Category Archives: Songwriters

SONGWRITER DARCY CALLUS PROFESSES THAT LA IS STILL THE MELTING POT OF THE ARTS

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Sometimes the most valuable things are right in front of you and go unnoticed, or at the very least underappreciated. America constantly produces musical artists who are lauded and respected all over the world. Yet these artists often go through many years of struggle as they mature into the icons they aspire to become. The US public doesn’t often stop to consider the fact that this training ground in which we live is a shining star to artists of the world. This has always been obvious to Australian Darcy Callus. This artist has long dreamed of being a part of the musical community which he believes to be the home of the elite, Los Angeles. While there are numerous locations in the world with talented artists, Callus readily admits that the concentration of world class artists per capita in LA is unlike any other place on the planet. As an award-winning jazz pianist turned pop artist (he was one of the finalists on Australia’s X Factor), Darcy has a deep understanding of the difference between being a “one hit wonder” who got lucky and being an artist who cultivates a long career with depth. He is also not afraid to, as he puts it, “Follow his nose where it leads” him. When the opportunity to work with LA based singer/songwriter Rotana Tarabzouni presented itself to him, Darcy was eager to work with such a talented artist and spend some time in the city he considers to be the center of the industry.

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While Darcy has been associated with such music industry luminaries as Dave Stroud (known for his work with Prince, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson, and Michael Jackson), multi-platinum producer Bryan Todd, and others; writing with Rotana gave him the opportunity to work with a brand new artist in the States who shares an international view of the US as he does. Tarabzouni grew up in Dhahran, on the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. To state that her experience as an artist in her homeland was not encouraged is a drastic understatement. Women are not exactly groomed to seek out fame as a popstar in her homeland. On a family vacation in Boston, she spontaneously went to an audition and received massive encouragement. That was enough to convince Rotana that she needed to pursue her dream in America. Callus received no persecution in his native home of Australia and was even a sensation on Australia’s X Factor. Still, he also understood the potential of the US music community and opportunities which the industry’s infrastructure afforded the talented and hard working. The two met at an artists get together and recognized the musical counterpoint in each other’s talent. Darcy states, “We definitely clicked immediately in terms of wanting to create music that was original and personal, not derivative and following what was popular at the moment. Even more importantly, I understood where she was coming from as a songwriter and what she was trying to express.” Describing the process, he continues, “Rotana is truly gifted when it comes to melodies. She comes up with them quite quickly and they are very strong. All of my training in music allowed me to quickly understand what she was looking for and find the harmony to her melodies on piano. There was a specific color tone that propelled the emotion she wanted to communicate. If you can understand an artist both musically and professionally, you can help them as well as excite them about their own music.”

The US is a country which prides itself on so many aspects that are prominent in the working relationship between Darcy and Rotana. A country which accepts those from other lands, in pursuit of their dreams, with the ability to express themselves freely…it’s as representative of the American Dream as the Westward Expansion. Callus comments, “There’s no doubt that both of us feel fortunate to be here in LA among the greats. You literally can walk into a club, restaurant, coffee shop, whatever, and run into an artist you have listened to your whole life. Of course what we’re really here to do is work. It’s amazing that I can meet an artist like Rotana and immediately begin creating music with an almost unspoken approach. I’m sure that this is all because of the group of artists who are known everywhere in the world…in places like Australia, Saudi Arabia, and almost every other place on the planet. As an artist and musician, you feel like you are in the center of the universe when you are here…and that inspires you even more.”

Success in never guaranteed but is already evident in the work that Callus and Tarabzouni have done. Rotana’s debut single “Daddy” was co-written and arranged by Darcy. The single was playlisted on Apple’s “Hot Pop Tracks” for weeks as well as Spotify’s US VIRAL 50. Some of the music Callus wrote with Rotana was debuted at The 2017 Sundance Film Festival “A Celebration of Music and Film Concert”. At this concert, Rotana shared the stage with Common, Andra Day, Jim James, Hunter Hayes, Peter Dinklage, Ava DuVernay, and more. Early indicators like these give presumptions that the music which Callus and Rotana created together is going to have every bit of the impact that had hoped to achieve. Darcy smiles as he communicates, “I have quite a history of working with extremely talented female vocalists. It’s interesting that in this situation the vocalist is a woman and her femininity is celebrated while she is in control. As a man, I’m in the supportive role (playing piano). They are exhibiting strength as well as a softer side. I love that about music. It allows these situations that you won’t find in all walks of life. Artists are celebrated and encouraged to express what is unique about themselves.”

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When questioned about his experience thus far in LA, Darcy confirms, “I am Australian and I love Australia but I feel that the US audience is much more willing to have an open mind. American audiences want to give you a chance. Many artists have said that you have to become famous and accepted somewhere else and then come back home to be recognized. There’s a little truth in that. If you go anywhere else and say you are an LA musician, you are instantly seen in a different light. People assume that you are great and…to be honest, to be a successful LA artist…you have to be great!”

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Guitarist Teddy Fan Talks Music and Touring

Teddy Fan is a multitalented musician who’s been playing the guitar since he was twelve years old. Since graduating from the Musicians Institute, he’s toured with hit artists all around the U.S., assisted and taught both teachers and students at his Alma matter, as well as pulled from his creative mind to begin writing his own, original songs and music.

Presently, Fan is alternately touring throughout the country with two rising artists, YouTube persona Jason Chen and the hit country-pop musician Christine Huff.

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Guitarist Teddy Fan

Just this week, I had the opportunity to catch and sit down with Chen during a rare, free moment of his time to get the latest information regarding his career, all outlined in our exclusive interview below.

Where are you from originally and where are you currently located?
TF:
I’m from Hong Kong. I’m currently living in Los Angeles, California.

What prompted you to get involved with music early on in your life? What made you want to pursue a career in it?
TF: To me, music is my dream. When I was a kid, I always watched all kinds of rock performance videos. I wished that one day I could play on stage, too. I guess I made my decision when I was 13 years old. I knew it was the only thing I want to do.

Who inspired you early on? Are their any musicians that you look up to?
TF: After I came to US, I met a lot of great teacher who gave me so many opportunities. Two in particular, Katsuya and Adrian are both my mentors and teachers. They’ve helped me a lot.

After you graduated from the Musician Institute, the school hired you as a Teaching Assistant (TA). What did your job as a TA entail? What were you responsible for as far as assisting students and teachers went?
TF: As a TA, my job is to provide a professional session of guitar playing for the entire class. For example, when drum students are in a performance class, they will need a bass player and guitar player to play with, and that’s where I come in. All of the TAs are well trained for each style of music as well as reading sign charts, so any of us can fill in to any class at any time.

Is TA-ing, or just teaching in general, still something you do from time to time?
TF: Other then school stuff, I also do a lot of session work like recording, band events, and songwriting and arranging jobs. I have a few artists who always ask me to okay music for them, and I also do a lot of recording for Katsuya. I’m in an event band, which plays at weddings, company events and different kinds of festivals.

In addition to collaborating with professors and students, you’ve also collaborated with sever other independent artists as well as groups. Who are some of the well-known musicians that you’ve worked with?
TF: The most well known musician that I have worked with is Jason Chen. Jason is a famous YouTube singer with over 1,300,000 followers.

You’ve toured with both Jason Chen and Christine Huff separately as their guitarist. What’s life like on tour?
TF: It’s like my dream come true. I never thought I’d be doing it this early on in my career. I’m getting paid to play music and travel around the U.S., how amazing is that!? It’s a lot of fun to travel and meet with fans. Thought, it is also really tiring to travel by plane or car for sometimes 7-8 hours a day, everyday.

How has being able to tour and introduce new audiences to your music impacted your career as a guitarist?
TF: It’s had such a big impact on my life. It feels like my career is finally growing to a new level. I have more followers and fans, and more people are listening to my music. I feel like being a successful musician is no longer just a dream, I’m actively doing it and it’s been a long journey already!

Do you ever get nervous before performing in front of a large, live audience? If so, how do you combat that feeling?
TF: After all kinds of past performances and experience, I don’t get nervous on stage anymore. I feel more excitement and energy! Of course, the first time I go on a big stage, I feel so nervous and crazy. At that time, I always keep telling myself that I can do it and to just enjoy the stage.

With Jason, the two of you perform both cover songs as well as some of his originals, and with Christine, it’s mostly country-pop. Is there a specific genre of music, or even a few songs, that you enjoy playing the most?
TF: I was born with a love of rock music. I like to play rock songs with a guitar solo! For Christine, I like to play “Country Breakup Song” because it is a rock country song and it has a long guitar solo at the end. For Jason, we both really enjoy playing “Umbrella” by Rihanna. We love this song and it is a song that everyone can sing together, so we like to perform it for our audiences.

When it comes to music, you’re multitalented. Not only do you play guitar, but you also dabble with singing, songwriting and song arranging. How often do you write and play your own music?
TF: I try to write everyday. I have my schedule made up for each day of the week, and I try to keep doing everything at least once a day. That helps me keep myself on track and to prevent lazy days. Practicing my original songs is a part of my schedule. I always prepare before gigs happen. So I always practice my own music.

For those who don’t know, what goes into the process of arranging a song
TF: Arranging a song just like putting clothes on a person. First, you finish a melody with the basic chord. Then, you need to think about what else you need in order to make the song sound beautiful. Usually, the drums, guitar, bass and keyboard are the basic elements of a song. However, nowadays, we also put a lot of electric sounds in songs, too. It all depends on the song and your personal taste of music. To sum up, arranging just like trying to pick the right clothes for a person, and trying to make him or her look great in doing so.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important qualities a musician can possess?
TF: To me, it’s being hardworking and humble. Also, as a musician, you have to keep learning, as always something to be learned. Keeping open mind to all styles of music is additionally important. To me, it’s important to branch out and not just learn what I like.

How do you tie these characteristics into your own practice?
TF: I always try to find some new music to listen and practice, which refreshes my mind and keeps practicing fun. Of course, I also have some basic technique practices that continued to do everyday. Also, I don’t give up and I trust the process.

Outside of playing the guitar and writing music, what else takes up your time? What are some of your personal hobbies and interests?
TF: I like go to the gym and work on my body. I am also a gamer; I like playing Xbox when I have free time. One hobby that I need stop doing so much is basketball. Since I’m guitarist, I need avoid anything that may hurt my hands, so I give up a lot of basketball time, which makes me sad because I love basketball!

What are some of your future goals specifically pertaining to your career in music
TF: 
Becoming a Singer-Songwriter is my final goal. I hope to one day be able to make a living by performing my own music, and spend every day in a studio and writing new songs. Of course, I want my own studio and team too!

When and where can fans see you perform live in the future?
TF: Christine Huff and I have a show coming up on August 27, 2016 at Bar Lubitsch. For more information please keep an eye on my Facebook page.

 

For more information on Teddy Fan and his upcoming shows, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/tszhim.fan.79
https://soundcloud.com/teddyfan

DIVERSITY IS A GUITARIST’S BEST FRIEND

 

Indian born guitarist Nipun Nair is a music purist…when it comes to being a great musician but not about the genre he is playing. Consider his latest work on Anthony Cruz’s premier major release “Cosas Del Destino”. Cruz is riding the wave of Latin pop artists whose ever increasing fan base is steadily taking over major radio and popular concert tours (Nair’s guitar work can be heard on the first single “Me Vuelas La Cabeza” currently in major rotation in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other markets). The songs are catchy and the musicianship is top grade. All of Nipun’s influences combine in a way that lifts the songs and supports the vocals. It’s no wonder that Tushar Menon (music journalist for Prog Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other music publications) referred to Nair’s playing as, “that elusive combination of technical and enjoyable. There is much in his music to satisfy seasoned musicians as well as excite non-musicians.”  Top level music production and great recorded performances, combined with Cruz’s matinee good looks are a steady move towards a Hollywood ending; seemingly a world away from Nipun’s early success in India with his band Public Issue. Public Issue garners its identity from the world of rock and funk. Bordering on soulful and even progressive rock at times, the band started out as undergrad friends who wanted to play as a hobby. The group was as surprised as anyone when they immediately started winning competitions and fans, playing to crowds of 5,000 or more. Tours and television performances on music channels like VHI and Channel [v] followed. Press fast forward just a short amount of time and Nipun has travelled to the U.S. and, within days he was contacted to perform in a band, one of whose vocalists happens to be Anthony Cruz. Not only did Anthony take notice of Nair’s abilities, but the creative team behind him did so as well. This team includes Deborah Corday, Randy Phillips, and Rafael Esparza Ruiz (cumulatively they have worked with; Toni Braxton, Rod Stewart, Ricky Martin, Santana, Justin Timberlake, Prince, and many others). Their recognition of the guitarist’s talent and their desire to have him involved is quite an achievement in itself. The weight of the moment is not lost to Nipun who tells, “I was in disbelief at how I was able to come so far so soon. It felt like the moment I stepped into the country things started to happen. Now Anthony’s music is playing on all the Latin radio stations in the country; the songs for which I recorded guitars. The feeling is overwhelming and incredible.” Anthony Cruz 2

Some of the most successful artists in today’s music market are those who are the most diverse. Modern artists use their association with well known products and services (Apple, Kia, etc.) to jump start a new career or give new life to former glory years. Placement is as valid an avenue for artists as radio, possibly even more so due to the ubiquitous nature of music in our society. Many advertising agencies recognize this and employ contemporary artists as composers to create a sound canvas; artists like Nipun Nair. Nipun has enjoyed a successful career as a music composer with Rubecon Creative Solutions in India. Nair has created numerous scores for Rubecon’s campaigns which aired on major television networks (Zee TV, Star Plus, Channel V, etc) and in large cinemas like SPI Cinemas. Massive audiences were exposed to his work. Rubecon’s Alexander Zachariah confirms, “Not only did Nipun prove to be crucial to the success of the productions we did for our clients, but he also proved to be an integral part of the success of our agency.” Nipun has put these skills to use here in the U.S. working with Barbara Cohen to compose music for Dunkin Donuts and Hewlett Packard. Award-winning composer Luis Guerra is the founder of Terremoto Productions Inc., an audio production company that has compositions in feature films like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Tina Fey), Fallen Angel (CBS), and countless commercial campaigns for companies such as Honda, Samsung, and others. Guerra hopes to make use of Nair’s abilities creating music for projects with Mountain Dew, Disney Channel, and building the Terremoto Music Library.

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For 2015’s Dreaming is a Private Thing, Nair was given a multitude of challenges. Filmmakers Alan Sardana and AJ Smith needed a score which would resemble and reinforce their film’s topic of corporal and electronic existence. They needed a modern sound with a sense of humanity. The film is based on the story by legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and has a cast of three characters; Eli Lee (played by Leo Lee [Swordfish, The Replacement Killers, Contact]) the world’s last filmmaker and Sam’s creator, Sam (Dan Mousseau) the android/camera, and Samantha (Susie Park [Spider-Man 2, Miracle on 34th Street, The Chaos Factor]) the lead actress in Eli and Sam’s films. Due to the small size of the film’s cast, the score needed to become the fourth member of the ensemble, enabling the audience to further connect with the characters. Nipun’s score achieved this as well as complementing the characters. At times the music is dreamy and digital and yet, intermittently introduces overtly analog and “human” traits. Vacillating between man and machine was a goal the score achieved…all within three days! Nair reveals, “Short on time for submission to festivals, he [AJ Smith] would send me scene after scene and I was writing and recording as quick as possible. I’d watch the scene and compose something to capture the feel of it…but I didn’t have time to think about it. I was going on instinct and first impressions. It was exciting but a little crazy as well. I was happy that AJ and Alan were excited about the score. Dreaming…went on to be screened at the Toronto Short Film Festival as well as a win [for Best Production Design] at the Ryerson University Film Festival in Canada.” RED Bean Can

In addition to composing for film, Nair has been a part of creating music for live theater for years. As any actor can tell you, the two are similar but very different animals at the same time. For many years, Nipun worked with The Little Theater and its founder (award winning director and playwright) Aysha Rau. The theater, which focuses on fostering the creativity of underprivileged children, has received worldwide acclaim for productions like The R.E.D.Bean Can which has toured internationally. The R.E.D. Bean Can was selected out of sixty productions from all over the world to be performed at the 22nd International Children and Young Adults Theater Festival in IRAN. This production was Nair’s most recent compositional offering to The Little Theater. Founder Aysha Rau comments on his work, “I am floored by Nipun’s ingenuity as a composer. He brings a sense of freshness to his work that galvanizes the theater time and time again through his original compositions. It is because of his talent and dedication that our productions have been immensely successful and garnered significant press coverage.” Nair has composed the music for countless productions at The Little Theater; one of the most popular is the annual Christmas Pantomime which has attracted sponsors including; Coca Cola, Ford, and Citibank, to name just a few.

Nipun has also used his skill as a composer in live theater to benefit the Theater of Will in southern California. This non-profit arts and education company is supported by LADWP and performs musicals about water conservation. Award winning author/playwright/actor/director and president of Theater of Will, Willard Simms, confirms, “As his diverse array of achievements clearly indicates, Nipun Nair is among the most elite composers and performing musicians working in the field today.” The success did not come as an easy happenstance for the India born composer. Nair emphasizes, “The Water Wizard shows and the concert series posed specific challenges as a musician. You are trying to educate kids through music in a way that is fresh, stimulating and entertaining…but in a not too obviously educational way. The key is great lyrics and catchy melodies. Having a charismatic stage presence really helps when you are performing for an audience of hundreds.” It seems that Nipun will soon be performing for crowds of thousands (or more) again alongside Anthony Cruz; that charisma on stage will come in quite handy.Nipun solo 3

Teddy Fan’s Pan-Pacific Guitar Blazes from West to East

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Rock & roll has an almost supernatural power—it reached half away around the world, took hold of guitarist Fan Tsz Him and won’t let go. But the Los Angeles based musician, best known for work with YouTube sensation Jason Chen, wouldn’t have it any other way. The Hong Kong-born Him, known professionally as Teddy Fan, arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, completed a two year course at Hollywood’s famed Musician Institute and, upon completion, was immediately offered a position there as teaching assistant.

Fan is an in-demand musician who specializes as a guitarist. His versatility has well served him, leading him to steady work with the disparate likes of Los Angeles-based contemporary country singer, Christie Huff, Mexico City born singer-songwriter Daniel Sobrino and Chinese singing stars Lilia Duan, Yogo Jiang—an international roster of talent, each trading in very different genres, a fact that underscore’s the guitarist’s impressive flexibility and skill

“To me, watching a rock band playing on stage was always one of the coolest things ever,” Fan said. “When I was 12 years old, my school required every student to either learn an instrument or decide on an art form to study, so I chose guitar, and that was the first time I played music.”

He quickly mastered the instrument. “Of course, at that time I was only playing for fun, but, from the start, I really liked to do it. And I was not really a ‘school person,’ I didn’t make very good grades on my school work, so that was when I started thinking about making music my career.”

Following his graduation, Fan hit the ground running and was able to gain significant professional traction almost immediately. “It’s a long way from where I first started—I never thought I’d be traveling all around the world because I could play guitar!” Fan said. “So far, I have played in so many different venues, everywhere from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston and in casinos and auditoriums all over Asia.”

Fan is adept and astute not only as a musician but also in the way he conducts his professional career path, eschewing the near-extinct business model of major label record industry in favor of a new, web based digital-age approach. Collaborating with Los Angeles independent artists and established international stars like Jason Chen, the Asian pop YouTube sensation with 1,300,000 subscribers and astronomical multi-million video views, Fan navigates this exciting territory with an instinctive skill and natural grace.

“The job I am proudest of definitely, has been touring with Jason Chen. I am a long way from where I started,” Fan said. “In Asia, it is really hard to get support for doing music as a career, but ‘never give up’ is my first philosophy–without that I wouldn’t be here today.”

Fan’s impressive cache of talent is matched only by his drive and perfectionism, as his mentor, producer-arranger-composer and Hollywood Musicians Institute Vocal Program Instructor Katsuya Sezaki detailed.

“Teddy has always displayed a high degree of integrity, responsibility and ambition. He has a very strong work ethic and has shown tremendous improvement as an arranger and guitarist,” Sezaki said. “The results are clear to see–now, he’s playing for Jason Chen’s shows at  all the big venues, and has successfully done many sessions for artists I’ve produced.”

“He’s always had a great presence on a stage as a performer. Teddy started out as pop-rock guitarist, but was always ready to try new styles–folk, blues, country, and funk,” Sezaki said. “The level of his musicality has improved significantly, and now he constantly receives calls to play with Chinese celebrities and local artists who are seeking a ‘great guitarist.’”

With outstanding merit already established, Teddy Fan is in that sweet spot where he steadily works as in-demand session and touring player, yet he is poised to one day make the big break out as a solo artist.

“Even though I am mainly known a guitarist now, I really want to be a singer-songwriter too. Most importantly, to me, is doing the music that I like rather than doing music the market likes. Trust me, it’s no fun at all to trying copy the music other people like all day,” Fan said. “My goal is take the knowledge and experience that I learned here in the U.S. back to Hong Kong and create a whole new style. The music industry in Hong Kong is dying, there is no quality new music and people are so tired of hearing only pop. So, I hope I can save the industry and make some real impact back in my hometown.”

 

Guitarist Jonas Blomqvist Impresses Fans of Every Genre

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Jonas Blomqvist, guitarist for Bhavana Reddy, Superfix, & Second Nature

Sweden, home of some of the most talented classical musicians such as Wilhelm Stenhammar has also birthed many of the most recognizable names in heavy metal, electronic and pop today, including The Knife, The Cardigans, In Flames, Peter Bjorn and John, The Hives, José González, Fever Ray and others.

Among these talented musicians is Jonas Blomqvist, the highly skilled guitarist from the bands Everwhere, Superfix, Bhavana Reddy, Rachelle and The Rising, Suns of Defiance and the recently established rock group Second Nature, which is slated to release their self-titled debut album later this year.

A true prodigy, Jonas found his talents at an early age, mastering the trombone, piano and drums at age 9. With a classical pianist for a father, music seems to be encoded in Jonas’s DNA. He recalls, “My parents played music for me while I was still in my mother’s belly by putting headphones on it.”

Upon discovering his innate talents on guitar at 14, the now highly sought after musician found the instrument that would later become his fated tool for expression.

”I have been playing guitar for 14 years now and during this time have been most influenced by the music of Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman,” says Blomqvist. “ I have played a variety of instruments and can use all of these experiences on the guitar and with the people I play with.”

For someone as well-versed in music as he is, it is not surprising that his skill in the art form extend beyond his ability to simply play instruments with precision, for he is an accomplished songwriter as well.

His creative expertise in the realm of songwriting is proven by the recent success as the co-writer of renowned artist Bhavana Reddy’s hit single “Smells Like Rain,” which made it to the top 1% (out of 19,000) in the International Songwriting Competition last year.

After being raised in Stockholm, Sweden in the late 1980’s and 90’s Jonas left for the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. The melting pot of cultural influences present in the Los Angeles music industry is now his home and incubator for a multitude of new projects and collaborations.

Some of Blomqvist’s most recent success has been with supercharged alternative rock band Superfix, led by KoRn’s Kalen Chase. This past year the group released their debut album “Never Change.”

Jonas’s aptitude for playing heaving hitting fast-paced guitar riffs is recognized throughout the album. Last year Superfix released the music video for their hit song “Invasion,” which you can check out below. Jonas carries the song with an impressive and mesmerizing riff that is impossible to miss.

This musician brings the same head banging high-energy to the video that he is known for on stage. Acclaimed for his mesmerizing stage presence, and his ability to play virtually any style of music, Jonas has also been tapped to lend his talents to an impressive range of bands and solo artists including Elaine DaSilva, Flymore, Sarah Edan, Ayin Aleph, Urvah Kahn, Only on Tuesdays and many more. He was even asked to perform on the CBS Studios lot with the CBS Band in Studio City, California in 2013.

As of February 2015 Jonas is ‘fresh off the boat’ from a 10 date tour in India with world-renowned Indian singer and Kuchipudi dancer Bhavana Reddy. Together they started the year busily promoting Bhavana’s debut album “Tangled in Emotions,” which you can check out at: http://iamreddy.bandcamp.com/

The diversity that this young musician has shown puts him in league with the greats. Keep your eyes and ears open for Jonas’ next release through his personal commercial rock project ‘Second Nature’.