identity crisis ... already?

please tell me i'm not the only one that feels this way....

i love so many types of music.  i love to play in a multitude of different settings.  i like leading and like being lead, learning to convey my musical thoughts yet taking others idea hook line & sinker.  i guess my issue is - i'm not sure what type of music i want to play predominantly.  am i jazz guy? an 80s pop guy?  an experimental soundscape guy?  a funk band horn guy?  a big band saxophonist?

and furthermore ... do i need to commit to one particular thing?  i saw this video of dave king talking about bands and projects and making it as a performing artist.  he really is making it, as far as i can see.  i am lucky enough that, at the time being, my mortgage and health insurance and loans are being tackled by my teaching gig at iowa state university. this affords me the latitude to not need to be stretched out seven different ways, but does it play into my uncertainty and indecisiveness when it comes to musical taste?

part of the issue pertains to the organizational side of projects (hell, that's ALWAYS the rub.)  if i want to do an electro-acoustic thing, i probably need to lead it.  who do i want to play in it?  who wants to?  where is the material?  do i need to write it all?  where can we play?  will this music get butts moving, compensate the venue in drink sales, or attract a buzz amongst the artsy fartsy?  

or... do i chase these opportunities that others may or may not provide?  should i really bone up on the history of jazz saxophone (bleh), work on my doubling, listen to a bunch of blue note shit and hang out on the proverbial stoop of working big bands and jazz combos, waiting for an opening that's not already spoken for?  and do i really want to do this anyway? i don't profess to be a saxophone junky or a jazz head.  i don't gobble up every last morsel of jazz history and rifle through patterns in my head all afternoon, and i don't necessarily want to talk with people about that kind of stuff either (i can't contribute to the conversation and lose interest quickly).  i'm far more interested in keeping my head open and understanding the process of preparation required for high-end real time composition and coloring.  do those things transfer into conventional ensembles that contain saxophone?

man... lots of questions i have for myself.  the natural inclination is to not turn down any gigs, for fear of somebody else swooping in and claiming them from hereon out.  but... i love the idea of a band;  a book of material, recognizable characteristics, continuity musically, commitment (or so you would think), the benefit of being multi-faceted, a following. the trick here, as i have learned, is to get those involved to be okay with the due-paying trials of ensemble progress and growth, patiently waiting for the good money days and the artistically satisfying music.  do i want to be a sideman?  no way.  am i good at hustling work for projects?  sort of.  am i willing to throw myself into something?  absolutely.  am i willing to push people a bit in an effort to encourage them to fish or cut bait?  kinda.

i am reminded of my quandry when i throw my iPod on shuffle. here's what was blasting through these klipsch buds while i was organizing my thoughts:

* dave douglas "the great schism" - freak in.  really cool tune, impressive that dave has so many people at his ready for his gazillion projects (count me in too, dave...)
* tortoise "djed" - millions now living will never die.  great band.  my first record of theirs.  i bought the triple disc set back in '06.  i would love to be involved in something like this, and could see myself putting together a band like this sometime.  the tunes feel right, not too heady.
* vampire weekend "cousins" - contra.  i took a chance on this during a download promotional period on amazon.  different than what i usually check out.  refreshing in some ways.
* chris batchelor & steve buckley "bracken" - big air.  i had never heard of these two dudes, but love myra melford and jim black (both on this record) and was intrigued by oren marshall's tuba work.  sounds cool, doable.
* trent reznor & atticus ross "intriguing possibilities" - the social network soundtrack.  this is my first exposure to reznor.  i saw an interview with justin timberlake, who appears in the movie, and he was saying that the music was incredible.  i really like it.  not sure how to spearhead a sound like this - a bit electronicy for my head, but i like to practice improvising over stuff like this.
* jimmy smith "the christmas song" - christmas cookin'.  i don't really listen to organ, because i usually think it's just way too busy.  jimmy has his moment here, but this is pretty swinging.  big band in the back is holding it together.
* kurt rosenwinkel "our secret world" - heartcore.  this track is nice.  man, kurt is something else.  really changing the game.  not sure many rave about this album, produced by q-tip.  kurt's approach is incredible.  the designs of his lines and scope of his tunes are thrillingly comfortable.
* sting "when we dance" - all this time.  this guy is timeless.  i rarely listen to this album.  he's so good live, earning all of my respect.  i think this concert happened on 9/11.  pretty moving when you have that backstory.
* kneebody "break me" - kneebody.  fresh fresh sounds.  i finally got around to checking out this band.  would love to see it live and observe their communication.  i love another record by these guys, doing ives tunes with theo bleckmann.

i'm ready to sprint, but am unsure as to which direction i should go.  today is new year's eve, a traditional day of reflection and reinvention.  i wrestle with this head game a lot.  something in my core is thirsting for another artistic fountain.  it starts with me - i know this.  good thing, because i will reap the most of this work and can control my involvement directly.


four months down

i've needed to take my health seriously for quite some time now.  physical health and mental health, both equally.  the latter is on the docket for 2011 (no, seriously... it is).  i have begun to get the physical end of things sorted out. after my birthday this july, i took a look at myself and thought "uggh... who am i kidding with this?"  i began to see a chiropractor, which has really helped with a bunch of stuff including my eternal battle with indigestion.  i got my diet back on track.  i started a new workout program.  P90X.  i've owned it for two years, still in the wrapper.  i started out being able to kinda do the exercises, and definitely wanted to quit.  i didn't miss any days.  i started on august 23rd (jen's birthday - she also tackled this exercise juggernaut) and finished it today on december 23rd.  i was pretty sure i wouldn't like the yoga, which turned out to be the best part. i wondered where my abdominal muscles went, and have unearthed them.  i did 42 pull-ups my first week and laughed at the thought of doing 120+ like the folks in the video.  i maxed out with 124 pull-ups and laughed all the while.

my kid sister won a big contest in nebraska several years back through gold's gym.  her before and after pics won her a lifetime membership to gold's (wonder if she'll see the hulkster) and a big sack of cash.  her photos were outrageous. i couldn't believe that she a) did the transformation, and b) actually took the pics.  i suspended my pride and had sonja shoot me in the front room of our house.  i couldn't stop laughing back in august, and couldn't stop beaming today.  i learned a lot from doing this too.  i plan to continue in january with the next series of dvds, tighten up my diet, and be ready to ... i don't know ... wrestle a bear or something.

well that's embarassing
look out ladies
ok ... now we're talking
i've grown a mustache too


duke ellington - the nutcracker suite

full disclosure - i have never listened to the real tchaikovsky original, never seen the nutcracker ballet, played this version several times, and am writing this RTR while tucked away in the top corner of the middle school gymnasium bleachers between 6th grade boys basketball games.  i'm also not much of a big band enthusiast, although i acknowledge duke ellington's stature in the history of this music and revere billy strayhorn.  as i understand it (with some insight from the strayhorn biography lush life), these two gentlemen worked side by side in many capacities.  ellington took most of the credit for the band's repertoire, earned and otherwise.  he obviously assembled the group and kept things afloat and did his fair share (?) of writing/arranging and band leading. i've always thought that strayhorn was the brains behind the brawn. he was excited to reimagine the nutcracker, and bore the brunt of the burden in the writing and arranging of this suite (man, i'm using lots of words that start with "b").  columbia records chose to feature strayhorn prominently in the art work and the liner notes.  it is said that billy preferred to be in the shadow of a dead composer (tchaikovsky), and embraced this opportunity.  i love billy, and my heart bleeds for him whenever i think of his struggles.  

there is so much joy in the writing and playing.  i can't help but love this.  toot toot tootie toot has great dry staccatos in the clarinets.  peanut brittle brigade is really swinging. the drummer is driving this band.  the balance is good, horns are in tune, and the solo moments are in character.  the ascending cascade lines in the ensemble are seamless.  is this tenor soloist paul gonsalves?  i don't recognize his sound, but am guessing based upon the year and personnel.  i don't have the knack of instant recognition that most jazz enthusiasts possess.  i wish i did.  i also wish i played trumpet so i could kiss off those high parts at the end of tunes.  

i'm sort of watching a basketball game U12 while writing this, waiting for my son's next game (he plays the winner of this matchup).  ellington's band succeeded because of the writing, the integrity of the playing, the era in which they rose to prominence, and the continuity within the ensemble.  harry carney, johnny hodges, tricky sam, cootie, and many others stuck with this band for a long time.  i imagine that if these kids on the basketball team all stick it out and play for years to come, they will have similar success - founded in continuity and teamwork and leadership and getting better because others in your troop are getting better.

the clarinet playing is dynomite.  dynamics that taper away in the entr'acte are to die for.  i like how the opening to the volga vouty is abrasive and powerful.  great execution, as you would expect.  johnny hodges on this solo?  sounds like his vibrato, yet without the slippin'-and-slidin'.   yeah!  #11 at the bottom of the voicing in carney's part.  makes me laugh. how many other musical inside jokes am i missing because i don't know the original inside and out?  when i have played this (and will do again tonight with my good friend russ kramer's band) i sub soprano saxophone for clarinet.  i hate that i do that - the color is totally not right.  i need to bone up on my clarinet playing.  there's ellington playing the #11 in the bottom several times now in chinoiserie.  this confirms my suspicions - i'm definitely missing something.  

this recording makes me like swing music.  maybe it's like sushi - people think they don't like it, and then try some really good stuff from a high end restaurant and quickly change their mind.  does this mean that i'm listening to crappy swing bands playing mediocre material?  i also think i'm not in love with playing it either, but do it on occasion to get reacquainted with it in my head and in my chops.  russ is really into good big band, but may be my only friend that digs this stuff.  he turns me on to lunceford, fletcher, oliver, maria, bobby brookmeyer, woody, and even some kenton. he has really helped me with my own big band, in terms of choosing repertoire and general concepts.  all i want to do is improvise and, while there are times for that in this type of ensemble, there are many other things to consider.  

russ is allowing me to play the 2nd book on these, which gets me just one solo for the night.  but... i get to close the concerts with plenty of space on arabesque cookie. great swing literature and some blowing space - i'm a lucky guy.  on a side note - i don't like the original cover for this album. white sweaters?  why is billy looking down, forlorn?  i guess prefer it over the reissue, with ellington alone on the cover.  


dave king - indelicate

dave king is an amazing guy.  i know him personally, and he couldn't be nicer.  he's hilarious, extremely creative, personable, and professional.  i met him when i moved to minneapolis back in 2001. he was a huge deal then, before he blew up internationally.  he is the drummer for the bad plus, happy apple, and halloween alaska.  each of these projects is unique unto itself, and extremely musical.  

this record is all king.  he is playing piano and percussion, so i think it's overdubbed.  i wonder about the compositional process.  are these tunes charted out with specific parameters or do they suggest open concepts?  as a solo artist, i would imagine that you have to fight the urge to play that same old shit you always do in that one spot.  if anyone can keep those creative lines from blurring, it's king.  

these tunes are short.  they segue quickly to the next one.  i have a difficult time sitting through longwinded songs, movies, stories, books, jokes, solos, lectures, etc.  my brain can't focus that long (i know, call it what you will...)  the first record i ever had that had short pieces like this was john zorn & bobby previte euclid's nightmare so great. each piece was around one minute in duration.  what can you squeeze into that space?  what's too much?  

bees is really cool.  i like the hodge podge of acoustic and electronic instruments.  old school electronic drum sound with the arts high boogie sounds great.  i like the funky out-of-tune piano.  a bunch of repeated stuff here - is he improvising?  listening to the unique characteristic of some of these keys?  carefully choosing his notes?  WHOA... here comes the electronic stuff.  super cool.  rock jam vibe in the drums, clever and catchy melody.  having seen him perform a million times, i can only imagine the joy beaming from his face as he is playing these parts.  the mix is interesting to me.  did he have these ideas in mind right away or did he deal with it all after the fact?  i consider myself to be a rather creative guy but know that i micromanage my music, in search of a very specific thing.  is king loose or a dictator?  and who cares, when you are managing yourself only?

the song titles are awesome.  king is a comedian, and shatters the unwritten rule that songs all need to have some super serious title.  bullshit.  highly varnished academic realism is a great choice.  the tune suddenly goes to this percussion solo thing in the middle, electric and acoustic kits improvising at the same time.  king brings back the piano clusters towards the end, revealing a recognizable form to his composition.  

he's a pretty decent pianist.  does he work on it?  does ethan help him out?  it seems that several drummers are pretty good pianists.  jack dejohnette is notoriously good.  does king write from the piano?  bill stewart is a good writer, as is matt wilson, as is jim black.  i know that brian blade writes from the guitar.  how about those other guys?  king's tunes are obvious to me in the bad plus set lists.  not necessarily thick in the harmony department, but catchy in terms of overall melody/groove/vibe.  my friend paul micich once said that tunes like that "have legs".  (he was talking about bach).

his cymbals sound great.  i wish i could play cymbals on my saxophone.  there are times when a well placed cymbal seals the deal musically.  indelicate just had some nice sampled cymbal wash, trailing a real cymbal hit, like some jacked up reverb.  very inventive.  i bet he heard that and than sought to recreate that.  i want to feel good does just that for me.

what were his influences for these tunes?  has he had them for a while or did he write a bunch of it for this project?  i hear some keith jarrett '70s meets tecmo football meets joey baron meets denardo coleman's innocence (when he was 10 with ornette on the empty foxhole).  i imagine that he considers himself to be a better drummer than a pianist or electronic musician.  which leads which compositionally?  are his weaknesses or strengths more important to him?

i love dave's stuff.  this record will need to grow on me.  it might be his fault, after all.  he is fantastic in so many settings that include other people.  i am fascinated by how he interacts with others.  it's curious to hear a solo album. did it come off like he hoped?  would mine if i did something like this?  what inspired this writing, this project?  does he suffer from the stepping-out-solo problem?  lead singers from successful rock bands make their own albums.  sometimes they are very successful, sometimes not so much.  the composite for me is enough to keep me going.  

real time reviews

i like writing.  i learn a bunch about myself by doing it.  it comes easy to me.  i can collect my thoughts, organize them, and see what they are (tough to do when they are elusively whipping around inside of my head).  i like grammar too, which has always struck me as bizarre.  

i like listening to music.  recordings, live, stuff i'm involved with, most styles. what really turns me on, actually, are the thoughts i have about life when listening to music.  i often think in musical terms initially (this is boring this is great and here's why) and quickly unleash the hounds of my imagination.  i think that the thought process the listener endures is part of the musical experience.  not everyone is going to throw their hands in the air when they hear a clever tritone sub or a random bar of 7/8 or an ellington quote or a triple c.  in fact, i would venture to say that most listeners don't think in those terms at all (could you imagine what type of world we would be living in if everyone nerded out on double bass pedals and #11s?)  

real time reviews are essentially me documenting my thoughts while listening to an album.  stipulations:  

*must be a complete album straight down, no repeats.  in the age of iPod playlists, the art of programming is in risk of becoming extinct.  artists painstakingly select tracks for their new recordings while considering flow and style change for the listener.  they are more concerned with the overall vibe and not necessarily in love with each track equally.

*must be a new artist each time (not 600 miles davis records). i fear being pigeonholed by outright committing to one style of music.  i like a lot of stuff, and they all roll together somehow and make me who i am.  

*must be an honest reflection of what's going on in my head. why do this if i'm not being honest?  i'm not out to sabotage a recording because of a hidden agenda, and nor am i planning to laud an artist's efforts regardless of its quality.  these are instant and fresh opinions on the music and life, and it is crucial that they are innocent and unmolested.


this is how we do it

to all my neighbors, you got much flavor

i get super excited about the holidays.  i've learned to like giving gifts (thanks to my kids), still love getting gifts, and get into decorating the home for whichever festive season is forthcoming.  my mother-in-law once stressed to sonja and i that we should decorate our home in the appropriate (as opposed to inappropriate?) holiday trimmings in an effort to create a warm and positive vibe around the house that the kids will remember and pass on to their own families.  sometimes i slip up on the 4th of july and st. patrick's day, but am usually good for halloween and thanksgiving and christmas.  (i mean come on - hang a flag, wear something green so you don't get pinched.  won't that suffice?)

my parents had traditions for christmas.  we hung bubble lights on our real tree, that we bought at "the pier".  we each had our own stocking (and later, when the santa thing was out of the bag, bought for each other).  my sister and i met in my parents' room on christmas morning and waited for my dad to get the video camera going and the shop light in position, then blasted down the stairs and around the corner to get the loot.  we baked a christmas tree with a can of rolls on a cookie sheet, and covered it with frosting and oodles of sprinkles.  we even had a garbage sack gift, alternating each year between me & my sister.  it was the first gift opened, and then all of the wrapping paper went right in that bag (per my dad's neat freak request).  

on the heels of all that detailed reminiscing, i'll save you the long version of what we do at our crib.  saturday we bought a tree.  we always get a real one, always as a family, always from flowerama, and usually with all of us wearing santa hats.  the boys always ride in the back seat of the mazda wagon with the tree on the way home.  we set it up, string it with a couple strands of lights, hang a special ornament at the trunk of the tree, put our dog angel on top, turn on the christmas tunes, and proceed to deck it out with a boatload of ornaments.  we give the boys new ones each year (a tradition from both sides of our families).  this season we gave kale a soccer ornament and simon a basketball ornament. last year was rey mysterio and shawn michaels.  i've got a mark mcgwire ornament from when i was a kid.  our tree is a bit jacked up.  personalized, you could say...

at any rate... i was in a cool quartet during undergrad.  real time workshop.  saxophone, accordion, double bass, and drumset.  we played original stuff and interesting standards. we found our niche.  we had a following.  we pushed a record. and we played the same tune for the end of our shows.  our tradition was to always close with mo' better blues.  i would introduce the band while we played it out.  we looked forward to it every time, and i think the audience expected it too. that tune signaled the end of the night - it was our tradition.  in retrospect, i think that idea has a lot of musical value.  so many groups get hung up on doing all new stuff, shaking it up for the listener for fear of boring them or becoming unpredictable.  bird and trane played a handful of the same licks over and over again in a bunch of their solos, and experts claim that they were codifying their own jazz vernacular.  i saw pat metheny several years back, and he opened with bright size life.  did he anticipate that the audience was wanting to hear that (because i sure was)?  

i want to help shake the stigma that playing the same tunes equals a lack of creative sensibility.  it could offer a point of reference for the listener, some continuity to the sets, and create a performance tradition.  it doesn't mean your lame. it just means your establishing a foundation.

now excuse me while i go hang up my ups airfreight ornament...


the obligatory

i'm very fortunate - this i know - for the Bible tells me so (which, although i'm being a bit snarky here and haven't really delved into the Bible lately, does indeed let me know that everything's gonna be alright and God's got my back anytime i need it).  i am very thankful on a regular basis, and aware of my blessings.  here is my public declaration of gratitude.

my family.  my two sons are the best things in the whole world (with caramel corn coming in a close second), willing to watch the same peyton manning snl skit over and over with me.  my wife is unbelievably stable and patient, qualities she has definitely put into overdrive since getting to know me. jennifer has become a wonderful augmentation to our family. my folks are into their thing, which drove me crazy forEVER, but now i get it and appreciate that.  my kid sister is an amazing woman and living right.

my friends.  multiple levels - those that really get me, those that want to get me, those that i've known for years, those that i see only occasionally, those that i have yet to make there acquaintance, and the facebook universe (a very different but pretty cool type of friend).

my health.  i can walk.  i can talk.  i can smell.  i can see. i can hear.  i can taste.  i'm not keeling over in discomfort. my head is kinda screwed up, leaving me with dangerously low lows but rewarding me with unbelievable highs. i can deal with that (actually i can't, but that's a forthcoming post).

my musical experiences, large and small alike.  i had the joy of playing a creative gig with the legendary bassist susie miget last weekend, and she made an interesting point to me about improvising.  she thought that we were so fortunate to be able to play the most amazing game together - improvising. i never really focus on the joy involved, being preoccupied with the skills i needed and evaluating my real time performance.  she is absolutely right.  playing with creative folks in wide open situations is so challenging and fascinating and exhilarating and rewarding.  i learn so much about myself and the other contributors and how i understand art, and i'm having FUN doing it.   i also get access to the inner game of music and art when i listen to others take their hacks.  i feel incredibly fortunate.

i'm also thankful for my new camera, the nikon d3100.
i'll be even more thankful when i have any clue how to use it.



i am fascinated by certain things in the world. constellations, the smell of a brush fire, slow moving clouds, the taste of brisk winter mornings, and a bunch of other things.  at the top of that list, above all else, are trees.  

i don't know jack squat about them.  you know, what type of tree i'm looking at, why it grows here, or any of its other characteristics.  i just know that the design of the branches and the detail in the leaves and the root systems and the rings in the trunk and the way they sway and what they have seen through all of their days is incredibly cool to me.  

ne corner of lincolnway and university

here we are mid-november, and these incredible trees are losing all of their leaves.  this can only mean one thing - raking.  instead of supporting other organizations who are fundraising this time of year, i hire my boys to help me rake. they are increasingly more helpful each year, and definitely more fixated on the dolla dolla beel.  we got most of the yard raked up and bagged in about two hours.  the boys were pooped, and i was on my way there.  twenty bucks is twenty bucks, you know, but hard labor is tough in its own right.  

i shared some of my past work experiences with the boys.  i used to wait tables, make tacos, sell clothes, deliver mail, donate plasma, assemble coffee pots, deliver newspapers, and bake cinnamon rolls.  we talked about eventually finding a job that will pay your bills, take care of your family, and give you some funny money.  if you are fortunate enough to get good at something that you love, then you'll never work a day in your life.  i'm certainly not getting rich doing music professionally (contrary to popular belief), but still have a hard time believing that i'm able to make it on music alone. i'm thrilled that i get to help students open up their sound, refine big band passages, work on the glazounov concerto, arrange combo tunes, and talk about wayne shorter (i was kidding about the glazounov...)

i like being outside. i like teaching my kids about the value of a hard-earned buck.  i like trees and find honor in collecting their leaves.  however, no way do i want to cover my monthly expenses by raking leaves or shoveling snow or mowing lawns.  my lower back agrees.  


nature, nurture, and 5th grade band

i went to the nevada 6th/7th/8th grade band concert tuesday. i'm the parent that sits in the gymnasium bleachers, takes picture after picture of my kid, and dishes out dirty looks to parents who are yapping while my son is subdividing.

from the day that simon was born, a bunch of people kept asking me "is he gonna play saxophone when he gets older?" and "are you gonna make him be in band?" and "don't let him join choir, man".  i never really thought that much about it all, because i was still in graduate school and i considered getting him to eat food and not his toys a miniature victory.  

every parent will tell you that time flies with kids.  low and behold, his musical debut happened last year.  sonja and jennifer and i went to the 5th grade band meeting.  mrs. lekwa was breaking it down for all of the parents.  she let us know which instruments she thought our kids would be best suited to play yet leaving the decision up to each family.  the day before simon had to decide, i asked him what he was going to do.  he told me "well, i suppose i'm gonna play the saxophone".  i asked him why he thought that was the way to go, and he told me that "i figured i had to since you play it."  i told him that he didn't need to do that at all, to which he ecstatically burst "i really want to play drums!!!"

get us some gigs

this year, kale stepped into those same shoes.  he was debating between clarinet, drums, and trumpet.  he was leaning towards clarinet for a long time, and then opted to go with trumpet.  we weren't nuts about his choice, and let it slip that a lot of the trumpeters we knew were jerks.  he paused, and quickly switched ships - back to clarinet.  when asked why he gave up on the trumpet, and he told us "i don't want to be a jerk", which got me thinking...

what type of characteristics are trademarks of certain instrumentalists?  and, are they directly related to the instrument itself OR do a bunch of players of said instrument collectively define those characteristics OR do people of that ilk choose those instruments because of that correlation to their personality?  trombonists i know are easy going people, but is that because they play trombone?  flutists are often organized and high strung, while clarinetists are usually mild mannered and hard working.  trumpeters are generally pretty arrogant and pianists are loaners.  drummers are cool and saxophonists are witty, gifted, and irresistibly sexy.  

simon did a nice job with his pieces, but he really wants to quit band.  kale is digging band, probably because it's still new and exciting.  i don't care if these guys end up doing music later in life.  i just really want them to find something passionate in their own lives, to the same extent that sonja and i have found in music.


i almost forgot

my wife flew back from kentucky this morning, booking an early flight home so she could see her three wise men and still make it on time to the isu orchestra concert.  she had a busy past couple of days - traveling, rehearsing with her trio, getting some personal last minute practice in, managing ensemble dynamics, playing the concert, traveling again.  

we made it a smidge before the isu orchestra took the stage. us saxophonists rarely have the chance to play with an orchestra, but being married to a flutist means i go to a bunch of this stuff and support her students.  i also have students in ISUO (an acronym that i'm sure nobody uses), but they are in my jazz ensembles and not in my studio.  plus my friend jacob is the director, and i can certainly appreciate the amount of work that goes into something like this.  he commissioned a cool piece by his friend andrew, and programmed a beautiful slow movement by the incomparable john adams before they tackled stravinsky's firebird.  

several of us met for dinner afterwards at black market pizza (as featured in man vs. food) and dipped into some philosophical art talk.  we discussed the reluctance of revealing one's compositional process, talked about how great whitesnake was back in the day (maybe that was just me), agreed that concerts that go way too long are a real drag, discovered that we love linksys, and laughed at how conveniently frequent singers get 'sick'.  

i got home, checked my email, and read that my friend marcy wants to this cassandra wilson tune "a little warm death" to her set for a gig this saturday.  i'm certain there is no lead sheet for it, and maybe i'm supposed to create one?  do i have time to do another arrangement at an acceptable creative level?  i like the tune and all, but am i pressing my luck by adding more stuff to my plate? 

man, doing music professionally is really taxing.  it's not a cakewalk.  there is a bunch of work that needs to happen in order to productive, let alone good.  schedules, good recordings, massaging egos, rehearsals, intonation, staying updated, publicity, clean concert black, reeds, cues, what to eat beforehand, students, money, parents, peer criticism, practice. 

then thankfully it dawned on me... i love music.  

the air spinning up my throat and into my mouth only to recoil and zip through my horn and up into the space in which i am occupying.  the satisfaction of a good ensemble performance. the look in a student's eye when they are really getting it. the eager energy found in listening to a favorite recording and impatiently waiting for my favorite part.  the first time i hear an album new to me, and the positive vibe from the friend that told me i should check it out because i would probably like it.  the bantering of ideas about conductors and music school politics.  the way adams didn't resolve how i thought he would.  the look of pride on my wife's face when her students play well on the concert.  the low end of cassandra's voice (and that four chord i didn't see coming). the warmth i feel when i can share my talents and my enthusiasm for music with someone else.

last night simon, kale and i practiced simultaneously.  kale worked out jingle bells on his cornet, simon  tightened up his bell part on galactic overture for tuesday's 6th grade band concert, and i broke in some new reeds with free improv calisthenics.  the house was busting at the seams with cacophony, and it was beautiful.  i'm a lucky man.


partying like rock stars, sort of

so what do you do when the wife is out of town, you don't have any gigs or private teaching (hallelujah) and your kids don't have school?  this is how we get down.

they boys' mother jennifer was having a craft party for a bunch of middle aged ladies, making santa claus pants while snacking on crackers and spinach artichoke dip (which was actually pretty good).  there was no way i could let my kids go out like suckers, so i rescued them from this pending torture and we rolled out in the mazda wagon (v6, so stop the jokes).  the three of us excitedly declared our immediate future as boys night.

we cruised to wal-mart to pick up the goods.  kale picked out a dozen chicken wings, simon ordered a fresh batch of general tso chicken, and i snagged the fixings for my world famous goulash.  we threw in a couple containers of flavored ice cream dotz, a pack of break & bake cookies (the only way to go), some a&w cream soda and made our way to the checkout lane.  then we noticed the wigs.

for some reason the boys and i are into wigs.  what does this bode for them in the future?  hopefully not too much confusion.  we've got an afro, a mullet, a blonde baby doll, another blonde thing, and picked up a rasta mon, donald trump, and transylvania bride for 75% off (my mom would be proud). nothing is more fun than putting on a wig and instantly slipping into character.  

we made the switch with the cashier and headed to the redbox movie dispenser.  as a family, we can never really decide on a movie that we all want to see.  i want quirky, the boys want rated r, and sonja generally wants middle-of-the-road.  often times we fizzle out in front of the machine and just head home to see what's on tv.  not this time. the three of us knew exactly which movie we wanted.  a movie that mom wouldn't okay for family viewing.  a movie that starred an "actor" that we had grown to know and love.  a film whose plot had become a running inside joke under our roof.  a production company that we faithfully supported.  a story that mom didn't approve of, but who cares - she's not here, right?  we feverishly thumbed through the kiosk menu in search of our movie - and found it. 

we dashed home, and i started cooking my food right away.  the boys dove headlong into their fresh meals from the wal-mart deli (which really isn't too bad) and sucked back the cans of soda as if they were the last ones on earth.  we watched the tail end of the bucks/pacers game before sticking the disc into the blu-ray player.  tonight was the night we had all waited for, the night we finally got to watch 12 Rounds.

we must have seen this trailer about fifty times already.  wwe really promotes their stuff, and john cena (the star of this movie) is one of their prized commodities.  we knew the plot and couldn't wait to see mr. hustle/loyalty/respect get his thespian on.  lots of action, a bit of adult situations (but not too bad, outside of the scene where the girlfriend of the bad guy runs away from the cops only to get smashed by a speeding semi truck), and plenty of gratuitous cussing.  the movie was suspenseful, entertaining, and not too predictable. but for us, it could have been centered around how to properly prepare brussels sprouts and we would have still loved it.  it was the forbidden film, featuring our hero.

we never got around to the cookies.  we wound the night down with some episodes of george lopez and jimmy fallon, cashed out on the living room furniture with a couple of blankets, and called it a night.  mom is in kentucky until sunday, so this evening is another repeat stag night.  pizza, football, and more cream soda are currently on the docket.  i wonder if i can squeeze in cleaning our bedrooms.


listening with my eyes

i got a text on halloween from my friend Gig, telling me that one of my favorite bands was playing a freeee show in grinnell and i should totally go.  i blew off a faculty piano quartet concert (no, not four pianos... i would have definitely stuck around to see that), called joel t. gettys (he of "joel gettys is the man" embarassing sampler story) and road tripped to catch The Books.  

these are some of my books

if you have yet to experience this band, please hurry up and do so.  i would classify their music as collage/electro-acoustic/pop.  my favorite albums are "thought for food" and "lemon of pink".  this stuff is so creative, so genius.  they regularly tour only as far as the twin cities, and the shows usually happen on a weeknight, so i can never get away to see them.  stupid teaching, stupid deerrunningacrosstheroad, stupid metryingtobemoreresponsible.  

they performed a live set with bass, guitar, and cello.  the bass (and leader, it appeared) and guitarist switched back and forth a bit.  they triggered video for each of their pieces, combining a plethora of random video clips peripherally with dated instructional videos.  the beats were synchronized with the film, to which the musicians played along.  lots of quick left turns and clever nuance (a hallmark of The Books) in the audio matched the swift scene changes in the video.  lyrics were often included, but subtly - not beating you over the head with it.  the multi-stimuli evening was fascinating, and got me thinking...

i've listened to The Books (or as the cellist quipped "since tonight is halloween we have changed our name to The Boo) for several years, and really get off on the way their music makes my mind race.  certain words mean certain things, others mean nothing, and some grow increasingly or less important to my brain.  i have my own mental images that go with the music (as do we all) but i'm not sure that they are consistently the same set of pictures.  when i listen to their music, i am in varied environments - walking to school (energized, stressed, cold, late), walking from school (pooped, stressed again, hungry), sitting in a chair at home (comfy, stressed, eating or drinking, beating my kids), in my office (standing, stressed, not emailing people), etc.  my personal experiences are different each time, yet possibly triggered to follow the same general stream of thought as elicited by the music.  

so - do i need these guys giving me video to watch while they do their thing?  i've got my own ideas, but should i (out of respect) check out theirs?  those ideas seem as random as mine.  their video editing skills get my kudos, but am i supposed to directly relate everything out of that projector to everything going in my ears?  do they want me to?  are they switching the music to go with different video as some big joke to see if anyone gets it and i just don't know it?  maybe i'm putting too much value in the overall consumption of art? plus - isn't it a bitch lugging around that projector?

these guys were great (and handled their technical difficulties smoothly) and i would highly recommend one of their shows.  it's up to you if you want to watch...


rocking the vote (do people still say that?)

(don't worry... this is not a political rant.  however, i'm super disappointed in iowa.  man, really?)

i often use politics in analogous ways when i teach.  i believe the most important thing as a saxophonist & improviser is TONE. i remember when jesse jackson ran for the presidency way back when. he and his crew set up camp in Greenfield, IA - about 10 miles from my hometown.  they came out and did a big rally at the local bandshell, and i was entranced.  i had no idea what jesse was actually talking about, but boy did he have me motivated.  if i could've voted i would have cast a big hell yeah for him.  i talk to my improvising students about this experience, sharing with them that the tone jesse (see how we're on a first-name basis?) used was very engaging and believable, and it transcended the information he was sharing.  today i use obama & mccain for the same example since most of my students aren't old enough to remember jesse doing anything besides yucking it up with the king of pop.

i was thinking about politics and music, and realized that there are more parallels than i had expected.

*people often support a certain party, and wouldn't dream of exploring other options.  "there's no way i'm voting for a democrat" vs. "you couldn't pay me to listen to ornette coleman".  

* voting straight party line may be considered close minded, but certainly not by those who do it.  "all of the republican candidates are worthy of my vote (sarah palin?  steve forbes? dan quayle?)" vs. "i like all big band stuff (don ellis? mingus dynasty?  glenn miller?)

*people also choose to follow certain candidates because it is fashionable, not based upon strength of character or background or work ethic.  "i support the person who is leading the polls i see on tv" vs. "i like smooth jazz singers (even though they do the same old licks on the same old tunes)", "i'm behind the new guy because we need change (in what way, i'm not sure)" vs. "i'm all about free jazz (although i have no historical reference point or real musical clue as to what is going on)." 

*long-standing republicans or democrats are willing to support the politicians that have been in office for years, fearful of the alternative.  "i'm voting for this guy because he's been in office forever" vs. "let's check out this tired set list of ellington tunes because that's what good jazz is".  

*talking about being supportive is a much different thing altogether than actually supporting something.  "we need new people in office who are going to do the right thing (although i probably won't get out and vote)" vs. "i think new creative music is important (but i'm gonna stay home tonight because there's a new episode of two and a half men)."

kale thought he was clever with this sticker.  eye voted.


i AM the one to judge

my philosophy on music (or at least this small sliver of it anyway) (today, for that matter) is that all of us who are chipping away at this huge stone slab known as music are entitled to our own pace and own approach. i do it my way, and certainly appreciate it when others acknowledge my path and method and progress for what they are at face value and don't get into my business - unless i ask them to offer their two cents. and, as i preach to my kids, the sure-fire way to expect that treatment from someone is to provide it to them initially and without any expectation of reciprocation. what in the heck am i saying?  i don't want somebody passing judgment on how i handle my music.  i'm my own worst critic, and honestly... that's plenty.

with that being said, part of the gig in academia is telling people how to do music better.  i tell students what needs fixing, what is working, and how to get their act together musically.  in my freelance calendar, i occasionally pick up some adjudicating work.  lots of jazz stuff (big band, combos) and some classical work.  yesterday i judged the all state competition (at one of six centers), a very cutthroat and stressful process that gives the winners the highly regarded title of all state musician.

the all state audition day is pressure packed.  a bunch of high school hopefuls all gather at the crack of dawn in some high school gymnasium, reeking of axe cologne and hair spray. pillows, sweatpants with words on the butt, all sorts of instrument cases, too many singers, ipods, buttoned-up directors, obnoxiously supportive parents, cell phones, sheet music, dorritos, mountain dew, and shoulder massage trains. each instrumentalist gets a five minute slot, which includes the following: three major scales, chromatic scale, fast etude, slow etude, and an excerpt of a solo.  i score each of these individually in addition to assessing general things like tone quality and intonation.  in the room, small talk, play the shit down, small talk, out the door. and don't even think about getting behind schedule.

as i hear these kids, most of my brain is listening critically, acting professionally, and scoring appropriately. but, a teeny tiny part of my head is making all sort of observations.  do these kids know when they are playing something wrong?  some keep right on playing, and i wonder if they know they have screwed up or if they think it's going great and they're knocking me off my feet.  does that tenor saxophone girl know that i know she didn't play f# major and instead tried to play f major?   why do some of these kids treat the chromatic scale as a traumatic experience, recklessly blasting through it with no regard for note accuracy of tone quality?  how can that girl stand on those 3" pumps and play that baritone saxophone?  when somebody nails these etudes, did the kids on deck hear them?  does that affect their playing, or not, or were they texting their friends and miss the whole thing?  does circling and marking up your music to the point where you can't even read the note names actually help?  do these kids read the color coordinated highlighter markings in their etudes?  do they kids take this audition because they want to win, because they want the experience, or because their director is making them do it? do these girls think that their outfits are flattering?  did that kid tie his own tie?  do they hope to play music later in life, in college, throughout high school, or just to pacify their parents?  do these kids really think their instrument is spelled saxaphone?  and seriously, does that one kid think it's spelled saxsophone?  

truthfully, i head several very promising young musicians. there are always more talented kids than spots in the band that i can award.  someone always plays the best they ever have, while someone else plays their worst audition ever. some kid still doesn't make the band and some kid makes it for the first time. some are freshmen, some are seniors.  it's really quite a phenomenal environment that is created by all of these emotions.  it's exhausting, both mentally and physically.

and i get nervous too...


you can't swim and smoke at the same time

my friend and musical chum greg oakes (whom you should totally check out) approached me the other day and said "hey man - are you free thursday night?"  my initial reaction was "well, if i am, that means i'm parking it in front of the tv and wrapping up in a blanket, because these past couple of weeks have been busy as hell."  thankfully, my real reaction was "nah man, why, what's up?"  greg tells me he has an extra ticket to go see this guy David Sedaris do some kind of show over at the big venue in town and wants to know if i want to tag along. he seemed excited, so i tried to get excited with/for him, although i had no clue what he was talking about.  we agreed that i would ditch the telly and instead meet him for dinner before we go see david whatever-his-last-name-is.  

turns out, a bunch of people knew about this guy.  the parking lot was jammed and lots of jovial folks were giggling in anticipation, toting books under their arms as they hustled to the front doors. i was figuring it out - he's a writer, he'll probably read some of his stuff, i bet it's funny, and he'll sign some books afterward.  greg had good seats - 2nd row.  i felt guilty sitting so close, not having any type of appreciation for the evening's promise.  david sedaris came out, rather unassuming, and started reading from his latest book.  the only time i had ever seen anyone do a reading was in the open mic scenes from that movie love jones (with a killer soundtrack).  this was a far cry from that.  he was hilarious.  tactfully brash. cleverly condescending.  artfully illustrative.  and he dug sharing it - even in lames iowa!!! 

folks were falling out all night, me included.  everyone laughing at the big jokes, several of us laughing at delivery or foreshadowed humor or upon reflecting on where this was all going.  i wonder - does he think he's funny?  does he write to be funny or realize that he simply is.  some say that i'm funny (not my wife, however) and i don't know if i am or not, but i sure do love it when people laugh at something that i say.  he played a snippet of some legendary broadway lady (whom he said that, if you haven't heard of her, you're not homosexual) reading an excerpt of his writing, and tee-heed like a school girl throughout her recitation of his work.  

he told jokes, which was charming, but not the complete schtick.  he more or less shared stories and snapshots of his mind's incorrigible access with us.  he used a pencil occasionally, making edit marks on his manuscript while reading (later confessing that they were cuts he wanted to make or words he wanted to eliminate for further readings). can musician's do this?  do i play something and, midway, mark in a breath that i wish i had taken?  should i be circling chord changes that i need to shed or quickly transcribe an idea i just had so i can reuse it again?  

i was soaking it all in, not making an effort to pack some of it in such a way that i could regurgitate it to sonja later that evening.  i'm terrible at that - can't remember jokes to save my life, don't retain song titles, and lose the chronology of events in movies.  i'm always jealous of those that have that instant recall.  do people do that same thing when they go hear music shows?  remember turnaround licks, money chords, certain idiomatic techniques?  is it more important to absorb information in a macro or micro fashion... or both?  

he also chose particular material to share.  something from the new book, something from an older book, an article from the new yorker, diary entries, and even snippets from another guy's book that he really dug.  does this set rotate for the type of venue (large/small, midwest/coast) or is it the same lineup each time, regardless of demographic?  i know it's folly for band groupies to get their hands on set lists from different shows, comparing and hypothesizing why a certain tune made it in wichita yet got bumped in austin. does this happen with writers?  should i be tailoring my set lists for the audience or for myself?  i don't want to get bored with what i'm playing yet fear that i may alienate a group of listeners by playing shit that i want to play and who cares if you're down with it just sit there and take it because you need to hear this it's good for you i'm blazing new paths in the music world baby and it's time for you to recognize.  

artists need the audience ... and furthermore ... need the audience to need the artists

david sedaris was brilliant.  i am so thankful that greg thought to ask me.  and i actually remember a joke from that evening.  before sharing, he told the audience that it was the best joke in the world, so i tried to momentarily silence my a.d.d. and pay attention.  --what's the worst part about blowing willie nelson?  --when he says "i'm not willie nelson"