Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pianist Jade Simmons says record deal was like a Cinderella story

I love happy endings...or in Jade Simmons case - a happy beginning.

That's because the Houston-based musician launched her debut album with a standing-room-only concert at the Rockefeller on March 23. Yay!!

Like many artists, Jade has worked hard to get to where she is today. In fact, getting the record deal was a dream come true, but according to the 31-year-old pianist, how it happened was unexpected.

"I had always heard these Cinderella stories and wondered why it never happened to me. But this was one of those instances," said Simmons.

Simmons' concert management called her up last April with a last minute opportunity to perform with a small orchestra in Long Island.

"The piece they wanted me to play was 'Rhapsody in Blue,' and truth be told, I had never played the piece before. I had a month to learn it, so it was a little risky, but I took the risk," said Simmons.

Simmons was glad she agreed to the last minute concert, because it turned out that two of the record executives moonlighted in the orchestra.

They heard she was coming to play, did some research on her, and then gave her a call.

"They wanted to know if I was interested in recording and what kind of music I would like to record. I pitched this project and it was almost an instant record deal," said Simmons.

It sounds easy, but Simmons has spent her life preparing for this moment, not really knowing if a record deal would ever happen. She's been playing piano since she was 8 years old, but all the work paid off. When opportunity knocked, she was ready to walk through the door.

Her debut album is called "The Rhythm Project: Revolutionary Rhythm," and the CD is a reflection of her affinity for rhythmic music. The album highlights music from four different American composers, including Samuel Barber and John Corigliano, as well as Austin-based electronic music guru Russell Pinkston and DBR (Daniel Bernard Roumain).

"I've kind of carved out a niche for myself in the classical world by playing music that has a more rhythmic vibe on the piano," said Simmons.

Simmons' personal style comes alive on the album and is apparent in the pieces written by DBR. On these pieces, she and a colleague created electronic hip-hop beats to go along with the music. The result is a sound that follows the same vein as what Missy Elliot or Timbaland would do.

"With those pieces I got to live out the whole rock star/hip-hop fantasy. I really wanted to have a CD that reflected who I was personally and be shown as not your everyday classical performer," said Simmons.

Simmons says the recording setting was comfortable and that part of the process was easy. The hardest part for her was post production.

"I think for artists this is often the trickiest part, because you have in your head your own conception on how you want the world to see you and the record label has to think about how they are going to sell records," said Simmons.

For the most part, everything about the CD has gone well, and Simmons is excited about the final product. But what was most important to her was that she was shown as a musician and not marketed as a young woman who was the first runner-up at the 2000 Miss America Pageant.

"What I want people to remember about me is not how I look, but how I sound," said Simmons. "I feel lucky that all things have come together, but what was hard for me, and I think for a lot of female artists, is making sure the right things are being marketed."

"The Rhythm Project" is being released on March 24 and Simmons wanted to debut it in the city she calls her home.

"I came to Houston to go to grad school and never left. I feel like the art scene here is open enough to receive everything at we are trying to do," said Simmons.

Simmons also had a special guest with her at the Houston concert. Roburt Reynolds (AKA Room 101) joined her for part of the concert to play live electronic beats on stage to a few of the pieces.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Father and son roping team live the rodeo dream

The best part of my job is meeting people, and I must say, Allen Bach was one of the most interesting men I have met in my career. 

Allen Bach is a four time PRCA World Champion, 27 consecutive time qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo, and a three time all time high money winner of the George Strait Team Roping Classic.

Bach's been blessed with his success and the chance to rope all his life. But now he says he's living the dream by team roping with his 19-year-old son, Joel.
"I haven't won the most saddles and buckles in history, but I have all the championships that I need to have. My dream now would be to win the National Finals with my son. That would be a story book ending for me," said Bach.

Bach has been married for 30 years and competing in the rodeo during that entire time. As his four kids were growing up, they did everything as a family. However, now that his son is not just watching from the stands, but competing with him, the relationship is different.
"We team rope together so Joel's become more like a business partner. It would be anybody's dream to compete at the high level that we do in the rodeo," said Bach.

While the father/son team is a dream come true, Bach admits that they have had to make little adjustments to make it work.

"I have to be a dad first, then a partner, coach and best friend. But of course, my son would like me to be a partner first, then a coach, friend and finally a dad," said Allen Bach. "He thinks he's already grown up, but he's only 19, and there's still a lot to learn about the world."

But neither Allen or Joel would trade up what they have for anything else. The rodeo is part of their lives and it's almost as if Joel is taking over the family business.

"This is my second year competing with my dad, but I've been riding and roping since I was seven," said Joel. "I'd really like to make the finals and become one of the contenders for the World Rodeo. If we make it, I'll be one of the youngest headers."

Bach admits that his ties to the rodeo, and the people his son has met, made huge impact on Joel as he grew up. He understands the pressure, the lingo and the lifestyle.

"The people Joel's competing against are the same people he grew up with. They are friends and I think this works to his advantage as he's not star struck," said Bach.

Bach says he hopes to help give his son a boost to his rodeo career, but he says there's a lot more to it than just riding and roping. There's also the sponsorship and business side of the rodeo.

"I'm hoping because of my name and reputation that it will help with the advertising and sponsorship. He can follow in my footsteps," said Bach.

Even though Bach takes the rodeo business seriously, he works hard to balance it with his personal life.
In addition to being a rodeo champion, he is also an ordained minister and the founder of the ministry Forever Cowboys.

"It's just a group of guys and we try to bless the kids where we can with rodeo bible camps and other events. Our goal is to maximize the cowboy's influence in the world," said Bach.

According to Bach, the cowboy has always stood for integrity and doing what's right. He's a generic role model that can help make the world a better place.

"When you're a cowboy, your word is your honor. We're trying to follow those values and remind the next generation that these values are important. You can only win so many buckles and saddles. It's time to do something about changing the world," said Bach.

Currently living on 50 acre ranch in Weatherford, Texas, Allen and Joel are on the road for over half of the year. Bach says the secret to his success has to do with priorities.

"My wife is so strong. She's an incredible woman. Together we learned how to make a functional thing that could easily be dysfunctional. We learned to balance God, family and the rodeo," said Bach.

"I always tell people that rodeo makes a lousy God. It's just a spoke in the wagon wheel of life and you have to put God in the middle or else it won't work," said Bach. "I admit that sometimes in my life the rodeo ends up in the middle, but then I have to work to put God back there."

In the meantime, Allen and Joel are enjoying their time together as a team.

"It's really fun traveling with your dad, especially when you win," said Joel.

Bach also has a 15-year-old son that ropes. He's sometimes out competing with his mom while Bach is on the road with Joel.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Finding out what makes a cowboy a champion

Thursday was a busy day for me. I spent hours just hanging out behind the Reliant Stadium at the rodeo trying to find out just what makes a real-live cowboy.

It turns out that being a cowboy at the rodeo isn't all about winning saddles and gold buckles. In fact, based on many of the athletes that I met, the rodeo and riding has been a part of their lives since they were young.

Matt Shiozawa was one of the guys that I ran into. Shiozawa lives in Idaho, but was in Houston competing in the tie-down roping event in the BP Super Series.

"I've been serious about competing in the rodeo since high school," said Shiozawa. "This is what I do as my full-time job."

The 28-year-old has been around rodeos all his life. His family had a farm and he says that competing professionally was something that he's always wanted to do.

"Both my dad and my brother used to compete in rodeos so I've pretty much been around it all my life," said Shiozawa. "My dad and my brother competed locally."

Shiozawa has won a number of rodeo events including finishing 20th in 2004 in the world standings. He's also competed many times in the National Finals Rodeo.

"At first it's a lot practice, but I now feel my skills are as honed as they could be," said Shiozawa. "I believe that being the best athlete you can be is every bit as important as skills training so I weight train and keep in shape."

Jason Havens from Oregon was also there getting ready for Bareback Bronc Riding event.

Havens has been competing for the 17 years and placed in four of 10 rounds at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2007.

"I had a cousin that was in the rodeo, and when I was a kid, I would go and watch him," said Havens.

Havens grew up riding horses. But while his immediate family didn't have a farm, he had other family members that did.

"I always wanted to be in the rodeo," said Havens. "I couldn't afford to get a saddle, but my cousin had extra bareback harnesses so I did got into bareback riding."

Havens says that all though high school he practiced whenever he could.

"There were amateur stock contractors by the high school and I would practice on their horses. I also practiced at Walla-Walla Community College while I was attending school there," said Havens.

Like many of the athletes at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, both Havens and Shiozawa spend much of the year on the road. This year Shiozawa estimates that he'll be spending about 10 months going from competition to competition, while Havens will spend approximately 150 to 160 days on the road. The athletes don't travel alone. Many of them travel the circuit together.
"Bareback riders Bobby Mote, Brain Bain, Ryan Gray and I all travel together," said Havens. "I meet Bobby back in college and we just started travelling together."

Havens and Shiozawa are currently competing in the BP Super Series at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and while they are little quiet and don't seem to want to talk about how great they are, the guys are pretty good.

As of March 5, Shiozawa was first in the Series 1 tie-down roping standings. Havens was 8th in the bareback bronc riding standings.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

There's more than BBQ at the Houston Rodeo

Unfortunately, that old Texas saying "this ain't my first rodeo" does not apply to me. That's because this March will be my first time at a rodeo.

Yup, this city girl is about to become a whole lot more Texan.

Who knows. Maybe by the end of the month, I'll actually be able to pull off saying "y'all."


Just like everything else in Texas, the rodeo is big. In fact, it's so big that there's no way you can see everything, eat everything or do everything in one visit.

So in addition to eating (because I definitely plan on doing that), here's my list of stuff I'm hoping to see:

1) Buy something Texan to wear: Okay, I admit it. I'm in desperate need of Western wear as my friends have told me that my black sparkly T-shirt and jeans don't exactly scream "cowgirl." They said I'm sure to find something at the over 350 booths at the rodeo - from hats and jewelry down to boots and polish.

2) Drink Texas wine at the Wine Garden: I had heard about "Texas tea," but never realized Texas had wine until recently. Not to mention, that some of it is award winning. I can't believe you have been keeping this a secret from the other states for all these years. My rodeo source tells me the wine garden will have award winning local and international wines.

3) Become a fan: At the Fan Zone, you can meet your favorite cowboys and cowgirls who compete in the RodeoHouston BP Super Series. I don't have a favorite yet, but I figure if I visit the area, I'll find out who I should be watching in the show.

4) Cheer on a Lil Rustler: This event sounds so cute. Physically and mentally challenged kids will try their hand in steer roping, bull riding and barrel racing on March 4, 5 and 11. But don't worry, they won't get hurt. They use stick horses.

5) Watch Xtreme Bulls: Unlike the Lil Rustler event, this one could hurt, so I'm glad I'm watching. On March 22, bull riding champs will try to ride over 50 of the roughest, toughest bulls in the country.

6) See a miracle: The livestock birthing center allows people to watch animals giving birth. There's a vet on hand to assist the animals so it's not quite like Discovery Channel, but it's all real and not Hollywood.

7) Race a pig: Part of Kids Country is all these crazy races. In fact, one of them is actually called 'Crazy Animal Races.' But I've been told the pigs are fun to watch. I'm not sure why, but I will find out.

8) Check out the BP Super Series: Now this is what the rodeo is all about. Each year, champion cowboys and cowgirls compete the world's richest regular-season PRCA rodeo. In 2009, the contestants will be riding and roping for more than $1.4 million in prize money.

9) Watch kids bust mutton: I've heard of calf scrambling, but never of Mutton Busting. Turns out that for the first time, the rodeo will let little cowboys and cowgirls try riding sheep this year--in addition to calves.

10) See what the llamas are wearing: Nope...I'm not kidding. They actually do have a Llama and Alpaca costume contest. It's on March 14 in the Reliant Area and I've been told it's hilarious. With their serious faces and big brown eyes, a lot of llamas look like people when they are all dressed up.

Well, that's my top 10 list. I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it all, but I'm going to try. I also might try to squeeze in an auction. Just like bull riding and the Super Series, it seems like a rodeo thing to do.

Oh...and don't forget. The cheap days are Wednesdays. For $10, you get into Reliant Park, the championship rodeo AND you actually get to see a concert:

March 4: Alan Jackson

March 11: Reba McEntire

March 18: Gary Allan