Archive for February, 2009

Do Tweeters know about my blog?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Does this auto-tweet thing work?
If I jumped in a peat bog would they find my body in a thousand years?
How come people pay money to go up tall buildings, then put money in telescopes to look at things on the ground?

It’s all very perplexing.


Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Twitter is the new fad. I’m a sheep. Let me know it this works for you!

Venezuelan orchestra online

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The sensational performance at TED by Gustavo Dudamel and the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, which I raved about on Feb 6th, is now online.

I urge you to check it out. This is not classical music as we know it!

TED House Band from 2008

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

As there was no TED House Band this year, and many people told me they missed us, I decided to post a single MP3 of the pieces we played in 2008. Thanks to all who enjoyed it while it was posted!

Here’s the running order:

Mocha Swing (originally performed by Quadro Nuevo)
Tubas In The Moonlight (originally performed by The Bonzos)
Hello Cruel World (sung by Rachelle Garniez)
War Games (originally performed by Special AKA)
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
I’ve See That Face Before (originally performed by Grace Jones)
Hell I’d Go (originally performed by Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks)
Pre-Post Apocalypse (sung by Rachelle Garniez and others)
The Canyons Of Your Mind (originally performed by The Bonzos)
La Bombe D’Amour (Cajun cover of Whole Lotta Love feat. Kaki King))
We’ll Meet again (feat. Vusi Mahlasela, Nellie MacKay)


TED House Band 2008 (L>R Mark Stewart, Rachelle Garniez, Rufus Capadocia, Thomas Dolby)

Herbie Hancock, Jamie Cullum

Monday, February 9th, 2009


Herbie Hancock (pic: Larry Johnson)


Marcus Miller and Harvey Mason (pic: Larry Johnson)

A couple of wonderful jazzers wrapped up TED’s music program.

Herbie Hancock performed at the very first TED, 25 years ago. He has been many times since (14 by his reckoning) and has played on most occasions. He’s got a lovely stage presence and generosity of spirit. On this occasion he was backed by longtime cohorts Marcus Miller (bass) and Harvey Mason (drums). They jammed on a revitalised tune from a late 60′s album of Herbie’s, before Herbie disappeared offstage and came back on wearing a white Roland MIDI remote keyboard around his neck, and they went into ‘Watermelon Man’. if you think don’t know this tune—you do. The bass riff is to bass what ‘Smoke On The Water’ is to guitar. Unfortunately for Herbie, his wireless MIDI transmitter was receiving some interference (probably from all the VC’s in the room tweeting on their Blackberries!) and he was getting a lot of latency… making him sound a lot more like ME than usual.

Jamie Cullum was a delight. He cuts a diminuitive figure in his jeans and t-shirt with his shaggy hair, but he’s instantly likeable and a terrific, fearless vocalist and pianist. A bit like a modern Dudley Moore. A lot of older TEDsters often ask me for a little swing or a few showtunes, which ordinarily I have to wriggle out of, but Jamie is quite happy to play snippets of ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ or ‘Singing In The Rain’ and is able to make them sound young, fresh and accessible, while he bangs on his piano lid and thumps on a kick drum with a spare foot.

I’m now sitting at LAX about to baord a plane back to London. It was a terrific TED, and the transition went much better than we could have expected. There’s always a bit of a hangover after the show ends, but this year I’m quite relaxed compared to most years when I’ve just completed 11-12 performances, as we as sitting through the amazing speakers and the emotional roller coaster ride. I am really looking forward to getting home and getting stuck into my own music. From here on I should have a straight shot to the completion of my new album—barring a few promotional bits and pieces to support the upcoming ‘Singular’ album, and the re-release of Golden Age Of Wireless and The Flat Earth.


Jamie Cullum (pic: David Geller)

Regina Spektor

Friday, February 6th, 2009

I think Regina is an incredible talent. Her voice is one of those that is effortlessly melodic with perfect natural pitch and tone, and she plays like a concert pianist. When her family arrived in America when she was ten, they had given up almost everything. They had no money and couldn’t afford a piano for her. Her mother had been a music conservatory teacher in Russia, but took up teaching in a severely deprived Bronx public school where she had to huddle together a class of elementary age kids in the middle of a gymnasium with no windows, which the whole school had to walk through to get to the bathroom at one end. Yet they managed to send Regina for piano lessons, and she feels it saved her life.

Many of today’s singer-songwriters I could take or leave, but Regina’s one I think has really got something. Perhaps it’s her Russian roots. Regina had heard of TED, and seen some of the downloadable TEDtalks, including this one by Sir Ken Robinson which has been so inspirational to educators and creative people around the world. She was delighted when we got in touch with her to invite her to come and play. Yet when we spoke on the phone a week ago, she was feeling very intimidated, having seen her name listed among nuclear physicists, ocean explorers, architects and social reformers. She couldn’t imagine what she could possibly say that would be worthy of that company. I told her she didn’t need to say anything, she could just sing. “Really? Oh god I’m so relieved!” And sing she did. She played us ‘Apres Moi’, and melted hearts when she broke into Russian in the second verse. She started—and then forgot!—a song called ‘Genius Next Door’, and in her nervousness mumbled, “now what am I going to play for 18 minutes?” Of course, TED loves it when people reveal their humanity, and she had won us all over. She played two very personal but mellow songs, then wrapped up with ‘On The Radio’, which of course many people recognised. But a song that I’d thought of as a pop song took on a whole new dimension in this context. She struck such a chord with me with these lyrics:

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood


(Pic: David Geller)

Over the next 24 hours I heard an outpouring of admiration for Regina from the TED crowd. I chatted to her last night at a party and she was completely awestruck and overwhelmed by what she’s heard and seen at the conference. Yet her presence here is what TED’s all about: the give and take of brilliant people from many different fields and backgrounds, melting into a flow of ideas that inspires us to action.

José Antonio Arbreu

Friday, February 6th, 2009

One of this year’s TED Prize winners is José Antonio Arbreu. What an astonishing story. In the seventies Arbreu, a symphonic musician, started a program in his native Venezuela to get empoverished kids off the streets and transform their lives through classical music. He called this program El Sistema. Thirty years later his youth orchestras are considered some of the finest in the world. And last night we found out why: When a satellite link took us to Caracas for Arbreu’s very poetic acceptance speech, we were treated to a live performance by an orchestra of world-class teenage musicians, conducted by his protegé Gustavo Dudamel, now famous as the music director of the LA Philharmonic.

To describe this orchestra as spirited is an understatement. They are magnificent. They play music the way the Brazillians play football: it’s like a lifeline to them. And, as Chris Anderson pointed out, for a country like Venezuela to have a world class orchestra is good incentive to learn how to do a world class orchestral TV production—the camerawork and editing were exemplary. It’s usually pretty hard to get a talking head to work over a satellite link, let alone a live orchestral performance. It was simply breathtaking, and everybody around me was in tears, myself included.


(Pic: Larry Johnson)


Friday, February 6th, 2009

GamelanX is a San Francisco Bay Area collective headed by composer Eric ‘EO’ Oberthaler. They created a beautiful, original piece just for TED, collaborating with a dance troupe from Philadelphia called ArcheDream, who use black light and perform in elaborate Indonesian masks and costumes, aided by invisible ‘Ninjas’ who perform magical lifts and animate flying silk butterflies. They took full advantage of the massive stage at our new digs in Long Beach—this would never have been possible in Monterey. The piece was the mesmerising ‘Spiral Flower’, featuring a mysterious obligato piano part, woven inside and out by a haunting female soprano, with their two gamalan virtuosos chiming gently over the top. Simply gorgeous.

I’ve been too lame to figure Yesenia’s camera out, but TEDster David Geller said I could use his shots!


Gamelan X



TED balloon escapes!

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Naturally 7, Jill Sobule, Ben Zander

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009


(pic: Joshua Wanyama)

These guys rocked the first TED session. Jill kicked off from the simulcast in Palm Springs with a typically melodic and enchanting song, written brand new for us of course, about her trip to the desert, and a motel that looked different from the web site. Jill has played many, many TED conferences going back to before the current Chris Anderson era, and though Chris is a stickler for ‘fresh’ Jill manages to come up with something fresh every time.

Naturally 7 are an a cappella group from New York, though that hardly does them justice—they call what they do ‘vocal play’ which means they ‘box’ multiple instruments, kinda the way Bobby McFerrin does it, but all at once and enhanced with realtime effects. For example, one of them sings a screaming lead guitar part, and it’s treated at the mixing board through a fuzz pedal and delays. We first became aware of N7 when we spotted a clip on YouTube that featured the band singing ‘In The Air Tonight’ in a rush-hour Paris subway car.

Ben Zander, director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, made a popular return to TED and coaxed us through singing the conference a happy 25th birthday, in Ben’s own inimitable way. He’s one of the most infectious speakers I’ve ever seen: just check out his TEDtalk from last year.

I was hoping there’d be a source of photos that I could rapidly link in, but the TED gallery seems to be a day or two behind. So I’ve borrowed a camera from Yesenia and if I can work out how to use it I’ll start to add pics to these blogs. I have to tell you all about Gamelan X, but I have to rush off to Session 3. Next up is the adorable Regina….