Saturday, May 24, 2014

With Mary Grace, it's about ability -- not disability

While some might see her "handicap" as a challenge, Mary Grace Gallekanao has come to look upon it as God's purpose.  When you listen to her playing the piano, you are left with no doubt that she's been given a divine gift.  It's there to inspire others.

Mary Grace Gallekanao (Photos by John G. Miller)
She was born in the Philippines.  She has a stub for a right arm, her right leg is smaller -- eight inches shorter -- than her left.  She wears a platform orthopedic shoe on her right foot to help her walk normally.  She has said she had a very difficult time growing up because of how she looks, asking why she doesn't have a right hand like everyone else, asking herself what she did to deserve being born that way.

But Mary Grace went on to college and earned a degree in psychology, finding friends there for the first time in her life.  Perhaps her greatest gift -- which was displayed Saturday at the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Salt Lake City -- is on the piano.  It is there where her "handicap" becomes not an example of an imperfection, but an example of a grand design.  On the piano, she plays the melody of complex pieces of music with what she calls a fleshy protrusion at the tip of the stub that is the perfect size to fit one key.  She plays chords with her left hand, crossing over when the chords are in the higher keys.

The speed and dexterity that's demanded in the music she plays does not suffer.  She can interpret music with a master's touch.

"If the stub were any longer or shorter, it would be hard for me to play the piano," she told her audience Saturday.  "I know that I was created for a purpose.  Each and every one of us is special in the Lord's sight."

Mary Grace said there have been several people who wanted to introduce her to the world, she could have made a lot of money with her talent and have anything she wanted.  But, she added, there were two conditions:  she could not mention anything about God in her performances, nor the two ministries she is so passionate about (Help-the-Needy Inc., and Adopt-a-MinisterInternational).  They only wanted her to talk about herself and what she can do.

"I had to turn them down because I know it's not about me now.  It's about God," she said.  "And it's not about what I can do, but what God can do through me.

"The Lord has blessed me more than money could ever hope for."

Mary Grace has given concerts around the world -- in Guam, Europe, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Canada, and the United States.

She ended her talk with some words of inspiration.

"Surrender our lives and He will surely work wonders.  I hope that, no matter what's going on around us, we would always focus our eyes on the cross, and one day -- when all is said and done -- we could say we have run the race, we have finished the course, we have kept the faith."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Jamie Glaser teaches us to 'Hear the Silence'

If you listen for a guitar playing during the music accompanying the classic comedy series “Seinfeld" or “Married... With Children," you can hear him.

If you’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to the music of jazz fusion artists like Jean-Luc Ponty or Lenny White, or if you’ve listened to The Manhattan Transfer’s 1991 release “The Offbeat of Avenues” or some of rocker Bryan Adams’ best work, there’s a good chance you’ve heard his guitar skills there as well.

Jamie Glaser plays guitar with jazz fusion legend Jean-Luc Ponty.
The player you’d be listening for is Jamie Glaser, who’s been known as a top session guitarist for many years with credits including work with Chick Corea and Chaka Khan as well, just to name a few. He’s played live in front of audiences around the world. He can be found via YouTube on an old video from The Tonight Show with Manhattan Transfer. He’s done a lot in his musical career, continuing his playing/recording/producing/directing/teaching career from his base between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah -- far from the faster life he once knew in places like Los Angeles or his roots in New York City.

With that kind of history on his resume, you’d think the achievement he’s most proud of would have to do with his accomplishments as a musician. But what he’s actually most proud of is surviving a disorder – manic depression – that’s plagued him in the lowest points of his life, through poverty and homelessness, bringing about behaviors that made even those who were closest to him question whether he was a drug addict.

Glaser is most proud of surviving a disorder that’s taken the lives of other gifted musicians through their own manic behaviors (how is it that some of the most gifted artists have been known to suffer from bipolar disorder and done so much creative work given the “genius” tag in their lives?) and going on to encourage others to get the help that they need as well.

He’s doing it again through the recent republishing of his book, "Hear The Silence," in online form. It’s a book that’s far from a “typical musician’s bio” with tales of celebrity antics. In fact, it really doesn’t cover much of his musical life at all, only giving brief references to his experiences in the spotlight more as a way of showing the highest highs he’s seen in his life before sinking to the lowest lows.

“The one thing that I hope that is my legacy is the book I wrote, celebrating life, and inspiring others who may be depressed, are bipolar, suffer mental illness, just down in general with lessons I’ve learned and that have me celebrating life from morning ‘til night 365 days a year,” Glaser says in a post on his Facebook page.

The thought of “hearing the silence” is first mentioned in his experiences dating back to Glaser’s days at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he went to see a teacher and – in the quiet darkness of the teacher’s room – was asked to describe the sounds that were around him, finally dawning on him that there was much more going on around him than what little was happening in that room.

“He continued telling me he would teach me to notice these sounds, to know how to find them, to use them musically and in my life,” Glaser writes of that lesson that’s stayed with him through his life. “I believe it is this lesson that has given me a life like few others. I believe this lesson has given me a career like few others. And, most importantly, it is this lesson that got me through my horrible, painful experience with bipolar disorder.

“… Learn to ‘Hear the Silence’ and you will learn one of the greatest secrets there are to enlighten and fulfill your life!!”

Jamie Glaser flies in a guitar solo.
With those words, the first chapter of the book is complete and the stage is set for Glaser to tell the rest of his story. It tells a story of …
  • Having a young man with cerebral palsy – who could only speak by pointing at letters one at a time – helping Glaser to appreciate the beauty and goodness that surrounded him instead of being angry and bitter.
  • Days when he was known more as a “maniac” – throwing paychecks for his television work out the window of a moving car on a San Diego freeway, spending money and traveling aimlessly.
  • Spending long periods of time not wanting to get out of his bed or leave his home due to fear or depression.
  • The people who cared about Glaser, recognized he needed help, and guided him through his own personal darkness.
  • Traumatic experiences that helped to trigger some of his deepest bouts with depression.
  • Glaser’s spiritual beliefs, animal friends, a beloved children’s television show that all helped to lift and keep him out of his depression.
  • Advising those who may be experiencing their own personal darkness on how they can pull themselves back into the light.
It’s part musician memoirs with deeply personal insights into self-help and motivation along the lines of Tony Robbins or Wayne Dyer, two of Glaser’s favorite motivational figures. It’s a combination that makes for an engaging, uplifting read.

Glaser tells his story in a style that puts his personality on display. As you read it, imagine sitting in a restaurant that serves New York-style pizza as Glaser talks to you across the table with his own New York flavor. There’s honesty and heartfelt passion in his words. And as anyone who’s gotten acquainted with him in person or on social media can attest, he’s looking to help others more than he’s looking to help himself.

“Hear the beautiful symphony in the silence,” Glaser says in the final chapter. “Play life’s gorgeous melodies over and over. May the songs of this beautiful existence be always at the top of the charts for you.”

Click here to see Jamie Glaser's promotional video for "Hear The Silence" on YouTube

Thursday, April 24, 2014

'A friend of a friend of ...': Frank Martin

Frank Martin shared a photo on his Facebook status last week that caught my attention.  He was in his familiar spot on keyboards, in the middle of a rehearsal led by Sting with a group of other musicians as they prepared for the 25th Anniversary Rain Forest benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on April 17.

Frank Martin (photo via
It's not unusual for Frank Martin to be associated with musicians like Sting, or for that matter musicians with names like Lady Gaga, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Al Jarreau, Larry Coryell ... well, just go to his website to see even more of a roster of well-known names Frank has been associated with through the years.  Or just go to his website and enjoy the original soft jazz that plays right along with your browsing.

It's tasty stuff.

Martin has a musical resume that's nothing short of breathtaking.  He's a clinician/teacher at the University of California at Berkeley, he teaches classes in arranging, composition, rhythm, piano, improv, he has his own recording studio in San Rafael, and he's worked with ... well, let's just say he's worked with a dazzling array of artists through the years.

Another photo from the preparations for the last Rain Forest concert was a simple one, taken from the stage facing the seats that would be filled by an audience in the prestigious hall.  The photo showed a drum set that would be manned by a longtime associate of Martin's, drummer Narada Michael Walden, who has a long and storied musical history of his own as a musician and Grammy Award-winning producer.

Frank has been a mainstay in Narada's band for a lot of years, in part because -- as Narada himself has said -- Frank Martin can play any style, whether it's jazz, pop, funk, soul, you name it.  It pays to be versatile.

That's how you get a gig like the one at Carnegie Hall for the Rain Forest foundation.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

'A friend of a friend of ...': Jeff Pehrson

Keep in mind, this "friend of a friend" social networking adventure began with a trip to the San Francisco area.  So, what does that mean when it comes to any trend that is prevalent in my daily social networking news feed since then?

To riff on a famous line from a movie, "I see Dead people."

As in The Grateful Dead.  Images of Jerry Garcia pop up quite often, in various ways.  I see people who've shared a stage with Jerry, a former girlfriend and mother to one of Jerry's children, people who've shot countless photos of him and the band, and even more countless fans of The Dead, people who are eager to share any bootlegged recording and can name exact dates they saw the beloved band, like so many other Deadheads around the world.

Jeff Pehrson performs with Furthur.  (Photo via
I can't claim people like Grateful Dead guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir or bassist Phil Lesh among those "friends of friends."  But there is a connection in Jeff Pehrson, who performs backing vocals with Lesh and Weir's band Furthur when he's not working with his own folk rock band, The Fall Risk.  While you're at it, check out Pehrson's music with another folk rock band he co-founded, Box Set.

Pehrson has serious songwriting skills which makes the music of Box Set and The Fall Risk unique on their own.  When it comes to the time he's spent with the rock music legends that are Weir and Lesh, try listening to recordings of Garcia singing a song, and then follow that up with the sound of Pehrson singing.  It'll soon become a bit obvious why Jeff Pehrson is a part of that Dead-like family, and has been since he joined Furthur in 2010.

The spirit of The Dead lives on to this day, and just might never die.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

'A friend of a friend of ...': Dave Getz

Unless you look closely at some of the names in my Facebook friends list -- those "friends of friends of" actual friends -- you might not give much thought to who some of these people are or what they've done.  When you look at their biographies, that's when pieces of modern music history can hit you like a freight train going full-speed.

Dave Getz
Such is the story with Dave Getz.  He's a gifted visual artist.  That's basically what took him to the Bay Area, to study art and try to make a name for himself with his talent holding a brush and creating works of art that are appealing to the eyes.  Before that, he'd shown serious chops as a drummer in the New York area.  He went on to study art in the San Francisco area, and met Peter Albin, who was with a band called Big Brother and The Holding Company.  Dave let Peter know that he played the drums, Dave soon became a member of Big Brother himself.

Later on in 1966, there came a singer from Texas who would join the group as well.  She would set the world of rock music on fire and become a legend with her powerful voice.  Her name was Janis Joplin.

Big Brother's album "Cheap Thrills" went to No. 1 in 1968 and stayed there for eight weeks.  Playing in that band which had already started establishing itself on the instrumental side, having Janis Joplin bolster it vocally ... it was a defining moment.  Janis left the band in 1968, and Getz went on to play with Country Joe and The Fish.

That association with Big Brother and Janis Joplin will stay with Dave Getz forever.  He's still playing, teaching others how to play, still working on his visual art.

Looking behind the names can paint a fascinating picture of a person's life.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

'A friend of a friend of ...': Greg Errico

"Laying it down for Sly & The Family Stone, Greg Errico had more pocket than a giant in dungarees. The band busted down musical barriers at will, blending soul, funk and even psychedelic rock. Underpinning it all was Errico’s impeccable syncopation and dance-floor friendly grooves."
Greg Errico
Imagine how blown away I was back in the early part of 2012 when I started networking with musical friends of newfound friends on Facebook and considered the things some of them had accomplished.  Last year, when I saw a list of the "100 most influential drummers of all time" (which the quote above came from) and saw the name Greg Errico in there, I thought, "Hey, I know that name."

When you listen to the Sly song "Dance To The Music" and the drum is highlighted, that's Greg Errico you're listening to.  It was his syncopation that was a crucial ingredient in some of the great Sly & The Family Stone tunes, a groundbreaking soul and funk outfit from the late '60s and early '70s that was incendiary both on- and off-stage, having a part in Woodstock and going on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He left the Family in 1971, but his resume would be added to with touring stints in Weather Report in 1973, David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" tour in 1974, Santana, the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band, blues harp master Lee Oskar, to name just a few.  He still plays and produces.  In soul/funk/rock music history, his reputation is etched in (Sly's) Stone.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

'A friend of a friend of ...': David Freiberg

Now, let's see, where was I before I interrupted myself?  Oh, yeah, talking about the musical friends of friends I've come across on Facebook.  That list has grown since the last time I did anything in this series, but for now I'm sticking with some of the Bay Area talent that helped to put that area on the musical map.

David Freiberg
I'll pick this series back up after a lengthy intermission by putting a spotlight on multi-instrumental talent David Freiberg.

Freiberg was a founding member of a San Francisco area rock music institution, Quicksilver Messenger Service, who went on to play with other Bay Area rock institutions -- Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, and the bands they were an important part of for so long, Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship (that's him on the organ on the timeless "Miracles").

Freiberg's impact on classic rock music can especially be felt when you hear the Jefferson Starship song "Jane" played on the radio.  Freiberg shares writing credit on that one.

Freiberg is still flying on that Jefferson Starship to this day.  It's cool to see Facebook status updates from him that talk about catching a flight from the San Francisco airport to some far-away show, keeping the memories and those classic songs alive.

It's the classics that deserve to be kept alive.