NAMM 2015-The Musician’s PlaygroundBusiness and Lifestyle, Entertainment, Events — By Buddy Sampson on January 28, 2015 at 9:00 pm
By Buddy Sampson and Richard Ginell
A playground is defined as “a place where a particular group of people choose to enjoy themselves.” By that definition, the NAMM convention, which takes place annually at the Anaheim Convention Center in Orange County, is a playground for musicians, but music lovers and music product merchants will find the event equally as enjoyable.
Every year, NAMM has all of the gear that represents the many technological advances in music. And there’s something there for everyone. Whether you want to see the latest in musical products, a gripping performance or musicians demonstrating and performing with the products they endorse, NAMM will satisfy even the toughest musical product critic. But there were great individual performances as well.
We stopped by The NAMM Museum of Making Music booth on Friday and were treated to a gospel performance by Isha Love, a young and talented pianist, who will soon shake up the gospel world. She’s a true talent.
Our crew made a concerted effort to see many of the booths, but it is virtually impossible to see all the booths unless you attend all five days. Even then, it’s unlikely, reminiscent of the Anaheim Convention Center’s neighbor, Disneyland, to see it all in one day. We took a walk and were surprised to run into Recording Artist, songwriter and singer Cee Lo Green, who was running the Musicares booth. “Musicares is a collective effort to inform, inspire and to also support those who definitely want to be involved,” said Cee Lo about Musicares, an organization that “provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in need.”
“It’s about music education and compassion, which all music and art should be stemming from. I believe that the music I’ve been able to do thus far, a great deal of it qualifies as social and civil service and it’s great to be about transferring positive energy to empower someone.” Unlike many singers and musicians, Cee Lo takes the time to follow up with students and the musicians and singers he sometimes encourages.
“You have to come out and be a part of it,” said Cee Lo, who has a reputation of helping other artists and giving back to the community. “You have to see how people are committing themselves and the sacrifices and commitments they make.” Cee Lo has a new project in the works after his critically acclaimed recent Christmas project.
At NAMM, the old-school trend in electric keyboards seems to have taken a further leap backwards. No longer content just to simulate the sounds of vintage analog keyboards through sampling, instrument manufacturers are actually bringing back many of the old instruments, now fortified with more stable digital technology. All throughout the show, you could see thickets of old-fashioned colored patch cords plugged into jacks in the consoles of new synthesizers. Korg has revived the ARP Odyssey, one of the most popular synthesizers of the 1970s (Herbie Hancock, George Duke, etc.), re-creating all three of its editions at 86% scale with a tiny keyboard that is, alas, a challenge to play. The Mellotron, famously used by the Beatles and the Moody Blues, is back; so is Sequential Circuits’ legendary Prophet Line, now manufactured by Dave Smith, the original Prophet 5 designer. The crowded Moog Music booth was full of re-creations of old instruments with patch bays and dials galore, and we enjoyed hearing a jam session on these monstrous contraptions featuring Malcolm Cecil, the synth pioneer who helped shape Stevie Wonder’s unique electronic sound world in the ‘70s. With this and the surge in vinyl LP sales in mind, it’s clear that analog is in.
In the further exploration of booth watching, we stopped by the Canopus drum booth and happened upon legendary drummer Alphonse Mouzon, who enthusiastically endorses Canopus drums and Zildjian cymbals among other manufacturers. When asked about the difference between Canopus drums and other drum projects, he raved about the products. “The craftsmanship and the sound is the best,” said Mouzon. “It holds its resonance and it holds and keeps the sound. I like it in the studio and live. And everybody that hears them who are not much aware of Canopus says ‘I want those drums.’ Even (drummer) Harvey Mason said, ‘I want those drums.’ And now he’s playing them.”
We asked Mouzon about his latest projects. “I’m working on two CD’s simultaneously, “ said Alphonse Mouzon. “One is called ‘High Noon’ it’s kind of bluesy, funk kind of stuff, and ‘Smooth As Silk,’ which is more contemporary, smooth and R&B. It features me playing a lot of trumpet. I’m playing trumpet, keyboards and drums.”
The Best Sound Check Ever
While roaming around the booths, we decided to get something to eat and passed George Clinton as he was doing his sound check for his later performance. Turns out, we were in for an unexpected treat. While testing the sound equipment, he had his singers and rappers doing new material from his current project, “first-ya-gotta-shake-the-gate.” A gathering of about 30 people began to realize what they were witnessing- a man, George Clinton that was fully and completely involved with his band. He is a veteran bandleader and it showed- he instructed the sound people, he told band members specifically what to play and was in full control. We were very impressed. In the sound check, the music that was played was a sensational hybrid of Hip hop/Gangsta Rap and Funk and it worked to perfection.
Later that evening, George Clinton and Funkadelic took the stage and did not disappoint, although we wished that he would have performed more of the material from his new project and one of his signature hits, “Flashlight.” But it was like watching a funk opera. We’d never seen so many people on the stage at once. It was organized chaos. But so much fun. Three guys or ladies would leave, only to be replaced by 5 others. There was a guy that was holding up signs, as if to explain the craziness on stage that was happening.
There was a gorgeous singer with a silver outfit on skates. A young kid, maybe 7 or 8 wowed the audience with his incredible guitar playing. Guitarist Ricky Rouse wowed as usual. And there was George Clinton, the commander of it all, seemingly relishing in the deliciousness of it. While loose, it was marvelous. We laughed and laughed. And we were glad we caught the sound check.
We would have loved to stay at the Musician’s Playground, NAMM and see more of the booths and more of the products, which included Fender, Zildjian, Ibanez, Roland, Monster, Guild, Pedulla and thousands of manufacturers and performers, but so many products, so little time. Be sure to catch next year’s NAMM and enjoy the playground.
Richard S. Ginell, who wrote the section on keyboards, is a keyboardist, writer, and music critic. He’s best known for his work for Variety and for the Los Angeles Times. Enjoy his playing with The Jazz Scribes, at Sam’s By The Beach, in Santa Monica, February 13th, 2015.