: If you ever want to buy Mr. Marsalis a drink, he likes high-end Scotch from the bottom of the bottle, so it's really thick with sentiment.

Oh, and Pomplamoose left their East Coast tour today, and that's been a bundle of work. But they've got four shows starting Tuesday night, Brooklyn and Boston are already sold out. They're playing at the Kennedy Center with OK Go for the Millennium Stage's 14th Anniversary, (which we'll be able to stream live) and there's a new single out today called "River Shiver". Things are happening, and it's really exciting.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A conversation with Wesley Taylor of the American Conservatory Theater’s “Tales of the City: A New Musical" by Armistead Maupin


"Before I was really focused on being an actor on my own terms, I wasn’t really interested in being a role model or helping other people’s lives. I was just interested in doing good art, but the older I get I realize, what’s the point of that?"

I have had the good fortune of having gone to school with some fabulously talented people. Many of these people have fabulously talented friends. And it was with pure glee that I emailed former classmate Lauren Molina whom I have written about here and here when I saw her friend and Rock of Ages co-star Wesley Taylor appear on the stage of A.C.T. a couple weeks ago.

Starring in Armistead Maupin’s staged production of Tales of the City: A New Musical" at the American Conservatory Theater has changed Wesley. He is 24 and has been out of college for three years. During that time he has worked continuously on Broadway, landing central roles in a handful of enormously successful shows including Rock of Ages and The Addams Family alongside Nathan Lane. He has also become known through his satire YouTube series Billy Green.

But it wasn’t until being cast as a Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, a young hopeless romantic gay man in San Francisco during the early 70s, that Wesley really began to feel a greater responsibility than to just the art of theater itself. Not only does he feel a connection to an older generation of men who have come to love and identify with Mouse, but also responsibility to the next generations that continue to struggle for gay rights.

Below is part of an interview I conducted with Wes yesterday about three weeks into the run. We talk about the magic of San Francisco (even today), the responsibility of playing Mouse, where the show might go from here, Armistead Maupin, Jake Shears, the process of being part of a new production, marriage equality, mustaches and on-stage nudity.

To see a shorter version of the interview, click on the examiner.com article here. I am also hoping to eventually post an audio file of the interview, so check back.

Tales of the City is now running through July 24th. Buy tickets here.

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Jamie: First things first, so I see that the ‘stache is real. You could walk down Mission Street and no one would know the difference.

Wes: I went to New York for twenty-four hours last weekend which was crazy, and for the first time I was a little embarrassed about the mustache and was noticing people looking at me funny. It’s interesting because San Francisco is so embracing of every kind of oddball. Like that’s what this city kind of stands for, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what you wear. And that’s why there’s so much personality in this city. It’s really a sanctuary of people who are different. Which is really special, it makes this city so magical.

And yeah, my friends at home keep making fun of my mustache in all the pictures. But I love it. For the last three years I’ve been playing eighteen-year-old characters and I’ve been shaving my face every single day and it sort of sucks. So I’m really jazzed about the fact that I can do something different.

Best friends Mona Ramsey (Mary Birdsong) and Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Wesley Taylor) move back in together at 28 Barbary Lane. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: Yeah, you look normal to me, but I live in the Mission.

WT: Exactly! When we first started the rehearsals, (director) Jason Moore wanted us to grow facial hair. And I didn’t know if Mouse should have a mustache. Marcus D'amico in the miniseries didn’t have one and I wanted him to stay twinkie and innocent. Sometimes when I grow facial hair I have the tendency to look sinister or edgy.

But Armistead said, “Mouse has a mustache. I had a mustache in the 70s, Mouse has a mustache.” And it was at that moment that I realized Mouse was Armistead. And I actually didn’t know that before. I had read the books and watched the miniseries, but it just hadn’t dawned on me that he was telling his story mostly through Michael. It was pretty surreal when I figured that out, and it was very intimidating.

I was also really intimidated when I first got the part because I didn’t know what a huge deal рдеे books were। But when I started telling people that I got it, every middle-aged gay man in New York freaked out. It really scared the hell out of me that so many people identified with this character. But what made me feel really comfortable was that Armistead had the final say on the casting. He gave us his blessing. JF: I love how involved he's been in making this production; I mean how often does that happen? WT: It doesn’t। I mean on the first day of rehearsal, he said that this is one of the happiest days of his life. He was so excited and such a part of it. But, still kept his distance respectfully to the writer Jeff Witty who made Armistead’s books into a musical. He couldn’t have been better to me through this whole process.

JF: Did he offer up any other words of wisdom that you can share?

WT: He told me once that there’s something about Mouse that’s hard for some people to get: which is this quirk that he is both light and dark. He said that I was really embodying that. And because as an actor you can really get neurotic about getting into a character, it was really comforting to hear from its creator that you’re on the right track.

JF: You’ve said before that playing reserved characters, like the one you played in The Addams Family, is more difficult for you than playing really crazy characters, like Franz in Rock of Ages. What was it like to play Mouse then, who is definitely on the more reserved side?

Mouse runs into the handsome Jon Fielding (Josh Breckenridge) at the roller rink. Photo by Kevin Berne.

WT: The thing I love about Michael is that he’s a little of everything. He’s very much like who I am, which can sometimes be the hardest thing to play on stage because it’s the most exposing. You can feel naked and horrified because at the end of the day it’s about telling the truth. And telling the truth can be the hardest thing in the world.

But yeah, Michael is a lot like me: we’re both from Orlando, Florida, we both have conservative parents, I grew up very religious in the Baptist world just like him, it took us both a while to come out to our parents, we’re both hopeless romantics and we both like our vices.

JF: My brother, who’s straight, said he got really emotional during Michael’s coming out scene. It’s a really amazing number.

WT: I like how simple and subtle that scene is. I kept wanting to make it more dramatic, but the director kept telling me to stop and just read the letter. Just love your mother. I was also playing the scene kind of defensive, you know, ACCEPT ME GODDAMIT! And he kept saying, no, you love your mother. You feel for her and you get it. It’s more, Thank you for making me who I am, which is more heartbreaking because it’s killing them with kindness. I feel like that song is a gift and the character has been a gift. I’ve been so lucky to stumble across it.

Mouse is shocked to learn that his parents have joined Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual Save Our Children campaign. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: And I’d imagine people have been reacting very strongly to your performance?

WT: Yeah, it feels really great. I’ve never been in that position before. I mean Franz was super gay but I’ve never been in the position of having gay men telling me how I’ve helped and affected them. That’s been very special to me and it means a lot. And I didn’t care about that stuff before. I don’t want to say I was selfish, but I was really focused on being an actor on my own terms. I wasn’t really interested in being a role model or helping other people’s lives. I was just interested in doing good art, but the older I get I realize what’s the point of that ?

Like when I first moved to New York my agents told me that it’s probably better off that you don’t come out for television and film. But I think that’s changing dramatically; you know with people like Neil Patrick Harris, I mean things are changing in a great way.

JF: That couldn’t have even been that long ago, what 3, 4 years?

WT: Yeah, I got out of school three years ago. But they did say that they would be completely open to it if I wanted to.

JF: But they were just recommending…

WT: Yeah, and they’re all gay too. It’s just one of those hard decisions to make as an actor, deciding weather or not you want to sacrifice the possibility of putting you into a box as a gay guy. But I think it’s getting easier to be a gay man and being able to do it all. But I started to realize that if I wasn’t going to get cast in something because I’m gay, I don’t want to be part of that project. You start growing up and you start seeing these things. And now I’m trying to be as active as I can in the gay agenda. I mean we are so close in New York to getting marriage equality right now. This is such a big deal! It’s made me really passionate, it has to get done! So yeah, it’s affected me. I love how it’s affected other people. I love that it’s made a difference, I think this piece is really special in that way. Even though it’s dated, it takes place in the 70s, but we’re still dealing with the same issues.

Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) consoles Mouse, who is struggling with coming out to his parents. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: It’s from the 70s, but I think the San Francisco in this show is still here. Have you felt that?

WT: Yeah, you can feel it. And everywhere you go in this city is research for the show! All of these locations are all over the books and the lyrics. Even the street names, it’s everywhere. I love working on a show and being in the world of the show while you’re working on it. I’ve never had that experience before.

JF: Everyone is talking about if they’ll be able to take this show out of San Francisco and on the road. What do you think?

WT: Because of all the inside jokes? I think that the show has the heart and I think it’s good enough to be able to transfer anywhere and work. Sure, you might have to tweak some of the lines and jokes. I actually think it would go over really well in London it would be super successful. The books are huge; Armistead is very popular over there. And the Scissor Sisters are everything in the UK! They’re way more known there than they are here. The demographic in London is right up our alley. But we won’t know what’s going to happen for a while. I mean, we got extended here until July, and it might even get extended until August. We just don’t know and as an actor is a little scary. Do you look for more work? Can you rely on the show?

JF: It’s like dating two people at once, and geez! Everyone should have these problems!

WT: It’s exactly like that! It’s awful! And yet exhilarating and great.

JF: What was it like working with Jake Shears (Jason Sellards)?

WT: He sort of became my big brother while he was here. We got along really well. We partied like rockstars, The Scissor Sisters don’t fuck around! They had a concert here and the whole cast went, it was really fun. He’s never written a musical before, but he’s such a natural at it. And he was so not precious about anything. He was cutting songs left and right. He probably wrote over fifty songs for the show and there are only nineteen or twenty in it. There are so many great songs that got the chopping blog. There was a song that Mona and I sing together called “Who’s your Mama?”, and after one week of previews, it wasn’t working for them, so he wrote another one called “Everything Gets Better” in twenty-four hours and put it in. I mean, that’s previews. It’s pretty stressful.

JF: They should make a B-sides album.

WT: Yeah, like bonus tracks. There was another song called “Show Me How to Love You” and it was so gorgeous. My verse was my favorite thing that I got to sing in the show, and they cut it! People need to hear this stuff!

JF: So this was all in two months? You guys learned double the amount of material?

WT: When we started previews, the show was something like four hours long. I mean it’s three hours right now, which is also too long for a musical comedy. But they’ve taken a lot out and changed even more.

I remember the first time Mary and I sang our new song for an audience, we were shaking because there were people sitting there hearing a song you had only sung three times. It’s terrifying. I think putting up a new musical is one of the most terrifying things you could ever do.

JF: Earlier you mentioned that playing the role of Mouse is “revealing” makes you feel “naked”. You like getting naked don’t you?

WT: As soon as they made us sign that nudity clause…

JF: There was a nudity clause?

WT: There was a nudity clause that all of the men signed. There was supposed to be a lot more nudity in the show. But, I mean, obviously you have to show flesh in the show, it’s Tales of the City, it’s a big component of the show. But Jason didn’t want it to look like an excuse to please to the gay community.

JF: So all we get it is your butt.

WT: Yup, that’s it. I’ve never gotten to even take off my shirt in a show, I love it. As soon as I signed that clause I stopped eating fried food and starting hitting the gym every day and doing five hundred sit-ups. It’s a fun challenge to be working on something outside of the show, whether it is growing out a mustache or going to the gym more! It’s a cool experience to have to change something about your appearance for a show, it really makes you feel like you’re earning your paycheck.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

SFJAZZ presents West African Superstars Youssou N'Dour & Angelique Kidjo


Angelique Kidjo performs at Stern Grove in 2010

Friday night is guaranteed to erupt the Paramount Theater into a giant dance party. As always, SFJAZZ presents the best touring African music: Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo are no exception.

Almost exactly a year ago Angelique Kidjo kicked off the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg as well as the first show of the Stern Grove 2010 season. Kidjo’s powerful voice and funky grooves got the people on their feet. I hope she again sings the classic song "Malaika" made famous by Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte. I also really like her rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up” which is off her most recent album Oyo.

Even if you don’t recognize the name, you have heard Youssou N’Dour perform...
Continue reading on Examiner.com

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lemonade Stand: a summer mix


My roommate attended the quarterly San Francisco Mixtape Society party yesterday. I could have gone, but I know how crazy I get about things like that. I get... well judging from the fact that I'm totally of Pandora and I make playlists now every week, I would say that obsessive would be the word. I have to know what every song is, and sometimes even look it up.

But my roommate asked me for some advice to get the creative juices going, and then she showed me the mix she walked out of the party with made by a random person named Amy (Hi Amy!), and I just couldn't resist making my own (but inspired by Amy's).

I could be talked into attending the next one.

So in celebration of the freezing cold winters we have here in San Francisco (I actually quite like them), I give you Lemonade Stand: a summertime mix.


Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jonathan Mann's Song-A-Day Project. I participated in song #890


I met Jonathan Mann earlier this year through the Family Crest. I first saw this video he wrote the day after a Family Crest show and I quickly learned that Jonathan is no ordinary songwriter (if that even exists).

Jonathan has been writing a song a day for the last 891 days and posting them on his youtube page. The idea is that if he writes a song every day, yeah, most of them will be mediocre, and some of them might even suck, but there's that small percentage that actually might be pretty good. So he's been writing about whatever pops into his head: Paul Krugman, elves and Maru the cat.

For the month of June, he decided that writing songs is a lonely process and wanted to get some friends involved. So, he ran a kickstarter.com campaign to raise money for a larger song-a-day project that would pay a handful of musicians and eventually lead to the production of an album of songs written during June.

You can also watch the whole process of writing, recording and mastering each song, every day on streaming video here: http://songatron.com/

Read more about the project in this East Bay Express article that ran yesterday.

SO, I stopped by yesterday with Sarah Dabby, violist of the Family Crest and recorded some vocals for "They Double Dared Us" (I come in toward the end). It was a blast and I'm looking forward to stopping by again.

Don't worry too much about the video, these songs fly past so quickly that they just need to get posted. This one might just be a little creepy because Jonathan is just sitting there staring at the camera while footage of his eighth grade graduation runs above him. Oh well, just enjoy that face then. Lol. (And watch the video below it to see some footage of us recording.)



Because the internet is such a useful and empowering tool, the cello part came remotely across the interwebs from Barton Lewis. There are also opportunities (like today) to record yourself singing and send it to Jonathan to be included in the final track.

At the end of the month, we will all be able to vote the songs will be included on the album. I'll be looking to you guys to help get my tracks on it! :)

Here is a video from the behind the scenes, I show up around 1:45 into the video.



Seriously, today's song is about Maru the cat who turned 4 a couple weeks ago. We love him.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cool, trippy sh*t: Dave Matthews and King Crimson


I've been cleaning out the email of a certain member of the band I work for and his friends have sent him some really, really awesome video and articles, so of course I get distracted while I'm working. I wanted to share a couple of these with you.



This one is called "Eh Hee" and comes from Dave Matthews back in 2006. The story is that he was inspired by a Khoisan riff he heard in Southern Africa by the San people (Botswana, South African & Namibia). He recorded this song and made this video, but didn't really publicize it and now it's just floating around the internet.

He seems to be channeling Peter Gabriel's wonderfully weird theatrics with make-up and what looks like fake blood. I love the choreography: mostly very slow movements, but sped up so that when the dancers do move more quickly, it looks really jerky. I also like the affect of the dancers moving around in white powder, creating all sorts of bizarreness.



This next one is called "Elephant Talk" by King Crimson, in a live performance back in 1981. Now, I've never really been a Crimson fan, not because I don't like them, but because I just never got into them. Now might be the time. This is just, really, really rad.

My friend from growing up, Will Hattman from the Portland bands Jana Osta and At Dusk has much love for this video and calls it a "space-alien novelty... it's one of my favorite TV performances of any song ever. I've watched this dozens of times and never get sick of it." So I'll let him tell you why he loves it (the following came from an email):

1) Tony Levin's queasy opening trill on the then-virtually-unheard-of Chapman Stick, sounding like an electric snake with a bad sense of humor. (Jamie says: excellent description!)

2) The syncopation game that drummer Bill Bruford and second guitarist Adrian Belew play throughout by punching the unlikeliest of beats—a sixteenth-note before 2—corrupting at regular intervals what would otherwise be a comfortable, even seductive, funk groove.

3) Belew's manic, deranged lead guitar work, dealing in above-the-nut chimes, seasick whammying, and deliciously apropos animal noises (I'm sure you'll hear the elephants in there), and culminating in a solo of jaw-dropping imaginativeness. (This clip's is even better than the album's!)

4) Belew's vocals, a bit of alliterative, metalinguistic slam poetry that from a lesser performer would come off irritatingly mannered, but which Belew somehow makes genuinely funny, and which becomes more endearing as it goes on.

These ingredients are all pathbreaking, and all in ways that poke out and draw attention. They're proudly odd, built on harsh, unfamiliar sonorities and disarming rhythms, and any one of them alone would make an otherwise ordinary song stick in the mind. It takes the most confident of players to throw them all into one song and make something not merely listenable, but beautiful. The passing of three decades has done virtually nothing to soften the stubborn weirdness of this song. I'm still waiting for the pop world to catch up to it.

Thanks Will!

Hope you enjoyed these cool, trippy videos.