Benefits

Raitt, Waits, Buffalo jam with S.F. schoolkids

on October 23, 2003 No comments

LITTLE KIDS ROCK

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Bonnie: “Little Kids Rock does a great job getting kids excited about music, picking up the slack from budget cuts to put music programs in our schools.
Bonnie: “Little Kids Rock does a great job getting kids excited about music, picking up the slack from budget cuts to put music programs in our schools.

Bonnie Raitt told the kids at Spring Valley Elementary about learning guitar when she was 8 years old. Her hands weren’t large enough to span the fretboard and make an F chord, so she learned to do it with her thumb.

“Tell Bonnie what we call the F chord,” said their guitar teacher, Laura Chinn-Smoot.

“The ouch chord,” a couple of dozen young public school guitar students said in unison.

Raitt inveigled her old pal Tom Waits to join her on piano and sing a duet of “Sweet and Shiny Eyes,” a song they knew from touring together a few years back when Jerry Ford was still president. Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, currently playing with Ozzy Osbourne, picked up his bass, and Norton Buffalo added a little harmonica.

They were all sitting in a circle in the Russian Hill school cafeteria Tuesday afternoon, swapping songs with the music students, beneficiaries of a program called Little Kids Rock that brings music instruction to elementary schools in four states. While TV news, radio reporters and photographers recorded the session, Little Kids Rock Executive Director David Wish, a former Redwood City second-grade teacher, led the second-, third-, fourth- and fifth- graders in writing a song, while the professional rock musicians backed them up.

LittleKidsRock-logo

With the hit film “School of Rock” giving the idea of grade schoolers playing music a little precious currency, Wish pulled together some of his celebrity supporters to capitalize on his opportunity. Wish, frustrated with the lack of musical education in the school’s official curriculum, started giving free after-school guitar lessons to Redwood City students in 1996, and the Little Kids Rock idea grew from there. For the past two years, he has devoted full time to his burgeoning nonprofit. He puts out a CD every year of songs written and performed by the Little Kids Rock youngsters.

The musicians listened and applauded as the students performed a few songs, the young guitarists strumming strongly, the voices melding in that way only grade school choral groups can. When Raitt and Buffalo started jamming a shuffle, Wish grabbed a guitar and walked around showing the kids what chords to play.

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The musicians all talked about how they started playing music and offered the students advice. Buffalo said his father played harmonica and his mother was a singer. Newsted, who got his first guitar for Christmas at age 9, switched to playing bass after he saw Kiss. He also described the kind of heavy metal he plays as “lots of real loud ouch chords.”

Newsted is no stranger to the Little Kids Rock program. Last April, he hosted a large group of students at a recording session at the Plant Studio in Sausalito, where he produced rock band Voivod performing one of the songs from the Little Kids Rock CDs.

Little Kids Rock - Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Norton Buffalo, Jason Newsted and Austin Willarcy (right to left) take part in jam session at the Spring Valley Elementary School in downtown San Francisco on October 21, 2003. They were there to support the program which was started by David Wish in November 1996 and is a non-profit organization that provides free instruments and lessons to disadvantaged kids in public schools. Some of the artists that serve as board members are Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, BB King and Les Paul as well as friend Carlos Santana, Bob Weir and the band, Phish among others.
Little Kids Rock – Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Norton Buffalo, Jason Newsted and Austin Willarcy (right to left) take part in jam session at the Spring Valley Elementary School in downtown San Francisco on October 21, 2003. They were there to support the program which was started by David Wish in November 1996 and is a non-profit organization that provides free instruments and lessons to disadvantaged kids in public schools. Some of the artists that serve as board members are Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, BB King and Les Paul as well as friend Carlos Santana, Bob Weir and the band, Phish among others.

Austin Willacy of hip-hop a cappella group the House Jacks encouraged the students to play instruments. “I have learned that if you sing and don’t play in a band, you don’t get heard,” he said.

Tom Waits allowed that trumpet was his first instrument and that playing bugle for the Cub Scouts was his first gig. He also recalled his first piano, a trashed upright that had been left out in the rain and was given to him even though many of the keys no longer worked.

“I was fine with that, though,” he said. “I just played the ones that were working. I used to make up little songs when I was angry or sad. I’m still doing that.”

Waits, who has children of his own, told the kids he didn’t remember how many movies he made. “I write songs for movies, too,” he said. “They’re supposed to make the movies better, but sometimes you just can’t save them.”

Raitt also encouraged the students to take lessons and do the practice. “I’m real glad I took five years of piano lessons,” she said. “Look what happened — I don’t have to work a regular job.”

David Wish and Bonnie Raitt

Source: © Copyright SFGate

ROLL OVER, BEETHOVEN — THESE LITTLE KIDS WANT TO ROCK OUT

Delfin Vigil – Sunday, March 20, 2005

Kids who are in the Little Kids Rock program entertain and are entertained by Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Norton Buffalo, Jason Newsted and Justin Willacy on October 21, 2003 at the Spring Valley Elementary School in downtown San Francisco . © David Paul Morris /AP Photo
Kids who are in the Little Kids Rock program entertain and are entertained by Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Norton Buffalo, Jason Newsted and Justin Willacy on October 21, 2003 at the Spring Valley Elementary School in downtown San Francisco . © David Paul Morris /AP Photo

Some day the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may need to add a new wing – – for the Redwood City sound.

It all started in 1996, when David Wish, a frustrated second-grade teacher at Hawes Elementary School in Redwood City, decided to teach schoolchildren how to play music.

What began as a weekly after-school guitar class for his second-graders quickly expanded to sessions every day. Soon it seemed nearly every kid in the school wanted to pick up an instrument.

Nearly 10 years later, Wish is the director of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that brings free music lessons and instruments to more than 4,000 students in low-income areas in four states. By next year, Little Kids Rock hopes to release a CD of songs written by students and recorded and performed by celebrity musicians such as Tom Waits, Norton Buffalo and members of Metallica, all of whom have appeared at schools and jammed with the kids.

Wish, who now lives in New Jersey, is having a Bay Area homecoming party for Little Kids Rock and a celebration of Music in Our Schools Month on Wednesday at the Mighty club in San Francisco, headlined by ’70s soap star- turned-rocker Rick Springfield.

Thanks to stars like Springfield, who donate their time and money, Little Kids Rock expects to double the number of participating students by next year.

“Back in Redwood City in 1996, we maxed out on instruments for the kids pretty quickly,” says Wish, a jazz guitarist. “Then Carlos Santana gave us a $5,000 Milagro grant. It seemed like all the money in the world, and I thought we’d never have to buy guitars again.”

Wish has since expanded the program to teaching drums, bass and keyboards. The reasons, he says, are obvious.

“If you took a Martian from outer space and had him listen to the radio and asked him what kind of music children are learning to play in schools, he’d tell you bass, keyboards, drums and guitar, right? But he’d be wrong. So where are all these kids who grow up to play that kind of music getting their musical education?”

Wish says he uses the internationally known Suzuki Method, which he blends with the Rolling Stones and Dr. Seuss.

“The Suzuki Method is a set of methodologies that says anyone and everyone can play music if taught properly — by ear, not by reading,” Wish says. “Suzuki says that classical music is not the domain of the gifted. Little Kids Rock does the same thing, but is open to pop music — punk, heavy metal, folk, whatever. It’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.”

Rather than picking up chords from their older siblings or copying riffs from the dude at the guitar shop, kids ought to be learning popular music in school, Wish says.

“California is ranked last for access to arts education,” he says. “Think about that. You’re talking states like … well, let’s just say states with far fewer resources trounce California in musical education.”

Besides the obvious budget cuts, Wish believes that a big reason kids don’t learn music in school is because they associate “educational” music — classical and marching — as being kind of boring.

“I believe it’s better to let them get to the good stuff first, as opposed to being confined to 17 years of classical piano,” Wish says.

So when students say they want to learn how to play Shaggy, Ricky Martin or Britney Spears, Wish makes a trip to iTunes and invariably comes back with just three necessary chords.

“Take Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” Wish says, explaining his argument against the few who frown upon his approach. “It’s two chords: D and A. Do you realize how many songs are structured around only D and A? When you teach a kid how to play a Selena song that is D and A, you’re also teaching them to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. You’re teaching them to play. Period.”


LITTLE KIDS ROCK: The next benefit, starring Rick Springfield, takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Mighty, 119 Utah St., San Francisco. 100. (973) 746-8248, www.littlekidsrock.org.

Source: © Copyright SFGate Info:
Little Kids Rock
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African Stars and Bonnie Raitt Wow New York. Let Freedom Sing!

on May 10, 2002 No comments

afropop-header

It was a night for the history books at the Bottom Line on April 29, when Afropop Worldwide presented Let Freedom Sing, two sets of music starring The Mahotella Queens, Dorothy Masuka, Thomas Mapfumo, and special guest Bonnie Raitt. The event was part awards ceremony, part fundraiser, part observance of South Africa Freedom Day–the anniversary of that country’s first true election–and all spectacular music. Mapfumo, Masuka, and the Queens were all inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame. Funds were raised for Afropop Worldwide, Voice of the People (Zimbabwe’s only private radio station), and the families of Zimbabwean musicians who have died of AIDS in recent years. There were serious words spoken about the long path to achieve freedom from apartheid in South Africa, and the ongoing struggle to achieve freedom from newer forms of tyranny in neighboring Zimbabwe. But what most will remember is surely the music that came from one of the most dazzling lineups of southern African musical royalty ever assembled on a New York stage, and from one wild, American redhead with an African soul.

Bonnie Raitt has been a Friend of Afropop since well before she joined the Afropop crew on travels in Mali and Cuba in 2000. By good luck, South African Freedom day (April 27) came just as Raitt was planning to be in the New York area promoting her terrific new album Silver Lining (Capitol). The album has a Zimbabwe connection via its cover of Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord,” as well as a Mali connection via Raitt’s collaboration with Habib Koite. “Hear Me Lord” has been bringing the house down in Raitt’s recent concerts, so the idea of performing the song as part of this event held a special appeal. But Raitt gave far more than that, co-hosting both shows, and bringing along her band along for a short, cracking set at the end of each.

Executive Producer Sean Barlow with Bonnie at Let Freedom Sing! - Bottom Line New York - April 29, 2002 © Banning Eyre

Executive Producer Sean Barlow with Bonnie at Let Freedom Sing! – Bottom Line New York – April 29, 2002 © Banning Eyre

Afropop Worldwide host Georges Collinet, originally scheduled to be Raitt’s onstage foil, was called away to an emergency assignment in Chad, so Executive Producer Sean Barlow stepped up to the plate. Raitt found time to reminisce humorously about tent-life in Timbuktu with Barlow and the Afropop crew. But she also returned often to the themes of the night: celebrating music, and reaching out to people suffering in southern Africa. “Our hearts go out to those in Zimbabwe who are struggling with so much,” said Raitt. “We must let freedom sing, not just tonight, but every day.”

The other business of the night was the inducting of artists into the Afropop Hall of Fame, which honors artists, individuals and organizations who have made extraordinary, contributions to advancing understanding and appreciation of contemporary African music. Prior to Let Freedom Sing, the list was: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Radio Fund, and its officers Rick Madden and Jeff Ramirez; Bonnie Raitt; Joshua Mailman; The Nathan Cummings Foundation; and the Democratic Republic of Mali. Let Freedom Sing provided Afropop Worldwide with a welcome opportunity to induct the first African musicians to the HOF–because after all, music is what it’s all about!

The Mahotella Queens, Dorothy Masuka with Bonnie at Let Freedom Sing! - Bottom Line New York - April 29, 2002 © Banning Eyre

The Mahotella Queens, Dorothy Masuka with Bonnie at Let Freedom Sing! – Bottom Line New York – April 29, 2002 © Banning Eyre

The Mahotella Queens bustled onto the stage before a nearly full house of patrons sipping donated South African KWV wine and Imoya brandy, and eating food provided by Madiba, New York’s only South African restaurant. The Queens still call their backing band Makgona Tshole, the Jack of All Trades Band, but the members are no longer the gentlemen who first went by that name in 1964, but rather kids who weren’t even born then “This month, I turned 60 years old,” said Mahotella Queen Hilda Tloubatla, in a boast that went down very well with Raitt. Raitt has been telling interviewers all spring that so far her 50s are her best decade yet. Just the same, when Hilda found a moment to propose that Raitt sing a song with the Queens on their next album, the American singer replied that she would need to take heart medication for the session.

Heart is certainly in long supply in the Queens’ act. They still spring and cavort like school girls in joyously synchronized moves. Better still, their voices still come together in one of the richest, fullest, most disarmingly beautiful vocal sounds in pop music anywhere. After a selection of old and new songs, including their gorgeous acapella number “Town Hall,” the Queens invited a surprise guest to the stage.

Dorothy Masuka recorded her first hit–at age 16–in 1951, when the Queens actually were school girls, and Raitt was just a baby. After a storybook life of young musical glory, protest and confrontation with the South African authorities, decades of exile, and a triumphant return to Johannesburg in 1992, Masuka cuts a truly regal presence. To her, the Mahotella Queens are “the girls,” but when she came on stage to join them for two songs, she definitely held her own, both in the cavorting and singing departments.

On Masuka’s song thanking Nelson Mandela, “Madiba,” her rich, jazzy lead was buoyed gloriously by the Queens’ sunny harmonies. Masuka relished the chance to weave among the dancing Mahotella Queens, and the crowd roared, sensing that they were witnessing a first. Masuka’s second song dealt openly with the spread of HIV-AIDS, adding a poignant accent to an otherwise exuberant performance.

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Personal politics

on September 13, 2001 No comments

Spokane River

Spokane River

As someone who grew up in the Inland Northwest, writer Sherman Alexie has always been conscious of his connection to the cultures and landscape of the region. Whether they inform the settings and characters in his prose and films or the rhythmic patterns that drive his poetry, they are present, active forces. Tracking down the moments when he became aware of them, however, can be tricky. Nevertheless, Alexie does remember when he first became conscious of the effect that the Midnight Mine, a uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation, had on his life.

“Eighth grade,” states Alexie. “When I went to seven funerals that year, and when cancer rates started really growing. And then during my early years of college, and the last 10 years or so, when the mine began shutting down and then shut down. And the cleanup efforts that involve all sorts of Catch-22, Orwellian solutions. You know, ‘Let’s clean up by bringing in lower-level waste encircling the higher-level waste. So it was the bureaucracy and the sheer – in all sorts of ways – objective evil that sort of politicized me in this.”

This Sunday night, Alexie will continue his political involvement with the region, when he hosts “Bonnie Raitt and Friends,” a concert featuring Raitt and her band, Cris Williamson, Jim Boyd and Alexie as the evening’s host. Proceeds from the event will benefit organizations working in the region to protect regional rivers, lakes and streams.

For Alexie, his involvement goes much deeper than simply the role of a master of ceremonies. “I grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation with the Midnight Mine,” Alexie explains. “So I personally have some experience in my DNA with that particular source of radioactivity. So I’ll be talking about that in funny and not-so-funny ways. So I think I’m going to be sort of the personal voice of the program as well. I mean, it’s beautiful and wonderful that people come in to support these projects, but we also need direct testimony, so I’ll be doing that as well.

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