Michael Engdahl

The Blog


New York’s Finest in the Midwest

Take care of the music and the rest will take care of itself.
This past week I attended a masterclass held at the University of Kansas with flugelhornist John Raymond and his group Real Feels featuring guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Colin Stranahan. The group is in the middle of the second leg of their tour promoting their new album. This tour has taken them all over the country giving multiple performances and masterclasses. In the last couple years, I’ve become familiar with Gilad and Colin’s work, not only as leaders, but as in-demand sidemen in New York City. Through them I was introduced to John Raymond which led me to discover his large body of work, the tour, and this masterclass. Needless to say, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a road trip (KU is roughly 2 and half hours north of Wichita) and to see these players that I idolize in action.

If you aren’t familiar with these players, do yourself a favor and look them up; you won’t be disappointed.

They arrived coming straight from the Kansas City airport, having taken a flight from Oregon that morning (6am flight plus time zone changes) and immediately began setting up, while quickly eating lunch in the process. Multi-tasking at its finest.
Once they settled in, they wasted no time hitting the ground running. They played 2 songs to open up the masterclass, beginning with John Raymond’s composition ‘Thaddeus’ which is the first track on the album. They followed up with ‘Atoms for Peace’ by Thom Yorke. Practically no warming up, they delivered an incredible performance. I could go on and on about how well they did, but that goes without saying. The Q&A portion is what really got me.

For me, the key takeaway from this hour-long discussion was this; these guys are human too and face the same problems that every other musician faces.

They have lives outside of the road and learn to balance their family and friends with their music. Colin discussed staying ‘healthy’ and shared that to him, that means not only physically but mentally and spiritually. Taking time for yourself and nurturing your own soul while being there for the people in your life, even when you’re away. There was talk about separating your ‘personal’ life and your ‘music’ life and how that shouldn’t be how you approach it. One is directly affected by the other and vice versa. Embrace that all of it has to work together in harmony, which isn’t the easiest task to handle. I asked about booking and touring and John shared that it’s even difficult for players that are more well known. For every 10-20 emails sent or calls made, you might only get a handful in return. Be diligent. Be patient. Gilad’s added that taking care of the music is the most important part of getting out there, the rest will take care of itself as you go along. They talked about the importance of getting together and playing with others regularly and how it’s a common thing to attend 3-4 playing sessions a week when they aren’t gigging or touring. Building and being a part of the community.

After the masterclass I got a chance to interact with each of these guys and thank them for their time, buy some merchandise, and talk shop a little. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or reach out to people because that’s how new connections and relationships begin.

The entire masterclass was recorded by Matt Otto from the KU School of Music and should be available sooner than later. Below I attached a short video of Gilad and Colin playing on ‘Atoms for Peace.’

There’s still so much information to digest from that day and I’m still trying to find the right words to say about it. Maybe there aren’t any. All I know is that I’m grateful that I could witness it and hear what these guys had to say. Best of luck on the rest of your tour gents.

John Raymond
Gilad Hekselman
Colin Stranahan

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