New Ways to Discover Your Favorite Artists

There is nothing quite like a live music experience. In the old days of recording it was impossible to edit a track to death and as a result the music sounded more like a live performance. So many recordings being made today lack an edge, a rawness, a spontaneity, that can only be captured live in the moment.

The other big challenge is how to expand our tastes to find more music we will love. It still feels hard to find the  good stuff. Listening platforms like Spotify and Pandora are trying to help us, but they seem to push the same well-known bands over and over again. They are not introducing us to the authentic underground talent.

Thanks to a number of online music platforms, it is now possible to discover new artists in intimate live performances from across the globe. With the click of a button you can be transported inside immersive concerts and watch as if you are in the audience. I have stumbled upon so many great new artists by tuning into a living room in Istanbul, a backyard in Johannesburg, a recording studio in London, or an office space in New York. I feel like I'm a fly on the wall, seeing a world that is usually off limits. Whether it's watching artists you already love in a raw environment or finding a style you never knew existed, you will definitely uncover great artists to add to your playlists. 

Listed below are my favorite sites to check out for great live music and videos. Once these have piqued your interest, get out and see something live in your city! For those of you in San Francisco, check out The Top Five House Concerts in SF and Reveler Events This Week for more recommendations.

1. Sofar Sounds

This London-based company is making their way around the world quickly. Check out their site and you will see just how many cities they are in already. You can sign up to attend a house concert yourself, but it's pretty hard to get in. In the meantime, peer into house concerts all over the globe. It's fun to see what's happening in different cultural centers, notice trends, and look up the artists that intrigue you most. I'll start you off with one from Amsterdam that's really fun!

Fuse performing "Blue Rondo à la Turk by Dave Brubeck, Arr. Fuse. This is the first time I've ever seen this instrument combo and I like it!

2. NPR's Tiny Desk concerts

Presenting the most eclectic mix of music of all these platforms, Tiny Desk Concerts gets the best talent. The series started years ago by Bob Boilen and his show All Songs Considered. These concerts takes place literally behind his desk. It's incredible how many musicians you can squeeze back there! The performances are always for a live audience that crowds around the desk and you can feel the energy in the room every time. Their performers are always stellar. This series is one of my favorites! Here is a cool group from Cuba:

As the U.S. and Cuba normalize relations, the musical effects of the thaw are already being felt. Singer Daymé Arocena invokes the orishas as she and bandmates Rafael Aldama and Jorge Luis Lagarza Perez set out to draw connections between the music of the two countries. Recorded on May 2016

3. Second Inversion

Second Inversion is a music project based out of Seattle dedicated to rethinking classical music. The project is built on a foundation of classical music but it explores the vast range of music in and beyond the genre. The word "classical" is too limiting today and the field encompasses so much more than music written centuries ago. Second Inversion is focusing on contemporary classical music and that branch especially can draw from a lot of the pop, indie, and world styles we listen to daily. Second Inversion is a great way to dip your toe and discover the vast world of contemporary classical music. Here are some great musicians from NYC.

The innovative composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Kahane with one of the most cutting-edge string quartets, Brooklyn Rider, at the Second Inversion studio. Here's "Letter to a Lover," one movement from Kahane's three-part song cycle, "Come On All You Ghosts," from their collaborative album "The Fiction Issue."

4. Paste Studio

Paste Studio is a branch of Paste Magazine, an online arts and lifestyle brand. Paste is dedicated to live music and they have amassed a collection of over 85,000 live music tracks, the largest collection of curated live music performances on the internet. Their style focus is indie, alternative, and americana, but there's lots more than that. Paste Studio provides intimate live video performances and they also have Paste Radio, with eight streaming stations of exclusive live tracks. If you can't watch video but you want something fresh, check out Paste Radio as well.

I discovered Torres on Paste and have since become a fan. Here is  "A Proper Polish Welcome" recorded live at Riverview Bungalow (Austin,TX).

5. Stamp the Wax

Stamp The Wax began in 2011 by two friends in the UK who wanted somewhere to talk about the music they love. They are putting out great content and it continues to grow. You can really get a sense of the founder's tastes in the artists they feature so it still feels personal. Stamp The Wax provides great live video recordings as well as behind the scenes interviews with artists and genre-bending playlists. See what resonates most with you. Here is some music from Australia:

Harvey Sutherland, "Melbourne's premium velvet-groove generator," performs exclusive new material for Stamp The Wax inside the Secretsundaze hardware haven in London. It's fun to get inside and see how these smooth and effortless grooves are made.

Continue exploring with some of my favorite videos on the Reveler Explore page.




How SFMOMA is Improving the Museum Experience

I've been to many museums in my life and I often end up feeling glazed over, burnt out, exhausted, and not sure I really retained what I saw. Maybe you've had that experience? I spent two and a half hours at SFMOMA last week and I left feeling inspired and energized. Here is why:

1. Besides it's remarkable exterior architecture which represents the rippling of San Francisco's fog and waves, SFMOMA is a beautiful space inside as well. Usually I feel claustrophobic and holed in by museums, but this one makes you feel quite the opposite. It's bright, and spacious with a minimalist Scandinavian feel, which is not surprising since the architects were the Norwegian firm Snøhetta. Each floor is uniquely laid out and not overstuffed with art, giving you space to take in each piece of art on your own terms. 

2. SFMOMA knows that in order to take in a lot of art, you need to take breaks. They have patios on most floors to get outside without leaving the museum and inside there are plenty of spaces by large panoramic windows to sit, relax, and take in natural light. Not only that, even the audio guides build in time to find a nearby resting place as part of the tour. It's like they know!

A whimsical Alexander Calder sculpture on the third floor patio, where I went to get some fresh air and continue my sculpture exploration.

A whimsical Alexander Calder sculpture on the third floor patio, where I went to get some fresh air and continue my sculpture exploration.

3.  Detour is the biggest game changer of all. SFMOMA is the first museum to partner with this app, which to me could transform arts experiences as we know them. Detour knows your location and acts as a personal guide to get you inside each piece of art. Instead of relying on a plaque, which to me rarely illuminates any creative inspiration, this app focuses on what is truly remarkable about each piece. The guides change depending on the collection. For example, when I was looking at Alexander Calder's work, the guide was Calder's grandson. When I was looking at German painter Gerhard Richter, the guide was a German-American journalist who brought a unique perspective and personal voice to the exhibit. Detour has completely transformed the way I experience museums, making it interactive and way more enjoyable as a visitor. Don't forget to use Detour when you go. There are options to walk around and let Detour find your location or to let Detour be your guide with five immersive walks through the museum. You can even sync your guide with friends.

The immersive walk I chose focusing on works by Gerhard Richter.

The immersive walk I chose focusing on works by Gerhard Richter.

4. SFMOMA is offering access to premier culinary arts as well. You can take breaks and refuel at several great spots including Sightglass, an artisanal coffee bar on the third floor, Cafe 5, a casual dining spot on the fifth floor with lots of outdoor seating, and In Situ a fine dining restaurant opening next month by Michelin-three-starred chef, Corey Lee (The French Laundry, Per Se, Benu). Corey Lee will be curating a menu from master chefs worldwide, drawing a parallel to the visual art experience at the museum.

 The museum is open daily from 10am-5pm, Thursdays until 9pm. Due to high demand, you need to reserve tickets in advance. Tickets are $25, if you're under 18 years-old, its free. I recommend thinking about membership if you live here. Admission is free for you and a guest if you become a member and it's only $100.  Click here to plan your visit now.

5 Reasons to go to a House Concert

I am a huge fan of house concerts. They are raw, intimate, artistic experience both for performers and for audiences. A few nights ago, I was at Red Door House Concerts, one of the several house concert series in SF. What I love about Red Door is that it's curated by a musician, Dan Fabricant, a talented bay area bassist who always presents great acts. His goal is to combine genres, create mixed audiences and expand people's listening pallets. Last week's concert featured Miriam Speyer, a singer-songwriter and Brasiliense, a Brazilian guitar and flute duo, both excellent.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a salon in Berkeley that presents cutting-edge science and innovative artistic practices side by side. In this case the first half was a presentation on "Love and Math in the age of Artificial Intelligence" by Edward Frankel and the second half was an experimental percussion and guitar duo, The Living Earth Show showcasing new works involving drones, theremins and newly constructed instruments.

Earlier this year, I played on a house concert series called Concerts by the Square. It's goal is to create the ideal setting to experience classical chamber music. By providing an informal, intimate, and approachable setting for classical music, the series is helping new audiences connect with a powerful, if sometimes intimidating art form. If you've never been to a classical concert but you're curious, house concerts are a good way to dip your toe.

The top five reasons to go to a house concert:

  1. It's the best way to get up close and personal with artists
  2. It's social so you can mingle with artists and other concert goers easily, even if you go solo
  3. You can eat and drink before, during, and after the performance
  4. It's informal and not intimidating. The concerts are often "come as you are, pay what you can"
  5. You can discover new local artists you love

The top five house concert series in SF:

  1. Red Door House Concerts - if you want quality no matter the genre. To join the list, email
  2. Concerts by the Square - if you want a great classical chamber music experience without pretensions. 
  3. Groupmuse - if you want a party environment with some live classical music any night of the week. You can even offer to host one of these and invite a bunch of friends.
  4. Sofar Sounds - if you want to be surprised. These intimate secret shows are invitation only at different locations around SF and around the globe. 
  5. Elevate Ensemble - if you want music and food to feature in your night out. This new and young mixed ensemble is curating fun and social musical experiences around the city.

Voices of Refugees

We gathered in a rehearsal studio in Aarhus, Denmark: three American musicians from Decoda, four Danish musicians from Lydenskab, and four recent refugees from Syria and Libya. 

Our purpose: to use music as a platform for cross-cultural understanding, enabling critical voices to be heard

Our goal: to collaborate, create, and perform songs inspired by the term identity in just three days.

The outcome: four beautiful pieces with distinct messages: a teenager’s difficult sacrifices to avoid corruption, a mother’s forced separation from her children, love left behind, and a deep yearning to reconnect with humanity. We performed these songs as a collective for an audience of several hundred refugees and local Danes. The songs brought people to tears, a good indicator that our messages were heard and well received.

Members of Lydenskab, Decoda, and four recent refugees to Denmark. The lyrics of the final song projected behind us.

Members of Lydenskab, Decoda, and four recent refugees to Denmark. The lyrics of the final song projected behind us.

It’s an interesting time in a lot of European countries right now. There has suddenly been an influx of immigrants from specific countries in the near east and not everyone is ready to embrace them. There is a lot of skepticism and a lack of true understanding of cultures. Not only that, there are so many refugees coming from diverse backgrounds within the near east and a lot of them are rubbing elbows for the first time. It’s so easy at times like these to lump individuals together into a box and label them instead of seeing each one as a unique individual.

I’ve learned in these collaborations that you can say things through art that would otherwise be difficult to say or for the world to hear. Art seems to provides a safer space for the person delivering the message and as an audience, we are somehow more receptive to listening. 

It was a thrill to collaborate with such a diverse group and to give each of the new refugees to Denmark a chance to tell the community around them who they are and what they are going through. The arts can force you to see people for who they are individually and that’s when stereotypes can finally break down and mutual understanding can begin.

Creativity From Your Seat

Creativity (n): the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.

We all seek creative inspiration for different reasons. We want to expand our understanding of the world around us, think of ways to improve our lives, find new ways to express ourselves, and if we can think of something no one else has thought of (especially if it can make us rich), then even better! The arts have a unique ability to help us tap into our inner creativity, and if the artists are open in their presentation, then even onlookers can reap the benefits. Last week I attended two percussion concerts that exemplified creativity and artistic openness.  As an audience member, the events inspired me to think differently about how I perceive time and sound.

On Monday I saw Third Coast Percussion as part of SF Performances’ PIVOT series and on Friday, Zakir Hussain’s residency at SF Jazz. Though the artistic products were entirely different, both concerts were experimental by nature, they revolved around rhythmic exploration, and used a lot of improvisation. Third Coast presented “Wild Sound”, a piece by Glenn Kotche, the drummer of the band Wilco. It used contemporary field recordings, found objects, and instruments developed by Notre Dame’s engineering department specifically for this piece to depict diverse soundscapes. Zakir Hussain used his residency to bring together classical drumming traditions from the various regions of India, showcasing both their diversity and compatibility.

As an audience member, I felt like I was swimming in a pool of creativity, and that’s because both performances were not only inspiring but they made their creative processes transparent. Through my immersion in other people’s creativity, I left the concerts with seeds that I could apply to my own creative work. That, my friends, is what art can do for YOU. We talk a lot about audience engagement these days. To me that means bringing audiences inside the creative process so that they can make personally relevant connections to the art form. Both of these artists, Third Coast Percussion and Zakir Hussain, achieved this, but they did it in very different ways. 

Kotche’s“Wild Sound” was an organic display of innovation, skillfully merging engineering and technology with music to create an immersive artistic experience. As part of their performance, Third Coast Percussion constructed, performed, and deconstructed the instruments on stage for the audience to witness and even partake in. As the performers built percussion instruments on stage, they turned every action into a rhythmic gesture. Check out this clip of them constructing some instruments followed by a clip later on in the performance where they are performing on them. I left the performance hearing all the normal sounds in my daily life differently. How could I clank dishes in a rhythm as I wash them? What about my steps going up and down stairs? Could I turn my next paper towel roll into an instrument?

No one was speaking to describe the actions on stage. I understood how the instruments worked because they were self-evident. My favorite instrument was played at the very end. The engineers at Notre Dame built it just for this piece. It was like someone opened the guts of an electronic piano and hung it up for the world to see. Check this out:

Zakir Hussain’s approach totally took me by surprise. He invited us into a world that is often exclusive and mysterious, even for many Indians, and equipped us with tools to understand the intricate rhythm patterns being exchanged on stage. In learning the tabla, Zakir Hussain’s native drum from norther India, students first have to recite the rhythmic patterns before playing them on the drum. Mr. Hussain made a point of reciting rhythms before playing them for us and in so doing brought us inside the ancient tradition of Indian classical music, making plain what is often hidden. 

When he did this, I could feel the audience go from passive listener to active learner; ears suddenly connecting with the brain on another level. Mr. Hussain took it a step further at times, providing visuals for the rhythmic conversations on stage. The video below is one example. I’m sure most of us in the room never thought about rhythm telling a narrative. It’s amazing how once you have an entry point to understanding, your ears open up and you start being able to tap into your own creativity. After listening to Mr. Hussain's description, I started imagining my own stories, but I also started perceiving time differently. When each percussionist improvises, he is making a choice to divide time a certain way. Each rhythmic pattern is a deliberate choice to slow us down, speed us up, make us move, keep us off balance, etc. The possibilities are endless once you become aware of rhythms and even pen tapping or toe tapping to kill time can become fun and creative!

An example of Zakir Hussain reciting the rhythmic patterns and explaining just how rhythms can create visualizations or tell narratives.

We all want to be inspired, to expand our minds, and to be entertained. Live art, when we are invited inside, can achieve all of those at once. My front row seat to the Third Coast Percussion concert was only $25 and tickets to see one of the greatest percussionists in the world started at $35. Seeds of creativity are priceless. I know that's cheesy, but it's true, and at these prices there is no reason not to immerse yourself in creative experiences like these.

Stay tuned for more live art recommendations coming your way soon and get to a show. I promise you will not regret it!

Music in the Dark

Have you ever closed your eyes to see what it does to your other senses? It’s fascinating. The process of closing off one sense heightens the others. If you can’t see your food, your tongue works harder to identify flavors and textures. If you can’t see the clothes in your closet, your sense of touch takes over to identify the of quality and shape of the fabrics. And if you close your eyes when you listen to music, it can almost feel like the sounds are resonating inside your body cavity. Your sense of sound becomes much more visceral.

This is exactly the feeling George Friedrich Haas, a contemporary Austrian composer, was after in his piece "String Quartet No. 3". He indicates in his score that the piece is only to be performed in utter darkness (not even lighted exit signs are allowed) with each instrumentalist position in a different corner of the room. The Jack Quartet, one of the leading experts of contemporary music, recently performed his quartet at the Strand Theater. The experience almost felt transcendent.

Firstly, the concert started at 11pm so it almost felt like part of a dream. You know when things happen late at night and you wake up in the morning wondering if they were real? This concert was the first in a new innovative series called Pivot, created by the longtime traditional presenter SF Performances. I have never been to a classical concert that started that late at night, but it totally worked, especially given the nocturnal nature of the piece.

Secondly, the composer’s musical choices take you to a primal and meditative state. Haas utilizes the natural harmonic series, which create lots of overtones and sympathetic vibrations. The sounds that gave me the greatest out of body experiences were those where the resonance from the instruments created what felt like beams of sound. It’s fun to visualize colors in music and since the pitch darkness created a blank canvas, shapes and colors took form in ways that are impossible when you are distracted by real life visuals.

If you’ve never done it, try closing your eyes the next time you listen to your favorite piece of music. Music takes on another dimension this way and you’ll find you can immerse yourself more deeply in sonic splendor. I’m not sure when the next live performance in the dark will happen (I’ll of course keep you posted), however there is a place in San Francisco called Audium where a similar experience happens every weekend. It’s a sound sculpture space that has been around for over fifty years. One hundred and seventy-six speakers surround a dark room that fits forty-nine people. Every Friday and Saturday night, they invite people to participate in a unique sound experiment. I’m definitely going to check it out. If this peaks your interest, you can get tickets here.

I’m also excited that SF Performances has started this new series, Pivot. I’m hoping the first season goes well and they will have many more concerts in this series next season. If you appreciate rhythm an groove, I recommend checking out Third Coast Percussion on March 28th at SF Jazz.

If you're looking for an out of body experience in the dark with music, try listening to Caroline Shaw's Partita, lying on the floor in the dark with your eyes closed.

Listening on the Edge

San Francisco is a city of experiments, of risk-taking, and a willingness to try anything once. 

There is a reason SF has become the tech capital of the world. When I arrived here several months ago, I noticed immediately an energy that was fresh and vibrant. You can almost smell the zest of people wanting to try the next cutting edge thing.  We see it with food and drinks. Eater - who have not let me down yet - updates their site every month with a list of The Hottest Restaurants in San Francisco Right Now. It's almost impossible to get reservations because everyone wants the latest culinary experience. We see it with new apps on our smartphones. Someone recently advised me, " Don't use SF as a benchmark for app success. People here are early adaptors, they'll download anything."

Unfortunately, with the arts, the same rules don’t seem to apply. I've been trying to wrap my head around why not and I think the answer is simple: lack of access. It’s hard to know where to look, what's great quality, what’s to our tastes, and how to sort through it all, so we just don't go. It’s all too intimidating. I get it and I'm here to help.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been to two venues that stood out in offering spaces for new trailblazing work. Gray Area and Center for New Music are both supporting the creation of new art and serving as sites for experimentation in San Francisco.

Center for New Music presents something stimulating and ear opening almost every night of the week. I really like the feeling there. It's open, inviting, and intimate. A couple of nights ago, I heard String Noise, a husband/wife violin duo who are friends of mine from NYC. I loved what I heard. Pauline Kim and Conrad Harris bring an edgy rock-like sensibility to an art form that requires serious precision and dexterity, both of which they had in aces. I loved that on the same concert I heard a head banging arrangement of Gone Daddy Gone by the Violent Femmes and an improvised work with two violins and a megaphone (performed by Ken Ueno in ways I didn't know were humanly viable). I left invigorated by a new sense of artistic possibility.

"Gone Daddy Gone" arrangement for two violins by Eric Lyon from their new album "The book of Strange Positions".

An improvised work for two violins and megaphone with singer / composer Ken Ueno

Gray Area now occupies a historic old theater in the heart of the Mission district. It’s mission lies at the intersection of Art and Technology. When I was there recently, I saw Andy Pulz, a bay area media artist who uses digital visuals and audio to create a multi-sensory experience. It’s hard to describe, but you can see for yourself with this video. I’m not going to lie, there were moments where I wanted to run out of the room screaming because the sounds were intense and uncomfortable, but it stretched my eyes, ears, and mind, and that’s what art is ideally supposed to do. Another added bonus about the space is that there are no fixed seats. During the performance, there were people lying down, walking around, and going outside to get refills on their wine. Experimentation of all kinds is encouraged at Gray Space, even for the audience.

Next time you go out for a culinary feast, pair it with a musical one! Now you know where to look.

Art is Easy!

When is the last time you were at a museum? Think back for a minute. What was the feeling you had as you wandered around looking at the art? Maybe you felt like me, "I know I'm supposed to like this because it's 'great' and I know I'm supposed to get it, but I don't." Or perhaps you did the same thing I often do: look at the piece of art and immediately turn to the little placard next to it for some guidance. The only problem is most of the time the placard doesn't tell you anything meaningful or insightful about the artist or the work of art.

That's where Museum Hack comes in. The adventurous new company is targeting millennials in an attempt to change museum culture, making it more accessible and fun for all. Throughout my tour of the DeYong Museum yesterday, I heard the phrase "Art is Easy!" That's the feeling Museum Hack is after. Their interactive tours unleash hidden stories behind the works of art. For example, I learned about sex scandals, artist betrayals, cannibalism, and I even wandered around the portraits hall trying to solve a Museum Hack murder mystery by analyzing each portrait for the possible killer. 

A polaroid taken by my tour guide. This is the portrait I chose for the murderer. Can you see the concealed weapon?!

A polaroid taken by my tour guide. This is the portrait I chose for the murderer. Can you see the concealed weapon?!

On their dense two hour tour, Museum hack does not take you through every work of art. Instead, each guide offers their personalized "tasting menu". Just as each chef uses the same ingredients to create a dish that showcases their tastes, each guide curates their own tour based on the artists and works that speak to them. I appreciate this model because every guide brings a passion and unique perspective to the art they are sharing and no two tours are the same.

Overall I enjoyed myself, I was entertained, and I appreciated the insider scoop behind some of the art on display. However, I left wishing I had felt a deeper connection with the art itself. I wanted to get inside the creative process of the artists, feel what it's like to create for myself, and be able to use my new understanding in future interactions with art. Here's what I mean:

I could imagine a similar tour where everyone is given a pad of paper and a pencil and given prompts that mimic what the artist was inspired by, all before viewing the art itself.  For example, if we were about to enter the portraits hall, you might think about a person in your life to represent with a portrait. What traits would you portray? What colors would you use? Where would you choose to paint them? What else would you include in the painting? You can apply this principle of engagement before information to all art forms. In classical music a good example of this would be brainstorming sounds you hear in spring and actually creating a soundscape yourself before you hear a performance of Vivaldi's "Spring" for the first time. 

I have found this type of deep engagement so powerful when trying to understand really anything, but especially art. It not only helps you relate to the artist or work, but it empowers your inner creativity and self expression. And who doesn't want that?

That said, if you're interested in an entertaining and insightful tour of the De Young in SF, try Museum Hack. They have tours on Saturdays and Sundays for $39. They also have tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History in NYC. For more information, visit their website.

Before I sign off, I have to share my favorite piece of art on the tour. It's a sculpture by Cornelia Parker made entirely from remains of a Southern Black Baptist Church destroyed by arsonists, entitled "Anti-Mass". It's awe-inspiring and deeply moving. Don't miss it.

You are an Abstract Artist

Throw away  your middle school reputation as a "bad artist" and fulfill your new identity as an abstract artist! That's what I did last week at my first ever painting class at Beyond Canvas.

Beyond Canvas is just the type of spot this city needs. Our daily lives are over stuffed and full of distractions. Beyond Canvas is about putting the devices down and remembering what it’s like to be a kid again. You can play, experiment, express whatever you want with no judgement, and do it all with a glass of wine in hand.

Here is how the two hour event played out:


We all got settled in front of our easels with a glass of wine and turned our attention to a slideshow. Candace, the owner and teacher, puts together a brief tutorial for each class. This one was on "Abstraction: Color Fields". In just a few minutes, we were given a brief historical context to abstract art. We were introduced to paintings by some of the greats like Rothko and Frankenthaler, encouraged to observe differences in styles, and notice which ones we were most drawn to. Candace then introduced us to the five tools in front of us: 3 brushes, a pallet knife (my favorite) and a ruler. She demonstrated a range of ways we could use these tools to create some of the effects we noticed in the paintings. Then we got to work, each at our own pace and style. Here are the results. Can you guess which one is mine?!


The class worked extremely well and we all had a blast. I left with pride in myself for getting over fear and trying something new, an understanding and appreciation for abstract art (that will come in handy next time I'm at a museum), and a still wet piece of art work to hang up in my apartment. If you haven't tried something like this, do it! It's $50 for an evening and there are lots of options available. Check out and get to a class now!

P.S. In case you were wondering, this is my art work from the night. I didn't judge myself and I let it all hang out!

Music without a box

Last night I went to a concert that was refreshingly box-defying. I'll tell you what I mean. I saw the Kronos Quartet (a San Francisco-based ensemble) in their second concert of a residency at SFJazz entitled "Kronos Festival 2016: Explorer Series". I found out about it through the Facebook events page, not because I knew anyone performing (or even attending for that matter) but because I decided to just scroll through all the events in SF, and this one caught my eye. Unfortunately, there is no sorting mechanism on FB, so I guess I got lucky that this event was towards the top of the list. These days, it seems Facebook is just as good an event search engine as any. If anything, you might find more stuff that's off the beaten path. In this case, what caught my eye was the name of a young Iranian composer whom I had never heard of, Sahba Aminikia, whose concept for a piece seemed intriguing. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, women have not been allowed to sing publicly and their voices have not been heard, although there are many recordings of female singers from generations before. For this piece, Sahba created an opportunity for a virtual collaboration with singers living in Iran today and invited them, through Facebook, to send him audio clips, which he then integrated into his piece. Sounds intriguing, right?

So here I am at SF Jazz with the words "String Quartet" - one of the archetypes of western classical music - written in my program, yet listening to music that doesn't sound anything like classical or even jazz for that matter. Every piece on the program with the exception of one had been written for the Kronos Quartet by a non-American composer - French Canadian, Yugoslavian, Iranian, Swedish, Indian, and a Lebanese encore. Each piece also introduced sounds in addition to the four strings on stage, whether it was electronics on tape, the impressive San Francisco Girls Chorus and a sonorous, live kantele (a Finnish zither), field recordings from Iran and Hungary being piped in through a modern-day gramophone, or even the virtual accompaniment of tabla from the master Zakir Hussain, who clearly couldn't be present himself, though it didn't stop Kronos from performing the piece anyway.

An excerpt from "Sound, Only Sound Remains" by Sahba Aminikia.

There were many elements of the evening that struck me. It was one of the more diverse audiences I have seen at any event in a long time, let alone at a string quartet concert, or even more niche, at a contemporary music event. There were attendees from across generations, and maybe most interestingly, spanning many ethnicities, striking up conversations afterwards. That is the beauty of a concert that programs the work of living composers ages twenty-five to sixty, most of whom were present, and of music that spans the globe.

I realized last night that I am used to thinking about classical music as one of the more constrained art forms, limited by its structure of precomposed music that performers read off a page. However, last night proved quite the contrary. In fact one could argue that classical musicians, because we are interpreting other people's creations, are in a unique position to collaborate, mix, and fuse many styles and cultures into one single concert, leading to music that defies genres and categories altogether. That's just what Kronos set out to do more than forty years ago, and we, the next generation of chamber musicians, are the lucky inheritors of their more than 850 commissioned new works. The Kronos Quartet has proven that the options are endless and that cross-genre collaboration of any kind can work. They continue to blaze the path for what's possible as classically trained musicians, and for that I am truly grateful.

I will leave you the way the Kronos left me last night, with a little encore. It's a stunning song that seems to have significance in many corners of the world, but was introduced to the quartet as a Lebanese sacred song, "Wa Habibi". 

kronos live in SF - March 11, 2016

Catch Kronos Quartet live on March 11th at 8:30pm and 10:30pm at the Strand Theater with special guest Jherek Bischoff. Visit SF Performances for tickets and details.

For more details on Kronos Quartet and access to their 50 recordings, visit

Want more? Here is a live recording from WNYC where you can hear the breadth of their work.

Get on the dance floor!

I love to dance, not because I know what I'm doing, but because it makes me feel viscerally alive. I can feel my heart pumping, the bass rhythms resonating inside my body, I can be awed and inspired by the human body as it contorts and spins in fluid shapes, and as I enter my 30s and care less about what other people think, dancing makes me feel utterly free (well, most of the time).

Last night, I drove 40 minutes to the JCC in Marin, as you do on Saturday nights in SF (if you don't live here, that's a joke), and I am so glad I did! The rapturous dance group, Non Stop Bhangra, was presenting an evening of lively Punjabi (north Indian) dance called Bhangra and their mission is to bring this high-spirited dance to the masses so everyone can take part in it. The night unfolded in typical Non Stop Bhangra fashion: a live performance (which was totally sold out so I didn’t manage to see it), a very short intro lesson to learn fun dance moves (5-10 minutes), a couple of hours of dancing with their great DJ and Dhol drummer, and the added bonus of performers joining the dance party with all of us neophytes on the floor. 

The night was super fun! Non Stop Bhangra does a great job of making everyone feel welcome and infusing the audience with their contagious enthusiasm for dance, regardless of age, ethnicity, or experience. I was impressed with the diversity of the audience. At one point I was dancing next to a Filipino dancer from the troupe, an older Caucasian couple who were eager to integrate their new dance moves, and a small group of 8-12 year olds who were reluctant to get on the dance floor but at the end of the night were the last ones off the floor.

I am already planning to go back for more and I want to bring everyone I know with me! The good news is you don't need to go to Marin because Non Stop Bhangra is a San Francisco based group and once a month they have Bhangra night at Public Works in the Mission. Next Saturday night, January 30th, they will kick off 2016 with their first event of the year, which is sure to be a blast. You do not want to miss this arts and culture fix!

A little glimpse into Non Stop Bhangra and the beautiful and vibrant spirit of this traditional Punjabi folk music and dance.

Understanding Jazz

I wrote this while attending a weekly jazz session this Saturday night at Bird & Beckett, an independent neighborhood book and record store down the street from where I live in Glen Park. The spot felt cozy and intimate, the perfect place to get into an unfamiliar art form. My take home from the night: we all want to feel "in the know" and artists themselves hold the keys.

Grant Levin Quartet featuring Jonathan Bautista, tenor sax; Grant Levin, piano; Walter Savage, bass; Malachi Witson, drums. 

My thoughts, unfiltered:

I like this, it's groovy, I like the sounds, wow, something impressive happened, I hear a guy near me saying "yeah, okay!" What does that mean? Sounds like he is getting off. I want what he's having please! I missed something. Man, I wish I could understand this better. I like what I hear, but I don't understand it the way I wish I did.

Here we go, a solo, a chance to focus on one instrument, I can see other musicians on stage enjoying it, even smiling knowing something I don't. I like seeing people enjoying themselves on stage, I can tell these people are talented and the musicians are inspiring each other, cheering each other on, what about the sax player who didn't get as many applause, I feel bad for him. In classical music that singling out doesn't happen. I feel bad if people don't get the same applause. I want to give a "yeah okay" from the audience to feel in the know and acknowledge when I like something. I feel shy. 

These musicians are so in the moment. I can't tell the road map they all have in their heads but it allows for a freedom I envy as a classical musician. The invitation to improvise brings with it a special feeling that this moment, what I am witnessing in the audience, will never happen again. I feel special for being here. I'm glad I came. 

If I feel like I don't really understand this, what do non-artists feel? How can we break this down? Will people feel lucky to be a part of this even if they don't get it or will they feel left out? Do people just want to be let in? Or will they feel more left out if they are here and don't quite get it? Am I hyperanalyzing because I'm supposedly on the inside of music but I'm on the outside of this?

How to get inside:

  • focus on one instrumentalist at a time, see if you can just hear what they are doing in that moment. 
  • Watch the interaction between musicians. How are they vibing off each other? Do you notice smiles or approving nods?
  • Notice body movements. How are they all internalizing the music in their bodies?
  • Try to distinguish what's being improvised and what's not. They usually come back to the same material when its composed. You might even hear something that is similar, a variation, but not exactly the same... how is it different?
  • Some of this music is being improvised in the moment, they are making it up as they go, how can you gain insight into the performer and what is going on in their mind? 
  • If you were put on the spot to make something up now, how might that look or sound? What are some free association things that come to mind? How might you tell a story?

This is what it means to be alive. This is mindfulness to the extreme. Don't let a moment go by without being aware. You will miss something. You won't react and that moment will be gone forever. What senses are they engaging? Talk about sixth sense. You can really feel it. Intergenerational, interracial, it's all happening on stage now.  A meeting of the musical minds and a respect for that and only that.

A little apple by the bay

I arrived in San Francisco a couple of months ago. I never thought I would leave New York, the place where I grew up and connected with culturally more than anywhere, but here I am. A New York transplant, like so many of us here, trying to make sense of this new city by the bay.

Being a musician, I've been super curious and eager to discover the arts and cultural scene here, not only to find out where I fit in and what kinds of cool projects I might get involved with myself, but also to learn more about what San Franciscans find hot artistically. I want to see what people like me are doing out here, who is watching or listening, and where people go on any given night to be entertained, stimulated, and have a good time.

Restaurants are packed, so the culinary arts are spoken for, but what about music, dance, theater, visual arts? I've made it my mission to find out. This year, I'm going to be checking out as much of the arts and culture scene as I can (el niño be damned) and blogging about it here in hopes of spreading the word on what is hot and what is not. My goal is to engage you, my reader, to join me at events along the way. Come back often and I'll keep you posted on what I find!