Interview: Abe Lagrimas, Jr. talks music, working with taiko players, and his new album

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (photo by Greg Hatton)

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (photo by Greg Hatton)

I recently had a fun conversation with Abe Lagrimas, Jr., a Los Angeles-based musician, composer, educator, and author. Abe and I have been working for the past several years as members of On Ensemble and it's always a pleasure to share the stage together. He is an outstanding musician who plays drums, vibraphone, and ukulele, and consistently adds color and spark to elevate the music. Audiences love his technical flair, yet as a bandmate I truly appreciate Abe's fine-tuned ear and his flexibility to instantly adapt to any situation. He makes any band sound better and it's no surprise to learn that he is very much in high demand. In addition to On Ensemble, Abe and I have worked extensively with the preeminent taiko artist Kenny Endo. It's always interesting for me to chat with musicians with similar points of view, and as a jazz musician, Abe had some very insightful observations about working with taiko players. It would be wonderful if everyone shared such an open and forward-thinking mindset about art, culture, and everyday life. This conversation also contains more humorous bits than usual, reflecting Abe's easygoing personality.

The interview features music from Abe's fantastic new self-titled album. The excerpted tracks are: Alternate Route, Sunday Dance, Nu'uanu Mist, End Of The Road, and Tanimoto. The album features a great group of musicians playing Abe's jazz-leaning original compositions, expressing a nice balance of varying feels, tempos, and moods. The links for the CD and digital download are below, and I highly recommend you check them out. Abe's website is also worth visiting to learn about upcoming shows, find his previous albums, and sign up for his newsletter. 

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. is a musician, composer, educator, and author who plays the drums, vibraphone, ukulele, and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In 2012, he competed in the highly prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition and has worked with many artists such as Eric Marienthal, Eric Reed, Kamasi Washington, Dontae Winslow, Barbara Morrison, Michelle Coltrane, Jake Shimabukuro, Kenny Endo, and continues to be an in-demand session musician in Los Angeles. 

As a solo ukulele artist, Abe is a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award recipient and has released multiple albums in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Abe has been featured at ukulele festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Reno, Chicago, New York, and Hawaii. His international performances include Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Great Britain, and toured extensively throughout China having performed in twelve cities. 

Abe is also an educator and has authored the first ever ukulele curriculum for instrumental music programs in schools titled “Ukulele Ensemble, Beginning Ukulele - Level 1”published by Consonus Music Institute. His latest book "Jazz Ukulele: Comping, Soloing, Chord Melodies" (Berklee Press & Hal Leonard) is available in stores worldwide and on Amazon.

Interview: Mike Penny talks shamisen, taiko, viral videos, and the Kubo movie

I recently had a fun conversation with Mike Penny, a fantastic shamisen player based in Los Angeles. I was introduced to Mike by our mutual friend and colleague Kyle Abbott of Bachido, and when I started to check out his online lessons, youtube videos, and eclectic array of music, I became more and more intrigued to talk with him. One of the reasons I can relate to Mike’s approach to music is his ability to incorporate a diverse mix of influences, from European classical music to odd-meter Balkan music to Frank Zappa to the traditional style of Tsugaru shamisen. In the interview, we talk about how Mike got into shamisen as well as his involvement with Bachido, playing with taiko players, creating his many viral videos, and the controversy surrounding the new movie Kubo and the Two Strings. He sent me some of his music and I have included them in the recording. The titles in the order you will hear them are: Sou Da Ne, Leavin’ Fo’evah, It’s a Good Day, and Gan Barou.

About Mike
Mike Penny has received several awards for his innovative performances and compositions using the Tsugaru Shamisen. In 2007, he received the Japan Foundation’s Uchida Fellowship which allowed him to study with one of Tokyo’s most highly respected Tsugaru shamisen instructors, Toyoaki Fukushi. Mike has given hundreds of public performances and continues to perform regularly as both a solo artist and in various ensembles. He has become well known through his many viral video performances on YouTube, and has gained a following for his unprecedented style of shamisen playing which combines traditional and extended techniques in a variety of musical contexts including jazz, Balkan folk, Western classical, and popular music in a fusion of both east and west, past and future. In addition to performing and teaching private shamisen lessons in his hometown of Los Angeles, Mike is also heavily involved with, the online international Tsugaru shamisen community which holds semi-annual international shamisen camps around the world at which Mike participates as an instructor.

With Mike Penny in Hollywood, July 2016

With Mike Penny in Hollywood, July 2016

Interview: radio professional Paolo Pietropaolo talks music, taiko, culture, and audio

Paolo Pietropaolo

Paolo Pietropaolo

I recently talked with my friend Paolo Pietropaolo about ethnomusicology, taiko, radio, audio, and cultural immersion. Paolo is a freelance journalist, broadcaster, and composer who hosts radio shows and has produced award-winning documentaries. We met in Vancouver, BC shortly after I relocated there, and immediately I could sense how like-minded we were. Paolo and I have had many interesting conversations over the years and I think his passion and thoughtfulness come through clearly in this recorded interview. Paolo's body of work is impressive in quality and diversity, and I especially appreciate his attention to detail. You can find his radio documentaries at the links below and I would encourage everyone to check them out. Paolo sent me music samples from his tinnitus documentary we talked about so I have included them in the interview. He told me they “consist mostly of recorded electronic hums (ie, my fridge, computer, etc.), processed hums, keyboards, bassoon, and various other electronic musical elements.”

About Paolo
An inveterate baseball fan as well as a musician and composer, Paolo has spent much of his life trying to explain the intricacies of the arcane to the uninitiated. After one year of undergrad science at the University of Toronto, Paolo gave up on his marine biology dreams in favour of that most secure of career paths: music. Shockingly, this strategy somehow worked when a taiko drumming gig led to a career in radio. Since 2012, Paolo has been the host of In Concert, the award-winning classical music performance program on CBC Radio 2. Paolo is a Peabody-Award-winning audio documentary producer, sound designer and writer/broadcaster passionate about building bridges through storytelling. He is also a two-time winner of the Prix Italia, most recently for The Signature Series, and previously for the documentary series The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music.

Twitter: @paolopp
CBC Show:
The Wire documentary is archived here:
Kiyoshi Nagata's taiko ensemble:

Interview: multi-percussionist Patrick Graham talks music, sound, and groove

photo by Randy Cole

photo by Randy Cole

Recently I talked with Patrick Graham, a Montréal based percussionist who is doing really interesting work. The first time I heard Patrick perform live was in 2009 at the North American Taiko Conference (Los Angeles) evening concert as a guest artist with On Ensemble. I was immediately drawn to his playing and have become an even bigger fan as I've heard more of his music over the past seven years. In this interview, I asked Patrick about his background, musical training, his concept of sound and groove, and composing. His thoughtful conversation is in symmetry with his music so I would encourage everyone to check out the web links below for video, music, and additional details about his work.

Patrick's musical background and interests have a lot of overlap with my own. No wonder it was so much fun playing with him for an On Ensemble concert in the summer of 2014. It was one of those rare occasions where the music just comes together right from the beginning, as comfortably as if we had always worked together. It's a feeling that is hard to describe; maybe something like speaking the same dialect of our musical language. I also enjoy just hanging out with Patrick and talking about music or whatever. We live pretty far away from each other but I'm pretty sure we'll be collaborating in the near future. Stay tuned for that!

I have included music from Rheo, Patrick's album which came up in our conversation. The tracks excerpted in the interview are: King Worm, Liminality, Le Souffle M'envahit, Brilla, and Strata. It's a great album and I would recommend everyone checking it out at the links below.

From Patrick:
"I've been so fortunate to study with many fantastic teachers. I am indebted to them.
Bob Slapcoff at Vanier College, Pierre Béluse and D'Arcy Gray at McGill University, Trichy Sankaran, Glen Velez, Tokyo-based sensei Taichi Ozaki (stage name Kato Tosha), Kodo's Tomohiro Mitome led the taiko Koh-Kan workshops in 2000, Tetsuro Naito, Carlo Rizzo and Zohar Fresco."

Interview: Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos talks about shakuhachi and working together

During my time in Vancouver (Canada) Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos was the musician I worked with most often.  Our group Maru performed in concerts, festivals, and collaborative projects with guest artists around British Columbia and Washington.  Alcvin's huge sound and strong personal expression is a great match for taiko and other percussion accompaniment.  Because both of us love to improvise, our music features open structures where we can create in the moment. 

In the interview, Alcvin talks about his background, important teachers, the categories of shakuhachi, his roots pilgrimage trip to Japan, collaborating with other artists, and the music we made together.  I have included some of Maru's music along with the conversation: Esashi Oiwake (Hokkaido traditional), improvisation on a fast groove, Sakura (traditional), Madake Grooves (Alcvin's piece), vibes & shakuhachi improvisation, and Wara (Eien's piece).