don't give the end away

i remember reading an interview with tim berne back in college.  (i was looking for a magic recipe to great music making.)  the journalist asked what kind of music did he usually go to for inspiration.  berne answered that, instead of listening to a bunch of music, he liked to watch movies.

well, somebody text tim and tell him i finally took his advice.  this year to date, i have seen FIVE movies, a number that usually matches if not exceeds my annual movie viewings. i have just realized that movies really turn my crank.  i appreciate the magnitude of doing a full project.  i used to stay involved in musicals and theatrical productions just for the high i got from opening night, not because i enjoyed the medium.  i am fascinated by the detail and thoughtfulness put into filmmaking.  the cinematography, the editing, the colors, the soundtrack.  i like hearing how records are recorded, mixed, and programmed.

movies take me out of my box.  they make me think about my craft, the process, and get me considering the subject matter. music rearranges my headspace, sometimes challenging me while other times comforting me.  for some reason, i am proud of myself that i can block out a couple hours and commit to watching a film.  i periodically need some nudging to sit and listen or watch some music, and am equally gratified that i make the effort to give my undivided attention to an album.

enduring and experiencing an artistic venture from beginning to end is crucial towards my personal development.  when i perform, i consider the complete period of time as equal parts in my process.  all of my preparation, instantaneous choices, and forward thinking momentum play into the final result. acknowledging all of the patience and energy required to see a film to its fruition is enough motivation to fuel my fire.

thanks to Black Swan, The Social Network, Date Night, The Kids Are All Right, and 127 Hours (my personal favorite).


stop! rodgers & hammerstein time!

i've got one of those peel-a-day calendars.  it has the date, a new word (that i wonder if i will ever use), a blurb about some historical event, assorted celebrity birthdays (yesterday was drew barrymore and steve irwin), a brainteaser that i usually think is way too hard, and a thought-provoking quote.

yesterday's quote comes from some guy named publius syrus.  i have never heard of this joker, so i dialed up my friends over at wikipedia to get the scoop.  (i don't actually have any friends associated with wikipedia, but certainly recognize them as the most credible online source these days...)  as it turns out, he is a latin writer of pithy observations on life. a freed roman slave, he also worked as a mime and an improvising writer during 1st century bc.  he is credited with a slew of famous quotes, including "familiarity breeds contempt" and "it is better to learn late than never".

the line for inspiration today was "the remedy for wrongs is to forget them".  i use this notion as a primary mantra when practicing improvisation.  sure, you're gonna screw up - but us listeners want to know how you will incorporate that misstep towards successful thematic development. miles davis made a career out of this, and many are modeling their careers after miles' "mistakes".

many young improvisers get hung up on (knowingly) missing a chord change, and allow their frustration to alter the flow of their creative stream.  most don't function like that in real life.  quit reading the book after the first word you don't know?  stop eating your fries after biting into a limp one? toss the wii remote after you immediately wreck while playing mario kart?  put on a hat at the first inclination that your hair won't cooperate?  (fyi - i don't read much, like droopy fries, suck at mario kart, and am wearing a hat as i type.)

when god closes a door, he opens a window.  be 2 legit 2 quit. and count me as the first to use references from the sound of music and mc hammer to explain important principles in the creative process.


fat guy in a little coat

i was thumbing through a chris farley book in wal-mart the other night and came across an anecdote from al franken who, before becoming a hot-button senator, was a writer and actor on saturday night live.  he spoke of the period when farley was on the scene, along with rob schneider and adam sandler.  all brilliant comics in their own right, franken noted that these guys would often go off script. their continued interest in straying from the written material frustrated franken, but he mentioned (and i'm paraphrasing since i don't have the book in my hands at the moment) that it was probably less about their disinterest in his sketch and more about how it was time for him to leave the show.

i think of this idea time and again when i'm dealing with creative music.  i want the stuff that i write to take on a certain persona, and i struggle with the desire to micro-manage.  i want the tunes that i help arrange for my students to go a certain way, and the music that i rehearse with them to sound like i intend it to. the balancing act i have found (which is a work still in progress) requires me to be extremely clear and credible with my instructions and/or playing while allowing others to contribute their strengths to the collective.  it's about trust and good judgment.

now, at the same time ... i want the players i work alongside to be able to contribute their artistic strengths at full throttle.  i am leery about stifling creativity, for fear that i may get an apathetic effort or, worse yet, negative return. if i distinguish another's artistic flame too early, maybe i'm missing out on exciting creative output or a moment of inspiration.  i try to to know each musician that i work with - what they are capable of doing, what sparks their inventiveness, what pushes them beyond their box.

how did al franken know it was time for him to exit stage left?  was it a lack of patience with the budding comic geniuses?  did he recognize that maybe he was no longer at the cusp of new comedic concepts?  i remember thinking that i was helping spearhead new movements in improvised music, and then was introduced to recordings of artists doing many years ago what i was currently discovering.  in fact - i have been embarrassingly victimized by my own naivety multiple times.

i have decided to stick with my own sound concepts and personalized approaches to creative improvisation.  i have one ear in my own thing (to better understand what i'm trying to do), another ear in the new stuff (trying to keep up with the joneses) and yet another ear in the music of past masters.  i know - i need more ears, right?  if i keep jumping around between the musical flavor of the month, i am certain that i'll never codify my own musical language and identifiable style.  so, i'm sticking to my guns - come hell or high water.

a magnet in my office

and while i'm thinking of it - some of my favorite snl characters from the treacherous three:

* farley dancing with patrick swayze
* sandler singing arias as opera man
* schneider making copies with stingarino
* farley reviewing restaurants for zagats
* sandler as bryan from the denise show


cheat codes and love songs

i used to hang out with my neighbor jason means when i was a kid.  he was a packers fan, so i had to look past that, but we had many other things in common: riding bikes, playing whiffle ball, swimming, watching the cubs lose, smoking candy cigarettes, and trying to beat iron mike in punch out.

jason's mom, who later became my spanish teacher, was always spinning records.  her favorite album to throw in rotation was the greatest hits of julio iglesias (who, along with billy dee williams & jimmy smits, are the smoothest dudes in the business).  i enjoyed the latin crooner, although it seemed like an odd soundtrack to our bazillion alley-oop dunks on the nerf hoop.  the tune stuck in my head was his pop smash to all the girls i loved before, a duet with willie nelson.  

i later made my professional debut when i was in high school, playing an unaccompanied version of that song inside the livestock barn at the union county fair.  my reed was acting up, but the blue ribbon sheep didn't seem to mind.  the thrill i got out of playing in public got me hooked on music.  

dig the video with julio and comic genius johnny carson. 


zeroing in

my brother-in-law was in town this weekend.  cool guy, family man, former collegiate soccer player, current compliance a.d. at arkansas state university (howl yes!!!)  he visits on occasion, but finds it increasingly more difficult to travel for leisure with two children under the age of 3.  we often see his crew when we head south for the holidays, but he snuck onto the charter bus that brought his asu track squad to ames for an open meet.

my kids think their uncle daniel is the bee's knees, and are down for doing whatever when he's around.  although he made the road trip to hang with his sister and us boys (and feel around about some job prospects on campus), he had an unspoken obligation to attend the track and field meet.  we of course have never been to an event like that, so we tagged along.

daniel guesstimated that 30+ schools were participating in the meet, large and small programs alike.  track is such an individualized sport in most cases, so i suppose the size of the program doesn't necessarily matter.  asu is in the sunbelt conference, which pales in comparison to the big 12 or sec, but still had some excellent athletes.

the track meet was a trip.  there were a multitude of athletes all over the place.  some stretching and warming up, others cheering on teammates, and most were lying down with headphones on.  nobody interfered with other events, and a sense of urgency was conspicuously absent.  i was both surprised and impressed with the relaxed vibe, considering the potential for chaos.  the asu red wolves represented at the meet.  we saw a guy triple jump, another pole vault, a gal run the 5k - and they all kinda happened at the same time.

we watched a girl named sharika race in the final heat for the 60m dash.  she stretched, fussed around with her feet in the blocks, watched other competitors do the same, composed herself, and then blasted off at the sound of the gun.  she tore down the track, blazing past most of the other sprinters, and finished up in 3rd place - a scant .002 seconds behind the winner.  it was very impressive.

i was struck by her focus.  i'm standing about 10 feet from her, talking with my kids about why they think they need a mountain dew at 4:00 in the afternoon.  other people are on the phone, laughing with their friends, heeding direction from their coaches, and encouraging her competitors.  we were right on top of her, and she remained intensely focused on the matter at hand.

i don't care to play in big concert venues, especially the type that preserve this stage protocol of yesteryear.  the audience gets quiet, a dramatic opening of the stage door reveals the performer, a polite exchange of applause and acknowledgment between the two parties, play the piece, another exchange, exit, do it all over again.  bleh.

i like playing places where the crowd is in your space.  i don't mind if they talk, pass by closely, gawk, cheer, or chat with me between tunes.  there is something street about that - doing my work at my highest level, for myself and for the people.  the stiff concert hall routine scares me.  i thrive on cranking up my focus in a setting full of assorted stimuli and distraction.  i like the way my brain spins in overdrive when i'm locked into a creative space, one that i can't be dislodged from.

i admire sharika's ability to center and deal with the task at hand.  it's cool that i have something in common with a top notch sprinter.  but she definitely looks better in spandex...


who is it

i don't really like talking on the phone, and am notorious for not answering a call that doesn't come up as a registered contact in my caller id.  i get paralyzed when i look down at my phone and see a number, not a name, flash across the top. i instantly hit ignore, for fear that whomever is calling me is the bearer of bad news.  send yo ass to voicemail.  

i was flabbergasted a few days ago when i called my folks. they are old school, man.  just got internet, have kept the old answering machine going, and roll with one cordless phone (in the garage) to their two corded phones in the house.

i told my mom, in an earlier conversation that day, that i would call back around 7:00 that evening.  i kept my promise, and jingled her.  she answered my call with "well hello guy smiley", her nickname for me from back in the day.  i laughed and said "mom, how did you know it was me?"  she said that she knew i was planning to call around then and figured i would hold up my end of the bargain.  i can't believe she had the guts to answer the phone just on a hunch, without caller id!!!

i think it is relatively easy to recognize a particular singer from a recording.  the brain quickly sifts through the files of voice type and character in a vocalist's sound, coming up with a perfect match.  some are identified more quickly than others.  tom waits, nat cole, louis armstrong, frank sinatra, willie nelson, stevie wonder, axl rose - all unique vocalists.

do singers want that instant recognition?  does the listener feel more at ease when they know who is crooning?  do singers work to have a unique-unto-them sound, or are they trying to tap into that legacy of an artist whose similar voice type has already laid the groundwork?  hello, michael buble.

i find it much more difficult for me to pick out horn players from recordings, based strictly upon their tone quality.  i call upon more information (the tune, approach to improvising, cliche licks, accompanying personnel) to make this determination.  my success rate with blind identification is significantly diminished.  do horn players strive for unique tone qualities, or are they victims of what they have listened to and admired through the years?

i was blown away when i read a downbeat magazine blindfold test with joey baron from a few years back.  he listened to a track and then quickly noted that the drummer was jack dejohnette, but jack wasn't using his own drums on this particular recording.  woah...

i'm an alto player, but do i need a tone like bird or hodges? should tenor players chase coltrane or dex?  guitar players fiddle around with various settings to get a particular sound. aspiring musicians buy gear that is either endorsed by or played exclusively by certain artists.  is this in hopes of replicating their sound?  anthony braxton talked about restructuralists and stylists in the graham lock book forces in motion.  on which side of that fence do you find yourself?

current ingredients in my tone concept:  the urgency of eric dolphy, the raw of bjork, the angularity of dave king, the circus of django bates, the joy of ornette coleman, the warmth of jaco pastorius, the ease of keith underwood, the tightrope of joan sutherland, the precision of martha argerich, the bluster of ben webster.  what about you?


silhouette used to be my jam

me & my crew got together tonight to watch the super bowl. simon & i picked out a yummy pork recipe from my new bobby flay cookbook.  we called my mom and got her recipe for chocolate cupcakes and homemade frosting, a delicacy that sonja feens for in moments of weakness.  our menu included a slow roasted cajun pork shoulder (which took forever), fresh guacamole (sans packet of seasoning), two boxes of kraft mac & cheese (the breakfast of champions), those gourmet cupcakes (filled with ganache), and a swig of cream soda.

the boys & i watched the game, without a dog in the fight.  we hollered for sonja every time there was a break in the action, alerting her of the infamous super bowl commercials.  audi had a great advertisement, featuring one of the most recognized saxophonists of all time.

i know that we should be trumpeting the legend of charlie parker, lester young, sonny rollins, coleman hawkins, etc. however, the reality is that much of society, if forced to name one saxophonist, would come up with kenny g (followed by the yakety sax guy, that one dude from bruce springsteen's band, lisa simpson, and whoever plays that opening line on careless whisper).  the general public is primed for smooth jazz melodies, not superimposed substitutions and patterns.

kenny g is certainly not my cup of tea. i wouldn't be caught dead listening to his stuff.  yet, he brought the instrument to the forefront of the masses.  he has been ridiculed and mocked, and is probably laughing all the way to the bank.  i suppose i am thankful for kenny gorelick's work towards popularizing the instrument, and see this opportunity as a call to arms for saxophonists everywhere - use him as our lead blocker and run through the gap he leaves in his wake.

lord knows where my kids found these shirts