long distance dedication

people often ask me how or why i got into music.  (here's where you ask me and i answer in the following paragraph.)

my folks weren't really into music.  my dad is a tone deaf trucker and my mom gets her fix in the church choir and, as i have later come to appreciate, has the art of shifting tonal centers mastered.  they bought an out-of-tune upright piano from a local auction house for my sister and i when we were young, and provided us with the opportunity to take regular piano lessons.  i spent about two months playing guitar, screwed around on my mom's autoharp, and liked learning michael jackson tunes on the casio keyboard that i bought with my paper route money.  i never really fell in love with the saxophone at first sight.  in fact, my dad told my mom (after the 5th grade band meeting) that i selected that horn because it was the most expensive of the bunch.

as a kid, i was really into the radio.  Q102 was my jam.  they would play all of the hits, and every sunday morning they would run casey kasem's american top 40 (i'm humming the jingle as i type).  he would run down the week's top songs and offer the occasional tidbit about the performer.  that man had the smoothest voice, perfect for this kind of stuff.  i would sit poised in my room, with the blank cassette tape in my boombox and my index finger hovering over the record button, in hopes that casey would play the full version of kyrie by mister mister (which fit my range perfectly at the time) or higher love by steve winwood (featuring jr robinson on the drum intro and chaka khan on the backgrounds).  he turned me on to great songs like the rain by oran juice jones, we built this city by starship (with that radio dj guy), and rhythm of the night by debarge (i still have the sheet music somewhere).

casey also hipped me to a bunch of slow jams too, usually prefixed with a long distance dedication.  i always wondered if people actually sent letters to casey.  i never felt my life was in similar disarray as those whose stories were read on the air, so i opted to live vicariously through whoever they were.  lovers that are struggling to make it work get every time you go away by paul young.  lovers that are optimistic about their future got meet me halfway by kenny loggins (from the incomparable movie over the top).  lovers that evidently sat by the phone, head in hands, got right here waiting by richard marx (which i quickly learned how to play on the piano and sing in my falsetto ... for the ladies ...)

as goofy as this sounds, i give the birthday boy casey kasem a lot of credit for shaping my early ears.  i don't search the radio stations when i'm on the road for jazz classics.  i dig around for 80's music, the soundtrack of my youth.

casey also had a pottee mouth.  hey - we all have our moments.


eighty one

i had the honor of hearing kenny wheeler perform last friday up in cedar falls.  my good friend chris merz runs a pretty remarkable program at the university of norther iowa.  he and bob washut (the man responsible for making their department legendary) have a wonderful situation, complete with a talented and flourishing student body that is tirelessly supported by the administration and the community at large.

chris brought kenny in to play some small group pieces with the faculty group and perform the complete sweet time suite.
i sat second row with my good friend russ, and had my face coated with kenny's unforgettable flugelhorn sound.  the sextet pieces (tsx/flg/pno/gtr/bs/dm) allowed more blowing space for kenny and chris, but certainly paled in comparison to the majesty of the suite from music for large and small ensembles.  rachel price, a recent music grad from uni, played the role of norma winstone to perfection.  simply hearing kenny play this music live was enough for me - his immediate sound + chris's excitement for this concert in particular + sensory recall of listening to this album a ton + remembering playing for jan with musical spirits dave dunn and erin fishler = all i could handle.  to boot, kenny is 81 years old. sure - he came out with a cane, sat throughout the gig, didn't necessarily sound like he once did earlier in his career, and cracked only one tiny smile at the very end of the evening. but for crying out loud - he is 81!  

checking out concerts like this leave me both inspired and depressed.  the writing is incredible, so open and spacious and modern.  the soloing stretches my ears in six different directions only to rubberbandsnap me back to reality.  the body of work and litany of collaborations is astonishing.  are my tunes this good?  do my solos give people a similar euphoric aftertaste?  will i have as decorated a bio?  will i actually live to be 81?

i guess i just assume that, when i see live music from people who i ogle over, they must be having these experiences 24/7. does chris potter play jaw-dropping solos with his underground band every day?  do the bad plus play shows every night to sell out crowds?  does han bennink spontaneously create ingenuous performance art daily?  does kenny wheeler routinely lead renditions of his large group pieces?  probably not, on all accounts.  i don't see these guys go get the mail, sleep in, wash dishes, stare at the checkbook, gas up the car, fold laundry or change the toilet paper.

i realize that maturing artistically is all about the process. every little step i take (hello bobby brown) gets me to the bigger goals that i set in front of me.  giving consistent effort with a refreshing and reevaluated commitment to creative work steers my ship in the right direction.  taking an inch of inspiration from these great performers and stretching it into a mile is a well established formula for personal growth.  most of all - i need to remind myself of these ideas so i can keep my sanity without throwing in the towel.  it reminds me of this great tevin campbell tune from quincy jones' album back on the block.  

famous guys named kenny:  lefty with handles kenny anderson, funnyish sports reporter kenny mayne, smooth jazz hairdo
kenny g, soft rock star kenny loggins, kenny from south park, and botox disaster kenny rogers.


can you smell what (name of combo) is cooking

we celebrated an annual event in our home last weekend.  the wife and i had been burning the candle at both ends for quite a while and were overdue for a fun and relaxing evening of scarfing down junk food and parking our rear ends in front of the boob tube.  my boys were looking forward to this date on the calendar for several months.  it was a special occasion for our crew - wrestlemania.

my buddy (and former student) cedric jones told me about how cool it was as a kid to watch the pay per view event, and how great he thought his parents were (then and in retrospect). we tuned in last year and it was super awesome.  all of our favorite guys wrestled well rehearsed (er, i mean spontaneous) matches, filled with dramatics and all the fixins.  the 4-hour event flew by.  simon's favorite wrestler, shawn michaels, lost his match last year to the undertaker and subsequently retired from the sport.

the grandeur is unparalleled.  honestly.  each wrestler has his own theme song, unique costuming, memorable catch phrases, signature moves, and a finishing maneuver that personifies their character.  john cena has "my time is now", the you can't see me wave in front of his face, the baseball hat and jean shorts (the only guy in the world that still rocks those things), the five knuckle shuffle, and the attitude adjustment.  the fans have something with which to identify. when his opponent gets tangled up face first in the ropes, fans of rey mysterio know that the 619 is soon to follow.

rey mysterio, triple h, cm punk, seamus, john cena, 
john morrison, shawn michaels, r truth

classical and jazz performing acts could take a cue from the wwe.  performers are often looking for a new outfit to wear. most programs feature a new set of repertoire.  nobody would dare start or finish with the same predictable music.  this lack of continuity between concerts could be leaving the listener without a consistent point of reference.  popular music acts have it figured out.  fans do the math when the encore is upon them, able to determine that springsteen hasn't sung "born to run" yet.  

what's so bad about playing some of the same stuff again?  i remember hearing pat metheny for the first time and flipping my shit when he broke off the opening lick to "bright sized life".  i remember dave king's hi hat intro on a halloween alaska show, signaling "the ends".  i remember hearing brad mehldau close with "still crazy after all these years" on back to back sets.  i remember masada opening with ravyah, a tune they had played a gazillion times before.   

and costuming...  the bad plus always has reid in an interesting t-shirt, ethan in a suit, and king in some indie outfit with a hat.  zorn wore his orange tee and camouflage pants, just like most of the promo materials depicted. metheny had the crazy hair.  han bennink ceremoniously strapped on the red bandana.

vince mcmahon has got it figured out.  each character has his set of tools, and they rarely change.  the merch flies off the shelves, the generations of fans continue, and the venues are routinely sold out.  i want to be a part of the new adaptation by chamber players, incorporating these exciting elements of the wwe to our valuable art form.  minus the belly-to-belly suplex.  hey... don't tell me that's fake.


what, me worry?

i think it's important to see live music.  it helps remind me what's going in the world and gets me thinking about my own art form.  i also believe in karma - the notion that if you aren't getting your lazy butt up and out to some shows, that may in fact guarantee that others follow suit when you've got a gig somewhere.  i often am conflicted when i see live music. i question the choices of literature, am sometimes depressed by how many people came out (lots - why don't i draw bigger crowds?  few - where is everybody?), and inevitably doubt my own musicianship.  pretty sad, huh.... why am i so intimidated by live music?  i mean - it's fun to hear, doubly fun to do, and important to the furthering of society as a whole.  i believe in it and know that i can hang, but am prone to questioning myself on a metaphysical level.

my friend abe goldstein hosts a jazz series in waukee.  he has great taste in music; creative and box-destroying performers. last night, somehow he was able to finagle the icp orchestra (no, not insane clown posse).  these dutch wizards of spontaneously creative music made a stop in iowa.  i'm not sure how abe did it, but i'm very thankful that he was able to bring them through.  attending this show was the best thing i've done in recent memory.  the tunes were the perfect length.  the flow of the set was unpredictably comfortable (tunes, improvised transitions, ballads, mixed instrumentation, spatial staging experiments).  the musicians were in top form and very appreciative for the opportunity to play in waukee.  their onstage banter was welcoming and positive.  their improvisations were inspired and well crafted.  their camaraderie was evident.

and han bennink... where do you start with this guy?  about to turn 69, he was far and away the most engaging performer.  he was the reason i was attending the gig, in all honesty, and he did not disappoint.  he is easily one of the most creative drummers in the history of the instrument.  he always seemed to play the right stuff at the right time, while swinging his hi-hat leg up onto the snare and small tom to deaden the sound.  he sported his trademark bandana and tackled each piece relentlessly and sensitively.  he was so grateful and especially poignant when he spoke to the crowd at the end.

i left caspe terrace relieved and humbled.  as i strode to my car in the unseasonably warm nightfall, i literally said to myself "i'm gonna make it".