it's all about the nitty gritty

my mother-in-law suggested that we decorate our home for the holidays.  it would help the environment for the kids, build tradition, and strengthen our family ties.  i must say (through clenched teeth) that bonnie feig is right.  our kids like it when we put out stuff for easter, valentine's day, birthdays, thanksgiving, the fourth of july, and of course christmas.  the only day that we kinda stink at is halloween. we have a skeleton and a smiling frankenstein that stick into the yard, and a couple of jack-o-lantern stuffies that share mantle space with a dancing ghost.  we do have the occasional neighbor who puts out spider webbing at the front door, carved pumpkins on the stoop, and bed sheet ghosts hanging from the trees.  but this year, one neighbor wrapped up the award for most amazing halloween decorations in the whole wide world.

holy guacamole.  this guy went all out.  the huge pirate ship in his front yard is beyond description.  several skeleton pirates have hoisted the jolly roger flag high in the air and cannons blast from the bough, leaving a trail of smoke.  the shaky plank and the rope bannister lead to barrels of gun powder and a shrunken skull.  a mermaid is carved into the front of the ship.  a framed portrait of the mona lisa and her wandering eyes sits on board.  pirates are playing cards adjacent to the ship, with a scary lady taking aim at the head of her cheating card partner.  another skeleton plays eerie violin etudes that are blasted through a speaker while hanging out under a peculiarly placed basketball backboard. trick-or-treaters flocked to this house, and parents outfitted with cameras wandered close behind.

i had the opportunity to talk with the gentleman responsible for the awesomeness this evening about the how and why.  he told me that he chose halloween as the holiday to go big with for his kids, because the month of december is too cold for getting all the christmas lights strung outside.  he also explained that all of the pirates are made with pvc pipe, and that the ships and signs and tables all break down and store flat in the garage (aka - the booty lounge).

i enthusiastically divulged that i was blown away at the spectacle and appreciated what he was doing for the community. he told me that, although it's all basically powered by a fire-code-violating labryinth of extension cords and held together with tape and twine, the joy he finds in it "is all in the details."

hey buddy... you need another drink like you need a hole in your head

i love projects that are detail oriented. i remember seeing the cirque de soleil production KA in las vegas, and was so appreciative of the attention to detail.  the music lined up with the movement impeccably.  the lighting both highlighted and foreshadowed.  each facet of the the costuming addressed both fashion and function.  the visionaries were seeing things with a macro/micro duality.

anymore, i am insistent upon rehearsing music projects of which i am associated.  i have found that by working out material, ensembles are able to establish a strong rapport and sense of trust while ironing out some fancy transitions and tricky grooves.  jazz and improvised music often sells itself short in this department, ironically enough, by it's own shareholders.  some think that reviewing the material thins the spontaneity.  others claim that it's a hassle to drive around, secure a space, align schedules ... just to rehearse.

individual artists take no issue with honing their craft meticulously and tirelessly.  the duos/trios/groups of any number that have managed to keep themselves relevant have done so with an inimitable and unspoken musical communication amongst each other that is, most likely, discovered and developed in rehearsal.  make the commitment to details. that's where the good stuff is at.


miles apart

when a buzz begins to swirl in the art world, controversy is the frequent catalyst.  we recently hosted the touring blue note act The Miles Davis Experience: 1949-59, a veritable cornucopia of visual and aural stimuli selectively chronicling the life of the great jazz trumpeter.  this type of event is a slam dunk for the "get my annual jazz fix" attendee (whom, ironically enough, has pockets deep enough to sustain shows like this), and also draws the homebody jazz enthusiasts out of the woodwork.  central iowa showed up in full force, which means a modest house.  btw - where are these people for all of the shows by local musicians that are free?!?!

the lineup included ambrose akinmusire, whose trumpet star is rising as fast as they ever do, and his quintet; tenor saxophonist walter smith III, pianist sam harris, bassist harish raghavan, and drummer justin brown.  these guys are a working band, and it showed.  the interplay and trust and adventurous vibe was evident.  they played a handful of tunes from miles' rep - dear old stockholm, 'round midnight, walkin', flamenco sketches, airegin, and a solo drum version of so what (which was absolutely my favorite part of the show).  the quintet filled out the remainder of the gig with a nice sampling their own tunes.

i had a heads-up on what the show would entail.  my buddy and bassist karl checked it out earlier in the month and told me about the mix of literature.  he had also mentioned the historical stills that were projected upon three artistically hung screens and the audio clips of miles himself blended into the presentation.  the narration was handled by a beat poet (who got lukewarm reviews at best, but a thumbs-up from me).

here's the catch - this was advertised and heavily marketed as a blue note miles davis show.  hell - the miles davis experience.  when showcasing the '50s, three things pop into the foreground:  the first great quintet (trane, red, philly joe, pc), gil evans, and kind of blue.  the music that was chosen partly represented that era, sans ANY music that gil touched (huh!?!?).  the music that was performed did not resemble that period whatsoever.  no exact transcriptions or even reasonable facsimiles of those recordings.  no harmon mute.  is there truth in advertising?

trick question: name this trumpet player
i have fielded several contrasting opinions about the show while reserving my own.  most of my students really dug it. this may be one of their first big jazz shows to attend, especially with a specific theme being reiterated.  the playing was strong and certainly left a mark on my students. they also were familiar with the rep, thanks to an assignment i gave in their combo class.  some of my friends were disappointed that the melodies that miles made famous from this period were absent.  many of the people i met before & after the show felt hoodwinked, under the assumption that the band would at least play a popular tune verbatim.  

i spoke before the show, shedding some light on the ascent of ambrose and the career of miles.  i talked a lot about gil (which is hands-down my favorite shit from miles' discography).  i sat on a panel with the bassist and pianist after the show for a semi-formal q&a about the evening's events.  the musicians fought off the inquisitions into why they played what they played and how they played it, revealing their familiarity with this kind of heat.  

play something these hoes'll like, drive whips i know they like,
twista you told 'em right, i can make you a celebrity overnight

here's where i weigh in on all of this.  it's definitely good exposure for ambrose and his bandmates.  there's no way that this working ensemble (both in the studio and on the road) could book a big concert venue, charge $35 a pop, and expect to stay alive.  rolling out their talents under the cloak of miles' mystique is good business for blue note, albeit disingenuous.  dressing up ambrose to look like miles, blasting miles davis's name across the posters, and then allowing the guys to play whatever they want is really pushing the limits of trust with the lean legions of jazz fans.  i don't think the musicians needed to have played note-for-note versions of tunes from miles' blue note (and ironically enough; capitol, prestige, and columbia) discography. that directly comprises their artistic integrity, a principle that miles built his entire career around.  the powers that be should have looked at this project like a writer views a blogpost - who is my audience?  the last thing this great music needs is another obstacle to overcome - bad karma.


new wine in new bottles

the passing of steve jobs has given me a moment to reflect on his legacy as i loosely know it.  his contributions, in particular to the music world, have straight changed the game.

musicians are now able to do extraordinary things on the computer.  i can use my brand spankin' new macbook to compose using notational software instead of wrecking my wrist by writing it out long hand.  i can record stuff with my in-line mic and mix it and bounce it with garage band (or even better quality with protools, logic, reason, ableton).  it is common (and still cool) to see that apple glowing like the heart of iron man from coffee shops to concert halls.  our jazz band concert last night was mic-ed up to the Nth degree through a big mixing board up in the balcony.  our sound guys were then able to do live sound mixing from the front row and on stage with a wirelessly-tethered iPad.  get outta here!!!

iTunes is the predominant music organizational tool.  it also holds high status amongst the masses.  when i tell people i just finished another record, the first question they ask me is "cool man - is it up on iTunes?"  (yes it is...)  it has also opened up the market for acquiring music and shattering the control of the artist.  i can order single tracks without buying the entire album.  i can create playlists of my favorite songs and avoid the programming order that the artist conceived for the right flow of their record.  those are definitely cons, but the pros of being able to buy tracks whenever i want and immediately download them to my computer are huge in terms of exposure and distribution.  by shuffling through my iTunes library, i can also bump into stuff that i hadn't thought of listening to in quite some time.  as i write this blog, here is what's coming through my speakers:

kronos quartet - suso: tilliboyo 
john zorn & tim berne - space church 
big boi - the way you move 
ben webster & oscar peterson - bye bye blackbird
john scofield & pat metheny - no matter what 
bill evans w/ lee konitz & warne marsh - speak low 
the sugarcubes - take some petrol, darling 
dave holland trio - take the coltrane

then there's the iPod.  in terms of recording, artists have begun mixing for headphones instead of car speakers and home audio.  not many people park it in front of there speakers at home with a glass of chardonnay and take in the latest effort by esperanza spading, but a whole mess of people stick that album on their iPod and listen to it at work or on an evening stroll through the neighborhood.  i work on a college campus, where i routinely encounter girls with words on their butt and guys reeking of cologne.  the common denominator i observe is that nearly all of these coeds are plugged into an iPod of some sort.  heck - it's fashionable to have those white ear buds and the white chords accessorizing your outfit.  it's exciting to see lots of young people listening to music. maybe they're tuned in to my stuff?  hey, a boy can dream...

our loot from apple
as i'm writing this, kale is researching black ops cheat codes on his macbook.  simon is trying to memorize old school eminem lines that flow through his iPod.  sonja just finished answering some emails on her macbook pro.  jobs (and the whole apple crew) made cutting edge techy stuff sexy.  people are often resistant to change, clutching desperately to that which they are familiar and are convinced will always suffice.  jobs was able to change that social misconception worldwide.

i'm always fascinated with forward thinking innovators in our midst.  musician miles davis, chess master bobby fischer, photographer ansel adams.  add steve jobs to that list.