Archive for March, 2010

Gandhi Ashram

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Ahmedabad – January 27, 2010

The most memorable part of our trip to India was the visit to the historic ashram that Gandhi used as his base. The sense of history there is undeniably strong. The care, thoughtfulness and compassion that we associate with Gandhi is still present in the demeanor and good work of the staff and volunteers there today. Simply put, they are angels on earth. Visit the website of their NGO for more information and to volunteer: www.manavsadhna.org

Inspiration for the world and our president!

Our visit was divided into two parts: a tour of the slum adjacent to the ashram where they work and a workshop/performance which was attended by a 200 teachers-in-training, children and observers.

Patchwork home, child and face (look closely)

Anjali Desai was our wonderful tour guide through the slum neighborhood (named – Ramapir No Tekro). She was a wealth of information and gave us a sense of life there and the struggle, motivation, inspiration, persistence and patience  that is required to maintain the battle against poverty. Here she details plans for the construction of a women’s center:

Construction for a new women’s center

One of the main sources of income and work in this particular slum is trash collection and recycling:

trash-recycling truck

Sorting trash and recycling

Main trash-recycling sorting center

This work can be dangerous, especially for children. One of the ashrams main missions is to get children to attend school. They have many programs to do this – most of them boil down to dealing with each individual family and child and social work But they also have larger projects like the construction of the newest school in the neighborhood.

One of the school founders

The neighborhood view from the school:

The neighborhood view through a fence

with kids in a classroom

Here are some pictures from Tekro and the people we met on the way:

Bougainvillea covering homes in Tekro

Living at the school was an old man and disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, the founder of the Bhoodan Movement, which aimed at persuading land lords to voluntarily denote their excess land for distribution among landless people. This gentleman had participated in the long marches across the country to convince these landowners. The kindness, humility and history in his eyes was touching.

Anjali and Gopal Dada - Vinobaji

Gopal Dada

with Gilad's wife, Joyce

Gandi Ashram Singalong!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

After the tour of the Tekro we were to perform for a group of teachers in training. As we walked in the open courtyard we were serenaded by a huge chorus of young women singing “We Shall Overcome!” It was one of the most moving and inspiring times of my life. After seeing the enormity of the work the ashram was working on, hearing the spiritual made famous by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement sung with such beautiful fullness was indescribable…

We learned a new song which was definitely apropos!

We Are Happy Today!

When it was time for us to play for them I immediately thought of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” which I dedicated to all of them. We found a section of the song which we repeated and sang bringing us closer together.

And then we followed it up with a few different songs. Here are excerpts from a few:

And we learned another Indian song with some special arm choreography:

Gandhi Ashram-singalong

Here are some pictures of the drummer/teacher who accompanied the chorus, the wonderful teachers-in-training and children in the audience:

Teacher-Drummer!

smiling teachers-in-training

Gandhi Ashram – More pictures

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Girl and Goat in Ramapir No Tekro

The Ramapir No Tekro slum area has about 150,000 residents. Poverty and education are main themes in the work that Manav Sadhna, the NGO run by the Gandhi Ashram but we were amazed by the beauty we saw around us.

Daycare center

Lunch time!

After the Madness-Poetry and Love

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Wedding Arch

After the party/concert at IIT we walked back to the Alumni House where we were staying and were welcomed by a beautiful wedding arch. The last guests were leaving the function room. We were excited to see an Indian wedding but almost all the people were gone.

As we were leaving we met a gentleman dressed in normal street clothing. It turned out he was the father of the bride who had already returned home and changed. The happy couple was eating privately in a back room now that the guests had left (I guess for the couple the party is for socializing not eating!). He wanted to introduce us to the couple and we asked him not to disturb them after such a long day. They must have been tired.

The conversation turned to his passion, writing poetry. He had spent most of his life studying and then teaching physics and math (at IIT) and in his retirement was dedicating himself to poetry. Inspired by Shelley, Tagore and Frost he had published a full volume of poetry and he wanted to give it to us. He asked if we could stay here for a moment and rode home and back to give us his book. We were so honored that he would spend so much time with us on such a special night.

with the poet - Shyamal Chakrabarti

He wanted his book to make the journey to the States but not in an envelope. His desire was to share it and we were happy to oblige.

autographing - "The Grasshopper's Dream and Other Poems"

His poetry is clever, humorous, imaginative and full of metaphors and stories. It opens with a moving tribute to his deceased sister:

You came and yet you eluded us. And as if to tell this truth, you left before our very eyes casting a fleeting shade. I will never know if your diffidence was feigned or real; for your brisk steps on the grass spread sadness all around. Raindrops, then, were trickling down the tree leaves, and the forest was wet with heavenly tears as you vanished gently into the moist air to no one’s great alarm.

Our conversation lasted long enough for us to catch the newlyweds as they exited their first meal as husband and wife!

Newlyweds in Kharagpur!

Mazel tov!


Mazel tov!

Kharagpur-Jan. 21, 2010

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The longest train platform in the world!

Kharagpur is a small town that is famous for the longest train platform in the world and their world renowned technological university IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). One person explained it this way “it’s like Harvard, MIT and Caltech (Academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) put into one school!”

MADNESS at IIT!

Crowd Crush as the doors open

All those brilliant young people, studying, studying, studying, stuck in a small town, wanting a release from their serious, intense, all consuming work…what could be better than a festival?…a festival with music and dancing!!!

Pandemonium was the word from the beginning of the night as the crowd crushed its way in as the doors opened. They were rowdy and having lots of fun! The party was just starting on the first day of the festival – which, by the way, is one of the biggest at a school in all of India (told to us proudly by the organizers).

Student hosts at IIT

When Gilad asked them to get up and sing and dance, that what they did – and with such gusto!

Gilad on stage - with drum...that's a festival!

Gilad put his loop machine on so he could be free to go up to the audience and get them dancing…

The view from the stage

Once Gilad got out there it was hard to stop him (actually nobody tried!). Girls were blowing kisses, dudes were dancing and all hell broke loose when he leaned over and started doling out kisses, hugs and high fives.

Ah yes, rock and roll…oops, I mean jazz in India!

Check out this video to get a picture of  the fun we had in Kharagpur…I especially like the headless dancing Gilad at 6:40!

Here are some of those screaming, happy people:

Leaving Kharagpur:





MUSIC!

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The music as promised! We played concerts sometimes combined with workshops at Republic Polytechnic, Lasalle College for the Arts, The Esplanade Library, Temasek Junior College, Raffles Junior College and The American School.

Vera Cruz

Isn’t She Lovely

Isn’t She Lovely (Gilad’s percussion solo)

Peace (with loop jam)

Estate

Untitled (Gilad’s “Party Tune”)

Goddess

Beginner’s Mind – part 1

Beginner’s Mind – part 2

Beginner’s Mind – part 3

A Felicidade


Singapore

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

FEBRUARY 1-5, 2010

The next stop after our India tour was beautiful Singapore. These posts will be full of MUSIC! The equipment at every venue was perfect and we were more than halfway through the tour and feeling very comfortable. One thing that stands out as with most places were the people, so beautiful, welcoming and enthusiastic. There were knowledgeable  fans of the music like Mr. Spuikerman a guitar fan with a love for bossa nova – and the strongest 80 year old I have met!

Mr. Spuikerman

And once again another surprise from Amherst, MA…an alum from my alma mater! I thought the “small world encounters” in India were not to be topped but meeting a jazz playing graduate of small Amherst College (1700 enrolled) on the last day of the tour was something I would never have expected!

Zheng Yuepeng - Amherst College '09

And then there were the students!

at Republic Polytechnic

Guitarists at Temasek Junior College

It was my first time in Singapore and the contrast with India was expected but quite jarring–every car was new, Gucci, Prada, etc…yes I know they have those stores in India and we were staying in exclusive hotels provided by the Embassy but when we left the hotel that was left behind. In Singapore, at least on the surface, there seemed to be a uniformity of class. We weren’t there long enough to go very deep but we did enjoy the mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.

Heather and I had fun speaking Chinese around town – she is fluent and I can impress most waitresses! – at least for my effort rather than my skill. They’re probably too polite to let me know how bad I am! 😉 And we DID revel in the perfect weather and exotic tropical flora and plants! No air conditioning needed for me since 80-85 Farenheit is my comfort zone! I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to mention the FOOD! We were lucky to be in Singapore at the start of the Chinese New Years celebrations. The night market was bustling and the cuisine  in the food courts was amazing.

China Town Night Market

at a feast with our wonderful hosts, Aruna and Vathani Amirthanayagem

Prince Sachin Tendulkar Bryant!

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

My last post ended with some humor inspiring a comment by the wonderful musician Jaywant Naidu from Hyderabad:

“Hi Prince Sachin Tendulkar of Chowmahalla palace. Enjoying the photos and cute music created by us.”

In reference to the following picture:

Promting this response: “Ah!…you have discovered the secret! Brilliant!…I’ll find a genealogist to find Sachin’s and my royal ancestors! We must be related!”

My African and English heritage (both sides with a couple hundred years history in the U.S.–Georgia and Connecticut) has given me looks that can be mistaken from many different countries and cultures. Growing up in NYC I was often mistakenly believed to be Puerto Rican or Dominican. Now that I play Brazilian music people expect that I have that background (I love to fool them into believing I am from Bahia!–someday, maybe I will be!).

In 2003 I did a tour of 9 countries in 7 weeks: Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Oman, Turkey and India. In all the countries up until India people asked me if my heritage was from there (that actually shocked me!). But I thought this would all stop when I went to India…to my surprise there were two Indian women at my last concert in Oman who told me about this famous cricket player, Sachin Tendulkar whom they said was my spitting image. “Sachin who?” I asked…”Sachin Tendulkar, the Michael Jordan of cricket” they exclaimed!

I could not believe it and soon forgot about it on the plane trip to Mumbai. After arriving in the hotel lobby a beautiful nine year old girl came up to me with her mother and asked for my autograph. Without thinking I said “great, the Embassy must be doing some good publicity with the Jazz Ambassador program!” She looked at me and her mother with utter disappointment…I was not whom she thought I was and they just walked away! I was confused too until I remembered Sachin Tendulkar!

Returning to India seven years later I can say that the situation is still the same:

THERE IS A CRAZY CRICKET PLAYER WHO IS TRYING TO IMPERSONATE A JAZZ MUSICIAN!!!

These cute girls came up to me at Chowmahalla Palace (Hyderabad) and asked me if I knew I looked like Sachin. I should have said “yes, he’s my brother” which I’m sure would have fooled them!

Sachin Girls!

Actually, when I drive around and look at the huge billboards of Sachin or see his pic in the paper or on TV I really don’t see it, but I guess I’m getting used to it.

So, what do you think? Check out the video below and tell me! Maybe I can get a job being his double when he’s too tired to go to another party or autograph session!

Sachin Tendulkar or Freddie Bryant

Schools in Hyderabad

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

January 25th

We visited two schools this day and flew that evening to Ahmedabad. I like to mention all the schools I visit and post pics and videos. It is an avenue of communication that can progress over time. Some schools and students don’t have internet but these posts will be up indefinitely and someday I hope all the students will be able to look back and enjoy the time we had together. Also, if you’re a student out there you should know I am always open to answering any questions you have. So just contact me through a comment on this blog or go directly to my website. I know the internet will not be a satisfying as our visit but you never know, I might get back there someday!

Actually I also have a more personal reason  motivating me. I have two daughters (10, 14). They are a big inspiration to me and when I am far from them I am always thinking about them especially when I am working with kids their ages. Of all the work I do I think they are most excited by the children and they’re curious about kids their age in other countries with unfamiliar cultures. So check these out Nia and Serena!

The first school has a long name: Andhra Mahila Sabha – P. Obul Reddy Public School!

We played a concert and had the pleasure of playing a song with Jaywant and Prehinder! (check out the jam session we had the previous night-posted earlier). There were also some questions from the students at the end. BUT what I’ll remember most from this visit were the student musical performances. They were so enthusiastic about playing for us and we were very appreciative.

A student choir welcomed us:

After we played there was a trio of students who unfortunately didn’t make it into the program due to lack of time. They asked us if they could play for us and even though we were due downstairs for an official lunch (see the South Indian food below!) we could not refuse. They set up their instruments on the floor and began:

Student trio-Hyderabad

Srikar – Harmonium

Narayanan – Mridangem

Rahul Das – percussion and drums

Freddie, Preminder, Jaywant and Gilad

The feast at P. Obul Reddy Public School. Note: that is not a donut! It is a savory fried lentils called Vada/Garelu

Principle, cooks-our hosts at P.Obul Reddy Public School

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan School was our next visit. Their veena players performed this song for us:

Out of the Blue!…Small World Encounters-Part 3

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Hyderabad

January 24-25, 2010

This was another short trip but it was full. We had two wonderful stops at schools, played with our first Indian Classical musicians to date on this tour AND met another neighbor!

Let’s hear it for Brooklyn, NY and Amherst, MA!…if you’re counting so far in India we’ve met one amazing sax and bansuri player who lives in Brooklyn, one amazing sax and bansuri player who lived in Brooklyn and moved to Amherst a month before the tour and two old friends who have lived in Amherst for years…

Now, we were completely blindsided to hear that there is a gentleman on a speakers tour for the US Embassy who is from Northampton, MA-just 20 minutes from my home! He works for Miriam Webster Dictionaries and was lecturing about American dictionaries–ok, now it seems to be moving away from the jazz theme…but wait, he turns out to be a regular jazz DJ on two of our local stations at home! Peter Sokolowski-another jazz connection bumming around India! He was on the same circuit-we even met again in New Delhi.

Peter came over to the hotel to listen to a jam session that was organized with Gilad and I and two Indian Classical musicians, Thakur Preminder Singh on tablas and Jaywant Naidu on Hawaiian guitar (yes, you heard right). The metal slide is perfect for the Indian style of bending notes, beautiful ornaments and notes not in our 12 tone system.

Me, Jaywant, Gilad and Preminder

Jaywant and Peter in the back

and Part 2–Baiao Jam

Then I showed them my tune “Drum On, Drum On.” After that we morphed into vamps mostly based on D but check in later for a funky slow blues!

Charminar in Hyderabad

Hyderabad is a growing city strengthened by many tech and call center businesses. As tourists we favored the old city with its sights, sounds and markets.

Pomegranates at Charminar Market

Tuk Tuk and market

We took a tuk tuk from the hotel to Charminar and then to Chowmahalla Palace – a museum now that surveys the history of the local rulers. Much of it documents their various philanthropical endeavors. It seems that they did support lots of projects with their enormous wealth. Present day descendants are not in political power but still have a connection to the community through various projects. It is an interesting view into another time.

Hanging at the palace!

Inside Chowmahalla Palace

Being in India it is impossible to ignore poverty and the deep divide between the rich and poor. Imagining times more than a century ago seem not to different from today. Growing up in NYC in a lower middle class (working) musicians family I have never identified as being rich. It is easy to take for granted all that we have. Coming to India as a guest of the Embassy with first class hotels, food and transportation makes you think hard about choices, blessings and adversity in life.

Our trip to the famous Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad was another gift that opened eyes to the reality of life on Earth. Look for an amazing post about this wonderful place in the coming days. BUT for right now, let’s end this one with some humor…I figured that since I was being treated as a VIP in India I would just go all out take my rightful place as a King among men!!!

MY CORONATION PICTURES ARE BELOW!!!