Johnny Rodgers Band – the workshop! UMS Recital Hall

Johnny Rogers at UMS. A SabahSongs blog post published in Sabah Property Magazine

Johnny Rodgers Band The Rhythm Road, American music abroad. Workshop at UMS recital hall, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

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The Johnny Rodgers Band was at UMS Recital Hall to conduct a music workshop, “The Rhythm Road; American Music Abroad“. Jazz at Lincoln Center produced this program with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Society of Performing Arts in Kota Kinabalu [SPArKS] brought this tour into KK. After this, the musicians go to Sandakan on the last leg of their Asia tour, and then back to the U.S.

The Johnny Rodgers Band
Johnny Rodgers – piano & vocal
Brian Glassman – bass
Danny Mallon – drums, percussion and back-up vocals
Joe Ravo – guitar

As you would expect from guys who are basically U.S. music ambassadors, Johnny was a warm and naturally expressive showman, and all the band members were informative and instructive in an encouraging way, keen to interact with and draw out an initially shy but very musical audience. Look who came!

[Among the ones I know, Moses, Damian, Matlan, Annabel, Nadia, Sonny B, Brian the sax player in Kombo, Sophie, Yap Kv, Andrew Poninting, Gavin Nick, Stephen Lee, Zekiel.]

Johnny opened up with his own song “Miss Dixie”, and the band talked about the form of the song; about Swing [‘triplets without the middle beat’], and the structure of the blues.

The band described the evolution of the blues; the mass migration of people to Chicago in search of work, and among them the many African Americans from the South who were the bedrock of Chicago blues.

Bass player Brian, drummer Danny and guitarist Joe jointly took us through the differences between the pulse of Chicago blues, and later Kansas City Blues, showing us the changes in emphasis; sometimes it’s on the quarter beats, or on the 2 and 4. They talked about the ‘back beat’, and how amplification changed the shape of the music, by freeing everybody from having to be heavy on the rhythm.

Johnny played boogie woogie piano to show what a busy style it is, especially for the left hand. Brian talked about how a bass player frees up the pianist by taking over a walking bass line, and also touched on chromatic lines. Brian said the bass player has a rhythm function by making a pulse, and also acts like a musical conduit between the pianist and the guitarist; by playing the notes which bind those two musicians, but not playing all the notes which the other two play.

They touched on Swing, Shuffle and country among many topics! Here’s a excerpt from their fine show.

Johnny was keen to get audience participation going. He had everyone standing and soon they were all singing or playing to his tune. He jumped along the floor on a big imaginary keyboard, “playing” the pentatonic notes, and the audience sang out as he jumped on a note. It was cool. Then he had everyone jamming with voices and instruments, around A minor.

Johnny called for a pianist, and we all pointed to Damian, who got up on stage and let rip in A minor on the grand piano. Sophie had some musical conversations going with guitarist Joe; copying him on her violin, then he copying her.

Afterwards, the musicians sat down at the front of the stage for a Q&A session.

UMS’ Andrew Poninting asked whether the band members had studied music formally. Johnny said that he did study formally, but at some point Billy Joel was winning out over Bach. Bass player Brian said he came to formal music training backwards; Rock ‘n’ Roll first, followed by formal double bass class and an introduction to The Bow, which he affectionately called “The Stick of Pain”.

Mr. Poninting also asked what advice the band could give to students considering studying music in the U.S. The band said musicians from Sabah would do well to capitalise on their ethnic music, if they are in places like the U.S., because that’s what they have which is exotic and unusual, a way for them to stand out. Even one’s language will shape the rhythm and essence of the music, they said.

There was a question about bossa nova technique, which the musicians handled with a song. Sophie asked about the prevalence of Gypsy jazz in the U.S. They said there was festival held at Birdland, and referred to this style as more of a Django Reinhardt/ Stephane Grapelli jazz style rather than gypsy. They said there aren’t many violinists in the U.S. who have mastered this style, it’s mostly guitarists who play it.

After the workshop, the audience was really comfortable and people swarmed around the band on stage. I saw Moses playing Brian’s double bass, and each band member was surrounded by students and musicians, listening keenly and checking out the instruments.  Sophie said Danny the drummer was talking about rhythms of 5,5,5, and then 6. “So difficult!” she said.

Roger Wang said this was one of the most interactive workshops he has ever attended. It was a really fun and informative event.

The band have kept a great BLOG of their tour.  There’s also The Johnny Rodgers website , and Jazz at Lincoln Center – The Road for more reading.


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