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.