Zo! = Musician | Multi-Instrumentalist | Producer | Music Educator | Combatant Against Nignorance | Food Connoisseur | SunStorm (2010) ...just visiting three (2011)
One of my tributes to Jay Dee and Baatin from a couple years ago…
Don Cornelius going down the Soul Train Line… Twice.
I was just sent this picture from a young lady in Rio de Janeiro of a brand new tattoo that she got that reads “Don’t ever underestimate the power of your mind…” - a quote inspired by “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” from the SunStorm album. The lyrics were written and sung by my a great friend of mine, “tourmate” and sister, Sy Smith… I’m kinda at a loss for words here… but this is real dope - AND on top of all that, the tat looks good!! According to her, “It’s a very special song… Like a way of life…”
Wow… Talk about motivational.
Like I have said before… Sometimes we as artists are reminded why it is important to continue doing what we do. This picture and story is one concrete reminder… Made my day, completely.
Pretty interesting documentary on Sly Stone from 1992 called “Let Me Have It All”…
May 8, 2011, Mother’s Day…
The +FE crew and I were set to take the short 2-hour and some change drive to Detroit from Cleveland to play our 4th show of the scheduled seven-show tour of Midwest cities. I was up and ready to go this particular morning as we were creeping up on the show date that I was most anticipating. Going back home to perform is always motivational to me because I’m able to catch everyone up on what I have been up to musically - The same people who saw me making music out of my bedroom in my parents’ house in what I used to call “Crowded Room Studios,” as there was more music and equipment in that spot than space to move around. To be able to bring new levels of success home to folks who have supported you from day one is truly a blessing… So needless to say, I was a bit anxious for this one. As soon as I found out the show was confirmed, I started to text a couple folks here and there and sent a few DMs via Twitter just to make sure that kats were blocking that date off far in advance because at that time folks kept asking, “When are y’all gonna come to The D?” …The thing was, May of 2011 wasn’t our first time playing in Detroit. The first +FE show at home was over two years ago in June of 2009 and I remember being hyped up for that one too, but this time was much different. First off, the buzz around the show was crazy and the people who were creating it seemed to be super excited. Secondly, there had been four +FE Music releases since that last show: City Lights 2: Shibuya (Sept. ‘09), …just visiting too (Nov. ‘09), SunStorm (Jul. ‘10) and Authenticity (Oct. ‘10). One thing was starting to become crystal clear to us… Detroit was ready, I just didn’t realize how ready.
I’ll put it like this, I was so amped up about the Detroit show that thinking back on it, I barely even remember the actual drive from Cleveland… I remember stopping once for gas after Toledo, but that’s about it. The next thing I remember is checking in to our hotel and asking, “Ayo, who’s coming to the house before soundcheck?” Our bassist, Kush El-Amin and drummer Tim Scott Jr. said that they would roll so we dropped our stuff off in our rooms and proceeded to head out to my parents’ house. As soon as we walked in, I as I normally do when I get home, went straight for the refrigerator to grab a water and a Faygo Redpop to take with me. But to my surprise, Moms had baked a damn sweet poe-tay-toe pie for our arrival… Yep, I said Poe. Tay. TOE. So, uhhh… the three of us had some pie. ….And uhhh…. y’all thought I was greedy as hell? The brotha T. Scott had two pieces.
After we left my parents’ house, I took the fellas to The Bread Basket for a Rueben and some Better Made chips… For the record, I am currently salivating just looking at the picture below.
After taking our food to go, we only had enough time to head back to the hotel and pick up the rest of the crew for soundcheck at the Magic Stick. Upon arriving to the venue, I started feeling anxious… At that point I just wanted the show to BEGIN. I hadn’t gone home to play in a year and a half, hadn’t been home with +FE in two… everyone was sounding all extra excited about the show - I was truly on edge……… A GOOD edge. Plus, the entire crew knew how big this show was for me… With all that said, I still wasn’t aware exactly how big.
We headed back to the hotel in order to change and get everything ready to go right back to the venue for the show. I was surprising cool, but I could feel my heart rate noticeably increase before taking the stage. Everybody in the crew was looking at me like, “You ready? Are you ready?” I was ready as hell… Normally, the time that we have backstage usually drags along anyway. But for the hometown show, time seemed to be moving at 120 seconds per minute. …..When we finally took the stage, I was the first to walk out to a sea of Detroit faces. I thought to myself, “This crowd is KILLIN the last one… They’re ready.” We proceded to start the show and the crowd was with us the entire time. During the set, I saw a ton of familiar faces, which made me feel even more at home… But still once again, I wasn’t ready.
Now… for those of you who have ever attended an +FE show, you know that there is a portion set aside during each show where Phonte introduces the entire crew individually… The order is normally: band members, vocalists, and last, of course is Nicolay. Well… for the first time in our touring history, the introduction order was different and to say that it caught me way off guard would be an understatement. Phonte went through and introduced everyone and I noticed that he skipped me… I was thinking, “Ok, he’ll probably do it after Jeanne and Sy.” Welp! After introducing Jeanne Jolly and Sy Smith…. He introduced Nicolay. *blank stare* I wonder if anyone has pictures of my face during that time, I’d like to see them because in my head it was, “Oh shit! WTF?… I’m going LAST at the CRIB? This is crazy….!” The next thing I knew, Phonte told us to cut the music and proceeded to go into my introduction. I’m sure I was standing there looking silly and lost as hell leading up to….
“Give it up for your own… Lorenzo Ferguson a/k/a Zo! y’all!”
The place just got LOUD…….. and I couldn’t do a damn thing but stand there and cheese. In normal situations, people cheer, yell out, etc. and I’ll show love back by waving, bowing or something to make sure that they know I appreciate them. This time was a little different… Detroit got loud…. Matter of fact, Detroit got loud and HELD it. I was smiling… waving………smiling some more………. waving…… That’s when I first realized, “Oh damn, they’re not stopping!” I was completely in the moment at this point, plus my parents and younger sister were in the audience as well so this just became a helluva moment for me. I didn’t know what to do anymore or how to react - I just started looking around with the “This can’t be real” face on and man, it felt GREAT - SO great that I THEN thought to myself, “Oh ok, I see…. these negroes are tryna make me cry now.” And damn if I didn’t feel a lump in my throat - Man, this ain’t good. I just kept thinking, “Naaaah man, I’m not going… I’m not going. Breeeeeathe.” Of course, the more I thought that…. The louder they seemed to get and the bigger that lump got. THEN, I turned to my left to look at the crew, you know, just to kind of get their take on things and they were no help at all as Sy and Jeanne both had their hands on their mouths in the “Awwwww” position looking like THEY were about to cry. SHIT!! It was settled… I definitely wasn’t looking over at the crew for ANYmore support. The crowd thought they had me though!! - Because after awhile, instinctively I took my cap and covered my face with it while turning around. *sigh* This did nothing but fuel it and made them cheer even louder. Their loud ovation went on for a solid couple of minutes. I know I may seem to be making light of it, but it was by far one of the most unbelievable moments of my music career up to that point. Of course I’ve already had a few of my people jokingly say, “Aw man, you were about to cry, you were about to get emotional?” Maaaaaan listen… You work this hard for this long, keep it up after moving away from home and then return to that type of hometown love… If your throat doesn’t lump up from a reception like that, you may need to check and see if you have a pulse. I have never gotten an ovation like that before or since… That was a moment that left me truly humbled and I will never forget it.
Performing in Amsterdam • Photo by Sarah Jane Van Beek
I quickly went from having never traveled to Europe… to traveling to Europe three times in the first three months of the year. In January, I went overseas with The Foreign Exchange for our first European Tour as a collective, which covered London, Amsterdam, Paris, Köln, and back to London for a second show. While the tour was extremely tiring and my feet hung off of the ends of ALL of the beds in the hotels, I was very grateful to see the outpouring of love we received in each city. These kats were hyped up to see us and their energy was taken in and transferred right back to them via our shows. We were also fortunate enough to get together with the talented and VERY quick learning drummer UK Laurie Lowe who held us down on stage the entire time we were over there. BIG up…!! I know I’m leaving out a ton of details, so please don’t hesitate to click on each city above to read my write-ups on each date…
In February, I went back over to Paris with DC based, Grammy-nominated artist Kokayi at the Maison des Arts festival playing alongside Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch… Talk about FUN. We arrived in Paris a day early, so we were able to walk around the city and take our time to really take everything in. This is generally uncommon during multi-city touring where you usually arrive to a city, check-in, soundcheck, get ready fo the show, play the show and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I experienced some excellent food, beer mixed with tequila, as well as a pigeon that decided he needed to initiate me by letting himself loose on my hat and coat. Great… The show itself was crazy… Especially when I was able to see kids start to breakdance on the sides of the thatre. I was looking like, “Wooooooooow, for real?!” Fun, fun times…
I think the most memorable time overseas was the last time I went, in March with Sy Smith - these were actually the FIRST of our “Duo” shows. We had two shows scheduled in Paris at Bizz’Art and London’s famed Jazz Café. But our schedule was pretty interesting. Despite playing the Paris show first, we flew in to London’s Heathrow airport the morning of Thursday, March 3rd where we were picked up by one of the vocalists and taken to our hotel. We had the rest of the day to explore London, or rest before rehearsal began that night with the band. The next morning (the 4th) we took the train to Paris and was greeted by our promoter upon arrival who then walked us to our hotel to check in and gave us a brief tour of the city as well as the venue we were going to be performing in the next night. We had some wine, did an interview, rested up and enjoyed a helluva dinner at a spot across the street from our hotel. The actual day of the show, March 5th… We met up with the Paris band at the venue who we could already hear rehearing our material as we walked in. That crew of musicians was on POINT. I actually remember thinking to myself when I heard the second keyboard player, “Damn, he might know my shit better than ME!” That Paris show was NUTS. Bizz’Art was filled up, the people were into the show from start to finish and showed their appreciation afterward by forming a line to the merch table where we were seated that seemed to never end. I was extremely grateful.
The following morning (Sunday the 6th), we took the train back to London to check back into our hotel and prepare for our first performance at the Jazz Café. After a quick soundcheck and a couple of interviews, we got started that night and had a BALL. Although we didn’t get on stage until late, the London crowd had a lot of energy for us. I can still remember a few kats on the sides of me who were actually “studying” what I was playing… I could tell this, because I would hear them comment or say, “Whooooo!!!” after I would hit a certain series of notes or chords. Now THAT was kinda crazy as I hadn’t experienced that before. We ended the show with an “acoustic” encore, just Sy singing and me on the keys, which gave us the idea to make our going out on the road as a team more permanent - Combined with the love we received in both London and Paris, the Zo! + Sy Smith show became solidified. Now the question is… When can we go BACk overseas?!
I’m gonna let ch’all in on a little well-known secret among us artists… Releasing new music NEVER gets old. One of the reasons is because we are always being asked, “So what’s next?” “What are you working on currently?” I had a couple of people ask me “When’s your next album coming out?” just three days after I released SunStorm in 2010. To have your current music, your “baby” see the light of day and watching people react to it in realtime via Twitter, FB, etc. is one helluva reward in itself. This time around, I was able to SEE people’s first time reactions to the new music in the form of a series of …just visiting three listening parties. The first one was the night of its release at a very intimate setting in Washington D.C. at a spot called Tap & Parlour. Right at midnight, while the album was being released online, I got up on the mic to introduce the new material to everyone in attendance and DJ 2-Tone Jones spun it straight through. To see people react to …just visiting three’s song selection, yelling out “SOOOOMEBOOOODY TEEEEELL MEEEEEEE” during the hook for “Everything She Wants” and yelling out “OHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” when “Playing Your Game, Baby” started…. and ANOTHER “OOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!” when Anthony David proceeded to start singing and take ownership of the song. I was sitting in the spot with my laptop open reading reactions to the album and experiencing them all at the same time. That feeling was absolutely priceless… I can’t wait to do it again in 2012.
Friday, August 5th began early for me as I was picked up from my hotel room in Houston at about 4:45am to catch an early flight back home after wrapping up another successful listening party for my then new release, …just visiting three. For those of you who know me personally, along with others who happen to follow me on Twitter or Facebook know that I taught Music at a Special Education Charter school in Washington D.C. (Rock Creek Academy) to high school kids for five years. Well, August 5th is significant because it marked the last day of summer school at RCA, which also meant that our staff had the entire following week off before it was back to the start of yet another fall semester. I would ALWAYS take the summers off, just so I could regain my sanity and have some time to myself in regards to being productive in the studio without having to worry about my day job. Despite not working in the summer, I was still able to remain connected to the happenings in the school because I still received work emails on my phone. That morning, we all received an email from the CEO of the school that read like this:
After reading the email, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Normally when we would get this same type of email at the end of each semester or summer session, it would serve almost as our “enjoy your time NOW… because in a week, it’s back to the plantation!” warning. Even with seeing and reading this email, I was so determined to keep the school out of my mind until it was actually that time to go back in there to work - I think any teacher can relate to that. At the time I was focused on my upcoming trip to Atlanta that I had scheduled for another …just visiting three album listening party at Moods Music that Sunday, the 7th. Soon after returning home from Atlanta on Monday, August 8th, received a text from a friend of mine who was formally employed at Rock Creek Academy with me…
“You hear about RCA?”
I responded… “No, what happened?” …but I already pretty much knew what she was about to respond with. When folks text you out of the blue asking if you’ve “heard about” someone or something, it is rare that a positive update will follow. She then proceeded to tell me that the school had shut down and that there should be a letter in the mail formally confirming this. I got up and walked outside to check the mailbox. Sure enough there was a large white envelope from Rock Creek Academy, Inc. that contained one letter of recommendation, a letter instructing us on how to keep our health benefits, and a two-page letter informing us that our signed, upcoming 10-month teaching contracts were “terminated” effective immediately due to the permanent closure of the school. Although the news came as no surprise to many of us (even though we were “assured” throughout the spring semester of 2011 that we had nothing to worry about as the school would remain open in the future), it was kind of a shock when it actually happened. What wasn’t a shock though was the fact that the two-page letter was dated Friday, August 5th… The same day the CEO sent out the “not-so-out-of-the-ordinary” email above thus confirming in print what we all already suspected… He knew. How far in advance did he know the school was shutting down? There’s no telling, but I think he was aware of it way in advance. Personally, I have always thought that was shady as shit… Regardless of what it was, what I SAW was the door to “Full-Time Musicianship” fly wide open, which was excellent… There was also a HUGE change taking place, which set the stage for a rather intense mental battle to take place… The battle started off as a back and forth debate…
“But you’re making a huge impact in some of these kids’ lives” vs. “You’re also making an impact in people’s lives who listen to your music”
“You are salaried at the school” vs. “Music isn’t salaried, but you can definitely work to make it very consistent”
The debate slowly started becoming a bit one-sided…
“Your being an artist was not at all respected by the school at all… Until it was time to show you and your students off” vs. “Your art is respected by your listeners and supporters”
“While you ARE salaried, the school has it set up to where they are not paying you for two consecutive missed days whether you have leave hours or not” vs. “You can go out on the road whenever you need to - No permission needed, no leave slips”
These were all factors that I was weighing when deciding whether or not to go back into the classroom as a music teacher. The thing is, I am very passionate about passing music down to the younger generation of kids - whether it comes in the form of music theory and education or just simply letting them hear my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire record to expose them to what I think is “good music.” I think that it is our duty as music lovers to expose these children early to some good undeniable music. It’s always silly to me when I hear people complaining about what our kids listen to, yet they have never once schooled a kid on anything music-related. Let these kids hear some stuff and pass some history along with the song and they just may surprise you by taking to it. I eventually decided to continue passing along my knowledge of music in the form of private piano lessons, which actually started at the top of this month… Despite not working in a formal classroom setting, music education never stops.
The one thing that I’ve learned since becoming a musician full-time is if you want to know how people truly feel about you, go into business for yourself and start doing what you love as a profession. Maaaaaan, that shit is TELLING!! The few things that I have learned about myself have been interesting as well. For example, I realized that once I get focused on productivity and being consistent whether in the studio, the gym, or on-stage, I have an extremely low tolerance for folks with constant negative energy. I wasn’t fully aware of that until recently and I have certainly had to adjust accordingly. On the other hand, my family and close friends have been nothing BUT supportive in my recently enhanced musical journey and to them I would like to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for it because honestly, it is part of what drives me during some of those “low” days. Overall, the school’s immediate closure has certainly opened up brand new opportunities as well as a brand new purpose and motivation behind my music career that has resulted in a greater amount of shows and studio time and subsequently a lesser amount of sleep. I am extremely anxious to let you all hear what I have been working on since the closing of Rock Creek Academy and thank YOU for continuing to support what I love to do and that’s create and release quality music.
I’ll be traveling west to perform with my sister in music… the wonderfully talented, Sy Smith to perform our intimate, acoustic set in Portland and Seattle at the end of this week and LA in January…
December 22, 2011
December 23, 2011
(Limited Discount Tickets Available Now - $5)
January 19, 2012