The Beatles Complete on Ukulele with Roger Greenawalt: A Breath of Fresh Air

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at the Brooklyn Bowl is a musical collaboration between young singer-songwriters on the New York City music scene and lifelong instrumentalists that met for the purpose of celebrating the canonical music of one of the most world renowned British bands.

Image Music producer and ukulele player Roger McEvoy Greenawalt led this event for the fourth time. This year, the back-up band he played with was The Angry Buddhist East Band. On stage, from 8:00pm to 12:00am this past Wednesday, Roger was also joined by a number of musicians of different professional backgrounds.

The Brooklyn-based experimental singer-songwriter, Alyson Greenfield was the first artist to jam with Roger on a cover of “Glass Onion” and “I Will.” The electric violinist who has toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, appeared on Saturday Night Live and the Late show with Conan O’Brien, Deni Bonet helped Roger and the back-up band transform the upbeat “Please Please Me” into a folky minor-key serenade. Avi Wisnia worked with Roger to turn “She Loves You” into a slow and sensual cover that echoed the pop singer-songwriter’s signature Bossa Nova sound.

Additional artists that joined Roger that night included: Mike Rimbaud, who covered “Can’t Do That”; Olivia Mancini who performed a rendition of “I’m Looking Through You”; the ukulele female duo, Supercute that performed “Getting Better”; Leah Siegel who performed “Oh Darling”; the underground industrial rock musician, Yuzima who covered “Hey Jude”; Craig Greenberg who together with Joy Askew performed a rockin’ version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; and many more.

One might call this event a breath of fresh air, especially if the individual looks to get away from the confines of mosh-pit concerts or the house DJs in New York City’s most expensive clubs. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele allows Brooklynites to enjoy music among a crowd of respectable musicians and audience members. On this note, I will talk about some of the reasons why this event is attractive, as well as reasons for why some people might be turned away. 

A Wide Range of Listeners

The meeting of musicians of all ages and different musical backgrounds attracts a crowd of people that come from different walks of life and span across a wide age range. Some audience members might have formed a friendship with the musician from past shows, and have come to this event to lend their support and see a familiar friendly face on stage. Some might have just come from work, looking to have good and clean musical fun.

The majority of the audience absorbed the atmosphere and performance vibe just in front of the stage. The bar in the back of the performance space, just at the right of the coat check, was occupied by individuals that had planned social meetings with several of their closest friends and acquaintances, and purposely wanted to keep the music in the background. However; this is not to say the music didn’t reach them at all in the foreground of their conversations.

As I waited at the bar for a Brooklyn Lager and a long flat bread pizza, I listened to Craig Greenberg and Joy Askew play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and applauded them. A British man in a long black blazer and shades to my right joined me in my applause and remarked “This band definitely rehearsed!” I responded with a nod of agreement.

Everyone enjoys themselves and the music 

I watched Yuzima lead the crowd in a sing-along to Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” – a moment that lifted everybody’s spirit and created a sense of community in the audience. Earlier in the program, Leah Siegel sang her rendition of “Oh Darling,” in which she gracefully choreographed a physical performance that communicated beautiful anguish. This performance could only make some of the feel like Leah was specifically singing to them.

 Whichever artist came up to the stage, Roger was always in the foreground interacting with the main act. This makes audience members, especially those who are new to the Beatles Complete, naturally think that Roger is a part of all these groups. As for those who are returning for a second time to watch this line-up, they will also feel like Roger is a part of every musical act. Roger’s complete sense of comfort and joy in performing with each consecutive performer might attribute to this visual affect. Some might even begin to wonder how he finds the energy to stay on for the entire four hour program.

Ticket holders get their money’s worth   

I applaud the musicians for overcoming the distractions from the bowling area adjacent to the main stage. Every musician that night performed with Roger and The Angry Buddhist East Band like they were at an intimate venue. Attendees can rest assured that they will get their money’s worth at the Beatles Complete.

On this note, I should mention the ticket is only $10.00. However; if you are very pleased with what you hear and see, you will probably feel compelled to enjoy some food and drink. Now, here is where I believe concert attendees will run into a petty and annoying detail: Brooklyn Bowl is an expensive place.

Price for food and drink a little bit high

The drinks are all over $6.00 and customers can only use credit cards for a minimum of a $10.00 purchase. Although this might be great for attendees that crave food; a dish as simple as a Margherita flatbread pizza is at least $10.00. This and a drink come to $20.00 per individual, and this is only bar food! In addition, the kitchen closes at 11:00pm – something that audience members must research in advance.

Although I can come to understand the kitchen has to close at some time; the price for food and drink is still a little bit high. However; I do say the price is definitely worth the great experience at The Beatles Complete.

Avoid the “Gypsy Cab” after the show

I must also warn concert attendees that if they wish to take a cab home, they must vigilantly seek a yellow cab service as opposed to the white or black Lincoln Town Cars that are used in the highly popular and dodgy “gypsy cab” scheme. The outside of Brooklyn Bowl will be lined with both real taxi cabs and false ones.

See who is active on the NYC Music Scene

In conclusion the positives of The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at Brooklyn Bowl weigh out the negatives. The greatest strength about this performance includes Roger Greenawalt’s love for the Beatles, ukulele and collaboration with great artists on the independent music scene.

I am happy to share some very muffled-sounding videos from Wednesday night’s performance right here on my Youtube channel. I apologize for the poor sound recording quality but I hope readers form a good idea about the experience they might have if they’re interested in coming out to Brooklyn Bowl either for next year’s Beatles Complete led by Roger or other musical occasions. And then, of course, there is always the bowling.

Finally, for those real music lovers out there; The Beatles Complete is a great opportunity to see who is active on the independent music scene of New York City. Most of the artists that performed with Roger on stage that night are very likely to have something new – an album, a tour, or exciting musical project – taking place in the New Year.

So, to those that came out to the Beatles Complete last Wednesday night, I hope they enjoyed themselves and the musical experience. For those who did not, I encourage them to learn more about the musicians, including Roger Greenawalt, and make a trip to Brooklyn Bowl for next year’s performance.

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3dCosby’s Daniel Harris Talks about Band’s Latest Album, Satan’s Secret and “Doing Family”

 On the hot and muggy Thursday, June 21st, I traveled to Williamsburg to visit the Cyn Lounge. Here, Avi Wisnia was hosting his annual BBQ Block Party. Although the heat persisted as 8:00pm rolled around and I was sweating through my work clothes, I was happy catch up with Avi to hear some of the bands in his line-up. One band I particularly enjoyed was 3dCosby.

The songs by this band that caught my attention included “Paint by Numbers” and the humorously-titled track, “Star F*cker.” Both songs are featured on their latest record, Satan’s Secret. All of 3dCosby’s tracks combine funk and jazz. Occasionally, they will add a special musical technique called polyphony – the playing of four different voices or melodies produced by the guitar, keyboard and bass all at the same moment.

During their performance, the front man of 3dCosby, Daniel Harris, invited audience members to dance to some of the instrumental pieces. The audience, me included, responded positively, and moved to the rhythms of their songs inside the small cemented outdoor space of the Cyn Lounge.

Daniel Harris on guitar and mic at the Cyn Lounge, June 21, 2012

Daniel admits that “it’s great to see people respond to it [our music].” However; Daniel and the member of 3dCosby who is perhaps closest to him, Matt Ross, see music making as more than just a means for having fun; it is how they “do family.” Over a telephone conversation, Daniel talked to Music Historian about the history of 3dCosby, the album, Satan’s Secret, and most importantly, the development of their style. I am happy to introduce 3dCosby as the full-length interview feature on Hear; Don’t Listen for the month of July.

Pre-beginnings of 3dCosby: Hillel

Anybody who listens to Daniel talk about 3dCosby can believe that this band is a family.

Daniel says, “Matt and I initially met when we both moved to Monroe, New York. Our Moms introduced us, and we were pretty much attached at the hip. We went to the same camp; we were in the same Jewish youth group” and they made music together from an early age. Daniel continues:

“We both grew up around music. Matt’s Dad was a professional musician who practiced saxophone and flute. My Dad taught me to use the turntable when I was 3 years old; and in the 4th grade, I started playing cello and Matt picked up trumpet. In the 5thgrade, I picked up guitar, and at that time, Matt and I would listen to songs on the radio and write our own lyrics.”

Daniel Harris and Matt Ross, courtesy of 3dCosby’s site on bandcamp.com

Daniel and Matt initially dabbled in the idea of forming a band. Then, once the two hit high school, the idea slowly turned into a reality.

“Matt and I wrote our first song at 14 years old called “Never End” inspired by the author, Michael Ende who wrote The Never Ending Story. We also started playing in bars, coffee houses and in people’s backyards at that age too.

“Our band was first called Hillel (named after Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), though we eventually changed the name to Ethan’s House of Pancakes. At the end of high school, I got a call from our friend Alan asking if I wanted to start a new band with him. “Can Matt be in the band?” I asked. Alan said “Totally,” then added, “We have a gig in two weeks at the House of Blues in Boston.”

Daniel admitted that playing the House of Blues was an epic opportunity for him and Family Junction at the time. The band stayed together for about 7 years. While they were in the process of recording a series of 5 EPs, Hillel separated. Daniel describes the break-up:

“We [all the band members] started taking on extra projects. Matt was working with other bands and I was working on solo stuff. We made the collective decision not to play anymore shows until the EPs were completed, which ostensibly was a diplomatic way for us to sadly agree that things had come to an end. In the Fall of 2008, I put out my first solo album, “Thirty-two bit isn’t really eight bits better” which you can check out on http://www.iamdanielharris.com.”

Luckily, the break-up of Hillel was not the end of the friendship between Daniel and Matt. These two would continue to make music together.

“This is just what we do – we’re brothers, and at the foundation of our relationship is music. It [music] keeps us together and it keeps us sane.”

“It All Made Sense”: A few jam sessions and songs later, a new group and record forms

Although Family Junction was over, Daniel and Matt decided to come together for a jam session in 2008. Daniel enumerates:

“After the band was already broken up, I drove to Matt’s house in New Paltz and decided to just jam. We soon started writing songs in his living room.

“We just wanted to see what would happen, and as we continued writing together, we soon had enough songs to make album. Just last winter, we decided to make a record which transformed into 3dCosby’s first album.”

3dCosby still remains just Daniel and Matt, and their friends that are invited to play during live performances. So far, the band gained tremendous recognition for their album, Satan’s Secret. The track “Paint by Numbers” became the band’s hit.

3dCosby’s album cover for “Satan’s Secret”

“This [“Paint by Numbers”] is a funny track. My younger brother wrote the lyrics, and it is about a guy named Colors, who only saw in numbers, and a girl named Numbers, who only saw in colors. It was originally an instrumental piece, but someone demanded we add lyrics. So, we gave Jesse, our bass player, my brother’s story, and asked him to write the lyrics.

“This song also makes fun a band we played with a few times. We still love them, and so we decided to tease them in “Paint by Numbers” because we feel one of the ways you show someone you love them is by teasing them.”

After the album was completed, Luke Sullivan, the musician who mastered Satan’s Secret suggested that 3dCosby send “Paint by Numbers” to Michael Marotta, a disc jockey who played songs by local artists in the Boston area on WFNX.

“Luke suggested we send the single to Michael. So we did, and he wrote back to us within 3 to 4 hours and agreed to spin it on the air. He also asked us to follow-up with him once the release date for the album came closer. Then, we were played on 4 to 5 difference station, and we made it to the top ranks on a few music charts like “The Deli New England.”

“The attention from the press was just flowing very naturally and it all made a lot of sense.”

3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret”

Daniel and Matt have constructed their own world of excitement by incorporating their own jokes into their songs. In addition, the dance beats and funky rhythms and dissonances that accompany the lyrics in 3dCosby’s songs invade the minds of attentive listeners and music lovers without creating any discomfort or pain. Daniel validates my thoughts as he explains the meaning behind the album title.

“When we were naming the album last year, this joke happened to come into our minds; then it became that 3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret.” We want to destroy you,” joked Daniel as he continued to make a reference to the Satan character in the 1999 South Park movie.

As Daniel and I continued to talk, I soon realized that we were starting to joke between ourselves. I reiterated back to Daniel my understanding of why 3dCosby thought that “Satan’s Secret” was a great name for their record. I said to him:

“Satan’s Secret is 3dCosby. They want to destroy you, and so do you. They will annihilate you in the best ways possible, and it will seem like you’re not being destroyed at all.”

Daniel responded, “That’s great, write that down.”

As our conversation continued, I saw the progress between the beginnings of 3dCosby to the band’s full-length, Satan’s Secret, which was released in February of this year,as the result of Daniel and Matt’s musical development, their friendship and the appreciation of different musical styles. One individual that Daniel credits for fostering his and Matt’s appreciation for music is their history teacher from junior and senior year of high school, Mr. Lee.

“He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path”

“When we graduated,” explains Daniel, “he gave me a copy of the book On the Road and two Frank Zappa albums. I didn’t listen to them until the year 2003. I was going to attend a protest in NYC against the war in Iraq, but ended up spending the weekend in Monroe, New York at Matt’s house.

“When we were there, we really wanted to listen to something we had never heard before, so I found one of the Frank Zappa albums Mr. Lee had given me and I remember listening to the first track titled “Inca Roads” off the album, One Size Fits All.We loved this track; we literally took it with us in the car and drove around Monroe for one hour listening to this song.

“This marked an important musical change in my life. This motivated me to get Frank Zappa’s albums, and through listening to them I was inspired me to revisit an album I already possessed by John Coltrane. Afterwards, I eventually fully understood jazz.

“So, if it wasn’t for Mr. Lee, we wouldn’t have learned to develop an understanding of jazz. He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path. That’s why, when we released Satan’s Secret, the initial idea was to make 3 copies of this CD: One for me; one for Matt; and one for Mr. Lee.”

“People…whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music” 

Although Daniel and Matt graduated high school over 10 years ago; have experimented with several different musical groups; and have each jumped from job-to-job in order to support themselves; the members of 3dCosby always remember the friends that have helped them and the communities that facilitated their growth and love for performing.

“This is what we want to be doing and we’re doing it our way,” says Daniel. “We’re gregarious; we have a strong sense of community and we love meeting new people. We also stay in touch with our friends from home. Matt still keeps in touch with the friends he’s known since he was a child.

“Through this album, and through music, is how we do family. When people see 3dCosby, and listen to the record, they get to know who we really are and they also see our profound dedication to music, as well as our humor and what music does for us as individuals. People get it. Whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music.”

3dCosby is currently working with a third party on a Fall tour for this year. They are booked to perform at Lit in New York City on September 22nd. In the meantime, the duo will continue to make music and perform for audiences everywhere they travel. For Daniel, playing music and doing music with Matt “means more than what any words can appropriately describe” – playing together is “a saving grace.”