Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just Your Fool

Manama, Bahrain

Wednesday was another great day, with a very full and rewarding schedule. In the morning, we traveled out to the Royal University for Women. Our journey took us past some ancient burial mounds, a cool, new Formula One race track, past some desert camping tents complete with air conditioning and satellite dishes. It was kind of a Bahraini version of a Winnebago camper. We were warmly greeted for another fantastic music education program at the University, where there were both female and male students. I passed out a few more harmonicas and they had big fun learning the train boogie woogie in front of their peers. After our performance we were presented with an impressive plaque which I plan to show off upon my return. We also enjoyed a marvelous lunch buffet with students that included many traditional foods, as well as choices of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. The soda cans look cool with Arabic writing on the side. Teenagers seem to be the same wherever you go. One of the common questions they ask us about our visit is "have you been to the big mall yet?"
The future looks bright!

In the afternoon, we did an interview with an Arabic newspaper, and it should be interesting to see our picture and an article about us in a local rag. I wish I could read in Arabic. I had a few bumps in the road yesterday. My new harmonica amplifier continued to blow fuses. Fortunately, Mark the sound technician at the Upstairs/Downstairs Jazz Club, raced me to a local to music store before the gig, where my problem was diagnosed and solved!! He's my new best friend and lifesaver! I'm sure glad it got fixed and I didn't end up having to carry around a heavy, non-functioning amplifier for the next few weeks.

Little Joe was brilliant at the evening performance last night. The venue was a posh restaurant and Jazz Club. When we arrived, Little Joe's name was in lights on the marquee. There were table tents on every table and the show had obviously been well promoted. The meal was fantastic and we met a lot of ex-pats, even one couple that is going to catch back up with us Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The quartet was well received and we played no less than 4 encores. It was 1 am when we arrived back at our hotel, bleary-eyed but satisfied.

Today is our big concert at the Cultural Hall. The show has been getting the "big build-up" all week. We should have our biggest crowd so far. We'll do another educational workshop at the Gifted Students Center prior to the concert. Never a dull minute.

I wonder if they celebrate April Fool's Day in Bahrain?? Because the weather forecast is predicting snow for today.

Young Fashioned Ways

Manama, Bahrain
We jammed with many musicians at the Bahrain Music Institute
Tuesday was a fantastic day, full of opportunities to meet and make new friends! It was our first full day of programming in Bahrain. The weather is hot, but we had some clouds, and even a few drops of rain, which constitutes one of the 10 days a year it rains here in Bahrain.

Our first stop was an all school assembly at the Abdulrahman Kanoo International School. It was a Blues education and musical performance for the whole school, with students of all ages coming in and out during the performance. The good news is that so far, everyone speaks fluent English and we are able to present all of our material without any misunderstandings or the need for translations. We had everyone clapping and moving in their seats. We handed out about a half dozen of the Hohner harmonicas we brought with us, and gave an on the spot lesson on stage to a few upper grade level kids. We had them playing the train boogie woogie in no time, and everyone hollered "I know you're right!"

After a quick lunch at a Bahraini Subway and Starbucks, we headed to Bahrain Radio for a fun filled interview and studio music session on DJ Kraazy Kevin's afternoon drive time radio show. Kevin is a zany Brit who showcased our big upcoming concert on Thursday night at the Cultural Hall. His interview questions were funny and right on. I whipped out another harmonica and gave an on-air lesson and had him playing for his listeners. We traveled light into the studio, but Little Joe had his guitar, Robbie had his bass and a very small amp, I played my portable tin sandwiches, and Ronnie delighted us all with his improvised drum set constructed out of a notebook binder and a binder clip. I'm continually amazed at Little Joe's encyclopedic knowledge about all things Blues. I learn something new from him everyday! Robbie is able to effortlessly talk about our tour at the drop of a hat. All of us together add our own unique flavor to the American Roots Soup Recipe for the Blues.

Joey and the oud player
In the evening we went to the Bahrain Music Institute, where there a few dozen music lovers and students there for a Masterclass. We started with a mini performance, followed by break-out groups to learn about guitar, harmonica and rhythm. After 30 minutes, we returned for a fun-filled jam session, joined by a very talented oud player, trombone, trumpet and clarinet. Jammers joined in. We played the classic Muddy Waters' blues "I'm a Man", followed by a funky rendition of "Crosscut Saw" a la Albert King. After the show we had a television interview and finished off with dinner in a Mexican restaurant. All in all, it was a very full day, packed with rewarding experiences.

Upon our return to the Golden Tulip hotel, I found this touching letter in my email:

A Fan letter from a student from AbdulRahman Kanoo school!

Dear Mr. David Berntson,

Well, I don’t want this letter to sound so formal because is a fan letter so let me start off by saying hey ya'll. I wanted to congratulate you on your very successful concert today in AbdulRahman Kanoo school. You guy were really awfully great. You had the power to grab our eyes and set them on you. Now ever since my friends and I heard how awesome you guy were we decided to take you're autographs and do some research about ya'll but we couldn’t really find much info. except for this e-mail address to be the way of communication between ya'll and us. What you guys do is breathe taking and we would love to see you once more before you leave. I'm writing this letter hoping that you'd receive it and see how much we think you were great this morning.

P.S: I'm a 9th grader…. and you guys ROCK <3 <3 <3 !!!!!!!!!

I am moved by the genuine friendship and goodwill efforts shown to us by the people we are teaching and playing for. We signed lots of autographs and people seemed to hold on to our hands for an extended period of time when shaking, expressing a heartfelt, positive connection. It is absolutely fantastic.

Check back soon for pictures of the day.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm a Stranger Here, Just Rolled Into Town

Manama, Bahrain
Joey & David in the Garden of Eden
The LJMQ arrived intact in Bahrain last night after a long air journey with no problems. We recieved the VIP welcome into a posh airport lounge while David Eddington expedited the paper work, so when the time came we just strolled through like big Blues VIP's.

We are staying at the Golden Tulip Hotel in downtown Manama. Last night we walked a few blocks to the Paradise Cafe for a wonderful dinner of Middle Eastern food. Everyone had something different and the food was great and cheap. My meal cost 3.50 BD about $15. The paradise will be our home away from home while we are in Bahrain. Robbie, Ronnie and Joey awoke about 4 am to the sounds of a call to prayer. My room is on the back side of the hotel, and I didn't hear it, I was either didn't hear it or was so passed out, probably the latter.

This morning, the hotel had a gigantic breakfast buffet, full of fruits and waffles, eggs, cheese, hummus, even bacon. There were lots of sweet juices....watermelon juice, strawberry juice, etc... Some people believe that Bahrain might have been the Garden of Eden! I can see why.
Robbie & Joey in Bahrain

Ronnie and Joey took a walk around the neighborhood this morning and we're starting to feel like we're really here! This afternoon we're going to go to a market area and look for the hook-up on some rugs and pearls for our girlfriends back home.

Tomorrow is a full day of programming. We'll be at Abdulrahman Kanoo International School in the morning, on Bahrain Radio with DJ Krazy Kevin in the afternoon, then Masterclasses at the Bahrain Music Institute in the evening. We finish off the day with a TV interview with an English speaking TV station. Should be fun.

As the blues song says, A stranger is just a friend that you don't know. I'm looking forward to making lots of new friends.

Much more later,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I've Got Ramblin' on My Mind

Tulsa, OK
That's one fine Salvador Dali tie!
Joey said his grandfather gave it to him and it's his favorite.
The countdown to the Rhythm Road is on. We have only a few more days until we leave on this incredible odyssey to the other side of the world. I look around at Springtime in Oklahoma, with the last bit of winter in the form of a weekend snowstorm, and daffodils and tulip trees blooming amid it all. I know that the climate in the Middle East will be very different, and I'm anxious to see and feel the warm sea breezes and the desert air.

"A horse of a different color"
Blues in the Schools at Putnam City, OK
I'm finishing up with my schools here in Oklahoma. I recently had a wonderful experience working with students at the Putnam City Academy near Oklahoma City. I taught Blues in the Schools to high school kids over a 2 day period. I couldn't help but wonder what the young people in the Arabian peninsula will be like. Will the classrooms there will be similar to this one pictured from Putnam City, with a fine statue of a blue Arabian horse? Or maybe there will be a beautiful multi-colored dromedary in the background of the Arabian classroom? From my experience, kids are kids, wherever I go. There are many different cultural identities to respect, but once the connection is made with our music, I know that it will speak volumes and transcend any barriers that may exist.

In the next few days, we'll be finalizing our itinerary with the incredible coordinators at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the various embassies where we'll be guests. At this point, it looks like we'll be scheduled to play in some very diverse settings. We'll be at several schools, embassies, playing concerts and holding workshops at universities....we're even doing a radio interview in Bahrain with DJ Kraazy Kevin! I can't wait.

We played our last few gigs in town before the trip. We had a great time playing at Bodean's and Ciao's in Tulsa. Many friends came out to hear about our adventure and offer encouragement and support. I'm a very fortunate guy to have so many friends that I care about and who care about me. Now, it's time to organize and continue packing. I'm wondering how many shiny suits and pointy shoes will fit in my suitcase....

Next post will be from Bahrain!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Booked and Bound to Go

Tulsa, OK
Little Joe McLerran Quartet, NYC, December, 2009
David Berntson, Little Joe McLerran, Ronnie McRorey, Robbie Mack

Hello Friends,
This is my maiden entry in Bernesto's Beat. I've set this up as a journal of my upcoming adventures on The Rhythm Road and to keep my friends updated on our journey.
This first week in March has been very full with a trip to Washington, DC and New York City for briefings at the State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center. After having all our gear, including our luggage and instruments, screened at the State Department, we met all the partners involved in this incredible Rhythm Road exchange. We gained valuable knowledge about many of the customs in the Arabian peninsula. We did a drive-by through many of the national monuments and my hotel room in DC was larger than our first house on 66th Place in Tulsa!!

On leaving the State Department, we headed for the train station for a 3 hour train ride north to New York City. We were traveling with Shana and Jasna, coordinators from Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as Chen Lo and the Liberation Family, another quartet scheduled to leave on their tour for countries in the same region in mid-March. I was impressed by the fantastic Union station in DC...lots of marble, tall ceilings, bustling people, and cool trains. It was a 3+ hour trip into colder weather and snow on the ground. We were happy to arrive at Penn Station in New York City and head to our now familiar hotel on 57th St near Jazz at Lincoln Center.

On Wednesday, we were coached and supported by the staff at Lincoln Center and a fantastic artist, educator and musician named Bob Stewart. Bob appreciates what we do and offered us the kindest "most-right-on" support in terms we could understand and relate to. We were also introduced to Billy Banks, who will be traveling with us in the first leg of our tour in Bahrain. He'll also drive us across the causeway to Saudi Arabia. Billy was the road manager for Wynton Marsalis for many years. I felt an instant connection with him and I'm looking forward to having his expertise guiding us on the first part of our journey in a strange and wonderful new land.

We flew home to Tulsa late Wednesday night and I finished up my work week in schools. Saturday night, the Little Joe Blues Quartet played a great music room in Tahlequah, Oklahoma called Granny's Attic. It's an Irish Pub with a great sound system and an established music tradition. Tonight, the Little Joe Blues Quartet is at Bodean's Seafood Restaurant from 6-9 pm.

With less than 3 weeks to our departure, we're tuning our engines, checking the oil, and charging our batteries for our journey on the Rhythm Road.