Mokai & Magic Brook In San Francisco

January 9th, 2013

Mokai invited me to play during his artist-in-residency at The Bazaar Cafe in San Francisco. Mokai is playing every Tuesday night in January. He’s hosting other guitarists at each performance. I’ll be at the Bazaar Cafe on January 15th. Each show starts at 7PM.

I’ve already written about Mokai’s dynamic and well crafted shows. He’s gaining recognition based upon the shows and the success of his latest release, “Any Distraction Will Do”.

Please join us at the Bazaar Cafe next Tuesday at 7PM.



Red Devil Lounge

April 10th, 2012

I have an appearance in San Francisco, April 12th, 7PM, at the Red Devil Lounge. Afton Shows have kindly invited me to perform.

Magic Brook presented by Afton Shows

Please join me in San Francisco; I’d love to see you.

If there’s something you’d especially like to hear, let me know beforehand.

Thank you for your support, as always




Mokai At The Top Of His Game

November 4th, 2011

I went to Mokai‘s CD “Release Party”, that is, a performance in honour of the release of his new CD, “Any Distraction’ll Do“.

A little history is perhaps useful here?

Mokai and I go way back, back to a time when we supported each other’s antics in protecting old growth forests and stopping nuclear missle launches. We’ve both crawled through a fair amount of poison oak in the service of a greater good. And we’re survivors of long, often tedious consensus meetings. Sure, we’d play a song or two together over the campfire at a direct action encampment. I knew he sang pretty well.

A couple of years after this intense period, we realized that each of us was a serious musician trying to hone his craft. Mokai’s craft was an interesting blend of blues fingerpicking, ethnic styles that he’d picked up on his travels (did I tell you he speaks at least 4 languages fluently?), and his original songs. At the time, I was struggling with singing and thought that he “sang like an angel”.

I’m guessing that the attraction for him to me was that I’d worked professionally with some major blues and rock artists and was regularly gigging jazz? Anyway, he wanted to learn something about jazz harmony and I had the information.

Over the years, it’s been fun to watch my friend perfect his work. Since those heady political days, his songs have gotten tighter and a lot more personally emotional, even when they’re charged with political intent. And that’s the way I like to imbibe my political messages. Polemic rants really don’t get to me anymore.

Mokai has been honing his vocal delivery, too. What I hear is a fine baritone voice with good command of the upper register. But Mokai has developed a way of singing recently that’s also truer to his blues roots. I hear those blues micro-tones coming through. Did I mention that he’s always had a way with melodies supported by quirky, clever harmonies just on the folk side of jazzy? And he typically manages to make use of some of the special qualities of the guitar, like close intervals in the octave just below middle C; these always sound so pretty on an acoustic guitar. If one can work in an open ringing string, it’s guitar-sound heaven; it’s Mokai’s signature. I learned it from him.

Hopefully, you’ve got the picture? Mokai’s new CD is filled with these stylistic gems.

Last night at The Subterrainean Arthouse in Berkely, Mokai held court. This is an artist at the very pinnacle of his performance. The arc of the songs in the set were well chosen; taking us on a ride, song to song. His singing rang out, the melodies clear and bright, singable choruses, lyrics easily understood, guitar playing at a phenomenal highpoint, everything well practiced, fluid, smooth.

It’s been fun to watch this coming, the struggles to find the right balance in song writing, in harmonization and arrangement, to build a convincing performance style. Gone is the angry teenage polemicist in love with revolutionary reggae (sorry, Mok’, but there it is). Now is the time of the mature, original artist who can blend the accessible with the fresh and surprising.

My two complaints, and these are a small ones: After Mokai added a stand up bass and second guitar for backup, the other guitarist was too loud and covered up Mokai’s solo work. I had to strain to hear Mokai’s guitar. Too bad, as what I did hear was more excellence.

The show started an hour and 20 minutes late and I simply could not stay awake any longer. Sorry, Mokai. My leaving had nothing to do with the performance and everything to do with being exhausted.

If you like singer-song writers, original acoustic music, or fingerpicking guitar, go see a Mokai show. You won’t be disappointed. And, you’ll get to see an artist at the very top of his game.



Responses to Composing Confusion

September 18th, 2011

A month ago, I posed some questions for which I wanted answers. I was feeling stuck with a couple of new pieces; no matter what I tried, every musical idea did not seem to fit. “Fit” being highly subjective and as yet undefined.

I posted my questions here, on Facebook and sent out an email to my fan list. Here are some of the interesting, enlightening, and humourous comments that readers offered.

One of the most direct responses was from Paul,

What’s easy in your creative process?

Improvising/riffing – both in writing humor and playing the guitar or synth – with no thinking involved whatsover.

What’s hard for you?

Getting off the damn starter blocks and then maintaining momentum. A.K.A. “Writer’s Block”.

How do you decide that a work is complete?
I say – that’s enough, I’m done.

“Yes, I recognise the feeling: this needs something more – but where do I find it?
Usualy for me in the writingprocess this is a matter of time.
I try, I wrestle some words, they win, I insist on a made up construction that feels fake anyway.
Very often when I leave it to that, admitting that no, for the moment I cannot find a better solution, the solution itself will come from it’s hidingplace and find me.

During the day after working the text, or in my dream it may pop up and giggle until I’ve captured it in words.
While writing down this solution I’m very much aware of the fact that it’s so much better then the one I invented.
This one feels organic. Natural. No force.

The hard part for me is to sit back and admit I just need to pay attention and be aware, for the right words to flow in. Once I do that, it will happen. Creation. Not mine. But being the messenger of creation is well, good enough for me. It’s done when the text feels good enough to stand on it’s own feet.
Even though, as it’s mom, I’ll never stop checking if it’s doing ok, needs changing or can really cope.”

— Yoeke

I’ve found that working in detail with a couple pieces really helps uncover what areas of a songwriter are underdeveloped.
— Michael Smolens

From my dear friend, Linda:

What’s easy in your creative process?

Oh, the ideas! They come and go. I think I’ll remember, but never do. Most are lost forever.

What’s hard for you?

Always the beginning, and the starting. The beginning because it ruminates, loudly, in my head until a semblance of an uber idea has formed. The starting, because now there’s a commitment to that idea.

How do you decide that a work is complete?

For me it’s a feeling, a knowing but I think you know it. You mentioned that it wasn’t quite “right.” So, by saying that, you will know when it is right. So when you ask yourself whether or not you’re making this process a lot harder than it has to be, I would answer: “No. That’s about right.” It’s the sub-concious mind that ultimately gives the seal of approval not the conscious part and, sadly, we have no control over that!

One of the more entertaining answers from Ann in London,

“Once I wrote a book in a few hours…just for fun…
Then a ex contacted me after 20 years plus…I went to visit and he said he had just published a book…I sent my book to his publishers…very small…and they offered to publish it…I thought hum maybe I should send it to another bigger publisher…so far I have not…when I do even if it is rejected I have done my task.”

Thank you every one for your thoughtful replies. That was fun!

And, as these things tend to work for me, I was pretty frustrated when I posed my questions. A few days later, the obvious answer slipped into my pocket while I was doing something else: as always, simplicity is one of the keys.

best to you all as we wind our way towards one of the two balanced points of our solar year, when daylight and night time are just about equal lengths.

Daily miracles abound if I can just remember to spot them going by


Composing Confusion

August 19th, 2011

Yesterday morning, 5:30A, I woke up with what I thought was the final melodic part for a piece on which I’ve been working. I didn’t get a chance to try it out in situ yesterday. But, this morning, the same music was once again in my ears awakening.

Despite the fact I heard this melodic bit surrounded by the music into which it must fit, when I played it this morning, it just didn’t sound as “right” for that spot as it did in my head. Sigh.

About 6 months after the release of “The Source”, this piece, “Blue Celt”, was the first idea I had for a follow-on album. It’s to be the opener, exciting but direct and accessible, employing two of the musical themes that I want to explore together: Celtic ideas and the African Diaspora musics that are my home base. The piece has morphed and shifted during the composition, though certain elements that were there at the beginning have remained solid.

About a year a go or so I recorded a version, thinking, “Ah, this one’s about completed”

But “Blue Celt” wasn’t yet ready for prime time. This was so clear from the recording. There were some strong ideas, but it didn’t have enough focus and the mid-section development lacked cohesion. Back to the wood shed.

For the last 6 months, the piece has been complete except for one or two musical bridges tieing the main sections together. Ugh! I have dozens of quick sketch recordings of ideas tried and tossed. And, it turns out, the mid-section, the development depends upon these two essential bridging areas; the mid-section can’t be completed without finalizing the melodic and harmonic bits that pull it all together.

So here are the creative process questions I want to pose:

What’s easy in your creative process?

What’s hard for you?

How do you decide that a work is complete?

I’m wondering to myself if I make this process a lot harder than it has to be?



Wow! Hippie Tendencies Show Amazing

September 20th, 2010

Yep, I showed up 1000 miles from home for a show. How crazy is that?

Now, I know there are plenty of folks following bands about, going to shows on a regular basis. I know some of you!

Being a musician, I tend to save my money for my next album (yes! I am working on one. More later) rather than gallivanting off to exotic locales for shows. And, I know, Hippie Tendencies is not Rat Dog – Yet! I don’t think a swirl of folks are following them from town to town, yet.

Still, there I was, Saturday night at the Soiled Dove, somewhere near Denver (I dunno) eager to see if the Hippie Tendencies show lives up to the recorded work.

For me, studio recording is a different art form than a live show. These are consumed rather differently (even though both forms contain audio music). Maybe soon I’ll post about these differences? Let me just say that groups are sometimes better in one form than the other, agreed?

Well, I want to tell you all: go see and hear Hippie Tendencies. It’s that simple.

These folks are putting out a world class show. Period. End of story.

Great musicianship, of course. (I’ve already written about their abilities.

But you’ve just got to see these folks work together. The sum of the parts is far greater than the whole.

Right up front, Lisa Marie Simmons gives focus to the work.

She’s got that thing from which it’s very hard to look away – whatever that is. Charming, fully engaged, giving everything and a little more. When I worked with Bo Diddley, he had it. 15 seconds on stage and the crowd is glued to his every move, his every nuance. Chuck Berry’s** got it, yep – we all know that. Lisa, though certainly not playing early rock, has got it.

I experienced her as a bit pixie-ish: having fun with us, with the music, with the band, us all being there together. There’s a lightness to her on stage presence, an ease that also works very well with the meanings in the songs. Even when delivering a strong message, I still have the sense of compassion coupled with her righteous anger (check out “Shame” or “Impossible”).

And, she can sing, too, nuanced singing, wide expression to deliver the story behind the lyric. She has clearly worked to understand the corners of her particular instrument.

But this wouldn’t be enough to get into Brook’s “world class” category. Lisa could be working us and the show could still not fully click. The musicians also deliver to the rich experience as a unit. While they work very hard, they also exude great pleasure in the work.

Massimo Saviola knows the difference between a richly textured slap line, floating to let the mood work and deliver the lyric, walking along to let the song (and the drummer) open up. And he also has a little fun with us. One of his solos mostly consisted of nothing more than dropping his low string stepwise to a low fifth off the bottom of the typical bass tuning. Very clever, simple, effective, crowd pleasing. Great trick (can I steal it, Massimo?) It’s not that he has to rely on this sort of thing, by why over do it? I got a great sense of appropriateness and economy from his playing.

Massimo leaves a lot of the complex density to drummer Cesare Valbusa. Dare I compare this aspect of his playing to the late Steve Gadd? There’s a density in Cesare’s playing that lends a bigness to the sound. But Cesare doesn’t over do it, because that wouldn’t allow the music to breathe. I especially liked the way he uses his hands rather than mallets on the cymbals, and of course, I’ll mention it again: the brushes work.

Marco Cremaschini does a lot of the composition and arranging. But when I chatted with him, he told me that they all contribute and then he tries to put a unity into the work. That seems a great way of working both collectively and also detailing and polishing. However they’re composed, the melodies are clever, never static, singable, but also surprising, the chord changes interesting, the feels diverse while still maintaining some cohesion overall.

Marco’s soloing is top notch jazz. I’m sure he can also work in any straight ahead or fusion setting as he chooses. Yes, he’s got “the chops”.

The detail that stood out to me especially was the arranging. Ya gotta have good music to begin with, yes. On top of the music there must be an understanding about setting up a texture and then letting it develop over the course of the song. Hippie Tendencies as a unit are phenomenal in this regard – maybe their best attribute, that which takes the whole to a much greater sum?

Christian Codenotti on acoustic guitar, is a sound engineer by profession. The textures Christian creates are a very important part of what’s happening. He doesn’t just strum (though he can when it’s called for) or finger pick the usual chords. Nope. It’s the major and minor seconds right in the middle of the instrument that create those to-die-for textures. That’s detailing. It’s the shared lines with bass or keyboards that fill in and complement the lyric and the mood. Marco clearly undestands the difference between padding and percussive keyboard parts. Each have their place. Often you want one or the other, only sometimes, both.

The group was augmented by Lisa Bell’s lead guitarist, Bob Story. He’s a great player: jazz chops, blues chops, slide chops. Lots of fun there as well – he has a great sense of the difference between fills and solos. He never stepped on the arrangements, but took his time in the sun when it was appropriate.

And, of quite a few tunes, local, Lisa Bell***, added some pleasing background vocal texture, as well.

Oh, and during Marco’s extended keyboard solos, Cesare and Massimo were right there with him, finding the rhythms in his work, echoing or jumping in to augment. That’s “playing together”. To me, that’s the essence of great jazz (or any improvised music).

Yep, this is a group to watch, I think. Go see them. I did. I love the show. I think you might too?

And, once again, give the recording a listen.


** I mention these particular players because of course, I’ve played with them and know what happens in their presence.
***I hope to post later about Lisa Bell’s performance.

Give a Listen to Hippie Tendencies

August 15th, 2010

Sometimes, the social network does actually bring some very interesting people and in this case, music, to me.

A couple of years ago I got hooked up to Hippie Tendencies through MySpace. I really loved a couple of demos they had posted. This music has charm to spare on top of excellent composition, thoughtful lyrics, and killer execution. The rhythm section grooves.

Since the singer, Lisa Marie Simmons, was kind enough to give me a lovely comment on my myspace profile, I started a long-distance conversation with her. She’s lived and worked in Italy for a while. There, she ran into some jazz players and together they built a terrific band with their collective abilities.

Imagine a great wide-ranging jazz rhythm section, terrific keyboard player coupled with great singing, all wrapped up in a sometimes funny, occasionally ironic pop structure.

Anyway, I was very taken with their demo.

A few weeks ago, Lisa sent me their completed album. I think it more than delivers on the promise from the demos. These are thoughtful songs that are carefully crafted by world-class musicians. This album has made it into my regular play list. I find myself singing the hooks unconsciously.

Comments from some of the folks with whom I’ve shared Hippie Tendencies are, “I love her voice”, and “I want to bathe in the vocals, like I do with Suzanne Sterling”

Lisa has an activist side which I find very resonant. And I really enjoy her sense of humor. “Poppy Rock” takes a shot at our commoditized music business where original music has trouble finding a place. And “Shame” takes a shot of all of us when we’re unconscious about how our behavior affects the world in which we live.

I’d like to give particular kudos to the group’s drummer who may have some of the best brushes technique that I’ve heard in a very long time. The bass player creates a big fat bass float upon which to the rest of the music can rest easily.

I told the band that I’d be happy to plug them from my little neck of the Web universe. I encourage you to give them a listen.


Avonova Studio Oakland March 28th 2010

March 22nd, 2010

My friend, Jimmie Pederson, has lovingly crafted an art filled performance space near Rockridge in Oakland. Jimmie’s an architect by trade. He knows a lot about spaces, light, movement, all those important variables that can create a welcoming space. Or if these factors are not attended to correctly, I wonder just how long I will have to be confined, (wink)

On March 28th, 3PM, Jimmie is hosting me in my guise as intrepid solo acoustic guitar explorer: Magic Brook. I’m honored, considering some of the company Jimmie keeps at Avonova.

Jimmie himself sings and plays many instruments (many of which he has in the space, including a lovely grand piano!) – he’s very musical. And, he has wide tastes. At Avonova, I’ve heard edgy jazz rituals, all manner of concerts, recitals, interesting genres and ethnic fusions.

Please join me at Jimmie’s remarkable space for a musical Sunday afternoon. One can walk from Rockridge BART. And, there’s even parking on the street.

Somehow, attendees always manage to manifest an interesting snack table. Bring a snack or drink or wine, if you can.

We’re asking $12 at the door, though tickets can be purchased at ahead of time. And, no one will be turned away. (details, below)

And, indeed in the spirit of Jimmie’s generosity I will offer my recordings for whatever you care to pay. That means that you can leave with a recording for free, if that’s what you can afford.

Since this is the only concert that I’ve booked this Spring in the Bay Area, please join me on Sunday, March 28th in Oakland. We’ll be surrounded by Jimmie’s perma-culture orchard, light streaming through the huge windows, music streaming from my hands, perhaps our voices joined together?

I would dearly love to see you. Bring along your personal favorites of mine and I’m happy to play them for you. Or, email these ahead of time and I’ll work your favorites into the show.


March 28, 2010 3:00 PM
Avonova Studio
Oakland, CA
$12.00@ door
Info 510.315.1104

Take care all,


Autumn Leaves

March 10th, 2010

For quite a while, I’ve noticed that an old, live recording of “Autumn Leaves” that I posted gets a lot of hits and downloads. Hmmm?

Recently, I was doing a little googling and discovered that our live recording has made it into a download collection of versions of “Autumn Leaves” The collection can also be found here

Autumn Leaves Album Art

OK – it would have been nice had the album compilers let me know that they were including our cut. That’s a heck of thing to discover by accident through a google search, yes? A bit weird. The “new” music business sometimes appears to be similar to the “bad old days” when producers regularly used others’ work with no notice. And, I did make this cut available for download from my site, tis true.

Still, I can’t argue with being included alongside luminaries like:

• Diana Krall
• Eva Cassidy
• Keith Jarrett
• Bill Evans
• Nat King Cole
• Frank Sinatra

How cool is that? Thanks!

Funny thing about the cut is that I made it available because at the time, I only had a few recent examples of my jazz playing – That is, I just wanted to fill in my downloads page with examples of my jazz work. Downloads take on a life of their own.

Opie Bellas, the vocalist, had rejected this cut from inclusion on The Joyce Baker Group album release, for whatever reasons she may have had at the time.

I do think that there’s some nice interchange (in my humble opinion) between the band members – live jazz as it’s happening. The music is far from perfect, though.

What’s worse about this release is that the compilers didn’t actually credit the correct band, The Joyce Baker Group, nor Opie as the vocalist. Tsk, tsk. Let me set the record straight here, please.

Sorry Joyce, Opie, Lee Elfenbein (basist). The compilation mislabeling is NOT my fault. I have you fully credited on my web site, as you may expect. I did not and do not take solo credit for the cut – the distributors put my name on top of our collective work – they didn’t ask me about it.

Autumn Leaves Live by the Joyce Baker Group Featuring Opie Bellas and Magic Brook was a result of the collaboration of the members of the band with whom I was privileged to play. Joyce, as I’ve written previous here, is one of my favorite drummers and a dear friend.

And, please, readers, don’t get me wrong.

I’m tickled pink to be in such illustrious company. Still, I do not dream in my wildest dreams to play jazz at the level of some of these folks. By the way, Eva Cassidy’s version of Autumn Leaves is one of my favorites. Pure genius.

For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m playing at Avonova Studios on Sunday March 28th, 3PM.

The Avonova set will be my one appearance in solo concert this Spring in the Bay Area. Please do come out. I have some new material to share, as well as material from my well received and well played album, last year, “The Source

Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets



East Bay Community Show

November 27th, 2009

Tomorrow Afternoon, I’ll be doing a neighborhood show at my local market place. How cool is that?

I do a lot of my grocery shopping at Farmer Joes Marketplace. It’s in my neighborhood (biking distance! Yeah!) It’s a locally owned family business who source locally as they can, with eco-conscious ethos. I feel blessed to have Farmer Joes near me.

I was buying a latte from the fellow who runs the little espresso stand (Cuppa Joes) on the patio front of the market a couple of weeks ago. He expressed interest in my music. I gave him some mp3s to add to his play list (and because he’s a great guy!). He loved the music and invited me to play a couple of Saturday afternoons on the patio at the market. November 28th & December 19th, starting at 1PM.

I love it!

* Giving back to my home community.
* Supporting a couple of conscious businesses (Farmer Joes and Cuppa Joes, who are also Salaam Coffee).

This is right up my alley, to be sure, true community service.

Not that I actually like playing music for folks or anything like that!!!! (liar, liar!)

As the many folks who know me know only to well, I love to play. So this is a match made in heaven.

If you’re around, come by Famer Joes between 1-5.
I won’t play all that time (you might have to take a post-Thanksgiving turn through the market!). But I will do 2 solid sets, one at 1 and one later in the afternoon.

In 2 weeks (December 5th, 7PM), I’ll be at The Bazaar Cafe. I think it’s been about 5 or 6 years since I played there under my name, though I’ve played a few shows there over the years at the invitation of musical friends, as I did with Mokai in September.

The Bazaar cafe is a strictly acoustic space, strictly original music, a true “listening room”.

Plus, as Farmer Joes and Cuppa Joes, The Bazaar Cafe is a conscious business, a right-livelihood for the owner and his workers. The food & drink are terrific. It’s so great to work with and support business like this one.

I’m sharing the show with my long time collaborator, Bernie Gilbert, master of the sharp lyric turn, the parody, and the heart tugging story in song. If you’re a Charlie King fan, perhaps you know Bernie’s “Apple Song”, which Charlie has recorded?

And, my dear friend, Robert Temple, asked me to play a few songs for the holiday craft fair that takes place along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley on the 20th of December. Since that’s the day before the Solstice, my set will be early in the afternoon – I have to get to other things by sunset! Robert will be sharing his amazing alternate tuned guitar work and warm, R&B tinged baritone & socially conscious songs with us all day – interspersed with bevy of his buddies – like me!

Take are, all,