Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Your Origins Will Greet You At Every Turn... A Tribute

To begin, I have a theory that several of the references found in the book of revelations about the flesh coming together are predictions about the Internet. There, I said it. If that offends you, stop reading here.

Anyway, one of the amazing things about Facebook is the fact that it puts you in touch with so many people from your past, both good and bad. Luckily for me, most of the re-connections have been good: old school-mates, playmates, associates, etc. One of the wonderful things has been reconnecting with mentors and teachers of the past. People who, at the time, you don't realize how significant they are to your progressions in life, but eventually, if you pay attention, you'll see their hand in your life.

The year was 1983 and I was completing my freshman year as a viola student at Music & Art High School, I was blessed to study all four years with Dr. Paula Washington (Like many students, I had a huge crush on her, hence why I loved being in her class all four years). Ms Washington (who she was at the time) suggested to my mother that I should swap my current private teacher for a teacher at the Third Street Settlement House's music school. Once there, I was placed in the caring hands of Ann Roggen, perhaps one of the most brilliant violists I've heard to date.

All of this took place around the time that I became more serious about music composition (had proudly completed a string quartet based on a melody from a children's game/ song from Ghana) and began to develop a love for jazz and funk, as a musician. Ann drilled me on Baroque music, given that Baroque was the era when most of the really interesting stuff was being written for the viola (later day classical composers began to favor the violin... but I digress.). In paying attention to the patterns and textures in Baroque, I noted that there was a strong similarity between the music of Bach and Telemann, and the music of Parliament Funkadelic and Lakeside. Baroque was just funk without a drummer. It was of little surprise a few years later when I heard George Clinton proclaim J.S. Bach as one of his influences. Ann also introduced me to the music of Vaugn Williams which reminded me a little of Duke Ellington ( actually, Billy Strayhorne as played by Duke Ellington).

I used to frequent record stores around Manhattan looking to see what was out, who was putting it out, and what was a hot record. Of course, I rarely had money to buy these records, but we knew what to buy when we had a buck or two. On one of these excursions, a guy overheard my conversation with the record store counter guy about making records and folks who were whack, but got a record deal; and the guy joined in on the conversation. He gave me his card and left. The card was for STREETWISE RECORDS and the guy's name was Apache Ramos; he was A&R for the label. STREETWISE RECORDS was a label owned by 80's dance music producer and legend, Arthur Baker and was the label that had released the first New Edition record, "Candy Girl".

I saw this meeting as fate, knowing that I wanted to make records. On occasion... like once or twice a week... I'd call and leave a message for Apache, who would eventually return my calls and we'd talk about records and the like. Apache also liked to talk about plays and film and even noted that he had been in the movie "The Warriors" along with my cousin, Roger Hill ("Can you dig it?").

Around this same time, I discovered the stereo ins and outs on a boom box, an old RCA microphone and an old tape deck allowed me to record an instrument, play it back on the tape deck, patched into the boom box, and play another instrument into the microphone. I had discovered over-dubbing!!! Sitting in a class, bored to death, I began to map out a plan to record a song that I had just written using my new technique.

That afternoon, I went home, constructed a "drum set" using a suitcase, newspaper taped over an empty box, a stew pot lid and some drum sticks, I recorded a beat. Then, over the playback of the beat, I recorded a bass line by plucking my violas lower strings, and holding the mic against the back of the viola to get a low, muted, bassy sound. Next, my mom's piano in the living room, then a vocal track. Presto! I had a funky little demo that I proudly played for my buddy Dave (now DJ David Pellot) on our ride to school. He proclaimed it "fresh." So I knew I had a hit.

A few days and phone calls later, I got a meeting with Apache at his office on 46th Street and played him my opus. He listened to it, the whole way through (which I realize now was an honor as most A&R folks only listen to the first 20 second) with a slightly pained look on his face, but still bobbing his head to the tape. The song ended, he took it out and said, "Has some potential. You need a real singer and to go into a real studio. We only deal with finished master tapes here. We're not ideas people." He also told me to keep at it and encouraged me to see if folks would let me hang out in the studio when they were recording so that I could see how it was done. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but I held onto his words "keep at it" and did in fact start hanging out at a lot of sessions at the various studios around Manhattan and subsequently Boston.

By the time I got it all together, Apache had moved on from STREETWISE RECORDS and the label had gained a shady rep anyway due to what had gone down with New Edition, but I was always grateful to the time and patience he showed me those 28+ years ago. Finding him recently on Facebook, I was happy to post DEM BIG GIRLS on his page and find his response: "Dem BIG GIRLS ...WOW..BRO IM ON THE M TRAIN GOING THRU BKLYN INTO MANHATTAN THEN ONWARD TO THE BX AND LUVIN DEM BIG GIRLS...THANK YOU FOR DAT...ITS 7:08 AM 13 degrees and I'm FEELIN NICE AND WARM WIT DEM BIG GIRLS..."

See Apache? Your advice paid off!!! Thank you Dr Washington, Ann Roggen and Apache Ramos for your patience, advise and guidance in those early years. A tradition that I try to continue with my own students and 'off-the-street' mentees.

1 comment:

Ann said...

thanks!! you should know that I totally enjoyed teaching you...and I'm so glad that the lessons at that time resonated with you.