Category: Music

May’s Artist Feature: Jacob Sacks

May’s Artist Feature: Jacob Sacks

Pianist, composer and educator Jacob Sacks is this month’s artist feature. I have known Jacob for more than 15 years, and performed and collaborated with him almost from the start. He is an artist with integrity, honesty and deep artistry. From the very first time I heard him perform, I knew he was special. Jacob is an adventurous, free spirit with a deep knowledge, love, and respect for improvising and creative expression.

We’ve shared countless meals at my home, his home, on the road, and everywhere else. Jacob a foodie and an awesome baker who, lucky for my husband, me and my son, loves to share his creations (cookie bars ring a bell, Chris – Ha!). Birthdays are always a treat when you know Jacob Sacks is baking the cake! Jacob’s favorite Korean dish is a dry anchovy side dish called “mulchi” (sounds unappetizing but guaranteed delicious when prepared correctly). Jacob discovered this particular dish while having a home cooked meal from my mom.

Jacob arrived in NYC in 1996, starting out as a student at the Manhattan School of Music. Since that time, he has been known around town and elsewhere as a badass pianist and improviser. Jacob is a long-time member of multiple bands such as Eivind Opsvik’s Over Seas, Dan Weiss Trio, David Binney band, Ohad Tolmar Quintet, the late Paul Motian ensemble, my E-String Toy Band and our long time duo collaboration. Jacob is on numerous recordings (too many to mention) and is regularly performing on the NYC creative music scene.

We’ve made three duo albums together, Soulmates (2002), Imagination (2008), and one which will come out this fall. Jacob and I are also both on a collective quintet album called 4inObjects (2006). Of course, my long time collaboration with Jacob has truly been a highlight throughout my musical life. Playing with Jacob has made me into a better musician and artist.

Another wonderful side to Jacob’s musical skills is that he is an amazing teacher. I am always blown away by how clearly he presents musical concepts to young musicians and how he can get the students to explore and try out something that may feel new and unfamiliar. Jacob’s knowledge of the jazz tradition is kind of awesome and I feel like a student myself when he is talking about recordings, musical style and jazz musicians throughout history.

Jacob and I will be performing on Wednesday, May 28th, at Carnegie Hall and he will also be performing with his trio, Dan Weiss on drums and Thomas Morgan on bass in the second half of the program. If you are in NYC, come and see this rare performance on one of the world’s most reputable stages.

On a more personal note, Jacob is my best friend. A kind, warm and generous individual that gives everything he’s got to his friends and music. I look forward to many more years of fun filled, crazy music with Jacob Sacks and of course, lots of his home-made birthday cake!

See you at Carnegie Hall!

April’s Artist Feature: Khabu Doug Young

April’s Artist Feature: Khabu Doug Young

This month’s artist feature is an amazing musician and creative improviser. Khabu Doug Young is a guitarist extraordinaire and a superb ukulele player. I have known Khabu for about 13 years and worked with him for almost 10 years. Khabu and I have shared the stage and the classroom many times over the years and it has always been both a wonderful learning experience and a fulfilling artistic one.

Khabu is also a real foodie. He is extra lucky because his lovely Venetian wife is an incredible cook (and singer!) Khabu is pretty darn good in the kitchen also. Khabu loves kimchi, which puts him in my good books. We share a love for the Venetian dish Bigoi in Salsa, a pasta dish made with onions and anchovies which I love to make (thank you Elena!)

Khabu has been playing music in NYC for almost 20 years and over the past 12 years he has added ukulele to his performances. He has been involved in projects like his band, My Russian Dragon (this band pre-dates his NYC arrival) with Art Lande, Dwight Kilian, Bruce Williamson and other special guest band members Shane Endsley, Mark Miller and Paul McCandless; SLOG with Brian Drye, Greg Joseph and the late Bob Bowen; and his duo with multi-instrumentalist, Kurt Reber. Currently Khabu continues to perform with Art Lande and now has a duo project with vocalist, Elena Camerin; is a member of The E-String Band (my toy instrument band); and his newest band with Bruce Williamson, Mike McGinnis and Harris Eisenstadt. Khabu also does a monthly show with yours truly and Elena Camerin.

Khabu is a unique music educator and I have learned so much by working with him over the years. Here’s why: I have rarely met anyone as good as Khabu is at teaching students to really express themselves without conscious judgement or ego interfering. Regardless of the skill level, he just has that knack for getting people to open up and discover something about their own spontaneity that they had been overlooking. That’s why when we taught classes together, I always came away having learned a lot myself.

You can check out Khabu’s latest project this coming Friday, April 11, 7:00pm at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Here is the listing.

It is an incredible thing when you meet someone who is as open minded and free spirited in the way Khabu is. I love that he is so willing to go and take any type of musical adventure with you. I feel privileged to play music with Khabu and I hope that you take the opportunity to discover this wonderful musician.

Looking forward to playing with you next month Bhu!

Shakespeare’s Heightened Language With Patsy Rodenburg

Shakespeare’s Heightened Language With Patsy Rodenburg

Two weeks ago, I spent three intensive days at the Michael Howard Studios in Chelsea doing an acting workshop with master coach, Patsy Rodenburg. I am not an actor, so I had never heard of Patsy Rodenburg before and only decided to try her workshop on the recommendation of a friend. The thing that fascinated me about this workshop was watching some of Patsy’s videos on You Tube. Patsy is a remarkable storyteller and has an intense presence that is captivating. I wanted to know more about what she did and whether I could bring some of it to my own performances.

Once I registered for the class, I was required to have a two minute monologue memorized for the workshop. Picking a monologue was a challenge because, I have to confess, I hardly know any Shakespeare. I have seen a few plays and watched a movie or two but never really checked out Shakespeare the way one really should. Anyways, I chose Queen Margaret’s monologue from Henry VI, part three, Act I, scene iv (once again a recommendation from the same friend who referred me to this workshop – thanks Nick!) My first reading of the text was humbling to say the least. I had no idea what I was reciting and I was beginning to think that I got myself into one pricey mess. After six weeks of work and lots of help from my husband, Mr. Smarty Pants, and Shakespeare’s words dot com, I could recite the monologue with real fiery contempt—or so I thought.

On the first day of the workshop, the first two hours was an introduction of what was to come over the few days and everyone introducing themselves and why they were all particating in the classes. I was the only non-actor who wasn’t pursuing acting in the group although there was one opera singer who trains actors in voice work. Patsy mostly spoke about preparing yourself mentally and physically for the monologues. She described three “circles” of being. (Please understand that I am over simplifying these concepts and I don’t have real depth of knowledge on it). First circle is a passive state, a subservient, inactive place. Third circle is what Patsy called the “bully” state: overbearing, insensitive, and aggressive. The second circle is the active, present state. This is the place you want to be in.

It is amazing how unaware you can be about your state of being. You don’t even realize at times that you are not engaged or present in the moment. Sometimes you think you are present but realize you are really in “Third Circle”. We worked on being aware of how our bodies are when we are not in “Second Circle” and to try to engage the body so that you are in “Second Circle”.

On the second day we continued our work on being “present” and worked more on our chosen text of Shakespeare. One exercise that Patsy asked us to do was to recite the first word and last word of each line in our text. That was an incredible moment for me. For one thing, it was the same exercise which my piano teacher, Sofia Rosoff, asks me to do when learning music. Sofia calls it outlining and Patsy’s outline blew my mind! As I was reciting the outline I truly glimpsed for a moment the genius of Shakespeare. Everyone tells you that Shakespeare was a genius but I truly felt a connection and was awestruck by my discovery. That was a highlight over the weekend.

On the final day of my Level I workshop (there was a Level II and III), Patsy worked with each participant in a masterclass forum from anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes on each monologue. That day started at 9:00am and went until 2:30am!! Patsy was a machine! I mean this woman worked with everyone and with only two 20 minute breaks and one 5 minute bathroom break during the almost 18 hour marathon of Shakespeare. The incredible thing about Patsy was that she never waned in her intensity with each person and she brought out remarkable results from many of the participants.

When Patsy worked on my monologue, she stated that my voice was very clear and could be heard very well. But her criticism was that it sounded more like a speech rather than someone speaking to another individual. Also, I sounded mean and contemptuous. She wanted me to change the mood of my monologue. She wanted me to understand that Queen Margaret was almost in disbelief that the Duke of York had the audacity to try and take over the kingdom. Patsy really makes you understand that Shakespeare’s characters are relatable and that you can really understand and empathize with the character. When she asked me about Queen Margaret and how she felt. I began to get excited and exclaim that Queen Margaret was angry but feeling protective of her son and his right to the throne. I could feel my rage and hurt boiling inside me and at that moment Patsy said “Text, go!” I started to say my monologue and the tears and rage and pain were literally exploding out of me. The whole time I didn’t let go of Patsy’s intense gaze in my eyes. Her “Second Circle” presence energized me and even though I could barely catch the clarity of my voice how I know it, it feel absolutely incredible to experience that emotion and deliver my monologue! I don’t know if I was any good but it felt great!

By the time we were all done, my brain and body were fried from fatigue but I was filled with excitement and inspiration at the same time. I was sorry that I wasn’t continuing onto the next level but it has only given me something to look forward to the next time Patsy comes to NYC to do another one of her workshops. Also, I have found a new love for Shakespeare and I want to continue learning more about his work and studying more of his plays.

Thank you Patsy!

March Artist Feature: Akiko Sasaki

March Artist Feature: Akiko Sasaki

This month’s feature artist is Akiko Sasaki. I have known Akiko for more than seven years and I have to say that she is one of the hardest working people I know.

Akiko has so many talents that it almost seems unfair to list them all. Outside of her musical talents as a classical pianist and Japanese koto player, Akiko is a gifted educator. She is also an amazing cook! We have cooked Thanksgiving dinner together for more than six years and I can’t even begin to recall all the meals we have cooked and eaten in the days between.

Since 2009, Akiko has been following a macrobiotic diet and she is currently being certified in the “Master Your Health” program at the Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia. Even though Akiko eats in a ridiculously healthy way, here is her weakness: donuts! Her dark secret is out! She loves sweet, fried donuts!!

Akiko has lived in NYC since 2002 when she arrived to pursue a masters at the Manhattan School of Music (granted in 2004). Throughout the years Akiko has pursued many projects but currently her main passions are her private teaching practice and Lyra Music, a three week summer intensive program for young pianists and string players held in Randolph, Vermont. Akiko began Lyra Music in 2010 with her friend and colleague, Mary Prescott. Together they have created a wonderful program that gives young students a life enhancing experience through classical music.

Besides Akiko’s passion for teaching, she is also an incredible performer. I find it astounding how Akiko can manage Lyra and her teaching practice but more amazing is that she is involved in so many performance projects like her piano trio, Trio Cotier with cellist, Alisha Bauer and violinist, Chris Luther; her Japanese music project with opera singer, Sarah Heaton; her Koto quartet with flutist, Yukari, drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist/husband, Jesse Stacken; and also performing with the Miyabi Koto-Shamisen ensemble. To finally put the icing on this amazing cake, she also co-curates a wonderful house concert series with her husband, Jesse Stacken (more on him in the coming months) called the Beverley Concert Series. (I swear this woman does not sleep!)

This weekend you can catch Akiko’s Lyra Music in action. They will be doing a live streaming music competition for cash prizes and scholarships for students to attend Lyra Summer Music program 2014. Here is the streaming link here
You can also see the competition in person at Shetler Studios in NYC (244 West 54th St, #12). Tickets are $15/$10 students & seniors, at the door.

I only have great things to say about this woman and I admire her to the nth degree. Akiko is an amazing person with fiery passion and determination that get the job done. If you get a chance to see her perform live, please do. You will not be disappointed.

February’s Artist Feature: Thomas Morgan

February’s Artist Feature: Thomas Morgan

This month’s artist feature is about my longtime friend, the gifted musician and bassist Thomas Morgan. I cannot recall all the meals that Thomas and I have shared over the years but in the last decade, Thomas has followed a macrobiotic diet and I have learned to make many delicious dishes to ensure that we continue sharing meals together. Thomas really enjoys my macrobiotic granola which I make whenever I get the chance.

I met Thomas when he was at the tender age of 18 and even then, you just knew something amazing was happening with this young man. Thomas has been in NYC since 1999 and from the moment he began his studies at Manhattan School of Music, his performance career started to flourish. Now he is one of the busiest musicians I know.

The first time I saw him perform was with the drummer Joey Baron, and guitarists, Steve Cardenas and Adam Levy at the no longer existing venue, Tonic in NYC. His clarity of sound and unbelievable sense of time were just two of the many amazing features of his playing.

There are too many groups and projects to mention in which Thomas is an active member. Including my toy instrument band (in which he plays guitar!) and my quartet, Thomas regularly performs with guitarist Jakob Bro‘s trio, Craig Taborn‘s trio, Dan Weiss and Jacob Sacks trios and was a long time member of the Steve Coleman group, David Binney band and the late Paul Motian band. Most recently, Thomas has been playing with guitarist Bill Frisell.

If you would like to check out Thomas playing live in the next month or so you will have to get yourself over to Europe. Currently he is on tour with Jakob Bro’s trio and will continue touring in Europe with pianist Giovanni Guidi. In April, you can check him out at drummer Dan Weiss’ CD release show at The Jazz Gallery on April 11 and 12. You can also hear him at Carnegie Hall (Weill Hall) with the Jacob Sacks Trio on May 28.

I had my first gig in NYC with Thomas Morgan in 2000 and ever since then, he has been my favorite bass player and one of my favorite musicians ever.

A little amazing fact about Thomas: he does not own a cell phone! How is that even possible this day and age? Just goes to show you that great talent can be sought out by any means necessary. I admire Thomas for having the ability to not be enslaved by modern technology. With a crazy schedule like his, not owning a cell phone is probably the best way to get a little quiet.

Featured Artist for January 2014: Geoff Kraly

Featured Artist for January 2014: Geoff Kraly

To start off the new year, I have decided to feature a musical artist every month on my blog. I’m planning to select artists I have some personal connection with: I have either worked for them, collaborated with them, or hope to work/collaborate with them in the future. Also, I’m planning to feature artists who have been at my home and shared a meal with me. I find that having a meal together is a wonderful way to connect with someone outside of playing music with them.

My first featured artist of the year is my dear friend Geoff Kraly. Geoff and I have shared many meals together. Of all the things I’ve cooked for him, I think his favorite is probably my homemade Big Macs and fries.

Geoff has been in NYC since 2003 after graduating from Northwestern University, where he studied both jazz performance and music cognition. Since then he has been actively working as an electric bassist, composer, songwriter/lyricist and producer.

One of the things I respect most about Geoff is his impeccable taste in music and the execution of it. Just this past November, Jacob Sacks and I had Geoff in the recording studio listening and giving suggestions as we recorded our third release which will be coming out this year.

Another amazing thing about Geoff is that the man can write a song! Geoff’s lyrics are so moving, he is always musically interesting, deeply emotional and the songs really get you in the gut. The times that I have sung Geoff’s music, I have had to prepare myself not to crack my voice or start sobbing in the middle of the tune.

Geoff’s most recent work is as the producer and bassist for Ben Scheuer‘s band, The Escapist Papers. He has also co-written a recording with Ben called, Lady Clown. Geoff recently completed producing drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s forthcoming album.

Geoff’s main and current project is Paris Monster, a collaborative duo with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Josh Dion. Geoff is co-producer, co-engineer, lyricist, co-writer and performer on bass and modular synthesizers. This duo is electrifying to watch and listen to. Geoff’s powerful and intense lyrics combined with Josh’s melodies and their combined charismatic performance seduces and invites you into a world where you want to stay all night long. You can witness this magical chemistry in NYC where Paris Monster will be doing a residency at the Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1 on January 17, 24, February 1 and 7 starting at 10:00pm.

You can check out Paris Monster’s latest EP on Sound Cloud and purchase the EP on ITunes. You can also watch their newest video Pride

On a more personal note, outside of his wonderful musicianship, Geoff is an incredibly loyal friend and one of the most sensitive souls I know. Quiet and strong and funny as hell, this is an artist you really should take the time to check out. You can visit his website at: Geoff Kraly or Paris Monster.

Geoff, the next meal will be Big Macs. You are bringing the beer, I hope.

Choi – Sacks Duo Recording #3

Choi – Sacks Duo Recording #3

Two weeks ago, my friend, Jacob Sacks and I completed our third recording at Acoustic Sound. With the help of our friend, Geoff Kraly and sound engineer Michael Brorby, we recorded a variety of interpretations of nine jazz standards. It was very exciting to be in the studio and it has been more than five years since Jacob and I recorded together so it was about time.

I find it humourous that every recording session I have had with Jacob is fraught with some form of ailment on my part. The previous recording we did, we had to pay for unused studio time because I came down with a bacterial throat infection on the way to Toronto where we recorded. The last two recordings I have had massive migraines which last about three days each. This time I didn’t get a migraine (hallelujah) but instead had mild food poisoning and was doubled over for most of Monday’s recording. Tuesday I was still recovering from the poisoning and had a splitting sinus headache. Even with those obstacles, I had a great time and I am looking forward to listening to all the takes and selecting the ones for the new record.

More on the up coming release later!

Jazz For The Family This Sunday

Jazz For The Family This Sunday

My monthly performance at my neighborhood cafe is happening this Sunday at 4:00pm. Lark Cafe is a bright space where families can come and enjoy lunch, brunch, coffee, beer, donuts, ice cream and pie all while listening to yours truly and my friends, Elena Camerin on voice and Khabu Young on baritone guitar (not sure what a baritone guitar is, come by on Sunday and find out).

Here are the details:

Sunday, November 17
4:00pm (one set only)
Lark Cafe
1007 Church Ave
Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

$5 per person

The Lion

The Lion

While celebrating my birthday the other evening, I congratulated my friend Ben Scheuer on his multiple awards for his newest animated video for his song. “The Lion.” As I was telling my other friends about this song, it had just occurred to me that I had sung additional vocals on this track. I am honored to have been part of this great artistic endeavor and once again, Ben, congratulations!
Here is this wonderful song and video, “The Lion”.

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