Zakiya Harris – “Interplay” and Kids Camp

We met up with local singer Zakiya Harris during the last day of her songwriting Kids Camp at Stern Grove Festival. She spoke about being one of the seven local artists chosen to participate in this season’s “Interplay” local artist commission series, her dynamic sound and band, Elephantine, and more.

She’ll perform her new song this Sunday, August 16 when she opens for Talib Kweli at 2 p.m.


Interplay – Con Brio

We attended a rehearsal with local funksters Con Brio in their Oakland studio to hear the band’s (almost finished) new song “Wings of Love”, which was created as part of the Festival’s local artist commission series, titled “Interplay: Artists In Concert With Nature”.

When front man Ziek McCarter got his first wave of inspiration to begin the commissioned piece, he was – believe it or not – in nature! After a long morning walk the band began throwing ideas around, and they eventually crafted a slow, grooving piece.

But after attending the tUnE-yArDs concert earlier this summer at Stern Grove Festival, both McCarter and keyboardist Micah Dubreuil knew that slow wouldn’t cut it. Their goal is to make everyone in the Grove dance and they created a completely different, high-energy song that will debut on the Stern Grove Festival stage.

Check out the interview and learn more about one of our favorite local bands, who will open for funk legends Morris Day and The Time on Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 2 p.m. at Stern Grove Festival.


Interplay – Bhi Bhiman

We asked local singer/songwriter and guitarist Bhi Bhiman to be part of the Festival’s local artist commission series, titled “Interplay: Artists in Concert with Nature”, in which seven local artists create pieces specifically for the Stern Grove Festival stage.

Bhi feels very comfortable in a place like Stern Grove, which he says reminds him of his hometown, St Louis. He wrote “Going Back Home” as a tribute to the feeling of missing your friends, your family, and everything that makes you feel “home.” For Bhi, his home is now in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter. Listen below to hear a preview of the song and learn about his creative process behind the commission. Come hear Bhi perform it live this Sunday, August 2 at Stern Grove Festival, when he opens for five-time GRAMMY-winning artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter.


Interplay — Hot Club of San Francisco

Jazz Club or Outdoor Park, Hot Club of San Francisco Welcomes All


 

Hot Club of San FranciscoWhat words come to mind when imagining Stern Grove Festival? For Hot Club of San Francisco, the words “beautiful, outdoors, open, clean, and fresh” inspired their most recent song, crafted for the Stern Grove Festival stage as part of the “Interplay” commission series. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Mehling of this local gypsy jazz band shared with us the challenging process of translating these words into a sound that evokes the unique experience of being “In Concert with Nature” at Stern Grove.

“Using the copious amount of time we spend in rented vans while on tour together, we managed to brainstorm some ideas that were almost unanimously agreeable to all of us, which we then slowly molded into the song’s now ‘finished’ state,” says Mehling of their newest song, “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove”.

Hot Club understands, but embraces the challenges in working with the environment of a concert space, whether it is a jazz club, on the street, a full stage, or among towering eucalyptus trees. Not every band can adapt their sound to the claps of a crowded jazz hall and keep up with the rhythm of the wind blowing through 100-foot trees, but Hot Club looks forward to the environment of Stern Grove advancing their sound.

Mehling feels that the quintet is uniquely aware and involved with the environment of a venue. “Since our goal is to somehow reach and touch our audience, we need to be acutely in tune with our environment and how best to circumvent any blockages which might preclude us from connecting with listeners.” This could be something mechanical (like sound system issues), something personal (a broken heart), or something out of their control, like fans unfamiliar with their style of music.

Groovin at the Old Stern Grove scoreGypsy jazz, which promotes the swinging sounds made popular by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in 1930s Paris, carries a welcoming aura in each twang and pick of a guitar. Fans are drawn in by its lively rhythm, and Mehling and the crew take the next step in treating each audience member as a friend that they haven’t yet met. “While audiences may or may not be familiar with us, or our genre of music, we hope to establish an interplay and connection with them that they won’t find anywhere else, and which will stay with them.”

The five members of Hot Club take being San Franciscans—and the area’s influences and long list of contributions to the evolution of jazz—very seriously. These ties are evident while listening to their new song, where nods are given to local insider jokes like “vegan/pagan hipsters” and “high-tech chief execs” grooving together at everyone’s favorite urban getaway, Stern Grove.

Mehling says he and the rest of Hot Club feel a huge sense of indebtedness to the people in the Bay Area jazz scene that they’ve learned from, been inspired by, and have been a part of for more than 27 years. “We are extremely proud to not only be a part of this artistic tapestry, but we see our role in preserving and pushing it forward as an integral part of our purpose.”

Hear Hot Club of San Francisco perform “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove” and more at Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, June 28 when they open for one of America’s favorite lyricists, Randy Newman. The show kicks off at 2 p.m.

June, 2015 Stern Grove Festival

Interplay — Pacific Mambo Orchestra

Pacific Mambo Orchestra captures the sounds of nature in Stern Grove Festival commission


interplay_pmoWest coast Latin big band Pacific Mambo Orchestra is taking part in Stern Grove Festival’s new commission series, celebrating the talent of local artists. This season, seven artists from our summer lineup are creating a new piece of work just for our stage. Taking inspiration from “In Concert with Nature”, these commissioned works highlight the connection between the space, the performer and the audience that is so unique to Stern Grove Festival. Read on to learn about PMO’s progress in this commission.


Pacific Mambo Orchestra: When PMO first learned about the opportunity to do a commissioned piece for Stern Grove Festival, we were really excited about it!

Stern Grove: The commission focuses on the relationship between the artist and the environment. How has this shaped the sound of your piece?

When we heard the theme ”In Concert with Nature”, we immediately thought of a more “orchestral” work, meaning usage of woodwinds (like flutes and clarinets) and utilizing that kind of instrumentation in a more symphonic sense. The idea of a 3-part suite followed pretty much immediately after that and that would fall into the more “classical” approach as well.

This commission is a new experience for you as an artist. What was the most challenging aspect in creating the work?

Given that we are a Latin big band that draws its sound from different rhythms from the Southern hemisphere, the challenge was to combine symphonic/orchestral ideas with the passionate, bombastic, and sometimes fiery sound of a huge horn section! Furthermore, the challenge was to tie in the title of the work.

So, the idea of a 3-part suite would open up the possibility to address different aspects of nature, like heavy weather, soft rustling of leaves in the wind, etc.

Tell us more about the makeup of the 3-part suite.

The first movement starts with a 12/8 Afro-Cuban rhythm, which will also introduce the dancers to the stage. The choreography will be modern and expressive – not like a partner dance.

A fairly chromatic alto flute melody establishes the first theme, followed by a counterpoint clarinet melody, followed by the third theme, played by low brass. These three melodies are switched around from instrument section to instrument section, weaving in and out, depicting the unpredictability of nature.

Out of the last climatic and furious chord and fermata of the first movement comes a soft bossa nova rhythm, which introduces the second movement, and leads into a very harmonious melody, again introduced by the flutes. Vocals in Portuguese enter, singing about nature.

The dance choreography of the second movement is very synchronized and controlled and reflects the fair and warm climate/weather.

The third movement is a surprise…

Come to Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s performance on June 21 at 2 p.m! Joining them will be special guests Sheila E. and Marlow Rosado, and local dance company Salsamania. Here’s a sneak peek of the first suite:

June, 2015 Stern Grove Festival

Interplay — The California Honeydrops

The California Honeydrops stretch their imaginations for “Interplay commission


California HoneydropsAs the city rapidly changes, supporting local artists is vital in maintaining the sounds of San Francisco. One of Stern Grove Festival’s goals has always been to offer a space for local artists to access the community, while supporting their work.

With that in mind, this summer we’ve commissioned seven local performers to create new music and dance pieces specifically for our stage. These pieces reflect the connection between the artist, audience, and nature that creates the singular experience offered at Stern Grove Festival. Titled “Interplay”, this commissioning series allows the artists to create something special to be debuted for our audience.

Preparing for this commission wasn’t natural to Lech Wierzysnki, the lead singer (and guitarist, and trumpeter) of Oakland-based band, The California Honeydrops.  In looking for inspiration to capture what it means to be “In Concert With Nature”, he found that simply sitting down and thinking performing outside wasn’t the easiest way to become inspired.

“This commission is different, in that the work is a little more premeditated,” he adds, on the steps the band took in beginning their new song, “Long Way”. “In writing this song I tried to make the process as natural and personal as possible, while keeping a few important sources of inspiration in mind. I often use nature as a place to reflect peacefully on the complications of life – a place apart from my day-to-day routines, where I can find perspective and guidance.”

Lech Wierzynski and Johnny Bones practice “Long Way” in preparation the the Stern Grove Festival debut on June 14.

Honing their “street soul” sound in BART stations, dive bars, and crowded clubs, The California Honeydrops recognize the connection between music and the space in which it is performed. “This is a welcomed change for us,” Wierzysnki notes. “Just as the people (at Stern Grove Festival) have room to breathe, to relax, and to enjoy the sky above and the trees around, this piece of music will have an organic and meditative feeling to it.”

In writing “Long Way” The California Honeydrops pulled inspiration from their own musical upbringing as street artists. Being non-mainstream musicians with no label backing and little money, the group often plays for new fans. “We know what it takes to grab a new audience and pull them along on a ride.” Wierzysnki says, “In the end, the feeling in music is a universal language.”

In creating a piece distinctly for a crowd in San Francisco, the California Honeydrops had it easy in that, well, they’re from here. They’re well-versed in the sounds of the city. But with the cost of living in the Bay Area on the rise, many musicians like the Honeydrops are constantly under pressure to take their trade elsewhere, and many veterans on the music scene have moved on. “The sound of San Francisco is certainly changing, and reflective of an ever-narrower slice of the socio-economic spectrum,” Wierzysnki notes. “I’m most familiar with folks playing roots music, blues, rhythm and blues, funk, soul, gospel, Cajun/Zydeco. There are great young, creative musicians as well, but I learned my craft from older musicians in the Bay.”

Come check out the debut performance of “Long Way” June 14 at Stern Grove Festival. The California Honeydrops take the stage at 2 p.m., followed by The Doobie Brothers.

June 9, 2015 Stern Grove Festival

Backstage :: LoCura

LoCura photo


LoCura
at  Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, August 17, at 2 p.m.

With a cast of San Francisco’s most diverse musicians, LoCura mixes Latin styles like Rumba Flamenca, Cuban rhythms, Cumbia, and Ska together in a sound they’ve dubbed “Califas Flamenkito”. Fronted by Spanish-American vocalist Kata Miletich, LoCura reflects the global mosaic of its home in San Francisco and brings their experiences to life in their sophomore album Semilla Caminante, with lyrics in Spanish, English and Spanglish.

LoCura has toured the U.S, Canada, Mexico and Spain, playing music festivals and sharing the stage with renowned artists such as Ziggy Marley, Beats Antique, Les Nubiens, and Zap Mama while, at home, they regularly play venues like The Great American Music Hall and The Independent.

Read more about LoCura in our interview with the band below.


How has living in San Francisco influenced your sound?
San Francisco has shaped us from the beginning. Our original percussionist is a Bay Area native who incorporated her love of Afro-Cuban rhythms and the Cajon, providing the foundation that has carried on to this day. The Mission and Bay Area arts and activism have inspired us to help voice the struggles of the community and stay focused on art being a tool for change, while bridging the connections between art and daily life. The rich diversity of the Bay Area and its thriving arts scene has infused our sound with a mix of traditions and styles.

Originally a three-piece band, in what ways are songwriting, recording and performing different for your now seven-piece ensemble?
Most simply put…we now have eight voices to incorporate into the creation of our sound and performance. We have eight artists who all come from different styles and backgrounds and it makes for a magnificent challenge so long as we can work together and find the balance between our own desires and the music as a whole. As a result our sound has become much more interesting and dynamic. And the opportunity to learn from such amazing artists has been a blessing.

What is your favorite San Francisco Bar? Overlook? Guilty pleasure/tourist attraction?
Bar: Cafe Revolution, Radio Habana in the Mission District, and Cafe Van Kleefs in Oakland.
Overlook: Bernal Heights
Guilty Pleasure: Mission Pie 🙂

If you could perform alongside any Bay Area-based artist/band, who would you choose?
Some of the Bay Area bands we love playing with are: Bang Data, Makrú, Inspector Gadje, and Rupa & the April Fishes, just to name a few. Some bands that we haven’t played with and would like to are Goapele, Bells Atlas, The Seshen, Rico Pabon, and The Coup.

Backstage :: Monophonics

Monophonics

Monophonics at Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, August 10, at 2 p.m.

Over the past seven years, Monophonics have staked their claim as one of the west coast’s premier bands. Raised amid the rich musical culture of San Francisco, Monophonics has proudly carried on the tradition of music native to their hometown, which flourished during the birth of funk music and psychedelic soul.

Psychedelic Soul, sometimes called Black Rock, is a sub-genre of Soul music, combining soul with psychedelic rock. It came to prominence in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s, playing a major role in the development of soul and funk music. Monophonics were formed in 2005 as an instrumental ensemble, but in the last two years their sound has evolved to encompass vocally driven songs.

Below is an interview we conducted with Monophonics bass player Myles O’Mahony.

 


Are there any psych soul bands that you find yourselves listening to lately?
Orgone and Ben L’Oncle Soul, among others. There are so many great bands developing and growing out of this scene.

What is your favorite San Francisco venue? Restaurant? Neighborhood?
Venue – The Fillmore, aside from the great history, it’s just a good place to see a show and has been a dream of mine/ours to play at there since we were young. In doing so recently, it only fortified my feelings for the place.

Restaurant – There is a lot of good food in SF but a birthday tradition of mine is Little Star Pizza on Divisadero. That place is hard to beat.

Neighborhood – The Mission is one of the more vibrant neighborhoods of the city and tends to be the general go-to.

What made you make the jump from an instrumental ensemble to a vocally-driven band?
Transitioning from an instrumental outfit into being a predominately vocal lead band was something I think we all wanted from the beginning. It just took time to first build a feel as a group of musicians then take the time to find the right singer. We were lucky to find as good a fit as Kelly, who really was the missing link we needed to grow into our own as a band.

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Backstage :: Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors

Todd Sickafoose
Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors at Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, August 3, at 2 p.m.

 

A Bay Area native, Todd Sickafoose spent some years in Los Angeles studying bass with Charlie Haden and composition with the great, late Mel Powell. Since then, he’s been recording and performing with a ton of innovative folks and genre benders including Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, Nels Cline, Jenny Scheinman, Ron Miles, Trey Anastasio, Yoko Ono, Myra Melford, Tin Hat Trio, Adam Levy, Skerik, Allison Miller, Stanton Moore, Bobby Previte, Scott Amendola, Will Bernard, Stebmo, Jessica Lurie, Shane Endsley, Erin McKeown, Anaïs Mitchell, Gina Leishman, Carla Bozulich, Noe Venable, Etienne de Rocher, James Carney, Erik Deutsch, Tony Furtado, and Darol Anger.

The consistency of his personal voice within wildly diverse collaborations prompted the LA Weekly in 2004 to call Todd “one of the most comprehensive musical minds of this coast”.

Read our interview with him below to learn more about his life, and get prepared for a great show Sunday, Aug 3, where Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors open for Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory at 2 p.m.

 


What inspires you the most when writing?

Well I hear melodies and rhythms when I walk. I think being outside and moving your body make the ideas emerge from wherever they do. I also like writing music on airplanes or anyplace that’s extremely noisy. It’s a backwards process — you pull something out of everything, like whittling a grizzly bear out of a log. But the most inspiring thing to me when writing music is thinking about the people who will be playing it. When I think about the each musician and imagine their particular sound and touch, I can create something that has a chance of really coming to life.

If you could collaborate with any performing artist – dead or alive – who would you choose?
I guess Miles? And I’d choose alive! Or this — I used to have a poster for a concert that happened at Royce Hall in Los Angeles in the year of my birth — a birthday concert for Igor Stravinsky, MC’ed by Aldous Huxley, during which they premiered Stravinsky’s Agon, which is one of the greatest pieces of music ever created. I wish I could have been on that stage.

What is your self-defined genre?
It’s tricky but “orchestral jazz meets indie rock” seems to work okay and then I try to let the music speak for itself.

Out of all the instruments, what got you interested in the bass?

I quickly fell in love with the physicality of it. You feel the sound so strongly with an acoustic bass — the dance and the rhythm of it are so obvious and visible. I also liked a lot of bass players when I was young. Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Milt Hinton, and Charlie Haden were all fascinating to me.

In what ways has your music career been affected since starting your family?

Being around young people keeps you in the moment and in the joyful place (most of the time) — it turns out that those are also two of the most important parts of playing music, especially improvised music. I have had the chance to tour a lot with children tagging along and if the personalities are right, it can keep everyone feeling like they belong to the human race, which is a good thing.

Backstage :: Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Toure

Vieux Farka Touré at Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, July 20, at 2 p.m.

Often referred to as “The Hendrix of the Sahara”, Vieux Farka Touré was born in Niafunké, Mali in 1981. He is the son of legendary Malian guitar player Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006. Ali Farka Touré came from a historical tribe of soldiers, and defied his parents in becoming a musician. When Vieux was in his teens, he declared that he also wanted to be a musician. His father disapproved due to the pressures he had experienced being a musician. Rather, he wanted Vieux to become a soldier. But with help from family friend, the kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, Vieux eventually convinced his father to give him his blessing to become a musician shortly before Ali passed.

Read more about Vieux in our interview with him below.


What about your home country of Mali did you want to convey in your most recent album, Mon Pays?

With Mon Pays I wanted to remind the people of Mali, and the world too, that there is a deep culture in Mali with deep roots and traditions that cannot be destroyed by invaders. At the time of making this album there was a lot of trouble in Mali with foreign Islamists coming to claim the land and to ban music. I was doing what I could do as an artist to remind the world of Mali’s beauty and why it was so important to fight to protect it.

How was it performing for in front of millions at the 2010 World Cup? Had you ever experienced a similar crowd before?

No, I cannot say I have ever seen a crowd like that before or after in my life. Perhaps one day we will have the world cup in West Africa and the crowd will be even bigger and more crazy, but it is hard to even imagine.

What inspires you the most while writing songs?

For me, often it is love. I will feel a powerful rush of love and it will inspire me to write a song. Other times I will just be jamming and a cool riff will just come out and I will build on that. But for the words and the melody it always comes from a feeling of love.

What has been your most favorite performance to date? What was it about this performance that you enjoyed?

Wow wow wow. This is a difficult question. It is so hard to chose among the hundreds of incredible shows I have had the good fortune of playing in my life. I think, for me, nothing beats the last performance I had at the Festival of the Desert in Essakane near Timbuktu. There was such a pure feeling of joy in the air. I have never felt an energy like that before. For me it is a very tragic thing that the festival is not happening, last year and again this year. For all Malian musicians this should be an important goal, to bring the Festival of the Desert back. It is a great source of joy and pride and peace for our region.