Sunday, November 13, 2011

This blog has always been called "traveling the world for rock-n-roll", but sometimes I feel like I'm writing more about traveling than rock-n-roll. And it seems a lot of people feel the same way, because I get a lot of questions along the lines of "So, when are you going to get back to playing music again?" And I gotta say, this always kind of trips me out. What do you mean, get back to playing music? I've never stopped! Truth is, no matter where I go, I'll take a guitar with me. So I'm always singing songs or jamming with people. Music is a part of my daily life. Like eating, sleeping and drinking tea. It's ingrained in everything I do, and through which I see the world.

So last week I started digging through my archives and found that I actually have a bunch of footage of me playing music all throughout last year, when I was travelling through Russia, Mongolia and China. But I'm still not sure what to do with it... should I edit it along with travel footage into little 3-5 minute videos, or should I just post bite-sized clips? Or maybe do both... I don't know. Anyway, I'm still figuring that one out. But I do have some more recent footage from Taiwan that I already put on youtube - which is' actually where this whole idea came from in the first place.

Part One - Tabla in Taipei

Last month we went up to Taipei for the weekend of 10/10 - which is when the Republic of Taiwan celebrated it's 100 year anniversary. In keeping with our traveler's spirit, we decided to couchsurf instead of staying at a hostel. I try to avoid hostels as much as possible. CouchSurfing is great, because you get to meet local people who take you off the beaten tourist track. You get to experience a place from the inside, with the locals . Our CS Host in Taipei was Pei-Ling, a Musicology major with a passion for ethnic music. We had many great conversations about music, culture and traveling - and she made us simple, wonderful breakfast every morning. Not the standard Taiwanese fare, but still very Asian. That's a compliment - I liked it a lot! On top of all that, she took us to the Asian Pacific Ethnic Music Festival. We saw a music and dance ensemble from Thailand and a classical Indian/Pakistani band complete with Vocals, Sitar, Flute and two Tabla players - it was great! As a matter of fact, Pei-Ling plays Tabla herself. Has been for 4 years now, I think. So when we got home she got behind the tabla and we jammed together. Check it out on youtube. I'm very grateful for her hospitality and had a great time hanging out. I looking forward to playing with her again.

Part Two - Motorhead

So what else has been going on in terms of rock-n-roll? Well, lately I've been going to this place out in Dakeng, near Taichung (where I live), called the Refuge. It's a community of musicians and artists - both foreign and Taiwanese - where people hang out and jam. First time I went down, a couple of weeks ago, I got up and played a few songs and then ended up jamming with people for the next 3 hours. But the first thing I played was a Motorhead song, called "Keep us on the road"

Part Three - Jazz and the Holy Ghost

Last month Taichung also hosted the biggest Jazz festival in Taiwan. It was free, held in a park downtown, and lasted for about two weeks - with live music every night. I was really exited when I found out McCoy Tyner would be closing the festival and looked forward to that for weeks.

For those of you don't know, McCoy Tyner was John Coltrane's piano player in the 1960's, and was with him all throughout what is known as the "Classic Coltrane Quartet"-era. So he's not a young dude anymore, he must be in his late 70's now, I think.

I remember the first time I heard him play, on a recording. I was 16 years old and I'd just met my friend Mark. I went over to his house and we talked about the music we both liked. Since we both met at a Brant Bjork gig, we obviously shared a love for bands like Kyuss, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, etc. And we both played guitar. But then I found out he also played saxophone, and was really into Jazz as well. Grant Green, Miles Davis, John Coltrane - you know, the good stuff. I knew I liked Jazz, but hadn't yet gotten into it like I had with rock-n-roll. So he pulls out this John Coltrane record called "A Love Supreme", which features McCoy Tyner on piano, saying if I liked Jazz I should really get into this record. Then he puts it on the turntable, and the moment the needle hit wax and I heard the band play those first notes, I felt like I was seeing the pearly gates; heaven was opening itself up. Literally. It was like a religious experience. I cried. Later I found out that the record "A Love Supreme" is John Coltrane's tribute to God. And he wasn't religious, per-se. Just a deeply spiritual person.

So that's how I got into John Coltrane. And my favorite music Coltrane ever did was with McCoy Tyner - it's been close to my heart ever since. Unfortunately, 'Trane died in 1967, but McCoy Tyner still tours and performs, so I was really eager to check him out. I must admit, I was (and am still) not really familiar with Tyner's work after Coltrane, so I wasn't sure to expect. But I made a point to not go on youtube and see what he's like nowadays. I was gonna go there like with an empty cup. No expectations, just like the first time I heard "A Love Supreme".

The day finally came, and McCoy Tyner walked up on stage to a standing ovation. He slowly went over to the microphone and said - in a gentle old man's voice - "Xièxiè" (Chinese for thank you). Then he got behind the piano, and started playing. And I started crying - tears of joy. I saw those pearly gates again. It was beautiful. I was moved by this music like I hadn't been moved by music in years. It was like being stirred by the holy ghost. It reminded me of everything I believed in. That relentless search to keep growing, to "wake up a little higher every day", to better yourself as a human being - and all the struggles that come with that. I heard this music, and it was like coming home. I felt rejuvenated. But most of all I felt grateful. It reminds me of the last words of John Coltrane's liner notes for "A Love Supreme", so I'll end on that note because it best describes how I felt.

"Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen."