On August 3, 2023, I saw the great drummer, Omar Hakim, launch his new band at Shapeshifter Lab. The night was both inspiring and touching for several reasons.
In his new band, Omar is the singer and guitarist, as well as the drummer. Although he has been singing his whole life, it has been his drumming with some of the biggest artists on the planet including Madonna, Sting, Miles Davis, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Herbie Hancock and The Foo Fighters that has made him a legend amongst drummers and musicians.
He has climbed as high in the music industry as is possible for a session drummer and at this point in his career, instead of resting on his laurels, and spending the rest of his life doing well paid session gigs, drum clinics and workshops, he decided to do something that he’s never done before in his entire life – front a band as a singer and vocalist. The new record that his band is playing came to him in a single night and the songs simply poured out of him.
Omar’s wife, the amazing keyboardist and the person who inspired ‘Blinky,‘ Rachel Z, was playing the synths that night. She, like Omar, has succeeded as much as is possible for a session musician in the business in both jazz and pop, having worked for years with Peter Gabriel and Wayne Shorter. Rachel is also in the process of recording a new record and creating what she calls ‘future jazz’ the merger of electronic music techniques and jazz.
Shapeshifter Lab, the space in Park Slope, where the event took place is the brainchild of bassist Matthew Garrison. Matthew is one of the greatest electric bass players alive (and a former teacher of mine). Like Rachel and Omar, his musicianship has taken him around the world with some of the most famous jazz and pop artists including Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan and Joni Mitchell. Shapeshifter was founded to be a nexus point between cutting-edge music and technology. He’s devoted the past several years to the creation of an app called Tunebend and has made Shapeshifter into the premier venue for experimental jazz.
The reason that I was really moved by seeing these three great artists together at an event is the fact that despite having attained high levels of success in the musical world, all of them are putting themselves into places of discomfort – trying things that they haven’t done before. They are all taking risks – financial, artistic and reputational. They are living the truth that great artists throughout history have lived – resting on previous accomplishments, no matter how epic, is artistic death. Setting out on new journeys is always the path to growth and serving the muse within is what we are called to do as artists and creatives.