Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

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One way of breaking into the scene : Jam sessions:

It’s the 3rd Thursday of the month and I’m eating a late dinner between sets. And, although I’m in the house band, I get a little extra time to eat as another band has come to cut up a bit. It’s Meg Williams, who now resides in Nashville, with Danny Zeimann on Bass – Monster Jazz player working the international circuit but bass-ed (see what I did there?) in Rochester. Chris Vandenbos is also up there shredding even though he wasn’t officially part of their band, but he signed up to play so there he is knocking it down in style.

They are smoking hot! Danny’s playing makes me self-conscious about my own but I remember what I learned at a jam years ago at Smokin’ Joe’s on Lyell Ave :

The house band had just taken a break after playing ‘Aint No Sunshine’ in a reggae style that featured the late Ralph Ortiz shredding an insane bass solo as he always did. He sat down at the bar next to me and said, “So you’re opening the second set.”

My reply was, “I can’t follow that!”

He turned to me and said, “Dude, you’re a great player. You are not me, but you do what you do and you do it right. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, just go up and play what makes sense with the tune in the way that YOU do it.”

I opened the second set with Standing on Shaky Ground which always featured Dave Barnes on a drum solo while the bassist just lays down a funky groove. It was all good!

Even though I still compare myself to others, that short conversation sticks with me, and sometimes I even get to deliver it to others now.

Back to dinner, I’m hanging with Steve West, Genesee Johnny, Gordon Munding, and a few other great finger-style / slide bluesmen just chatting about who’s playing where and exchanging info for subbing if someone needs a substitute bass player. Everything is chill.

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Jamming at The Landing with Jimmy Gondoli, Ken Kahler, and the Legend Donny Mancuso
Photo Credit : Aaron Winters

Jam sessions are a great way to break in, to get to know cats, to develop your skill as a player with others (everything is different when you play with other people instead of just playing along with the record… er digital file… yeah I showed my age). They can serve as a free music lesson, especially when the house band is led by a consummate musician like Danny Schmidt (From the Shadows and from Gap Mangione’s Little Big Band) who can read a musician like a book in the first turn around and take where they’re at, and without saying a word, push them musically to the next level. They can also serve as what the stride pianist’s in the 1920’s and bluesmen on the street corners in Memphis called ‘Cutting Contests’.

Ken Kahler and I would show up Monday nights to the Clarissa Room open jam and hang at the bar with our Cokes and Ginger Ales until we got called up to play. We’d throw each other a look and say, “Throw Down!” We had been playing in power/rock blues trio for a decade and basically could read each other’s minds, so at a jam, where we had 2 or 3 tunes to work with and didn’t have to play to the conventions of a typically show, we took the opportunity to open up… HARD! Periodically we’d get the feedback that we were ‘too busy’ but there was no other rhythm section in town that could touch what we were doing. As a result of these jams, we got recommended by, I think it was John Tucker, to Chris Beard, and we spent a bit of time on the road with him (Ken much more time than me).

Now this may all seem like you need to be professional just to sit in at one of these. That is patently untrue. People of all skill levels show up at these. At the best jams, I won’t say that the house band plays to the level of the guest because sometimes that would destroy the music, but the house band plays in a way that complements the level of the guest and makes them sound good to great. These jams are typically hosted by cats that have been on the scene for a long time, and in the style of an Art Blakey, or Miles Davis, or any of the old jazz and blues greats, use the opportunity as a lesson to the players that show up.

Furthermore, these jams are not just limited to blues and jazz, although blues jams are a decent starting point because of standard chord progressions. You can find folk, rock, soul, blues, jazz jams all over the place.

Here are a few that I particularly enjoy:

Jazz:

Monday nights at the Pythod with the Tony Hiler Trio. This is a serious jam with serious cats that know their jazz book and have chops. I can hang but I’m certainly not a cat that will find himself in Tony’s House band. Bring your real book as those cats have already memorized theirs.

Rock / Blues:

There’s two I highly recommend –

Wednesday at Murph’s in Irondequoit with Nate Coffey – Nate plays everything and sings, he comes from a musical family with his father being a cornerstone of Rock/Blues in Rochester for decades and Nate carrying on the tradition. You will find cats that have played the big time in Manhattan (Eric Katerle as an example) to local talent that will blow your mind. If you show up with a tune in mind, chances are 99.9% that Nate and the band knows it and are ready to throw down with you and take you for a ride.

Nate Coffey

Throwing Down with Nate at The Landing
Photo Credit : Aaron Winters

Tuesdays at The Landing in Fairport similarly has a rocking vibe. I will credit this primarily to my friend and long-time rhythm-section partner in crime Ken Kahler on the drums. Make sure when your there to order a burger and then demand that the cook/owner Jimmy Gondoli comes out and jams too, as he is a monster guitarist.

Blues/Blues:

Tuesdays at PI’s on the West Side of town, Billy B. a mainstay artist in Rochester and Buffalo hosts this jam. His band rotates personnel but always includes some of the longest tenured musicians in the area including Dave Riccione, Danny Schmidt, Aleks Disjlenkovich, Wayne Naylor, Big Mike, Jason Smay, and McKinley James. This is a fun time to spectate as well as play at as the swing dancers love to come out and show off their moves

The Third Thursday of every month, Sticky Lips in Henrietta hosts Son House Night. You host Genesee Johnny, along with myself and Tim Brinduse open the first set, then Johnny usually brings in a featured act, and then finally opens it up for jamming. As the name suggests, this jam is focused on old style blues playing, we get lots of bottle-neck slide and finger-style players, and even regular mini-set from a solo artists on his double-neck cigar box guitar.

Rhythm and Blues / Soul:

Super Sunday Soul Jam:

This jam bounces from place to place, not even sure it’s still happening, but when it is Mitty Moore (The Dukes, Mitty and the Followers) hosts this amazing jam. John Dretto, the amazing 16 yr-old phenom fusion/blues guitarist makes a habit of showing here along with the famous Buzzo. The house band is amazing and the guests that show up will take you from funkytown to church in the matter of a few tunes.

 

There are other jams around town, check them out. This list represents the one’s I’m most likely to be found at because of the ‘hang’, the musicianship, and the food!

Happy Jamming!

I built that????

I Built That????

Hops waters3

Photo: Sam Waters

Jenna and the Hops played their premiere Club gig last night at Sticky Lips Barbeque and Juke Joint  . We rehearsed the night before to get our arrangements together, but maybe we shouldn’t have as they all went right out the window.

Friends came out, friends from many different circles of life, and that always makes me nervous because I don’t what judgment is going to be passed – you are judged by the company you keep you know.

Jenna is a major proponent of Body Love, and she is quite large in stature – note that she also became a certified yoga teacher last month.  Many of my trail running friends came out and they are waifs. This, I thought might be interesting because I don’t necessarily know everybody well beyond running with them or their propensities and prejudices and I was concerned that there may be some judgment thrown about.

I also, wasn’t sure if these trail runners were going to enjoy the style of music we were playing, we don’t throw down “modern music” or rock, we sit in a swing groove most of the time bordering on Rock-a-Billy and Vintage R&B and even some Country; not stuff you’re going to hear on commercial radio. Add to this musicians I respect immensely in the Rochester area came out including members of InnerloopThe White Hots, Woody Dodge, etc. It’s always nerve-wracking when you put yourself out there in front of musical peers you respect.

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Photo: Sam Waters

So here it is, my worlds collide, nothing happens to plan, and I just let it happen. MAGIC ENSUED! The swing dancers found spots (Note to Sticky Lips BBQ & Juke Joint, it’s a great venue, but you will get repeat business from these dancers if you can provide a place in front for them to dance. They add to the ambience and actually bring more people in who like to watch them as well as the band. It will help your bottom line, even if they aren’t purchasing many drinks; they bring and keep others there who will spend money on food and drink. That’s a pretty good return on investment considering you don’t have to pay them). The runners had a great table to eat and drink and recover from their trail run earlier in the evening, and then they started dancing. The musicians from other bands found their corners of the room where they could listen unimpeded. There were other groups of people present that mixed and mingled that I found heartening, from young rockers to middle aged jazz heads, from CIS-gender folks to straight laced conservatives. This renewed my faith in society, and reminded me that music really is the great uniter.

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The earliest philosophers understood these powers of music even though they argued the validity of high art versus the mundane. To that end, the band was hot, and even though we screwed up arrangements, we all listened to each other, laughed, shrugged, and forged ahead making the mundane into high art in its improvisatory aesthetic.

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Photo: Cara Livermore

Front and center of this was Jenna and her pipes. She absolutely slayed. Playing with Justin is such a pleasure, laying it down in a way that I never had to worry about losing time when I decided to go off the charts. Aleks, one of the greatest, most under-rated guitarists in the Northeast USA (although every musician in this town knows what a treasure he is) has been a partner in crime with me and music for some time now, and because we have been doing this so long we were able to keep it together with a simple glance, shrug, and smile when entrances where miffed and arrangements thrown out (evidently no one read my notes). His guitar playing was absolutely extraordinary. But the greatest musical joy of the evening was working with reed specialist Matthew Seiber-Ford who was OFF THE HOOK. Being our second gig together (which is always very different than rehearsal) I’m still feeling out our musical dialogue. By the end of the night, there was that innate interplay that usually develops over months and years of working together.

HopsLivermore2

Photo: Cara Livermore

I have mentioned the audience already, in one of my comments on facebook this morning I was given props by one of the trail runners there. He mentioned how great our “vibe” was. It is important to recognize (and I told him this) that the “vibe” is the audience. Musicians are not paid to play at an audience, we are to play FOR an audience. This requires two-way communication. The crowd informs us as to what to do, we morph each other. The band can move people in different directions, moods, and affects, but the crowd also has the same power over the band. As I continue to explore the interconnectedness of everything, it is simple to see this in a star-stuff/molecular/atomic way, but live music allows us all to experience it in a way that is more “spiritual” in nature.

Hops waters2

Photo: Sam Waters

Of course I use quotes because I don’t believe in a great intelligence or a god, so I don’t want this term to be misconstrued. That said, the idea of affects, overtones, Pythagorean philosophy, etc. captures my interest as I see it in action. I saw this last night. I saw simple sound waves combine and collaborate with physical motions, emotional moods, and intellectual analysis. When put in those terms it seems like a complicated equation, but rather it brings us all into a much simpler place. A place of shared experience, which ironically is experienced differently by each individual. Yet it connects us all in one place of commonality that allows us to share a room with all of our differences and join in the most non-partisan community available.

This is the feeling, the vocation, the “calling” that I think is for me. It is hard work, personalities in bands can be difficult, even under the best circumstances with people we genuinely like, respect, and adore. But the troubles and work are worth it when you get to experience/create what happened last night.

I want to say, “I built that,” and while I have been a large part of it I didn’t build it. I got some people in a room after Jenna asked me to. It didn’t work right at the start, so I got a phone call from Aleks which prompted getting different people in a room and it started to come together. The Rochester Swing Dance Network  had a jam that allowed Jenna and I to play a couple of songs, and they booked us. Tom and Sherry at The Pultneyville Grill talked to me about booking a trio after Aleks had me sub for The White Hots. Frank Deblase  and Deb Jones were instrumental in booking the band at Sticky Lips and publicity. There are so many others, but it’s absolutely not built without an audience. So it is a lie to say, “I built that” because WE BUILT THAT.

Every show you come to, every band you comment on, every time you engage with live music, you join the building of that enterprise. You built that – collectively.

Do you want to continue building us? Talk us up, tell your friends, talk to bartenders, managers, venue owners of places you frequent, tell us what you dig, come out and dance, hoot, holler, eat, drink, socialize. Love what we do and let us love what you do. In a world where so much is out there to tear us apart from one another, don’t you want a respite, a place to enjoy the idea of being connected in a very magical way? Join us. There is nothing better than being able to say, “That? Yeah, I built that….” because you did.

Connect with us here

I’m not down

I’m hurting. I’m in debt, my kids unknowingly conspire against me because of expectations set up by my ex, I’m doing work (and it’s completely transactional relationship built) and I’m paying to do it, It’s hard to see the good right now… but I’ll try (disclaimer: I feel like a used car salesman selling myself a lemon when I do these):

  • I am running – niggle in the ankle aside I’m running okay and believe I will be in prime shape for June
  • I’m engaged in meaningful spiritual stuff – I’ve been selected to be part of the lay ministry at First U and for leadership development (even though I’m an atheist) . I meet with my sponsor for alcoholism recovery weekly and almost weekly I’m working with another recovering drunk (who is not an atheist, AT ALL)
  • I am playing music –maybe not what I want all the time, but I am playing and sharing that gift with others
  • My wife is friggin’ awesome
  • I was able to contribute $5 for a present (entry into Cayuga Trails 50) for a local runner who just lost his job, and recently got engaged – the trailrunning/ultra community in Rochester is just awesome
  • I’m writing right now
  • My Buddhist Book Club meets tomorrow – Happiness by Mathieu Ricard
  • Last night, when my anger toward my ex was compounded, and I was seething, I was able to go downstairs and just sit for about 15 minutes – unfortunately one of the cats then thought she should scream at me for the entire 15 minutes.

The title of the Blog is Live, Love, Listen

Living does not mean it’s going to be easy or always pleasant, it sometimes means fulfilling obligations when they need to be met.

Loving right now means picking myself up and remaining in community with my wife, kids, and assorted communities.

Listening, well 15 minutes last night listening to the cat scream was actually better than 15 minutes listening to my thoughts run.

Live, Love, Listen

Live More, Love More, Listen More

I make no promises about keeping up the blog, it’s nice to have the receptacle but, as you can see, last year I went like gang-busters writing about running, until I stopped. I would blame it on the stress-fracture, but the writing stopped before that happened so I can only blame it on me. This year I hope to write more, and I hope what I write is of interest to people. I will do my best to tag things and categorize things correctly so people won’t get stuck weeding through Ultramarathon training logs if what they are interested in is musings on music, nor do I want people who are interested in my politicoreligiophilosophizing to get bogged down in the Ramones (although this will be harder as when I write about the Ramones it tends to relate to politicoreligiophilosophizing.)

So here it is in a nutshell. 2014:

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Running Plans last year were cut short when I came up injured following (or probably prior to) the BPAC 6 hour run on asphalt. Lessons learned, I’ve cut way back on my schedule and am currently only entered in two races/events: June –  Cayuga Trails 50 which is the USATF 50 mile National Trail Championship; and August: 0 SPF ½ Trail Marathon which is the USATF Niagara Trail Championship. Thinking about some Autumn Possibilities, but leaving those plans until I accomplish at least the first goal. I will widget my workout stuff through this blog.

In addition to my regular Saturday gig with Orange Sky at First Unitarian of Rochester, I am working on a band idea with an old friend/excellent vocalist. This project is in the vein of 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s blues/swing/jazz/rockabilly music. Currently it is a hodgepodge of great musicians getting together and feeling each other out, but I envision a band with moveable parts to accompany the vocal styling of aforementioned friend. I’m not naming names as of yet because I want it solid enough to gig before letting go of that information. I will however drop hints as I have a sax player affiliated with Rochester’s best “worldbeat” group, a guitarist who basically built the 90’s post-post-punk scene in Rochester, and a vocalist who plays saw and banjo and who has performed blues, rock-a-billy, and americana. Hold on to you hats, this is one dynamite group in the works.

Love More:

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2013 was a year of fighting – fighting before I even entered the ring. I approached everyone and everything as a conflict and approached life in metaphorical plate mail. While I was protected from “harm” there was no room for any good to come in, nor room for any good to go out. This year the journey began back in September when I reconnected with the organization largely responsible for my ability to be chemical free for 22 years now; I was also invited to play with Orange Sky, the house band for Saturday Evening services at first Unitarian Church of Rochester. This particular institution, First U,  allows me to remain the skeptic/atheist/humanist that I am but also provides a community to interact with. In this blog specifics will remain vague as the groups I’m involved with require trust, so the insights presented will be only those things that apply to me and names will be omitted or changed to protect the innocent J. How does this fall into “Love More”? My belief in a power greater than myself is that everything is interconnected; I am part of a power greater than myself and that power is part of me as well. The way I garner a relationship with it is through relationships with other people. I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the more I am in communion with that whole the more I have to offer, and the more comes back. So these relationships are built on me being open, vulnerable, connecting at points of commonality, giving the benefit of the doubt, and understanding that I will get hurt but that’s better than living in isolated fear. I believe these things can be done while holding onto principals that are dear to me, and knowing that when I fight on divisive principals that I am less likely to change others’ hearts and perspective (or my own for that matter) than if I meet others at a place of commonality. This is partly what I mean by “Love More”. It has to do with relationships.

Note: I love running, and I love music, so these things will be included as well.

Listen More:

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Being an ensemble musician, listening is the most important thing I can do. I need to know where I fit; I need to understand the style, the mechanics, the pocket, the groove, the aesthetic, the interpretation etc. in order for me to be most effective for the benefit of the whole.

“Listen More” extends beyond music, it is understanding what I’m reading when I’m reading; it is listening to the aches and pains of my body and acting appropriately; it is watching my son have trouble getting up in the morning and determining what it is he’s really saying; it is hearing the needs, anxieties, joys, triumphs, and failures of my wife and understanding when I only need to listen or when I can offer assistance; it is carving out time to listen to a whole Opera or Symphony, not just the greatest hits (Actually thinking about sitting down with Wagner’s Ring Cycle this year).

“Listen More” requires being PRESENT. It is mindfulness; it is sitting – here – now.

So there it is – no real specific resolutions. No weight loss target; no goal time for races/events; no going to get a specific job (although I am still working on my business, and looking for work); no quitting coffee or going vegetarian… If those things occur, they will merely be fringe benefits of living, loving, and listening more this year.

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