Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ken Bichel in Concert

According to Wikipedia, Ken Bichel attended the Juilliard School where he graduated with a master's degree in piano performance in 1969. While at Juilliard he met Gershon Kingsley and Robert Moog, the inventor of the music synthesizer. He became a founding member of Kingsley's First Moog Quartet, a live performance synthesizer ensemble, and was recognized as the preeminent synthesizer authority in the New York recording industry from that time on.
Although Bichel is a classically trained pianist, he has spent most of his career playing and recording jazz, rock, and other forms of contemporary music on the piano and the synthesizer. Bichel became a member of the New York-based band Stories is the early 1970s with whom he recorded several hit songs on three different albums until the band broke up in 1973.
Bichel also played and/or conducted several Broadway shows. In 1975, he was hired as the musical director for the show Boccaccio. In 1977, Bichel took an onstage role (which also involved him playing the piano as well) as Norman in the original production of I Love My Wife. Bichel won the Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance.
In 1978, he became the assistant conductor and pianist for the Broadway musical Working. During the 1970s, Bichel also worked as a freelance recording musician on synthesizer or piano for various artists and media projects. His work can be heard on over a dozen CDs including the self-titled and Soul Searching albums by Average White Band on the Rhino label (1974 and 1976), Judy CollinsJudith (1975) on the Elektra label, and Chaka Khan's Chaka Khan Chaka on the Ol' Skool Label (1978). He can be heard singing the backup "ahs" with Billy Joel on the mega-hit "Just the Way You Are." Additional recording and/or performance credits include Irene CaraPlácido DomingoAretha FranklinPeggy LeeCindy BullensMaureen McGovern, the Orchestra of the Sorbonne, Jane OlivorLuciano PavarottiCarly SimonPaul SimonStevie Wonder. In 1973 Bichel composed the music for the popular CBS game show Match Game.
Bichel is an internationally acclaimed concert artist and has performed at the La Scala opera house in Milan, the American Music Festival in Geneva, in London for the Duchess of Kent, in Hong Kong for its bi-centennial, in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and repeatedly at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City.
Television and Film Appearances
TV appearances include The Tonight Show, David Letterman Late Show, the Dick Cavett show, Saturday Night Live, American Bandstand, Regis Philbin, Rosie O'Donnell, etc. Bichel has also appeared as a featured musician in films like Kinsey, Marvin's Room, and A Family Thing, and made a cameo appearance on film in Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose. Bichel has also won an Emmy Award for his music composition work on television.
Personal life
Today, Bichel lives with his wife in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he continues to compose both for his own international solo performances and for other contemporary classical performance ensembles. In 2009 he and his wife, both long-time meditators, became certified teaching monks of Ascension of the Bright Path Ishayas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In the Magical City of San Miguel

We live in the magical city of San Miguel, yet we were stunned last night when we attended a private in the home concert of pianist Jerry Fastrup and his wife, Gloria Fastrup. First, we gathered on the rooftop of the Fastrup's beautiful home for a get-acquainted meet with 25 to 30 guests. Wine was served along with plenty of nibbles. 

Then we adjourned to the living room. There stood Jerry's beautiful Czech Petrof high-gloss deep violet piano. Jerry sat proudly and started the evening off with his exuberant playing. His face takes on a blissful demeanor when he begins to play.

He was joined by Alicia Rappoport, a world-class singer who has traveled the world and has just released her fourth CD. She comes from Argentina, escaped to Spain, back to Argentina, then Chile, and now here in San Miguel. She was fabulous singing a French song with so much emotion it almost made me tear up.

Next up was Malcolm Halliday. Malcolm Halliday performs in the United States, Europe, and Mexico, both as a soloist and in collaboration with singers, instrumentalists, and orchestra. A champion of more recent and contemporary music, Halliday can be heard as a pianist on two recordings of the music of the American composer Leo Sowerby: a solo album entitled Impressions, and songs with bass-baritone Robert Osborne in a collaborative album entitled My Love Unspoken, both CDs released through Albany Records.

Finally, we were introduced to Grammy award winner and concert pianist Richard Dowling. Career highlights include a sold-out New York orchestral debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, solo recitals at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall in New York, and a special award from the National Federation of Music Clubs recognizing his outstanding performances of American music.

Richard Dowling finished the evening with the performance of Clair de Lune.

We want to thank the Jerry and Gloria Fastrup for a wonderful and not soon forgotten evening.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Clavellina Tree

Last night we ate at El Arrayan, Mauricio the master chef, pointed out the Clavellina tree growing by the sidewalk. He said to watch the tree.  In  20 minutes or so another flower will bloom. By the time dinner was served hot and delicious, a flower bloomed. Here's what I found about the tree:

"All the years that I lived in a cold climate with a long winter season, I eagerly awaited the emergence of the first spring bloomers. Since retiring to the sub-tropics, I enjoy growing flowers year round but I still look forward to a rotation of exceptionally beautiful flowering trees that only have blooms a short while. One of my favorites is the perky pink shaving brush tree (bombax ellipticum) that typically flowers in early spring, February/ March. This deciduous tree sheds its leaves in winter –and looks ugly until the blooms add pops of color. Not only is the multi-petaled deep pink flower unique, but the way its outer covering curls back is eye-catching. After the petals drop, the fruit pod that forms is also attractive.

The shaving brush tree, native to Mexico, can be grown as an attractive flowering tree in a large yard. Its Spanish name is Clavellina reaching 30 feet (9m), unless you regularly prune it back. Clavellina grows best in full sun but will tolerate some shade. While the shaving brush tree is very distinctive for its exotic pink flowers, its bark with a striping of green, yellow, and white, is also unique. The flowers appear on bare branches, with the blossoms only lasting for one day before dropping off. After all the flowers are finished, new leaves will appear on the branches. The new leaves have a red color that turns green as they mature. Because the Clavellina tree has such artistic bark and unique flowers, many people of Central America and southern Mexico plant the tree in their garden. The attractive Clavellina flowers are used to decorate homes and churches. The Shaving brush tree is especially different when it’s young: the trunk has a bulb-like swollen stem that look like a green rock melon.

The Mexican indigenous people use the leaves to make a tea to cure cough and respiratory ailments. The Clavellina tree is also used as firewood and for carving handicrafts. Shaving brush tree can typically be found growing in dry and rocky locations. It is a very ornamental plant and native cultures within it natural range are planted for its attractive appearance but it is also planted to form a living fence. Clavellina seeds can be toasted and eaten and the fruit fibers (kapok) are used to fill pillows and as insulation. The importance of the Clavellina tree to the Mayan civilizations is evidenced by the presence of the flowers in the artwork on ceramic pieces."


Yesterday, here in Zihuatanejo, we celebrated Sailfest by signing up for a sunset cruise for 600 pesos apiece. Sailfest is a charitable event that is part of the Los Niños. 

Los Ninos is a volunteer group formed to help disadvantaged parents in Zihuatanejo, Mexico provide an education for their children.  Their website has been developed to share the story of these beautiful children and their dedicated parents, and to solicit your contributions.

Bev and I arrived at 4:00 ready to board. We were told we would sail on the Patricia Bell, an 80-foot schooner built by the captain and his sons. It is a two-masted black-hulled beauty. There were nineteen visitors and seven crew. We motored out of the harbor toward the brilliant sun in a cloudless sky.  Then we turned around and sailed back at about one knot per hour.

It was so quiet when the motor was off. Just, the waves slapping the hull and the wind filling the sail.

A stunning female crew member, Julia, and a Justin Timberlake lookalike, Sam, dove over the side and clung to a trailing rope. They were filled with joy over the condition of the warm water. Dawn, a third member of the crew, joined them. Julia swam alongside the boat and was easily swimming faster than the schooner.

At about 6:30 the sunset and we all waited to see if there would be a green flash. Nope! Not this time, because a little haze hung on the horizon.  The setting sun pinked the building thunderheads to our east, and it was warm, unlike the Chicago weather of frigid temperatures where many tourists were from. Carlos played a quiet melody on his guitar as we moved back to anchor.

Bev and I relaxed on the padded side seats. I held her hand and marveled at how Mexico had filled our lives with Joy.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

You Should Visit Mazunte, Mexico In 2018 Before They Get Too Popular

Mazunte, Mexico

Mexico’s most laid-back coastline is at risk of being Tulum’d The southern coast of Oaxaca is still one of those rare, off-the-beaten-path treasures... for now. Surfers have been flocking to these rugged shores for decades, drawn by the forceful surf, golden sand, rocky inlets, and sleepy fishing village vibes. But the jaws of development are never far behind, as even hideaways like Huatulco and Puerto Escondido begin to get gobbled up by hotel developers, cruise ports, and, ugh, tourists. Still, there remain a few pockets of paradise left to discover. Mazunte, about an hour south of Puerto Escondido, is still on the tipping point between sublimely chill and a Travel & Leisure write-up.

The counterpart to nearby Zipolite (a hippie beach that has been drawing free spirits and nudists since the 60s), Mazunte is heralded for its following of leathery yogis and sun worshippers who love to get off the grid with relatively shallow pockets. Cobalt and teal water touches honey-colored sand, as tattooed, dread-locked surfers and backpackers suck back Pacifico beers underneath shady, thatched palapas. The village is built around two beaches, Playa Rinconcito and Mermejita. But recently, Mazunte was listed as one of Mexico’s heralded Pueblo Magicos, towns that are given governmental distinction based on their character and charm. With that distinction comes the masses looking to escape their fast-paced jobs in search of the perfect vegan burrito. It’s only a matter of time before the luxury boutique hotels and straw fedora’d patrons follow. -- Meagan Drillinger The Thrillist

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Number Three

You remember the commercial with the Russian accent saying "What a country!"? Well, yesterday afternoon, Nancy and Bob Row hosted a Christmas party in their home. All I can say is, "What a party

All sorts of food, desserts, and drink spread across tables greeted us as we walked in. Everyone was required to wear a Christmas hat. We all brought presents to exchange, and the final event was bashing a Mexican piñata filled with candy and gifts.

I was touched by Will Kelley,s present to me. Before the gift exchange, I was asked to draw a number. I pulled a number 3. Will said I thought I pulled that number. I reached into the bag and again the number 3 came up. He asked Bev to pull a number. She pulled a number 3! Then Will presented me with a tin box decorated with pictures of Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, also #3.

When we all were in Isla Mujeres, will and I went to a sports bar and watched the Seahawks game. It was a good game but our team lost. I said I wanted a Seahawks cap. I opened the tin box and inside was an autographed picture of Russell Wilson. It said, "Mike and Bev--losing football games and suitcases sucks! Be careful out there.
Signed Russell Wilson #3 Go Seahawks!

Inside the tin can was a stonewashed blue cap with a Seattle logo with la calaca.

In Isla Mujeres, I put our house keys in my small black suitcase. When Bajiogo unloaded our luggage at our house, I discovered the suitcase was missing. We were locked out. Many phone calls later, we discovered Sheila had taken my suitcase as hers. We retrieved the suitcase, found the keys, and entered our house.

Inside the tin can was an empty Silk Almond milk carton. On the box were these words: Missing suitcase reward offered underneath a picture of the suitcase. On the back of the carton was a picture of the suitcase with these words: Missing suitcase. Please call Bev and Mike Landfair, because their keys are in it & they can't get into their house.

To top it off Will made a copy of our house key (NOT) and attached it to the inside of the hat so I would never be in that position again.

That whole gag took a lot of effort, planning, and a few pesos to pull off. It resulted in quite a few laughs. For me, I was touched at how generous Will is of his time how great friends are.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Book Fair

Yesterday was the Book Fair at Casa Europa on Calle de San Francisco. The stone building could soon be the cultural center of San Miguel. 

I was there selling my book "The Way Back Poems of addiction and recovery." I called it a perfect Christmas gift for your drunk relatives. Ok, not everyone laughed. Maybe my humor was too close to home.

You have to be careful not to spend all your proceeds on things others are selling.  We did not make it. I sold three books for 200 pesos each, then Bev bought a calendar, three Christmas greeting cards, a necklace from Kristine Scherber and I bought two books. The first book was written by Margaret Paul titled "Conversations with Artists." The book includes conversations with Peter Leventhal, Keith Miller, Toller Cranston, the late Mary Rapp,  andTom and Donna Dickson, etc. Those are the artists I'm most familiar. The book is 258 pages and has many pictures. You can find it on Amazon.

My second book purchase was written by Marge Fahey titled "Under the Spell of San Miguel." This is an Insiders Guide to the city. Marge is a tour guide of House and Garden Tours advertised every week in Attencion.

The guide is a spiral bound notebook small enough to carry in your back pocket. It measures  4+ X 7+ inches. It is filled with answers to the newly arrived questions:

  1. Getting Around
  2. Etiquette and Useful Spanish Phrases
  3. Historical Overview
  4. Places of Interest
  5. Calendar of Holidays and Fiestas - One of the first questions could be "What do the bells mean and what is the parade for?"
  6. Classes
  7. Cultural Events - Every year SMA celebrates my wife's birthday on September 16th with fireworks in the Jardin.
  8. Day Trips - I recommend a trip to Canada de la Virgen Pyramid. You will get an overview of our history going back to the Mayans.Be sure to ask for Albert Coffey/ He will make the day trip memorable.
  9. Tours
  10. Markets
  11. Restaurants - we have over 340 restaurants and this recently updated guide will help you out. My current favorites are La Parada, Firenze, and Don Lupe. I almost forgot don't miss Don Felix, Nirvana, Oko, and La Grotto, for pizza. Did I mention Fat Boy and Hanks for hamburgers or Birdies in DOCE 18?
You can buy her guide at the Biblioteca,