Guanajuato mini-tour a Success

The first concert in the beautiful Museo Iconográfico de Don Quixote in Guanajuato,
Mexico on August 7th turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve ever given.

The museum is a converted old hacienda near the center of town and it has a great concert space in the sculpture garden with wonderful acoustics. I’m happy that Armando Lopez
Valdivia joined me on stage again. He played with me there 2 years ago and it was a fantastic show. Armando is an early music specialist and has a collection of nearly 200 instruments – and he plays them all!
On the strength of that concert I was offered another at the Museo Dieguino also in Guanajuato. The environment for that concert wasn’t as ideal as the Iconográfico, but the seats were filled with attentive listeners.

Between the two concerts, I traveled to Mexico City to do some recording with drummer Javier Sosa and bassist Edgar Sanchez. I’ll post some audio of that session when it’s
mixed down. I then went to Paracho, a small town in the mountains of the state of Michoacan to purchase some instruments.

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Off to Mexico

I’m heading down to Guanajuato, Mexico for a concert on August 7th at 7:00 pm in the ‘Museo Iconografico de Don Quixote’. It’s a great space to play in with marvelous acoustics. The museum is an old converted hacienda and they put a glass roof over the courtyard, which is where the concerts take place. I hope to have a guest appearance by my friend Armando Lopez Valdivia who plays an incredible variety of early music instruments. When I played at the museum 2 years ago he joined me for the second half of the concert playing replicas of several ancient instruments in my pieces. We also performed a couple of Medieval tunes that were really fun to play with such a master of early music. The art department at the museum has made a great poster for the show. In Spanish speaking countries they always drop the last of 3 names so in Latin America I’m Michael Kent… no Smith. Click here to see a jpeg of the poster – I hope they saved a copy for me!

After the show in Guanajuato I will be heading to the town of Paracho in Michoacan where 3/4 of the town earns their living in the guitar building/selling trade. It’s a small village in the mountains and is quite traditional but there are a handful of excellent builders and I want to try their instruments. I also have some orders to scope out a mandolin for my brother and a guitarrón (the big mariachi bass) for my bassist friend Jack McAuliffe. Hopefully I’ll find good instruments at excellent prices for them.

Then it’s on to Xalapa (or Jalapa), the home of the jalapeño pepper in the state of Vera Cruz. It’s also home to the best symphony in Mexico as well as a large music school that creates quite a local music/art scene from what I hear. It’s also supposed to be a very beautiful city so I decided this is one place better go and check out.

I was remiss in not warning you in advance of the reunion of the classic Pong Unit (the mach 2 version of the band with Steve Hashimoto – bass, Carter Luke – keyboards, Heath Chappell – drums and me on guitar) at the Green Mill Poetry Slam last Sunday. That version of the band hadn’t played together in 10 years and it was like we had hardly skipped a beat. There were a couple of dicey moments in the more complex arrangements but the feel of the band hadn’t lost anything. Next time we play the Mill, I promise I’ll announce it in advance. It’s worth checking out.

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Concert Tour of Mexico, Europe and Africa

I was invited to tour as the guitarist in the band of Koulsy Lamko, an African vocalist currently residing in Mexico City. The tour visited several cities in Mexico, France, Italy, Mali and Burkina Faso. The band was part of “The Caravan Tom Sank” which celebrated the life of Thomas Sankara, the former president of Burkina Faso. Although the tour had a number of logistical problems, it was fascinating to see Africa and to get to know the people a little bit. We had a couple of fantastic opportunities to play with griots in Mali. The griots are a caste of musician/poets that are raised to be artists from childhood and keep their people’s cultural story and wisdom in memory through song and spoken word. I have never played with more natural musicians in all my life.

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Los Gitanos Smith

The hot new rumba flamenco group out of Aledo Texas, Los Gitanos Smith, is taking the world by storm with their new smash song “El Cerro Escondido”. The group features
Dana Smith (10) on rhythm and melody guitar, Doug Smith (12) on snare drum
and hand-claps, Stephanie Smith (15) on flute and Uncle Mike (a couple years
older than the rest) on lead guitar, bass and various computer things. Click
here to listen to “El Cerro Escondido”….
you’re sure to enjoy!

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Texas Trip

 

I am now on a road trip in my new RV traveling through the southwest
US. As I write this I am sitting in a campground in San Antonio, Texas.
The trip didn’t start out with the intention of being a music trip but
that has sort of changed! (not like I’m complaining, mind you) While I
was in Mexico I ran into an old friend, Chuck Umsted, who is a teacher
at a bilingual school in Sherman, Texas. When I told him I’d be passin’
through Texas, he invited me to come give a concert at his school. Since
my trip took me right through Sherman, I couldn’t say no!

Chuck’s school is a bilingual school or, more accurately, a 50% bilingual
school because only about half of the 450 kids are in the bilingual program.
I played in an outside courtyard on a beautiful day with blue skies stretching
from horizon to horizon. The concert was for the bilingual kids and a
good portion of the 250 showed up to listen. I talked about how music
is a kind of language that musicians speak amongst themselves as well
as with the audience and how speaking more languages allows you to communicate
with more people.

After the concert portion, during which we all spoke Spanish, there was
a question/answer session in English to give the older kids a chance to
practice. I was amazed at the quality of their questions. I’ve sat through
Q&A sessions after concerts by artists like Steve Reich and Pat Metheny
and the questions were, for the most part, fairly banal at best. Here
I had a group of 10 and 11 year olds asking probing questions like “do
you think a lot about your compositions before you write them, or do you
write them on the spur of the moment?” Below are some photos of the
concert.

Ok, so they didn’t pay attention every
second… but they really were a wonderful audience! Playing some blues with Chuck Umsted

After my stay in Sherman I moved on south to Fort Worth which is where
my brother and his family live. I got to spend a great week hanging out
with family. However, the coolest project of the week was a recording
that I made with my niece and nephews. I wrote a tune with parts for each
of them – my niece Stephanie (15) plays flute and my two nephews Doug
(12) and Dana (10) play drums and guitar respectively. Once I had the
skeleton of the piece written and loaded into Pro Tools, I had each of
them sneak out to the rv without their folks knowledge and record their
parts. It turned out really well I think. You can listen to it here.

I think that’s all I’m going to put in this newsletter because I don’t
want to make it too long. I’ve actually left out several recent shows and
some new recordings that I’ve done, but I’ll save those for another post.

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Back in Chicago

Right before leaving for Mexico I recorded guitar tracks for a great new piece by my composer friend Joe Hasiewicz. It’s called “Change
in the Possibilities” and I got to fire up the old electric guitar
and play some challenging stuff. The piece features the guitar and Joe
wrote some extremely difficult parts. It was hard work learning
it all, but well worth it. I wish I could take credit for all those cool
guitar lines but Joe wrote every note of it. You can listen to it by clicking
here.

During the two weeks I was back in Chicago after returning from Mexico
I recorded a piece for my friend the bassist Steven Hashimoto’s new cd.
It’s a very cool tune called “Goya” that was inspired by the
film “Goya in Bordeaux” by Carlos Saura. The film is about the
life of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Hashimoto’s piece has a strong
flamenco flavor with shifting meters that make it tricky to improvise
on. It was great to play with Hash and my old friend, drummer Heath Chappell.
The cd should be out in July… stay tuned for more info.

 

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Zihuatanejo Guitar Festival and Mexico Tour

 

I spent the month of March on tour in Mexico and it was absolutely wonderful.
I started out in the beautiful colonial city of Guanajuato and was honored
to be invited to perform with the early music group “Los Tiempos
Pasados” in a concert for the governors of all the states of Mexico.
The concert took place in a beautiful setting in the garden of a luxurious
hotel. I played dulcimer and the musicians in the group coached me on
the fly through all the changes in the music. The governors loved it (they
kept sending up shots of some rather fine tequila to the stage) and the
group wound up being booked for five more concerts in various states around
Mexico.

Next up was my own concert at the Museo Iconografico (also in Guanajuato)
which is a museum dedicated to art works based on the theme of Don Quijote.
They host a year-round concert series in their sculpture-filled atrium.
It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever given.
The leader of Los Tiempos Pasados, Armando Lopez Valdivia, joined me on
several numbers playing on eight of the instruments from his collection
of over one-hundred and twenty. The audience was quiet, focused and very
attentive and the combination of a beautiful setting, a great guest musician
and a supportive audience made it an experience to remember.

The Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival turned out to be another
unforgettable event. The festival is a fund raiser for arts education
programs for under priveledged kids in the Zihuatanejo area. It brought
together twenty-four guitarists from Mexico, Canada, Great Britain and
all parts of the United States to give a series of more than thirty concerts
in venues all over the town. I was greatly inspired by hearing so many
fantastic players from so many genres of music. I gave three concerts,
the first in a ritzy restaurant with a breathtaking view overlooking Zihuatanejo
bay. The audience was mostly well-to-do americans that had to drop a hefty
donation to the cause to attend the event but, I must say, they were very
well-behaved. The second show was in a restaurant/bar that was much more
casual and attended by folks that really wanted to hear guitar music.
A dozen guitarist each played 25 minute sets, making for a long but constantly
intriguing concert. My third and final set was in the closing concert
in the “zocalo” or town center (it’s actually right on the beach).
They set up a large stage with a giant video screen like in a rock show
to give close-ups of the guitarist’s fingers. Someone estimated the attendance
at 2,000. That’s hard to judge but there sure were a lot of folks there,
almost all Mexican locals. I left Zihua tired but inspired by all the
fine players that I got to meet, listen to and jam with. You can see more
photos at the Zihuafest website photo
gallery
.

Playing some dulcimer during my set at El Pueblitoduring Zihuafest. Same show – Jamming with (from left) Michael Lewis, Ricardo Sweatt Rodriguez, me, Brook and Neil C. Young

 

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Mexico Tour

4/8/06

Well, the Mexico tour was absolutely wonderful. I started out in
the lovely colonial city of Guanajuato and was honored to be asked
to perform with the early music group “Los Tiempos Pasados”
in a concert for the governors of all the states of Mexico. We performed
in a beautiful setting in the garden of a five star hotel. I played
dulcimer and the musicians in the group coached me on the fly through
all the changes in the music. The governors loved it and the group
wound up being booked for five more concerts in various states around
Mexico.

Next up was my own concert at the
Museo Iconografico (also in Guanajuato) which is a museum dedicated
to art works based on the theme of Don Quijote. They host a year-round
concert series in their sculpture-filled atrium. It turned out to
be one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever given. The leader
of Los Tiempos Pasados, Armando Lopez Valdivia, joined me on several
numbers playing on eight of the instruments from his collection
of over one hundred and thirty. The audience was quiet, focused
and very attentive and the combination of the beautiful setting,
great guest musician and supportive audience made it an experience
to remember.

The Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival turned
out to be another unforgettable event. The festival is a fund raiser
for arts education programs for underpriviledged kids in Zihuatanejo.
It brought together twenty-four guitarists from Mexico, Canada,
Great Britain and all parts of the United States to give a series
of over thirty concerts in venues all over the town. I was greatly
inspired by hearing so many fantastic players from so many genres
of music. I played three concerts, the first in a ritzy restaurant
with a breathtaking view overlooking Zihuatanejo bay. The audience
was mostly well-to-do Americans that had to drop a hefty donation
to the cause to attend the event but they were actually very well
behaved. The second show was in a restaurant/bar that was much more
casual and attended by folks that really wanted to hear guitar music.
A dozen guitarists each played 25 minute sets, making a long but
intriguing concert. My final set was in the closing concert in the
basketball court in the “zocalo” or town square (it’s
located right on the beach). They set up a large stage with a giant
video screen like in a rock show to give close-ups of the guitarist’s
fingers. Someone estimated the attendance at 2000. That’s hard to
judge but there sure were a lot of folks there, almost all Mexican
locals. I left Zihua tired but inspired by all the fine players
that I got to meet, listen to and jam with.

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Mexico City Trip Part 5

Friday, Oct. 29

I went to hear Eugenio Toussaint last night at the soulbar where I played
the previous night. He’s a very good player but his bag is pretty run
of the mill. His original tunes are a little dry for my taste but he selected
some nice covers by Jaco Pastorious, Egberto Gismonti and Ralph Towner.
The bassist and drummer were very good players as well and I rather enjoyed
the drummer’s playing – it was quite understated. I went with Juan jr.
and the club treated us very nicely. They waived the admission and gave
us the best seats in the house to boot. Claudia, the event director for
the school brought the director of Fermatta over to our table to introduce
us. He was very nice and told me that he heard that the concert went well
and invited me to return in the future to do a clinic or work with the
teachers on some project. All in all it was a nice experience. I can see
how one might get used to being treated like a VIP.

The rest of the trip was spent as a tourist and I did the same stuff
that any tourist guide tells you you ought to do. It was interesting,
but any travel book can tell you about it better than I. One thing I found
out that made me a little sad: the day of the dead celebration has all
but disappeared in the cities – or, more accurately, has turned into a
lame imitation of Halloween where kids with plastic pumpkins hit you up
for cash instead of sweets. They tell me that the traditional celebrations
still exist in the provincial areas but I had no time to make the trip
out of town. All told it was an awesome experience and I can’t wait to
go back and play again.

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Mexico City Trip Part 4

Wednesday, Oct. 27

Last night I did a clinic at the music store Veerkamp, which seems to
be the Sam Ash of Mexico. The clinic was at their main store and they
have a small auditorium for concerts and clinics. There were only about
15-20 people there but they were interested in the music and asked quite
a few questions. The ”Americana” things I play seem to interest the
people here, especially the dulcimer. It’s all a little exotic for them
and I think that piques their interest. Rubén, the teacher at the school
Fermatta, has a theory about the dulcimer. He thinks it resonates with
the Mexican people because the instrument comes from Appalachia where
the people are poor and the Mexican people, who understand poverty very
well, hear something in it’s sound that strikes a chord inside them. I
like the theory.

After the clinic, the school (Fermatta) sent a van to
pick up the band and take us to a club where we played a show sponsored
by the school. The school got radio airplay for my disc on 2 different
radio stations and a few people told me that they heard the tunes. That
makes 3 radio stations that have played my tunes in 2 weeks. That’s as
good as in Chicago in 15 years. The club is beautiful – it looks like
something straight out of New York City and seats well over 100. The club
was 80% full – a large percentage were students from the school – but
on a Tuesday night that’s an excellent crowd anywhere. Someone told me
that it was the largest crowd at the club since opening night – what an
honor.

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