Rock On is so lucky to have a great variety of talented performing artists as mentors for our students. Ben Kohn is one such artist. You can catch him playing often throughout the Berkshires in jazz trios, duets, and as an individual artist. He is also a member of the Rev Tor Band and Chris Merenda and the Wheel.
‘Benny Fingers’ is a scorching keyboard player who started playing back in 1998. Per his Facebook, his genres are Jazz, Blues, Folk, Rock, and ‘Outer Space’, covering just about everything. A Berkshire native, Benny first started playing piano at age 6. As 2015 comes to a close, we are looking forward to Ben Kohn’s first CD which he funded as a Kickstarter project.
Ben took some time out of his busy schedule about a month ago for a chat and we talked about his songwriting and the recording process.
You have been playing for a while, what was it that inspired you to make a cd now?
It was a long time goal. I was also inspired by my Dad who was a successful songwriter, and alot of people have been asking me.
Did you have a set of songs ready to go or did you write new material just for this?
I have always written fragments, hundreds of parts of tunes and ideas, completing some pieces. For this project, we had two studio sessions. The first was with Bill Chapman and Andy Wrba (bass). It was challenging. We worked together on ideas and I had provided some recordings to them in advance so they had heard them before coming in.
The second session was with Dan Broad on bass and Andy Crawford on drums. I have played with both of them in the Rev Tor Band. For that, we had Darren O’Brien come with his mobile recording studio. These were some simpler tunes. They had a whole different sound and it gives the CD variety.
So are they instrumental or are there also lyrics?
There are lyrics and they come about in different ways, usually after the music. There was one song ‘I Just Want’ where the lyrics came first. They just came all in one sitting. It was alot of what I was dealing with and thinking at the time. The process of writing it actually allowed me to explore what was feeling as I was writing.
How do you record your ideas?
Usually recorded on Garage Band and more recently another program called Reaper.
What was your writing process? Did you work primarily on piano?
Some were started on guitar and we recorded some guitar but piano is my main instrument. My father, Ed Kohn wrote in a folk style and was a lyricist and guitarist. It is hard for me to compare myself to him. I have always looked up to him.
How has playing in bands affected your songwriting?
It has helped me to come up with cool riffs and rhythms. I have been playing a lot of different styles in many bands. I studied jazz since college and that opened up other styles, blues of course. I think musically it has helped to make it easy for me to play with many jazz groups, where it’s more musical than an actual message – progressions etc. But lyrics do draw in certain listeners. In the process of doing the CD I got into Bob Dylan and others where lyrics matter more. I started listening to more of the balance between the lyrics vs. the music.
Are there any songs on the CD that are just instrumental.
I have one instrumental so far and at this point still debating whether to add lyrics.
How has creating your first CD been a learning process for you?
I realized when trying to complete songs with lyrics how personal and real it is. you have to confront yourself. Also, my perfectionism makes it hard to finish a song, how do you know when it’s done? I have had to learn to allow a song to be done and get over the imperfections. They may not be perfect. It’s hard thinking that the you will be judged on your stuff, your personality and intelligence. I am just letting that go. I have been reading books by or about about songwriters. It will be good to fininsh and to clear and get started on the next one. As the process of making this CD has gone a year and 1/2, many of the songs don’t represent where I am now. I am already feeling that I am in a new place. Maybe the next one will be a faster process.
How was your experience with Kickstarter?
Using a funding site raised $3k. That goes pretty quickly with studio costs. I am looking forward to finishing the project and getting copies of the CD out to all the supporters. We are working on the final mixes and mastering and tweaking some parts. I don’t want to over master it though, just keep it clean and clear. I worked with Charlie Tokarz on several tracks. I am fortunate to have great players to work with, it feels really good hearing them do the stuff.
What are the next steps?
I will be going to Jack Waldheim’s studio to finish the project. He added some parts on guitar and I will add some guitar. Jack has a lot of experience in recording and mastering his own projects. He is fluent in the programs.
Is it all digital?
Yes, all digital recording. The programs are simulators of consoles. Everything is available to you, like for example, a 60’s Beatles sound if you wanted.
We are looking forward to the release of Ben’s innaugural CD. As of our conversation he had not decided on a title yet, but we will report back with the details in the coming weeks. When released, the CD will be available for sale online and at gigs, as well as in download form from iTunes.
Here is a sample of one of the songs featured on the CD, ‘It Ain’t Over’.
Besides his father, Ben Kohn gained inspiration from listening to Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Buddy Guy, Loudon Wainwright, Bob Dylan and The Band. For more information, you can visit his website : bennyfingers.com
Rock On Workshop’s 2015 Summer workshop at BCC was a blast as always. This year, a new String Program was introduced and we were fortunate to have accomplished artists Solo violinist Yevgeny Kutik, Guitar virtuoso Emil Werstler, Metal drummer Mercedes Lander, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Seth Glier, and Greg Drew, vocal coach to Lenny Kravitz, Avril Lavigne, Corey Glover and many other top vocalists to mentor students.
Many thanks to Rock On’s supporters and Sponsors including UNICO National, Sweetwater
and many local businesses and individuals including; Greylock Credit Federal Union, Attorneys Patrick Gable and Janet Smargi, Savino Empire Monuments, Inc., Ralph Wendling Jr. Sewer Service, Wendling Enterprises, Haddad Dealership, Mazzeo’s Ristorante, Precious Metals, Crowne Jewelers, Jays Modern Bends Muffler & Auto, Squaw Peak Travel, Berkshire Auto Group, Dery Funeral Home, Universal Payroll Associates, Piretti Real Estate, Courier Printing, who helped us to provide scholarships and continue offering Rock On Workshop for young people in Western MA. We would also like to thank Sean Barry for donating guitars, drum pads and harmonicas to the program. For a full list of sponsors click here: 2015 Sponsors.
The Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club will host after school Rock On sessions as a special activity starting this week. It is $10 to join the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club and only $10/yr. to take part in Rock On. To find out more, join us for Open House on Monday, September 28, Wednesday, September 30 or Thursday, October 1 at 3:30 with Jay Fruet, Jerry Giguere, DJ Young Champ, and UBU Theater directed by Ann Gallo. Register online at www.bgcberkshires.org, at the BGC in person at 16 Melville Street, Pittsfield, or call (413) 448-8258. Interested students can try out instruments at any of the Open House events. Instruments have been donated by Sean Barry.
Starting September 14, Rock On will be offering an after-school music program at the Boys
and Girls Club. Guitarist Jay Fruet and drummer Jerry Giguere will offer Instrument Instruction
and band coaching. Voice and keyboards will also be offered. All instruction will be given in
small groups. All levels are welcome. Bands will be formed and rehearsed at the Club on
Melville Street in Pittsfield.
Bands formed during Rock On’s summer program, and any young
musicians and singers wanting to play in bands, should contact Jay Fruet at rockonworkshopma@
gmail.com. Enrollment will be through the Boys and Girls Club.
Register at the BGC in person at 6 Melville Street, Pittsfield
or call the BGC at 413-448-8258. Participants must join the Boys and Girls Club.
Annual Fee: $10 • Fee to participate in Rock On: $10
For more information contact Mary Talmi:
firstname.lastname@example.org • rockonworkshop.org • 413-329-2280
By: Samuel O’Brient
At some point in their lives, regardless of whom they are or where they come from, everyone dreams of being a rock star. The thrill of the stage, the roar of the crowd, the excitement of it all…now imagine living that dream at only twelve years old…welcome to Rock On!
When you hear the term “band camp,” you might not imagine places like Rock On! right away. Films such as American Pie Presents Band Camp and Camp Rock have created somewhat skewed image of what a band camp is, but there truly is no place like Rock On! A young musician’s workshop anchored in Pittsfield Massachusetts and annually held at Berkshire Community College, Rock On! caters to musicians of all ages with all different types of skill and technique. They learn many different things, including what it really means to play in a band and what it feels like to perform for a crowd. The Rock On! experience isn’t just fun, though, it’s also very educational, due to the superbly talented faculty, who are great musicians, teachers and in general just great people. They are aided by a group of college and older high school students known as the interns, all very talented musicians and former campers themselves, who assist the faculty in every way possible.
As a former long-time veteran of Rock On! I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work as an intern this year. Having been gone for several years, though, upon my return on the first Monday of week one, I found myself frequently musing over a question; “Am I getting older or are these campers getting younger?” In short, the answer was both. Rock On! used to only allow students ages 12 and up, but in recent years, they have opened their doors to students of all ages. I was truly amazed by the talent I witnessed in students less than half my age this past week. Perhaps the biggest difference since my days at Rock On!, though, was the addition of an entirely new group of people. Amidst the band t-shirts and black skinny jeans that made up the typical attire of most of the Rock On! student body, I couldn’t help but notice a group of students who just didn’t look like the others; they were the string players. Just this year, Rock On! has also opened its doors to musicians who play instruments such as the violin and the cello. While the concept of mixing classical and Rock instruments is certainly new to Rock On! it worked out very well. The string ensemble, along with several campers who specialized in the more rock and roll type instruments performed show-stopping renditions of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir featured below, and The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. You can find a link to the performance of Eleanor Rigby here on RO’s Facebook Page. Both songs were performed beautifully and received numerous rounds of applause from the awe-struck crowd.
All the bands performed well, though, shaking things up on stage in different ways, all adding their own different styles and talents to the show. This camp may be adding different programs, instruments, and people from year to year, but one thing never changes and it really is the most important thing of all; the Rock On! experience.
Ryan Hommel, at the age of 26, is a touring musician and multi-faceted producer with roots in blues and soul. The son of a jazz fusion guitarist and composer, Rich Hommel, Ryan started playing guitar at 5 years old and was in bands by the age of 10. His hometown is Haydenville, MA.
Ryan teamed up with Grammy nominee and RockOn mentor, Seth Glier at age 15 and began writing songs in earnest at 17 yrs old. Seeing Ryan perform in person, you can tell he genuinely enjoys what he is doing. In a 2013 interview with Sounds Local-Hommel shared. “If someone had asked me five years ago what my life would be like, I wouldn’t have been able to predict any of the things that have happened”, he said, “To keep going is a real joy”.
Ryan has worked with various musicians such as Edwin McCain, the Beau Sasser Trio, and the Sweetback Sisters, as both a multi-instrumentalist and record producer.
As Seth Glier’s guitarist, he co-produced 3 albums, including grammy nominated album, “The Next Right Thing”. While on the road with Glier, they played major theaters and opened for acts, such as Ani DiFranco. Still, Hommel found a bit of time here and there while on the road for his own personal songwriting.
In 2011 Ryan started working on his own album. It was sporadic and he worked as he was able to, a week every so often throughout the months. By Summer of 2012 Hommel decided to make his musical career a priority and focused steadily on his album. At this time he also formed a trio with Darby Wolf and Ted Sullivan. His self-titled EP “Ryan Hommel” which he produced with Dave Eggar, was released in April of 2013. It is available for purchase on iTunes, CD Baby, Google Music Store, Amazon, Spotify. Livingston Taylor commented on Ryan’s work saying, “Ryan Hommel delivers his beautiful music with a discipline and clarity that allows it to travel straight to your soul”.
These days you can find Ryan most often with his band The Optical Shop playing a mix of original and interpreted music, both old and new. the Optical Shop is Ryan Hommel (vocals, guitarist, pedal-steel), Marc Seedorf (vocals, bass), and Colin Jalbert (vocals, drums). This year, the Optical shop will be travelling to Nashville, TN to record a handful of songs at Blackbird Studios, one of the most famous studios in the world. Blackbird Studios is co-owned by sound engineer, John McBride and American country music singer, songwriter, and record producer, Martina McBride. Blackbird Studios was created in 2002 and has grown to be a top production stop for recording artists including, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Kid Rock, Tim Mcgraw and more. Then in 2013, owners founded The Blackbird Academy, an educational program for students to further develop skills and give real-life, hands on studio drive time, to up the standards in the world of recording engineering. The students at the Blackbird Academy will engineer Ryan Hommel and the Optical Shop’s upcoming recordings. While in Nashville, this Fall, they will play a special concert at The National Underground, Tuesday, September 23, 2015 @10pm. (105 Broadway, Nashville, TN 21+, no cover charge). The Optical Shop produced an EP, “A/B” which is avialable now.
Tonight you can catch Ryan as he teams up with the Berkshires’ Picky Bastards (July 16th) at Mission Bar and Tapas on North Street in Pittsfield.
Rev Tor is a local legend. He is a prolific songwriter and performer and has made music his life. I would venture to guess that The Rev Tor Band’s performance at Live on the Lake several years back, was one of the most attended shows there ever. That night Onota Lake was transformed into a music festival. It is that spirit of coming together through song and celebration that defines this band. In 2012, The Rev Tor Band with a host of area musicians, staged a tribute to the late Levon Helm and The Band, a great influence on his music, performing “The Last Waltz” at many area venues including Strange Creek Campout and a benefit at the Colonial Theater for Moments House.
In March of this year, Tor, at the urging of his fans, created a live CD and DVD “Live at The Unicorn” which features the core Rev Tor Band as well as guest artists. The Rev Tor Band, with Tor Krautter, Dan Broad on bass, Andy Crawford on drums and Ben Kohn on keyboards, will host a CD release party on July 11, from 9:00pm to 11:00pm at the Gypsy Joynt Café in Great Barrington. There will be giveaways and other ‘happenings’ and the first 25 people to arrive will get a free CD!!! There is NO COVER charge.
Here is a sneak preview of the performance:
The project was completed with the help of a funding site “Rocket Hub” and the promo video features a wide range of long time Tor fans and celebrities including Arlo Guthrie and James Taylor.
RO caught up with Tor recently and asked about his musical beginning and his career …
> Since RO is a kids music camp, what are your early musical influences and what inspired you to play and sing?
My biggest inspiration was and is my father. He is a guitar playerand taught me everything he knew. Later in high school I got heavily into the Beatles. They strongly influenced my songwriting. Particularly John Lennon.
> At what age did you start playing in front of audiences? Do you remember how it felt as a young person doing that?
I had a band when I was in grade school. Well, it was sort of a band. Two drummers and a guitar player. Our one and only gig was at a local community center. The audience was made up of our parents. That was the first time I performed in front of anyone. I remember it feeling very scary but exciting at the same time. Later in high school I was in several bands and we played a few school functions. After high school I went to music school at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood California and jumped right into being a professional musician.
> I saw the video that you made for the crowd funding effort to create the CD DVD. A lot of cool people were featured in that video alone. You have a great fan base and as you said the live DVD was a result of requests by your fans. How did you go about putting it all together and choosing the artists you would work with?
Well the core band consists of myself, Dan Broad on bass, Andy Crawford on drums and Ben Kohn on keyboards. We decided to do an live all acoustic recording and wanted to supplement with a few extra people so we added Rob Sanzone on mandolin, guitar and ukulele, Pete Adams on pedal steel guitar and a horn section. It all came together pretty organically. That particular lineup of musicians ended up having a really unique and interesting sound that really helped shape the character of each song.
> What’s next on the horizon for you as a solo artist and also for the band?
Well the band is creeping up on our 20th year anniversary. We’re starting to think how we should mark the occasion. Maybe a concert with all our friends or another recording.
As for the solo thing, I’m just looking forward to playing as many gigs as I can around the area. I’m very blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love.
We are all looking forward to celebrating 20 years of The Rev Tor Band!
This weekend come get the party started at the Gypsy Joynt with Tor and the band.
More details about the event on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/events/1611686742392333/
Rock On welcomes Allen Livermore, jazz saxophonist/clarinetist/improvisor/composer to RO Workshop 2015. Allen earned a Bachelors of Music degree at The Hartt School of Music, where he studied with jazz greats Jackie McLean and Steve Davis; and a Master of Arts Degree from Wesleyan University, where he studied with Jay Hoggard and Anthony Braxton.
He performs throughout New York and New England and has done numerous recordings. As leader of the Limbshakers Jazz Band, he sings and plays sax and clarinet with selections from the 19th century, ragtime, early jazz, folk, gospel, blues, swing, bebop and cool jazz. Here is a sample from a few years back featuring Allen on clarinet and vocals, Dan Broad on bass, Scott Clark on drums, Dave Bartley, piano, and Alfred Brewer on trombone.
Livermore currently offers lessons in saxophone/clarinet and jazz improvisation/theory. He began teaching in the late 1990s in the Bronx and has taught middle school, high school and college. He earned a Certificate in Advanced Graduate Studies in Education from MCLA in 2007. He teaches at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School in Adams.
Rock On is going to shake it up on the Persip Park Main Stage (at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue ) at 3rd Thursday tonight!
Christine Bile will open the show with solo acoustic selections, followed by On Tap featuring Rick Costello on vocals, Pete Harrison and Steve Tracy on guitars, Rick Berrian on drums, and our RO blogger, Elaine Morel on bass and vocals. Jay Fruet brings it with his friends from SHYNE, including Adam Peterson on bass, Brad Licht, drums & vocals, Darcy Poppey on vocals and Eric Thomas on guitar.
Hope to see you there!!
Rock On Workshop has a brand new website!
By popular demand we have added an online registration form to accept major credit cards and Paypal !
Rock On 2015 ! July 13-24 @ BCC
Programs include :
Music Production and Recording Technology
New! String Chamber Music with Alla Zernitskaya
Music Performance and Songwriting
Technical Theater and Lighting Design
For the 4th year in a row, local musicians come together in support of the future of live music, young guitar players, drummers, singers and bass players, giving them a chance to attend Rock On camp this Summer with all proceeds of the day going to scholarships. Tickets are $10 at the door and kids under 12 get in FREE.
Area bands and acoustic performers of all genres, soloists, tribute and cover bands and original music, will be featured at the May 9th event, starting at 4:00pm until midnight! Doors open at 3:00. Thanks to all the artists who are donating their time and also to Wolfshadow Productions and MB Sound for putting it all together.
Join this Event! on Facebook
Tavern at the ‘A’
303 Crane Ave
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Rock On! Workshop at Berkshire Community College is happening July 13-24, 2015 offering students the chance to explore traditional music, rocks, blues, jazz and metal as well as a new classical string program starting this year.