Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas at the Shrine

Went over to the New Africa Shrine last night to catch Femi Kuti and band one last time before the Holidays. It was one of the looser sets I've witnessed. Femi came out at about 8:00 PM without much fanfare and joined the band on trumpet. It was the first time I've seen any of the hornmen solo while Femi was on stage; he usually reserves all the solo space for himself and the horn section serves solely as backup. Both the baritone player and tenor man Dotun “Dotsax” Bankole took long solos last night while Femi climbed the riser at the back of the stage and played trumpet with the section. He then did some time on soprano sax but didn’t touch his alto at all, nor his rarely-heard tenor. The first half hour was more jazzy and improvisatory than usual but then segued into some of Femi's more recognizable tunes like Dem Bobo, which in Pidgin means something to the effect of “they deceive” (Dem bobo your mama, dem bobo your papa, in the name of democracy….). 

I did my Christmas shopping at the Shrine and picked up a nice Fela singlet. Won’t be finding one of those down at the local mall. I'm off for Penang via Dubai tonight.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Some Astounding Tenor Playing

I've been listening to the Mosaic 7-CD box set The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions 1963-66 on my iTunes and have been astounded by the saxophone playing on these records. Not new to my ears, but hearing this all in one place has made me sit up wide-eyed and take notice. On these records, pianist Andrew Hill’s small groups featured three of the most astonishing tenor saxophonists ever – Joe Henderson, John Gilmore, and Sam Rivers – pretty much defining “Inside-Outside” playing. All the more astounding considering these recordings were made while John Coltrane was still alive, knowing that Coltrane’s sound and approach has so dominated post-60’s tenor saxophony. 

Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings, which set a high quality benchmark, bring the sound to life, sounding as fresh as if recorded this morning although going on fifty years old. It really says something about the level of Andrew Hill’s musicianship that he was able to attract these three as sidemen. It is nearly impossible to sustain this level of creative intensity and although Andrew played some superb music and was much recognized and awarded later in life, his subsequent recordings never again reached this pinnacle. 

Joe Henderson – the small, introverted man with a big sound – is the best known of the three saxophonists and by far the most widely heard. Personally I took his playing for granted when younger since he could be heard on so many mid-60’s Blue Notes, and I didn't really appreciate him until I saw him perform on the Grant Park main stage at the Chicago Jazz festival back in the mid-1990’s. Somehow seeing him live made me understand the connection between the man and the sound and I have listened to every note of his I can find since then. The paradigm of inside-outside playing. 

John Gilmore – Sun Ra’s tenor saxophonist for more than two decades – to the best of my knowledge never recorded a date as a leader (although he co-led 1957’s Blowin’ In From Chicago with Clifford Jordan). All the more surprising considering that he is someone that John Coltrane looked up to for inspiration and innovation during Trane’s spirit-searching days of the early 60’s. He can be found here and there as a sideman outside of his prolific recordings with Sun Ra’s groups – notably on Paul Bley’s Turning Point, McCoy Tyner’s Today and Tomorrow on Impulse and even on one Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers session. Here is a video of that session on YouTube – Gilmore in a conservative business suit and Lee Morgan sporting a really bad haircut. 

Sam Rivers – one year departed at this point and still under-recognized. Sam’s own mid-60’s Blue Note sessions are a peak of tenor saxophone playing on their own – the final CD in the Andrew Hill box was in the can when originally recorded and first released under Sam Rivers’ name in the 1970’s as part of a “two-fer” LP – Sam was at a peak of recognition at that time. Sam had played with Miles Davis for a short while prior to the Andrew Hill session, in Miles’ band after George Coleman and just before Wayne Shorter. Sam recorded on Miles in Tokyo and the more recently released Kyoto sessions from the same 1964 Japan tour. To me, these sessions sound better than Miles in Berlin from the next year with Shorter on tenor, but apparently Sam was too wild even for Miles! Maybe too advanced at the time. 

Get hold of the Andrew Hill box on Mosaic if you can, or any of the individual Blue Note CDs if you can’t find the box. The saxophone playing on these mid-1960’s sessions has never been surpassed.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Saxophonist Shola Emmanuel

In the shed with Shola Emmanuel
Nigerian saxophonist, composer, and arranger Shola Emmanuel visited me in Lagos recently. He was introduced four and a half years ago as the best saxophonist in Abuja and his skills have only improved since then. He is playing music nobody else in Nigeria is doing today. Hip hop and so-called contemporary R&B have eradicated local music like afrobeat and juju from the West African airwaves, and jazz, which never had that strong of a local scene, is low-profile. Shola is one of the foremost musicans keeping jazz alive and vibrant in Nigeria today, blending a strong grounding in African rhythms with fluid and creative improvisation.

Shola just self-produced his first CD, Nine Lessons by the Rhythm & Sax Orchestra, nine original compositions and arrangements with Shola up front on alto and tenor saxes (and trumpet on one track) over large group backings. The CD was launched at a concert in Abuja on October 21 which, by all accounts, was a sellout. Shola primarily plays alto although he pointed out to me that he, like many hornmen in Nigeria, started out on trumpet. Here is a Youtube video of Shola playing one of his originals, Into D Woods


We jammed for six or seven hours, part of the time joined by friend Tunde who plays alto. I played tenor and Shola split his time between his alto and borrowing my second tenor. He got a powerful sound out of the Kohlert. We mostly played out of my book which meant a heavy dose of Gene Ammons tunes, Jammin' with Gene, Treux Blue, and Happy Blues. Showboy dropped by and gave us all a workout in afrobeat; we played the horn sections of several Fela tunes and jammed through Night In Tunisia. I caught the proceedings on my Zoom recorder and have sampled two tracks for download, duets with Shola on alto and me on tenor: Caravan and Doxy, which we played in tribute to our mutual colleague, the late Dare Peter; click to listen. It is easy to identify each of us and Shola's fluent sound is apparent. 

Shola is a musician who has advanced significantly since I met him and will definitely be going places. His web site www.rhythmandsax.com is currently under construction as of this writing, but check back soon for downloads and gig notices. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Tribute to the Late Nigerian Saxophonist Dare Peter

Nigerian Saxophonist Dare Peter
Saxophonist Shola Emmanuel came down from Abuja to visit and we jammed for a quick hour before heading off to the New Africa Shrine to hear Femi Kuti. Shola and I hadn't seen each other in four years but it didn't seem to matter, either musically or in friendship. I was taking the opportunity to catch up on hap'nin's of some of our other musician mates in Abuja when I learned some shocking news: in Shola's words, Dare is no more.

Bandleader and saxophonist Dare Peter passed away last month after struggling with a long illness. I don't know Dare's exact age but he couldn't have yet reached 40. He came across as kind of a hard-nosed Rasta type with his dreadlocks and Rastaman hat, but that hard exterior was far from the full reality as Dare proved himself to be a musician of heart and integrity in the time I knew him.
Dare Peter and Ron Ashkin in Abuja, 2008

Back in 2008, I walked in to the legendary Elephant Bar in Abuja and heard Dare playing Sonny Rollins' Doxy on alto, supported by a great local rhythm section. He immediately invited me up on stage to join him (here is an audio track of us doing Doxy). That cemented a musical relationship for the rest of the year when I became his second saxophonist, playing tenor, and we played his regular Elephant Bar gig as well as going out to other venues like Silver Spoon and the Arts & Crafts Village. It was at Silver Spoon with Dare's band that I backed up Dede Mabiaku, not knowing at the time that Dede was Fela Kuti's protégé and famous throughout Nigeria. Someone in the audience dashed me a bottle of Champagne that night.

Dare was inclusive and accepting as a bandleader, giving me plenty of chance to stretch out and improvise as the ideas flowed; not competing with me, cutting me off, getting in the way, or making me feel like I was stepping on his toes. There were plenty of times where he gave me the feeling that I was being featured by the band and not just playing a supporting role. He had a repertoire that spanned from jazz to highlife to pop and often a set would progress through all three styles; I'd usually play the jazz opening set and the highlife closer but usually chose to sit out on a lot of the chick singer vocals. Playing with Dare really opened up my desire to perform.

As a musician, Dare had an easy facility on alto sax with a screaming altissimo. His signature tune was Grover Washington's Mr. Magic. Here is a video Dare playing Mr. Magic in 2008:


I've posted this before, but this time it is for posterity (more videos can be found here as well). I understand that Dare married soon after I left Nigeria and leaves behind his wife and young son. Dare Peter, Nigeria's Mr. Magic, rest in peace.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Sean Bergin Has Left Us

Sean Bergin in Amsterdam, 2008
Belated sad news that Amsterdam tenor saxophonist Sean Bergin passed away on September 1. Sean was a great player and I got to know him a bit back in 2008. That year I was working in Nigeria and had a regular transit through Amsterdam Schiphol on my journeys back to Malaysia. One trip through, I stopped off for a lesson with composer and former Willem Breuker Kollektief tenor saxophonist Maarten Van Norden, and Maarten told me about this great locally-famous tenor player who had a regular Sunday afternoon gig. He suggested that I stop by to hear him after our lesson. 

I walked from Maarten's place to De Engelbewaarder (translation: The Guardian Angel), a lovely little canal-side bar at Kloveniersburgwal 59. Sean Bergin was playing with a piano-bass-drums trio and he sounded fantastic on his beat-up bare-brass Mark VI tenor. Great beer and great music. Blue Monk sticks in my mind, with a couple of local horn players sitting in. I chatted a bit with Sean; I recall that he was having reed problems and I offered him a reed out of my case, a 2-1/2, which was too soft for him so he declined. Sean played at De Engelbewaarder every Sunday and I stopped by a couple more times through the coming months to hear him. I brought Jackie by to listen during the summer of 2009 when she was in Holland riding with Coby and Marlies Van Baalen, but unfortunately Sean was on hiatus that Sunday and we missed out. 

Sean was one of those unsung local heroes who didn't build much of a following outside of his hometown but sure was a great, no, world class, player. He had recorded with Mal Waldron, a piano player who at one point had called Eric Dolphy as a sideman, so his musical abilities put him up there in good company. When I saw Sean, it didn't look to me like his music career had been too remunerative, though. Deep in my mind I had hoped to schlep my tenor to Amsterdam some Sunday afternoon and jam with Sean along the canal, but now that chance is foregone. Sean Bergin, RIP.

I'm getting tired of writing regrets and obituaries.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Zombie, Oh Zombie

Seun Kuti, Fela in the Background
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 played their first post-Felabration gig at the New Africa Shrine in Lagos last night. The crowd was sparse since it was the long Sallah holiday weekend when many people travel out of the city, and besides much of the local musical energy had been spent earlier in the month. Seun and Egypt 80 had just played at the Shrine a week ago - their Felabration set didn't start until the middle of the night and I couldn't get anyone to go out into the daunting Lagos midnight to catch the show with me. What I missed last Saturday was that, unannounced, elder brother Femi Kuti sat in with Seun and their father's band, apparently the first time Femi has played with Egypt 80 in 15 years and the first time Fela's two sons played together with their father's band in Lagos since Fela's death in 1997. It was videoed by Sahara TV and can be seen on Youtube (my bandwidth here in Nigeria is terrible and I hope I will actually get to watch it one of these days). 

Last night was good for the listener as the smaller crowd made the Shrine more pleasant than usual. The show started at 11:00 pm. Showboy led the band through a longer-than-planned warm-up set since Seun did not appear until about 1:00 am. He kicked off with Fela's Zombie, his customary (and exciting) set opener. It was a good one, channeling his father on alto sax and vocals as well as in the hilarious Zombie dance. In the subsequent hour and a half I stayed around, Seun only played one other tune and had just started on a third when I left due to the late hour. He gives his band mates plenty of room to stretch out, plays a strong and confident alto, and in general has continued Fela's jazzy, improvisatory approach to afrobeat that keeps the music fresh and interesting. Having Fela's original rhythm section anchor the band doesn't hurt either.

Egypt 80's Rhythm Section - These Guys Played With Fela. No Wonder Egypt 80 Sounds So Good.
Showboy had been at my house earlier in the day for my weekly Afrobeat lesson and we worked on Zombie at my behest. I had jumped in a bit over my head; I found the tune impossible to master instantly and have been working on it for a couple of weeks just to get it under my fingers. The tempo is killer and on tenor sax, the primary lick jumps up and down across the break at high speed. Thanks to the marvel of modern digital technology, I slowed the 1977 album track down to 80% until I got my fingers moving and then sped it back up to 100% after about a hundred iterations. The instrumentals sound OK at slow speed but the vocals are just wrong! By the end of the day I got it, finally, finally. Showboy is a hard taskmaster since he was there at the creation of the original and I really had a sense of accomplishment when he smiled and said I could stop for now.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

New Acquisition - Kohlert '55 Tenor

During my recent trip to the US I picked up a Kohlert '55 tenor sax, a nice original lacquer horn in about as good a shape as you can expect from an instrument going on 60 years old. Pads are new and it plays easily from top to bottom.



Post-WWII Kohlerts were made in Winnenden, near Stuttgart in what was then West Germany. My '55 was actually made in 1956 and sports rolled tone holes, left hand bell keys, and a non-articulated G#. Not that many were made - Kohlert produced about 14,000 instruments of all types in 1955 and 1956 - so I imagine only a few hundred of these still exist, if that many. Kohlerts have a reputation as great R&B and rock 'n' roll horns and I will soon find out...I haven't had it out of the house yet.

Welcome to the family.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Again, A Bad Day for Tenor Sax Fans

This hasn't been a great week musically. Earlier in the month I wrote that I am almost afraid to read the jazz news these days. Then in comes the report that David S. Ware passed away from kidney failure on October 18. Another player I will not get the chance to hear live; fortunately his recorded legacy is substantial. 

Never a mainstream player, he hit the scene in the late 70's with the Cecil Taylor Unit and I first heard him playing his own music on Birth Of A Being (1977), an LP I came across while going through my collection in storage last summer. He is classified in the press as a "free jazz" player although I find that classification a misnomer that is often used pejoratively. For example, his allmusic.com biography makes the following statement which I find idiotic: "unlike a good many free players, Ware does not base his style on any particular technical shortcoming or theoretical misunderstanding." I don't know who these other players are the writer is referring to. I don't know of any free jazz players who base their playing on technical shortcomings or theoretical misunderstandings. Pure bunk, I'm sorry. 

Regardless of classification, though, David definitely had his own conception of improvisation; his New York Times obituary quotes him as saying “I’m not interested in chord changes”. The press is full of hype about him although I doubt it ever paid off big in material terms. The best place to find out about David is on his own web site, davidsware.com

David, may you rest in peace. Thanks for not compromising your musical values.

Oh yeah, his death distracted me from writing about the other reason this week has not been great for me musically. Despite all the anticipation and buildup, this year's Felabration in Lagos has been a disappointment. It has been impossible to find out exactly who is playing when and as a result I missed out on most of the music. I went over to the Shrine three times this week and struck out each time. Next week the schedule gets back to normal and I am hoping to catch Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at their regular end-of-month gig next Saturday to make it up.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Another Great Has Passed - John Tchicai RIP

I'm almost afraid to read the jazz news this year. Heard yesterday that saxophonist John Tchicai has passed away in France at the age of 76. One more great I will never have the chance to see perform live. Not much in the press yet but here is an obit from the Washington Post

He was one of the creators of the so-called "New Thing" in the early 1960s and recorded on John Coltrane's seminal Ascension as well as with Albert Ayler (New York Eye and Ear Control), Archie Shepp (New York Contemporary Five) and Roswell Rudd (New York Art Quartet). Maybe the only European player to record with Trane (the media always noted how he was born in Denmark of a Danish mother and Congolese father). He was one of the few accomplished players who was equally adept on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones. 

John Tchicai didn't sound like anyone else and there aren't any music schools teaching the John Tchicai style, so we will have to be satisfied with his recorded legacy (which is fairly prolific but all on smaller labels). It is the greatest compliment to say that a musician stayed true to his creative self for his entire career, and that can truthfully be said about John Tchicai. Rest in peace and we will continue to listen to the sounds you created while you were here. The sound is timeless.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Joe Morris, William Parker and Marco Eneidi in Washington DC

The Joe Morris Trio at Bohemian Caverns: William Parker (b), Marco Eneidi (as), Joe Morris (g)

I flew into Washington DC from Lagos yesterday. Arrived early in the morning and the hotel didn't have any rooms ready. People were hanging out in the tiny lobby when I returned in the afternoon to check in. One man sitting on the sofa looked strangely familiar, like I knew him from somewhere before, but I couldn't quite place the face.

Coming down in the elevator I noticed that the guy standing next to me was holding an alto case so I struck up some small-talk conversation, you know...are you a musician, what kind of music do you like to play, what kind of horn do you play? He was Marco Eneidi, Viennese alto saxophonist with whom I was not previously familiar but who has played with the likes of Cecil Taylor, in town for a one-night stand at Bohemian Caverns. Marco said he was there with a trio, a guitar player and a bassist. So he proceeded to introduce me to the man sitting on the couch. "This is my bass player." I shook his hand and asked his name. "William Parker" was the reply.

William Parker and Marco Eneidi

My jaw dropped. William Parker? One of the best bass players on the planet, icon of creative free improvisation, and prolific recording artist who has been on my playlist for years? Then up walked the guitar player...Joe Morris, ostensible leader of the trio at Bohemian Caverns, who I knew from his recordings with great saxophonists like Ken Vandermark and Anthony Braxton...not your garden variety rhythm section by any means. Maybe one of the finest free jazz collaborations playing today. 
Joe Morris

We chatted for a while. William talked about how musicians create positive energy and help keep the world from imploding.

I went to 11th and U at 7:00 pm to hear the trio's gig. Two hours of sublime, cerebral free improvisation for an attentive but small audience, well less than a hundred, in a funky basement. The two one-hour sets passed like ten minutes. It was great for me to hear such high-level free improvisation after so long. I must thank Joe Morris, William Parker, and Marco Eneidi for not only staying dedicated to the cause but also making a success of it. Joe said that he is just a regular human being and that he has worked hard to be able to speak through his instrument. He told me that we should continue our conversation on line - too bad I don't do Facebook

You never know what is going to happen when you wake up in the morning; I certainly never expected to run into William Parker and hear such superb music when I got out of bed yesterday. One of the good surprises life holds.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Rhythm & Sax Orchestra - Shola Hits the Big Time

Received this invitation to the upcoming Rhythm & Sax Orchestra concert in Abuja on October 21. I thought the guy holding the sax in the poster looked awfully familiar and sure enough, it is Shola, my running buddy from Abuja in 2008 with whom I had lost touch. Looks like he has hit the big time: =N=10,000 for a VIP ticket to hear him play is a long way from scuffling for bar and hotel gigs. That's about 60 bucks for a seat! I phoned Shola and we will try to get together in Lagos soon.

It is great to see the progress he has made over the past four years. I met Shola the first week I was in Nigeria, at the Nigerian PGA tournament at the IBB Golf Course where I had been invited to sit in with the band. Shola was introduced to me as the best saxophone player in Abuja. Over the next six months or so we jammed innumerable times at my hotel room, at his house, and at various gigs. I've got a bunch of our rehearsal recordings in the can and even went so far as to write out the lead sheet to one of his compositions, which I've got in my book as Shola's Blues.

If you are in Abuja in late October and have the chance to see him perform, go for it. Here's a photo of Shola sitting in on keys with Dare Peter's band at the legendary Elephant Bar in Abuja back in November, 2008. Note the horn case hanging from his shoulder.

Shola Emmanuel on keys at the legendary Elephant Bar in Abuja, 2008. George on drums.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Drive All Night

Mark Sasse's short comedy-drama Drive All Night won the Audience Choice Award at the 2012 Short + Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang on September 15. It is the story of Sonny, who drives off into the night after a spat with his wife and is tormented by late night radio...

Drive All Night topped ten other productions over four nights to win the award. Jackie [Ashkin] can be seen playing Right Speaker, alongside Sarah Lim as Left Speaker and Joseph Stolzfus as Sonny. Amanda Khoo directed. Playwright Mark is Jackie's drama coach at Dalat International School. Congrats!

Special thanks to Festival Director Faridah Merican and Artistic Director Joe Hasham for bringing Short + Sweet to Penang Performing Arts Centre and for giving Jackie and cohort the chance to perform.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Smart Phones Stupid People

Jackie's original short play Smart Phones Stupid People is now up on YouTube for those who missed the performance at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang. A comedy about a couple driving through the African savannah who spot a wild animal in the distance and decide to stop for the perfect Facebook profile picture (based on a true story, believe it or not...).

The Credits

Playwright: Jackie Ashkin; Director: Dr. Shark; Kangaroo: Nik Ahmad Aiman bin Nik Kamaluddin; Panda: Timmy Ong; Leopard/Goat: Dr. Shark; Festival Director: Dato' Faridah Merican; Artistic Director: Joe Hasham. Performed at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival, Penang Performing Arts Centre, Penang, Malaysia, September 14, 2012.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Jackie Wins Short + Sweet Theatre's Best Newcomer Award

Jackie Ashkin Presented Best Newcomer Award by Faridah Merican and Mark Cleary
Short + Sweet Theatre Penang closed last night with its final run of eleven original 10-minute plays. Closing night concluded with presentation of awards for writers, actors, and directors based on cumulative scores from independent judges and the audience over the four nights of performances. 

Jackie [Ashkin] did really well! She won the "Best Newcomer Youth Award (Female)" from among a very talented group of players. Festival Artistic Director Joe Hasham was exceedingly kind with his words and commended Jackie for her potential both as a writer and as an actor. His advice was "Don't let her stop". 

Audience Choice Award: (L to R)
Mark Sasse, Mark Cleary, Faridah Merican, Jackie
Ashkin, Amanda Khoo, Joseph Stolzfus, Sarah Lim

But that is not all. Mark Sasse's Drive All Night, in which Jackie acted in a key supporting role, was named the "Audience Choice", coming out on top of the eleven productions despite being the very last play to be performed each night. Mark is Jackie's drama coach at Dalat. Rumour has it that Jackie's script Smart Phones Stupid People was the runner-up. A win for all. 

And her Smart Phones Stupid People won the Best Glitz + Glamour award for costumes, and two other awards as well. Dr. Shark ("Leopard") was named the festival's Best Director and actor Timmy Ong ("Panda") received the Festival Director's Award.

Short + Sweet founder Mark Cleary was in the house for Saturday's performance. Thanks go out to Mark for the great concept and to Festival Director Faridah Merican for bringing it to Penang. Short + Sweet is now off to Kuala Lumpur where there will be theatre, dance, stand-up comedy, and musicals at KLPAC over the next month. Try to catch at least one performance if you are in KL.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Short + Sweet Theatre in Penang

Jackie Ashkin in Short + Sweet Theatre Malaysia
Short + Sweet Theatre is a short play format drama festival that started in Australia and has expanded throughout the Asia-Pacific region over the past 10 years. Short + Sweet incorporates original scriptwriting, acting, and directing; participants are selected through a months-long competitive process at each festival location, and then a series of 10-minute mini-plays are produced and performed by the chosen troupe. Short + Sweet came to the Penang Performing Arts Centre this year for the first time, directed by Malaysian theatre icons Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham. Short + Sweet bills itself as "The Biggest Little Festival in the World" - short play festival that is - with four nights of performances at PPAC, September 12 through September 15. Last night, Friday, an engaged and responsive audience packed the house.
Smart Phones Stupid People

Jackie [Ashkin] was chosen as both a playwright and as an actor; easily the youngest writer in the bunch and also one of the youngest actors (some of the competitors included university professors!). Her script Smart Phones Stupid People got a ton of laughs with its outrageous direction by Dr. Shark and hilarious Malaysian-style comedy acting by Nik Ahmad Aiman bin Nik Kamaluddin and Timmy Ong. A 10-minute comedy about a technology-crazy couple driving through the African savannah and wanting to take a Facebook profile picture on an iPad after spotting a wild animal...the point being that no matter how smart the gadgets are, they don't make stupid people any smarter. The performance embellished the original script and Jackie had her first experience with having one of her scripts produced, directed, and acted independently. Quite an experience for a 16-year-old.

Curtain Call for Smart Phones Stupid People
The Playwright, Actors, and Directo
Jackie also acted in Mark Sasse's Drive All Night, in a supporting musical comedy role alongside Joseph Stolzfus and Sarah Lim, with Amanda Khoo directing. The comedy-drama is about a man driving through the night listening to the radio as he flees a spat with his wife. Jackie got to sing and dance her way through several rapid-fire prop changes, playing a succession of late-night radio performers and announcers. She received some of the night's loudest cheers and hoots from the audience. Jackie's characters included a Boy George imitator, a bored classical music announcer, a suggestive dancer, a heavily-accented car wash promoter, and a hard-sell direct mail advertiser.

Jackie in the Spotlight
Jackie Ashkin in Drive All Night
Saturday is the closing night of Short + Sweet Theatre in Penang and the house is expected to be sold out, SRO. Jackie regrets that the run was only four nights, already missing the camaraderie and performer's rush. Short + Sweet is a great concept that offers a forum for honest, original, professionally produced theatre with a variety of roles and concepts ranging from hard-hitting social commentary to local humour. The PPAC production was extremely well done from start to finish and we are already looking forward its return next year. All those involved are highly commended.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Amayo from Antibalas Guests with Femi Kuti's Band

Femi Kuti's regular Sunday night performance at the New Africa Shrine featured a special treat last night - vocalist Abraham Amayo from Antibalas sat in with the band during the warm-up set. Antibalas is a Brooklyn, New York based afrobeat orchestra that gained notoriety during the Broadway run of the Fela! musical. Amayo can really sing and he didn't move like an American. I googled him this morning and now it makes sense - he is of Nigerian descent although born in the UK and domiciled in the US. He may be the most capable guest artist I have seen at the Shrine these last few months. His two songs actually received applause from the usually stoic regulars at the Shrine. Have a listen

In researching Amayo and Antibalas (a very good afrobeat band, but incontrovertibly a US-based revival band), an irony became apparent - Antibalas made the front page of the New York Times Arts section about a month ago while at the same time, in its home country of Nigeria, afrobeat is virtually nonexistent outside the walls of the New Africa Shrine. Many of the artists and musicians who formed the style are lingering in obscurity and poverty. The NYT article spoke of afrobeat's "momentum" - which must be happening outside of Nigeria because it ain't much happening here. You have to wear big sunglasses, drive a huge car, and do hip-hop to be deemed a successful musician in Nigeria these days. Afrobeat is considered strictly "old school." Once again, the West has 'discovered' and co-opted a unique ethnic art form while back at home, the art form is on its deathbed. 

Catch this quote from the NYT article: “Now every town we go to in the States, Canada or Europe has its own local Afrobeat act,” he [the band's trombonist] said. “Or two or three or four.” Are you kidding me? I'm still looking for one place in Lagos other than the Shrine to hear live afrobeat. With so little interest in playing afrobeat among Nigeria's young people, I wonder if it will survive the decade as living culture in its homeland. Highly questionable. I really don't know what can be done about it since 42.8% of the Nigerian population is under the age of 15, which means they were born after Fela's death and have little or no exposure to his music. May be that afrobeat is something you will only hear from revival bands in Brooklyn in the future.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tribute to Von Freeman

I wrote this "note to self" after a conversation with tenor sax master Von Freeman at Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard St., Chicago, on Sunday morning, August 12, 2007, from 1:30 – 2:30 AM. It is an apt tribute to the recently departed soul and one of my favorite pieces.

Setup: Von played a Selmer Mark VII tenor (complete with rubber bands) with an Otto Link 9 mouthpiece and Vandoren V16 #4 reeds, in a flight case. No stand; he put his horn under the piano during breaks.

Von played 3 Saturday night sets at Andy’s with his quintet, the (white) piano-bass-drums rhythm section including 25 year old Philly pianist Ben Paterson along with vocalist Bettye Reynolds. Very short breaks – these guys like to play. I had an interesting conversation with Ben during the break when he accidentally picked up and drank my drink – ended up buying me a Macallans and stayed and talked for a while. Ben is making it as a jazz pianist in Chicago and has an organ trio playing at Andy’s on Monday. Says he has avoided making a living playing weddings so far, lucky him. He said that playing with Von is great, Von really listens to him, and Von will be playing something totally modern and outside one minute and then a lick straight from 1942 the next. 

Von was playing Lester Leaps In when I arrived about 10:15. The highlight of the second set was Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid (which I was playing earlier in the day at PM Woodwinds in Evanston when I was trying out horns earlier in the day – I call my version Jumpin’ with Uncle Sid). I really felt like Von was channelling Pres. I had been reading about Pres in a book called But Beautiful in a bookstore that morning. The third set started with a long (~15 minute) rap followed by Robbin’s Nest. He concluded with April in Paris. Von likes playing long acapella obbligati. He had a good rapport going with Ben and was guiding Ben verbally as he comped and soloed. His playing was absolutely effortless. His edgy, acid tone is instantly recognizable. 

After the 3rd set ended I had a long and fascinating conversation with Von (“Vonski” as he likes to be called; he called me “Ronski”). Von is nearing 85 years of age, and as Ben said as we left the place at 2:30, he is maybe one of a dozen people remaining on the planet who have shared the experience of Pres, Bird, Dexter, etc. Roy Haynes is another. Von is white haired and walks a bit slowly, but his wits are totally about him. 

Von was extremely kind and engaging, not the least bit standoffish and arrogant. I mentioned that my Dad had just passed and Von started talking about how he was at the end of his time. He talked about his life and how when he was younger he was involved with gangs, drank heavily, etc., but luckily changed his ways and survived. He said at one time he felt a lot of self pity about not “making it” and I told him he has made it and is considered one of the living masters, how he is recognized all around the world, and how one writer even called him the greatest living tenor player (even better than Rollins!). He was flattered by this and didn’t seem to know. He is very Chicago-centered. He said that luckily he has had good health whereas Sonny has had some health problems. 

I mentioned that I felt he was channeling Lester and he said he had met Lester Young, and Lester was a very kind man. He said that Lester told a story, that playing that style was very difficult as most horn players followed Hawk and just played a lot of notes. He pointed to the keys of his horn and said the saxophone is built to play a lot of notes. Lester got beyond that. Von mentioned that Stan Getz, probably the best known direct Pres disciple, used to come and hear him play. 

I mentioned that I had the chance to hear and meet Dexter Gordon in the Village about 25 years ago and that Dexter was a real gentleman and I would remember him fondly forever, in the same way I would remember my conversation with Von. Von loved Dexter. He reminisced about a recording session he once did with Dexter on Joe Siegel’s label, with Jodie Christian, Red Rodney and Roy Haynes. Siegel told everyone to keep their solos short so Von as the first soloist did 4 choruses on a blues and then sat down. After the piano player, Dexter cut loose and played for about half an hour. Dexter told Von not to listen to the producer, just to play what he felt. Von said he listened to his four choruses later and couldn’t believe how well he played, said it didn’t sound like himself. It was someone else (God) playing. 

When he mentioned Bird he said that it wasn’t Bird playing the horn. Said that Bird had a really bad drug problem, and all the women loved Bird. 

Von said that music is not mathematics (i.e., you can’t play just by memorizing intervals and patterns), that it is something spiritual and from the soul. I said that was a function of the high level he played at – maybe much less skilled musicians have to play by the numbers. He agreed and laughed. He referred to his 3rd set rap about not letting the devil get between you and the sound. He said that he doesn’t practice any more – he doesn’t need to, his embouchure is like a rock after all these years and he used to play an 11 mouthpiece – but he used to practice 25 hours a day when younger. Music to him is way beyond conscious thought. Ben seconded this in a separate conversation. 

At the end of our conversation, as I was saying farewell, Von grabbed my hands, rubbed them, and held my hands in his for a long time. He said he was passing the gift on to me.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Vonski Is Gone

I found out last night from Sax On The Web that my very favorite saxophonist, Chicago's Von Freeman, passed away last week at the age of 88. I'm not feeling too happy today as it seems like all my remaining saxophone heroes are leaving us. Last year ended with Sam Rivers' death, the previous year Fred Anderson, now Vonski.

I loved Vonski's acid sound, which has been described as "out of tune" or "playing the wrong notes", but the only thing that proves is that some people's ears are out of tune. Vonski never played a bad note in his life. 

Some of the reasons I loved to hear him play: He loved playing. Toward the end of his life he could barely walk but he played with boundless energy. He was a living link to Charlie Parker and can be found on a recording of Bird from the Pershing Ballroom in the late 1940's. He only played tenor, no stylish dalliance with whiny soprano or wimpy flute to try and sell records. Not a single disco-soul album in the 70's. He played blues, bop, and standards, very few "original compositions" that can't hold a candle to Night in Tunisia in order to cash in on publishing rights. He never recorded an album with strings, never composed a suite for symphony orchestra. Just fiery, original, genuine, from the heart blowing that spanned bebop to outside with everything in between. He recorded tenor battles with his son Chico (a great saxophonist in his own right), Willis Jackson, and fellow Chicagoan Ed Petersen; all these guys can blow like crazy but when Vonski came on...SHUT UP! 

Here is a well-written obit in the Chicago Tribune. And here is a great streaming broadcast of Vonski and Ed Petersen on NPR

I'll post my own tribute tomorrow, a note to self written back in 2007 after a long conversation with Vonski.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Fela's Legend Lives On - Seun Kuti and Egypt 80


Seun Kuti at the New Africa Shrine - Fela's Musical Legacy
Yesterday was the last Saturday of August, time for Fela Kuti's youngest son Seun to bring Egypt 80 to the New Africa Shrine for his monthly midnight gig. 29-year old Seun and the band just returned from touring Europe and Japan a few weeks ago and this was their first Lagos gig in three months. The 500 Naira gate fee at the Shrine is one-tenth or less of what international fans pay to see Seun on tour.
Another Direct Link to Fela - Showboy Leading Egypt 80

I came in as Showboy was putting the band through a meticulous sound check; as a saxophonist he balances the horns particularly well so each instrument's part can be picked out cleanly from the audience. The warm-up set started just after 11:00pm with Showboy leading the group through about half a dozen numbers lasting 90 minutes. Seun came out at 12:30am and started wailing on alto sax; like brother Femi he has mastered circular breathing. I stayed until 3:00am and Seun was still going strong when I left, having removed his shirt right before I split which makes him look uncannily like his father. 

Seun gives lots of solo room to his musicians and there is plenty of improvisation by the horns. Egypt 80's current standout soloist is the baritone saxophonist, following in the tradition of Fela's band's being anchored by a strong baritonist. Showboy held down that chair until his accident three years ago. Click to hear Mister Big Thief performed live on Saturday night. 

Seun continues his father's political activism. The topic of the night was the new 5,000 Naira note announced recently by Nigeria's central bank. The largest note is currently 1,000 Naira; most Nigerians I talked to think the new large-denomination note is a bad idea and expect inflation to follow rapidly. Why is a 5,000 Naira note even needed when 90% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and the minimum wage is 18,000 Naira (just over $100) per month? Corruption is rife, commonly thought to be more widespread now than when Fela was alive, and the corrupt typically keep large stashes of cash packed away in Ghana Must Gos. The new notes will make it more convenient to store and transport large amounts of cash. 

The new 5,000 Naira note will feature a picture of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Fela's mother and Seun's grandmother, a noted women's rights activist. Seun said that nobody consulted the family about this. Ironically, Funmilayo died as the result of being thrown of a second-story window at Kalakuta by Government forces in 1977. The family never received compensation nor even an apology. Seun told the audience that he prefers justice for his grandmother and they can keep the money.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Learning to Play Afrobeat First Hand

Getting the chance to learn to play afrobeat first hand in Lagos. Had two successive days of learning side-by-side with excellent players. 

First, finally got Showboy to come by and teach me some of Fela Kuti's music. Showboy is a legend from the years he spent anchoring Fela's horn section on baritone sax, and he is an encyclopedic repository of original afrobeat which he learned directly from its inventor and master. The music is all up in his head rather than written down on charts, scores and fake sheets. You can't buy a book of Fela sheet music anywhere to my knowledge. Showboy is currently music director of Egypt 80 which backs Fela's youngest son Seun Kuti. 

Showboy was injured badly in a hit and run accident in Lagos about three years ago and can't hold a sax because of damage to his left hand. He sure can sing, though, and he taught me Dog Eat Dog and Trouble Sleeps by scatting the themes and horn backing parts while I picked out the notes on my tenor. After about 90 minutes I had both down well enough to take a break before my brain exploded. I wasn't that familiar with Trouble Sleeps so we listened to it on iTunes a few times to catch the theme. Showboy taught it to me in Eb but the recording seems to be in Db so I had to transpose to match the record. It is all in the timing and phrasing and it is a challenge to play without a rhythm section - Showboy helped me by counting out the beats and conducting my entrances. 

Then last night, Femi Kuti's tenor player Dotsax came by and we jammed freely for an intense nonstop hour. He just got his horn out and started playing and of course I didn't have my Zoom on and missed recording our jam, given the choice between playing along or messing around with the recording equipment. He's a quiet guy and didn't say a word so I had to chase him entirely by ear, which worked out pretty well in the end. Spoke through our horns. Before he left he wrote down some patterns for me to practice, but of course he wrote them in DO-RE-MI format which I now have to convert to C-D-E or 1-2-3 before I can play them since I never learned the European notation system. Something clicked and patterns suddenly made sense as Dotsax has a Coltrane kind of sound. Our styles contrast as I tend to play more melodies and backing riffs than he does but he plays a whole lot more notes than I do. And plays them very well, I might add.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Femi Kuti's PhD from Kalakuta

PhD from Kalakuta
Femi Kuti Playing Alto 
Went to the New Africa Shrine last night to hear Femi Kuti and his band play their regular Sunday night gig. It was more crowded than usual since Ramadan just ended. It is Sallah in Nigeria; Monday has been declared a public holiday and nobody had to get up early for work for a change. Femi was full of energy and he and the band played for nearly five hours without a break. The floor was packed by the end of the set.

And a Bit of Trumpet
Femi took the opportunity in the last hour to recount some of his life story first-hand. He and the Kuti family are celebrities in Nigeria and there is way more written about their personalities and personal lives in the local press than there is about their music. Femi is often maligned as uneducated and even illiterate and it is well known that he and Fela didn't exactly see eye to eye. But although Femi did not finish secondary school and many of his school mates went on to university to become doctors and lawyers, he is far from illiterate. Femi told the crowd last night that he "has a PhD from Kalakuta" and went on to say how his father in fact made him read plenty of challenging and thought provoking books. Femi has done well for himself regardless of his foreshortened formal education and the fact that the Shrine has survived for so long as a people's venue is testament to his success. And the fact that he is talking openly about his relationship with Fela shows that he has mellowed some after the big 5-0, as some of us old souls predicted.


Now You See It
Now You Don't
Musically, I found it rather strange that Femi plays his alto with the mike jammed way down into the bell. I've never seen anyone play that way before except as an occasional effect. Maybe it is a function of the band's volume - it gets pretty loud in the Shrine - and his preference for the mix, a way to get the sax heard above the thunder. Look at the adjacent photos and you'll see what I am talking about.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Survival of Egypt 80 After Fela's Death

Completing the interview with Rilwan "Showboy" Fagbemi that started on August 9:


Showboy: So you see, that decision that we took [to keep playing together in Fela's memory] is what kept Egypt 80 going until today. It wasn't easy. That is what happened, that is what brought up we writing our own songs, and so on. That is where it started from, because I think we were at this festival in Switzerland...that festival happens every 25 years, you know, so it take place every 25 years. So we went to one of the festival, so after the show, we were playing two shows every day for 15 days, so that was where the idea of we would start writing our own songs came up from, that if we really want to make money we need to start writing our own songs. That was where we started. So when we came back from that tour we brought in some equipment that really helped in bringing the band. 

Ron: So what year was that? 

Showboy: I think in 2000. 2000, 2001. After Fela passed, Seun was about 13, 14 years old. I was the deputy band leader. Egypt 80, we choose to continue with the band because we believed we could make it. At the beginning, the first three, four years, man it was hell. Can you imagine, a very big band, world renowned band, we played from 11:00 'til 5:00 AM in the morning, we start at 11:30-12:00 in the night and we stop playing by 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 in the morning, and after the show when we are going home, we are given 50 Naira. Sometimes we are given 10 Naira, 15 Naira. [Today's exchange rate is about 150 Naira to the Dollar, 200 Naira to the Euro, or 250 Naira to the Pound]

Why? Just why? Because the Shrine image was destroyed by the narcotics department, by the NPID that took over the Shrine. They were living at the Shrine extorting money from people, robbing people every day at the Shrine. Visitors who came from Europe, they take cab to the Shrine, and when they get there they discover that the Shrine is open. The NPID officials at the gate, they tied, they wrap papers like marijuana, they put them in the tray and sat down. Some of them were wearing short knickers, they were all there seated at the gate. When you park the car they tell you to go in. The moment you enter the gate and walk in, someone blocks you with a rifle, they ask you to walk in. You walk in, they take everything in your pocket and they horsewhip you from here to the gate to run out of the Shrine. When you get to the gate you see people seated at the gate and you think the Shrine is on. They on the light in the night to attract people, you know, before you go in and you know something is happening, you know. So they scared people away from the Shrine. 

So after the burial when we started playing, we were playing for five, seven people, from 11:00 'til 5:00 AM, from 11:00 PM 'til 5:00 AM. If you see ten people inside the Shrine, you'll see about seven people bought ticket. How much is the ticket? 150 Naira? And the money must be shared by about 49 people. So how much did everyone get as take home? And sometime we need to buy fuel. So you will admit that we are doing the job for the love of the job, not for money any more, because there was no money, we were on our own, doing things on our own. Living by what we make at the gate. And by the time you finish playing in the morning, they told you they sell five, seven ticket, what do you want to do? 

So those years, the experience can never be forgotten, can never escape our memory, there are things that we can never forget, they were so bad, yeah so bad. 

Ron: Did you ever record just as Egypt 80? 

Showboy: No. The first album we record after Fela's death was with Seun. 

Ron: That was a long time after. 

Showboy: Yeah. We just have the two albums in the market now. That is why, in Seun's first album I have a track, the band leader has some tracks. In the second album I also have a track that I wrote.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Fela Kuti's Last Song, Never Recorded

Continuing the interview with Rilwan "Showboy" Fagbemi from August 9, 2012:

Ron: Last time you were here you told me about Fela's last song, never released. 

Showboy: The last song that we were working on, none of us up until today knows the name, because that was when Fela told them that they should not call him Fela, they should call him "Part of the Case". And you know, that sound, that last track that he was writing we played the instrumental but none of us got to listen to even one line of the song, so nobody knew what he was going to put in as a song, but the music was like afrobeat, jazz, and highlife, it was 3-in-1 mixed up. It started in afrobeat, it went jazzy, the third part was highlife, then it came back to afrobeat. So the day we conclude, we completed the whole instrumentation, from the beginning of the instrumental to the end, Fela was dancing very happy on stage, like man he has got what he was looking for. 

So after that rehearsal that day, Fela said, "Man this song is so hot. Let us rest." We played the full instrumental from the beginning to the end, he danced, danced, danced, danced, danced then he said "Great!" He stopped. He said, "Let us go and rest." And that is the rest he is resting 'til tomorrow. Nobody knew what was there, nobody knew what was coming on, on the song any more. Nobody knew the name of the song, the title, nobody know it, because he never uttered a word. All that we knew was we played the instrumental from beginning to the end, he gave everybody their part, we did the body, we did the tail end, we did the intro, we did the solo backing, and what we were waiting for. And it was very, very unusual of Fela when he is writing a new song, when we are practicing a new song, he often brings in singers to start some part with us from the beginning, before we get to the middle of the song. But on this track he did not put anything, not even a single word, from neither him nor the singers. 

The day we just complete the full instrumental, the music, Fela said, "Let us rest", and that is the rest that Fela is resting 'til tomorrow. 

Ron: Were you recording here in Lagos? 

Showboy: We have not recorded it. We were rehearsing at the Shrine. We didn't record it. I believe if he had completed it and added the lyrics Fela don't just record. Before you see Fela go to the studio with any song, the band has played it for over a year. 

Ron: So it is just gone in the air? 

Showboy: Yeah. 

Ron: Nobody did a sound check? 

Showboy: No. It can only be played by the Egypt 80, and no one else. And when I say Egypt 80, I mean we that played with Fela until death. We are the only people who can bring up that music. 

Ron: You mean it's here (points to head), you don't have a chart? 

Showboy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he gave everybody their parts, he gave everybody their part. 

Ron: When you say he gave everybody their part... 

Showboy: He wrote everyone's part (scats the theme, then the sax section part, then the trumpet part). That was so bad, man. 

Ron: So why don't you recreate it with Egypt 80? 

Showboy: If we want to bring it up we can bring it up, as an instrumental, we could play it instrumental. That music was baaaaddd. We should. He deserves it. It was part of my vows. The day we buried Fela, I made a vow, I am going to keep this thing going, at least I will keep that as my own contribution to the on-movement, to the moving forward of the band, because if we did not take the step we decide to take, the decision, there would be no Egypt 80 today.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Showboy Remembers Fela Kuti

Continuing the interview with Rilwan "Showboy" Fagbemi from August 9, 2012:

Showboy: It remind of when, as I was saying, I was the last person who saw Fela among the musicians. I was the last person who spoke to him in the whole Egypt 80 before he died. Why is it like that? Because I walked into his bus after our last concert in Warri and I had this argument with Desmond Osawari, he was the organizer of the show, he was the promoter of the last show Fela did in Warri. And he was telling me on stage, he was telling me "Man, this man is dead." I said "Why are you talking like that?" He said "This is not the Fela I saw two weeks ago at the Shrine", that "these people have done something to him." And truly, Fela did not last four weeks from that day until he passed away. 

Ron: I gotta show you something. On Monday I wrote this. 

(Opens Crazy Bent Brass Tube to the August 6 posting entitled "What Would Fela Think? Nigeria 30 Years Later", written just three days prior to this interview. Showboy had not seen it yet. Showboy proceeds to read it aloud) 

Showboy: It's true. Ho! Just part of what I was just saying... Yeah, I was just talking because I was part of it. I have been around him and I know what he has been singing about, talking about in the last three four decades, man. It all comes true. He told us Government of Crooks. He told us Country of Pain. We are still in pain! My people are still in pain! Getting worse and worse. Can you imagine? 

When he told us about water, they were telling us that in 1990 we would have water. Truly, in 1990 they started digging roads all over the country, that they were going to pass water everywhere. Up until today as we are talking there is no water. Water, problem. Food, problem. House, wahalla [Hausa for trouble]. Imagine. 

Ron: Now the State government is making his house a museum, supporting Felabration... 

Showboy: Imagine, no, you see, these people who are coming into this, now, it is because they have been following him and you know, they want the world to know that it is not everybody in Nigeria, the Nigerian Government, who are stupid, that at least there are some sensible ones. Because if today the Lagos State government comes out, they are sponsoring, it is because it is right, it is what this guy deserved, that this man deserved to be taken care of, his house should be a museum. Ever since Fela died, who comes out to talk for the people? Nobody, because everybody is afraid. They don't know what is going to happen. 

Because, you know, if Fela was thinking about making his own money, really a millionaire, Fela would sing and play commercial music, and before you know...Fela don't even accept Government contracts to play for the Government. Mmmm, he won't. Because I remember something happened, I think in '86, between '86 and'87, there was this concert that was arranged at the National Stadium. A guy came to Fela, one of Fela's friends and told Fela that they are organizing an African Children's Concert at the stadium, blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Fela told him, "Ah, that is very interesting, if there is a concert for the African children I would like to be part of this." He now dropped an advance payment of 250,000 Naira. So he left. 

48 hours, I think 48 hours to the show, another Fela's friend came and told Fela "We heard you are performing at the stadium for the African Children's Concert, but the ticket is one thousand five, two thousand." Fela now asked them that, "What did you say?" He now sent someone to call the promoter. So when he called him, he now asked him that "How many African children can afford 1,500 Naira to come watch me, Fela? Instead of you to do the ticket 50 Naira, 100 Naira, you are now charging 1,500 Naira per ticket. In that case, you must pay me one million before I partake in that show, or else forget it, the 250,000 you brought, I thank you, you are my friend, I appreciate it, it is money for my weed but not for the concert. Why should African children pay 1,500 to watch me, for what?" And that is why he never took part, he never played in that concert. 

And because every concert we played for the children or for students, was completely different from a concert we played in a stadium or a dance hall. Those were shows sponsored by promoters, but shows that involved students, that's when you get the cheapest rate from Fela.