mawage is wot bwings us togeder

my friends are a bit older now (as am i) and the marriage season has passed.  well, let me rephrase that.  the wedding-ceremony-and-huge-party-afterwards season is no longer in play.  folks don't really do that on their repeated attempts at cracking the code for marital success.  come to think of it, sonja and i were the last of our friends to tie the knot. either that, or we weren't invited to anyone else's celebration.  jerks.

sonja's friend (and mine too, thank you very much) Emily got married last weekend up in eden prairie, mn.  she is a great gal who teaches 6th grade science in the public schools.  she and sonja met up at the university of minnesota, where they both studied with julia bogorad-kogan, principal flutist of the saint paul chamber orchestra.  she married this guy named josh who, for all intents and purposes, seems like a cool guy and good for emily.  too bad he's a twins fan, but hey - we've all got our flaws.

like most weddings, the crux of the ceremony is pretty straight forward and predictable.  music, family, read some stuff, light a candle or two, swap rings, swap spit, thunderous applause.  the same goes for most gigs.  schlep gear, take forever figuring out what to play, lots of solos from the horn players, drums are too loud, can't hear the bass, say you'll take requests but turn down the plea for some pat benatar, smattering of applause.

there are also memorable moments that occur in both arenas, snafus that are forever etched into the nooks and crannies of our unused brain space.

at emily's wedding, they prepared to light the unity candle and realized that nobody had a match.  they called out for a lighter and none of the attendees could provide one.  finally, a worker bee from the country club emerged with a bic and the ritual proceeded.  the judge who married the blissful couple had this great radio dj voice (no, not like that over-saturated homeless dude).  as he introduced the next reading, some weird dance metal synth music hijacked the air waves and started blasting it's infectious dance groove while the deep vocals barked "apache".  the reader approached the front of the room, busting a spontaneous and hilarious dance move before immediately switching into a deadpan reading of some biblical passage once the music stopped.

i remember hearing my friend pete play con alma at a college jazz festival.  his loose ligature resulted in him squeaking every other note, leaving us in stitches.  ethan iverson sang a really out version of my funny valentine when i saw the bad plus back in 2002 at the dakota.  my college buddy geoff mocked the schmaltzy ending to a voicesiowa rendition of body and soul, one in which they sing the eddie jefferson vocalise set to the famous coleman hawkins solo.  bean rips through the end, and the singers make it a big emotional ritard.

however - there are also gems that happen in both weddings and live music that are longstanding memories for me.  one of emily's readings reminded us that, in marriage, the little things are the big things.  i once saw the mingus big band play duke ellington's sound of love without any rehearsal, which became obvious when they hit a fermata towards the end of the tune.  leader steve slagle looked to his right and quietly uttered "potter", asking the tenor saxophonist to finish it up.  chris potter stood up and delivered an earth moving impromptu cadenza.

i like going to weddings.  i know i probably shouldn't need it (and hate to admit it), but i benefit from being reminded of the importance of true love, the perils of marriage and their tremendous rewards, and the understanding that your village of friends and family is the net underneath the couple that is traversing the world together.

i like hearing live music.  i know i probably shouldn't need it (and hate to admit it), but i benefit from being reminded of the importance of genuine artistry, the responsibility of understanding the musical heritage that has come before while surging forward with a fresh approach, and the awareness that keeping your head up while hammering away at your art will keep you inspired and encouraged to keep on keeping on.

dig this video of the wedding gig drummer


jeep, rabbit, and squatty roo

i don't listen to a lot of saxophone.  well, let me rephrase this - i listen to a bunch of people play the saxophone all of the time, but i don't come home from work and put on a recording of somebody playing the saxophone.  in our house these days, i hear a lot of marina piccinini, taio cruz, chris potter, bruno mars, dan patrick, and recordings of current projects that the wife and i are tackling.

i check out a bunch of new music too.  some of my friends (bart, russ, joel & abe in particular) and several students keep my inbox full with cdrs of stuff they either bet i'll like or think i should hear.  recent additions include tom rainey, michael formanek, dawes, and flying lotus.  i'm doing everything i can to keep up with what my friends are digging, let alone what's pumping through my kids' stereos or who is making noise on the late night talk shows.  i attempt to read tweets and reviews and updates and blogs from jazz artists, but struggle to stay on the horse with all of that new music. it's stressful too, knowing that so many great things blossoming everywhere are flying under my radar.

last night i gave a lecture on the legacy of alto saxophonist johnny hodges.  i intended to put modest effort into the research, but ended up with a stack of books at my bar (that's right, i've got a bar in my house, and it's actually the best place to do any studying or writing) (or getting my drink on).

hodges is an interesting character.  he was with ellington through four decades, was reluctant to talk with fans because he had a limited vocabulary, and was a unique voice amongst virile saxophonists.  man, he sounds amazing.  his tone and pitch and nuance are all on point.  hearing him play hit me with the epiphany that, while i'm scrambling to stay current with new music, i'm ignoring a bunch of gems from yesteryear.

hodges on the 1956 ellington at newport live album is incredible.  gonsalves steals the show, both in lore and actuality, but hodges stays so poignant as he delivers an amazing version of i got it bad and that ain't good.  i had forgotten how good the small group stuff sounds, how true his understanding of the blues is, and how genuine his improvisations come across.

and then there's this...


big ole butt

when i was a kid, i had posters on my walls.  posters i bought with my own dinero.  i had magic johnson, dwight gooden, and walter payton posters, both of them those autographed sports illustrated posters.  i had a small paula abdul poster next to a janet jackson pull out poster from some magazine.  i had a cool dj jazzy jeff & the fresh prince poster one on wall, and a breakdance how-to poster on the back of my door.

but the crowning jewel was an awesome ll cool j poster.  he was rocking the kangol, the four finger ring that said Cool J, and a fat gold chain. (which has become an inside joke in our family) (we've got a lot of these).  

i taped i need love off the radio and pumped it in my walkman until the cheap tape wore out.  i bought bigger and deffer from easters (the catch-all store in town, with groceries and all sorts of and other stuff).  i was taken with the cool kangol and bought into the rivalry with kool moe dee.  walking with a panther was next on cassette, and i couldn't stop listening to it.  plus, i really wanted those panther contact lenses he was wearing, although i don't wear contacts now because i can't stand to touch my eyeball (or watch others do it either).  i bought both cassette and cd versions of mama said knock you out.  i got into bench pressing weights after watching uncle L put up stacks in the title track video.

*i need love - when i'm alone in my room sometimes i stare at the wall
*i'm bad - forget oreos eat cool j cookies
*goin back to cali - she says she likes the ocean
*jingling baby - prominent dominant mccoy and i'm real
*around the way girl - with your new edition bobby brown button on your sleeve
*the boomin system - C to the O to the O to the L to the I to the N to the F to the R to the O to the N to the T to the I to the N ... that means i'm chillin

the misnomer in jazz music (and music school shit, btw) is that you have to like that particular type of music exclusively.  wanna be an opera star?  start listening to pavarotti and callas.  jazz tenor player?  get some coltrane and dex and sonny and check back in two years.  concert pianist?  rubenstein and horowitz, but be careful with the gould.  YES you should be checking out this stuff so you can know how high the masters have set the bar, but NO need to quit digging the music that turns your crank.

so yeah. i like ll cool j.  always have.  he turned 42 today. happy birthday james todd smith.  i'm still working on that lip lick move.


chasing a different carrot

i have never been enthralled by big band music.  a variety of reasons, i suppose.  i admittedly rarely listen to it on recordings, and occasionally check it out live.  i don't know a lot about the history of that style.  i appreciate the writing and arranging when listening and playing, but have a hard time getting comfortable with the multitude of concepts of time and swing and intonation amongst the players.  i like reading, but wish there were more opportunities for blowing. i don't double, and don't plan to start.  yet, i enjoy doing big band gigs and get a kick out of leading my own group.

i've got friends that really dig this music, who run their own bands, and i absolutely respect their tastes.  i value their friendship and acknowledge their musicianship.  nothing personal at ALL ... big band music just ain't my thing.  i played it a bunch in college and do some occasionally now, and that's plenty for me.  my head is into other stuff.

last night, i had the pleasure of playing with the jazz coalition big band, under the direction of my great friend russ kramer.  he is a music nut, a mobile jazz encyclopedia, a clever trumpeter, a quick-witted audio sabelotodo.  he has assembled a working big band, with a monthly club date in the sleepy town of mason city and some occasional concert work throughout the state.  they play good rep, can fill many solo spots, and keep a regular roster of players that help with continuity and ensemble sound.

this is not a picture of the band.  
they don't rehearse.  some of the guys are band directors while others have regular day jobs.  the gig  doesn't pay.  we had a false start on a tune.  but that's not the point...

the folks in the band are positive.  they all seem to truly enjoy being there.  nobody is bitching about the money or passing blame onto others when the form gets botched.  they hoop and holler for good solos.  they laugh at russ's jokes (which are generally pretty funny).  they take the gig seriously, but not themselves.  they are considerate, sharing solos and deferring to others.  they actually give me plenty of solo space and are very supportive of my sonic explorations.  their personal stories are interesting too. one gal just got married and talks to me about how to use my digital slr camera.  one guy introduced me to his young boy, whom he is raising all by himself.  another talked with me about his three sons coming home for christmas.  one guy is in his 70s, and his joyful approach to life and music is infectious.  these are my friends...

and they can swing too.  sure, there are reading mishaps and chipped notes and sluggish tempos every once in a while.  but there are also plenty of nice ensemble moments, some authentic and inspired solos, and an encouraging vibe amongst bandmates. they have a large following of appreciative listeners of all ages, who understand the etiquette of jazz performances.  they eat, drink, and i even saw one guy turn off the tvs by himself (after the packers game, of course).

i am blessed to have the opportunity to play with these folks from time to time.  i drive 80 minutes one way for no money, but leave with a blackened chicken sandwich for the road, a stack of cds that russ has burnt for me, a bunch of new knowledge about the history of this music, and a smile across my face the size of texas.