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Mitch Stein Discusses His NOLA Roots, Promoting Concerts, Playing With Members Of The Dead & More [Interview]

first_imgIn April, the world-famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival will return to the Fair Grounds Race Course in celebration of the longstanding event’s 50th anniversary. Musician, bandleader, promoter, film producer, and modern-day musical Renaissance man Mitch Stein fell in love with Jazz Fest more than 25 years ago, and has been involved with the event’s annual festivities in some capacity ever since. This year, Stein will bring a plethora of hard-hitting late-night shows to Café Istanbul, including the 5th Annual all-star celebration of the Grateful Dead dubbed AXIAL TILT.As New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival approaches, Live For Live Music‘s Sam Berenson had a chat with Mitch Stein to discuss his love for New Orleans and its musical culture, the upcoming shows he’s promoting surrounding Jazz Fest, his love for the Grateful Dead and more.Sam Berenson: What initially inspired your interest in New Orleans’ music scene?Mitch Stein: I became familiar with New Orleans music at a relatively young age. My dad was a professional singer, and used to play big band and Dixieland/New Orleans records in the house on a very regular basis. I had already become a big fan of The Radiators by the late 1980’s, and my interest in them guided me towards my first trip to New Orleans. I first attended Jazz Fest more than 25 years ago, and it was on that first visit that Charles Neville (who I had booked years earlier with the Neville Brothers at a show in New York, when I was in college) invited me to sit in with him at Storyville.From that moment, I decided to attend every Jazz Fest I could, and with eternal thanks to Charles, I began my now decades-long immersive study of all things New Orleans. This also subsequently led to the formation of GATORATORS in 2012 with Dave Malone, Camile Baudoin, and Reggie Scanlan from The Radiators, plus drummer Eric Bolivar, with whom I had played music before he moved to NOLA from the Bay Area. The band has been playing together ever since.SB: What effect has being a musician and playing music had on your professional career in the industry?MS: I’ve been playing piano since I was 4 years old. I studied classical piano for 10 years, then switched to formal jazz training, including studying and performing at the Berklee College Of Music. In addition to my own projects, I have for years been a “hired gun” for other folks’ jazz, rock, blues, and funk projects, and my decades-long experience of being both a player and bandleader (and film producer) has provided me with the tools necessary to not only communicate and perform with other professional musicians and production professionals, but has paved the way for my now ongoing role as Exclusive Booker and Producer of the night-time Jazz Fest shows at Café Istanbul.SB: Is there anything you’re looking particularly forward to this year during Jazz Fest?MS: While I am extremely happy with this year’s calendar of phenomenal shows at Café Istanbul featuring New Orleans musicians nearly every night, I am admittedly very excited to host The Brecker Brothers Band on May 5th. The Breckers provided the soundtrack for a large segment of my musically formative years, and it’s pretty cool to have things now come full circle, resulting in the upcoming show. The level of musicianship in that band is way off the charts, and while every show on the calendar is worth catching, this show will definitely be a “you-should-have-been-there” experience.SB: What’s the history behind your relationship with Café Istanbul?MS: I first reached out to the owner of Café Istanbul prior to Jazz Fest 2015 to pitch him on an all-star, 2-night celebration of the Grateful Dead called AXIAL TILT (timed with the Dead’s 50th Anniversary). He explained that he was already booked on my requested dates, and we said our goodbyes. A few minutes later, he called to say that he had been contemplating my proposal and was going to go with his gut, allow me the chance to produce the shows, and shift the folks already confirmed to another date.Those shows went so well that he asked if I would be interested in being the exclusive booker for all shows at Café Istanbul during Jazz Fest, and I jumped at the chance. This will be my fifth year booking shows there, and I am extremely appreciative to have been given this opportunity. I am even happier that in addition to thoroughly enjoying the high-level music performed at the shows they attend, folks who pack the place every night really love the overall experience the venue and its staff provides.SB: You’re clearly a big fan of the Grateful Dead. How did you your relationship with the band/music begin?MS: As mentioned before, I had been studying classical piano for 10 years, and was then immersed in formal jazz training when a friend of mine called to tell me that he had an extra ticket for a rock concert and asked if I wanted to join him. I hadn’t yet heard of the Grateful Dead, and assumed by their name that they were some type of hard rock band. When I went to my first Dead show, I quickly discovered to my now lifelong delight that this wasn’t a rock band per se, but a jazz band performing in the rock idiom. The level of musicianship and onstage communication between the band members was stunning, and I was hooked from the first show.I bought a ticket for the following night’s show and was again delighted to discover that not a single song was repeated from the night before. I could spend a LONG time talking about the myriad ways that the Grateful Dead and their music has positively affected my life; suffice it to say that having seen nearly 400 Grateful Dead concerts (plus another 300 or so solo Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and other band members’ solo and collaborative projects), the Dead’s music—and its direct relationship to the world of Jazz—is very much a part of my DNA. I have now officially performed music with every living member of the Grateful Dead, and I feel very fortunate that living and working in the San Francisco area offers me regular opportunities to celebrate them and their music.As a New Orleans side note for those unaware, the Neville Brothers opened for the Grateful Dead at eight of their shows, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Michael Doucet & BeauSoleil each opened once, and Branford Marsalis joined them on several occasions. Other notable jazz-oriented live Grateful Dead show collaborators include Billy Cobham, Charles Lloyd, David Murray, Etta James, Flora Purim, Ken Nordine, and Ornette Coleman.SB: Tell me a little bit about the formation of your “AXIAL TILT” event.MS: As I mentioned earlier, AXIAL TILT began in 2015 as a 2-night celebration of the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary. I assembled an incredible tribute ensemble comprised largely of members of the Dead’s extended family including Stu Allen (Phil Lesh & Friends), Rob Eaton (Dark Star Orchestra), Robin Sylvester (RatDog), Jay Lane (RatDog), original Grateful Dead member and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux, and Charles Neville. We are now getting ready for the fifth annual AXIAL TILT (the same lineup but with Joan Osborne on vocals and Dino English from Dark Star Orchestra on drums; Charles unfortunately passed away last year), and will once again present two nice, long evenings of live Grateful Dead nuggets. Each performance will include one acoustic and two electric sets per night, with no repeat of any songs.SB: What’s your fondest memory of Leo Nocentelli?MS: I’d have to say the very first time I saw Leo with The Meters in New Orleans many years ago. I was familiar with their music, but watching the actual Godfathers Of Funk in person for the first time, and hearing Leo’s ultra-familiar guitar riffs in real time and in person, was one of the highlights of all of my years attending Jazz Fest. To now have him performing exclusively at Café Istanbul this year during Jazz Fest’s night-time shows is one long “pinch me” moment. And since I am also a member of Voyager, I’ll also get to check off a personal bucket list item when I’ll have the chance to actually jam with him on April 27!SB: I see Eric Krasno is involved with a bunch of your late-nights. Where did that friendship begin?MS: While our paths have crossed many times over the years, this will be the first time that we’ll be working together. I have been a fan of Eric’s for many years, and have actually tried to book him the past couple of years I’ve been booking the Istanbul lineup. This is the first year that the scheduling gods have paved the way for our collaboration, and I am more than excited to experience his artistry on my “home turf” in musical conversation with folks like Leo Nocentelli, Jason Crosby, Johnny Vidacovich, Renard Poché, Reggie Scanlan, Mark Brooks, Will Bernard, Wil Blades, Jason Hann, and others.SB: So you live in the Bay Area now. Do you see any similarities between your local music scene and New Orleans’?MS: I often tell people that if I didn’t live in the Bay Area, I’d likely end up in New Orleans. There are many similarities between the two scenes, with the most obvious being that both areas are overflowing with exceedingly talented musicians and appreciators of music, and both have provided the world with “signature” musical styles and sounds that continue to be celebrated not only in their respective locales, but throughout the world. I consider it a privilege to be affiliated with both areas, and will continue to do all that I can to celebrate that connection. YEAH YOU RIGHT!AXIAL TILT is set to take place once again on May 2nd and 3rd at Café Istanbul during Jazz Fest in New Orleans, LA. For more information and tickets to AXIAL TILT and all the other nighttime Jazz Fest shows at Café Istanbul, head here.last_img read more

Tix Now On Sale for Marcy Lovitch’s Office Politics Off-B’way

first_imgTickets are now available for Marcy Lovitch’s Office Politics. Directed by Aimee Todoroff, the new play will begin previews on June 5 at off-Broadway’s June Havoc Theatre and officially open on June 11.The cast will feature Patrice Bell (Six of One), Josh Doucette (Irreversible), Philip Guerette (American Genius), Carson Lee (The Water Children), Molly Lovell (And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little), Maria Wolf (The Balcony) and Nicholas De Sibio (Working Out with Leona).In Office Politics, when a white male co-worker makes an off-the-cuff racially insensitive remark to his boss’s black female assistant, what seems like a harmless joke snowballs, suddenly catapulting the ad sales office of a women’s magazine into turmoil. Threats are made, loyalties tested and contrasting beliefs about power, race and class surface, resulting in shocking reveals, lies and accusations, ultimately leaving their department in utter shreds. View Commentslast_img read more