these are the halls

i recently recorded a christmas tune for the prez.  not tenor giant lester young, leader of the free world barack obama, montreal expo hurler denny martinez, or that third wheel from the fugees.  this quick ditty was for the holiday e-card from our new isu president, steven leath.  it's a slick interactive deal, and i make a cameo halfway through the tour.  his is pretty cool and certainly more sophisticated than whatever i could drum up, but below is my spin on the popular carol. 

late night libations + incense + + peanut brittle + an iMovie tutorial = this multimedia cocktail.  enjoy...

in order of appearance:
   * a wonderful jazz guitarist
   * a charismatic wrestler
   * the best game show host
   * the author of "sniglets"
   * my favorite pop singer
   * an eccentric entertainer
   * the host of my teenage years
   * the coolest kid ever


the booty call

my life is a busy one.  the wife has a crazy school schedule, my two kids are active in middle school aau sports, and my freelance work (along with my ocd existence) definitely keeps things hopping.  the spontaneity of life is sometimes lost on me while i constantly attempt to navigate the family calendar gauntlet.  when an old flame pops up out of nowhere, i cling to it like it's the last train to clarksville.

i was perched in a middle school gym thursday night when i got a call from my friend russ.  i couldn't answer it because i don't know how to run my new iPhone, but asked somebody how to retrieve the voicemail that he thankfully left.  he told me that the tenor player in his big band was battling the flu and had a fever of 103 (no joke).  russ needed a last-minute sub to play the ellington nutcracker suite way out in b.f.e.  my palms got sweaty, my heartbeat quickened, and vivid memories of past encounters with this musical beauty flashed through my head.  i knew how i was going to spend my friday night.

the book was tenor 1, the same part i played my first time with this 'round the way girl.  i don't play much tenor anymore, but it is fun to dance with this fling and make her sing.  the soprano double at my stand served as the bruiser ex-boyfriend, a necessary evil who was unavoidable and murder on my chops.  but hey - it beats playing the clarinet.  i'm an alto player, so i borrowed the school selmer u.s.a. tenor for this hit.  not quite top shelf, but brimming with patriotism.

the charts had my original markings from grad school, which was a really fun show.  we played the nutcracker with a modern dance troupe re-imagining tchaikovsky's holiday classic.  i tried to keep one eye on the music while the other tracked the limber leopard print leotards all across the stage.  i've been hooked on playing this show ever since that maiden voyage in the year 1999, and russ (whose eyes were also dancing after the scantily clad gyrations at that same gig) has been cool enough to offer me opportunities to play it whenever possible.

reading the strayhorn suite is my christmas checkpoint.  that annual rendezvous with my old gurl rounds out the year nicely. ...you got me shook up shook down shook out on your loving...


a month of gracias vol. 4

19th - the acoustics of my shower foster an environment in which i want to use up all the hot water while i vocalize patterns and belt out emotionally-charged solos.  i generate all kinds of good ideas in there (or at least they all sound good at the time) and scramble around the house in my towel (mortifying my children) in search of some staff paper.  we only have one shower, and it is some kind of weird star trek-looking throwback cylindrical bathing station. it's a bitch to clean, but sure does sound great in there.

20th - where would i be without my friends that push me to do bigger & better things?  i am a high strung nervous nellie, perfectly content doing a half dozen chores around the house but scared to death of meeting people or being judged.  i'm forever grateful to nick for telling me to get my pedals out, jed for asking me to go with him to the session, scott for calling me for all of these piano gigs, joel for staying on me about rehearsing and hanging, and john for pestering me about the next time we are gonna play.  i'm afraid to see my ghost of christmas present without these people in my life.

21st - although i fight it on the surface, i find some solace in tradition.  my mom makes these croissants that are to die for on thanksgiving, and always brings out the chocolate covered cherries after the meal is finished (and is sure to make an extra container for my cousin jeremy).  i like playing certain tunes on gigs.  i try my darndest to fit "body and soul" into the set somewhere, simply because i want to quote the vocalise i learned eons ago set to the legendary coleman hawkins solo from a p.m. singers chart with a tip of the cap to eddie jefferson.  "when i first heard it on the record i just stopped ... right there"

22nd - i like the concept of recipes.  i keep the improvising exercises that i create in a rolodex, and recycle them randomly with various students in various situations.  when i flip to a card, i look at the parameters of that specific exercise and lay it on top of the tune like a stencil.  my mom spends a bunch of time in the kitchen and rifles through recipes like they're going out of style.  there's magic in the spontaneity of standing in front of your cupboard and debating what am i hungry for, figuring out how much time i have, and determining which ingredients are already here.  solving this musical and culinary puzzle fascinates me.  plus, you can pass along your own personal recipes to others!!!

23rd - i'm glad that my wife is who she is.  quick snapshot - sonja, simon & i had just polished off our breakfast sandwiches in subway at the dawn of black friday.  gigantor and i went rummaging through the holiday aisles of insanity, but the wife hung back.  she noticed an older lady, sobbing in the corner of the restaurant.  she approached her and offered a shoulder to cry on.  the lady accepted, recanting some wild stories of what she experienced working retail earlier that morning amongst the bloodthirsty and highly caffeinated shoppers.  the woman worked through her stuff and thanked sonja for caring about a stranger in need.  my wife's good samaratin move deepens my faith in humanity.  i married up.

24th - i guess i'm thankful for the internet?  it can work wonders, suck the time right out of your hands, provide a bunch of good answers and an equally amount of unsubstantiated claims, and help tuck our world in a little tighter. i'm not sure how it came about or how it works, and i'm certain that it is here to stay.  on the music tip - it's nice to be able to post your stuff so all in the world can check it out. artists sharing tricks of the trade is now facilitated light years beyond what anyone in history could have imagined.


a month of gracias vol. 3

13th - our world is a better place because of second chances. i bombed my first music school entrance exam, and immediately went and dropped the major.  my teacher phil got me back on track, helping me wipe the egg off of my face.  i rarely practiced and flopped routinely, but my teacher rapson worked it out with me and gave me multiple opportunities to prove myself.  mc hammer was just invited to get legit on that korean dance craze tune i've never heard before.  people screw up, make poor choices, but often pay back your faith and patience when given the chance.  thanks to those that took a flier (with questionable promise) on me.  i'm still going.

14th - i used to think that i couldn't hold a conversation with anyone else if the subject matter wasn't about records. i am fortunate to have music in every nook of my life; my job, my free time, my passion, my expertise, my social life. i spend many many of my weekends with parents of 8th grade boys, all of whom are on my son's aau basketball team.  these people like me for who i am, not sizing me up or questioning my upcoming gigs.  a contractor, a d.o.t. guy, a farmer, a home-ec teacher, a windows guy, an accountant, an apartment super, and a marketing wiz.  we are hoarse from screaming at our kids, and our cars reek with adolescent fumes.

15th - many people post inspiring quotes (and those oft-hilarious ecards), and i occasionally read and appreciate the sentiment.  our first lady organizes her thoughts and states them eloquently, while paying extra detail to the classy font.

16th - technology is pretty slick, and i'm lucky to be living in a society of constant updates.  i am routinely impressed that youtube has so many cool things on it and flattered that friends think to tag me in their reflective posts on said videos.  my friend kyle hipped me to the axis saxophone quartet, something that i may never have dug around for and discovered.  what a great learning tool for musicians of all walks, and a killing foursome to boot.

17th - i am blessed to routinely work with great sound guys. getting someone that is cool to talk with, actually understands what kind of sound you are gunning for, and can figure out which buttons to push is literally the live music hat trick.  first three people to make nice with?  the secretary, the custodian, and the sound guy.

18th - i spent this afternoon getting pampered with the wife and our friend heather at the local aveda salon.  man, smelling good is underrated.  the aveda gals were so nice and professional and smiley towards me, an obvious fish out of water.  they hooked me up with a couple glasses of champagne, a facial, a chair massage, some lip treatment, a deep conditioner, and the first parted hair style i've sported since 1979.  thanks to my stylist sam for taking good care of me, and to the wife for convincing me to give this a shot.


buying what you're selling

branford marsalis and his mf's rolled through ames sunday. it's exciting to have such a prominent name in jazz do a show in your backyard, but i must admit - i could think of about a dozen other guys i would rather hear.  i never really grew up being a fan of his, especially after seeing him play a concert in chicago many years ago, where he proceeded to ostracize the entire audience by playing games with tain all around the bass player.  it felt like they had those big foam fingers on there hands, only with a different digit extended.

i spoke at the preconcert cafe chat, and was graciously comped a couple of tickets.  i was going to the concert, even after a super long day of sitting in an assortment of public school gyms watching 8th grade boys hoop it up, but i wasn't certain that i would walk away impressed.  well, color me silly.

they were very professional.  they were musical.  they were chatty.  they were dressed up.  they seriously played their rear ends off.  i sat up close and was blown away by the ensemble interplay and branford's creative prowess.

branford has had one heckuva career.  famous family of musicians from new orleans, tours and records with sting and bruce hornsby, classical sides, hollywood romances with tv & film, phony laughs for jay leno, adjunct teaching gigs, and riding shotgun with record companies.  let me testify that, after sunday's concert, the man can still get it done.

i like the way he creates ideas, aware of intervallic design. many players get more active in their lines by using scalar ideas or technical exercises.  branford has a knack for expanding and contracting the space between ideas, tilting them in ways that both further expound and foreshadow the chord changes with energy and activity that most settle to achieve through fundamental patterns.
i like the way that he hears an idea and seems to see a variety of directions in which it can go.  the marsalis boys are known for the sports jones, and i can see many parallels between both passions.  branford gets an idea and treats it like a point guard handling the rock.  his tremendous court vision allows him to choose between things he can do independently or ways to incorporate his fellow teammates. his trademark go-to moves are harmonic and rhythmic.

much like his younger brother, branford is a polarizing voice in today's jazz world.  he possesses stiff opinions on nearly every topic and is eager to share when asked.  love him or hate him (and there are plenty of people on both sides of this fence), artists the likes of branford are vital to the staying power of our great american music.  he challenges the institutionalized approach in an effort to help it not only survive, but rise up and become relevant once again.


a month of gracias vol. 2

7th - i am blessed to have students that roll with my punches. it's no surprise that i have an unorthodox teaching style, one that compares automatic technique to michael jordan nailing the shot over craig ehlo and treating triplets equally like divvying up cat food for my three kittens.  my students give me that polite laughter (which i'll gladly accept) and stick with me while i explain musical concepts in my own way. and the reward?  we get through this stuff together.

8th - we recently refinanced our house and the lawyer that signed off on the paperwork is really into supporting the arts.  he supports music by both attending stuff and putting his money where his mouth is.  us musicians need folks in the audience, people who want to be moved with our artistry and view it as an essential element in society.  i think we spend way too much time complaining about what's not happening while failing to recognize what is happening.  so thanks to that guy, whose name (ironically enough) escapes me.

9th - i was once asked about what i liked best about teaching at iowa state, and i told the college newspaper journalist that i dug having my own practice space, good speakers, free internet, and a nice window view of the lake.  my official answer to that question is the opportunity to work alongside such talented colleagues, be supported by a fabulous administration, and help mold the futures of our dynamic students.  but now you know ... the rest of the story.

10th - the stars.  we live on the outskirts of town and, on clear nights, share a crystal silence with our neighbors.

11th - sweaters.  i don't know whose idea it was to start making these things, but boy are they comfy.  i have become a fabric snob, willing to lie down in traffic for a cashmere sweater.  they feel so great, are toasty, can dress up a pair of jeans in a hurry, and are dirt cheap when i buy them in april.  i also really love this song.

12th - my folks are great people, and have thankfully shown me a myriad of ways to live a life full of love and joy.  they are always chipper and optimistic, were tough as nails as parents, and are the recent recipients of the "volunteer of the year" award in their community.  they turned me on to cardinal baseball, taught me to take pride in what i do, showed me the value of the hard-earned dollar dollar bill y'all, and brought home the first jazz record i ever heard.


a month of gracias vol. 1

1st - i am thankful that i'm developing enough wherewithal to know not to embarrass my kids in public.  i approached simon at a basketball practice, attempting to be discrete.  i know he doesn't want me to talk about his game, but i wanted to point something out to him that we had been discussing earlier.  he quickly hopped up, scooted over to me, listened intently to my brief observation, and then thanked me for coming to the practice. are you kidding me?

2nd - i like being able to taste yummy food.  i ate some boston cream pie toaster strudels for breakfast this morning and - lemme tell ya - they were divine.  appreciating the finer things in the breakfast world is something i often overlook.  not today. also, not thankful for my ability to abruptly learn that some foods taste like garbage, but i suppose that comes with the territory.

3rd - i get to watch my kids grow from boys to men (somebody cue johnny gill).  my story is a long & complicated one, but the short version is that i am blessed to have two wonderful sons.  parenthood really is the greatest thing.  i am thankful for a society, our society, that trusts young people with earned privileges.  simon got his driver's permit, and i've already sprouted more grey hair and pushed a hole clean through the floor board of the passenger's side.

4th - my wife is the best.  i am high anxiety, quirky, hog the remote, overflow with ocd, and interrupt too often (i've learned that ever is too often).  my wife puts up with my obsessive tendencies, and i am thankful for that.  she smurked and shook her head after enduring a 36 hour period where i visited three target (in three different towns) searching for clearanced-out halloween nutcracker characters.  they were on sale and are awesome.  do we need them?  no.  do we need five of them?  heck no.  am i a happy camper?  you bet.

5th - i am thankful for falsetto.  it is the greatest thing. i can sing whatever i hear in my head without much fatigue, was able to keep up with all of those prince records as a kid, and have bobby mcferrin around to justify the whole thing.

6th - i'm glad i live in iowa.  i used to dream of living on the west coast, thought i was supposed to live on the east coast, and didn't want to move out of the twin cities.  i still wish i lived there, but hey - iowa is great.  we have all four seasons, we can afford to buy a house, i can do as much music as i want, and we aren't getting crushed by gas prices.  it's nice here, simple, beautiful.  ok iowa, you win.


the saxophone squad

my friend abe is a wiz.  he seems to know so much about so many types of music and, reserving a special spot in my heart, has a penchant for stuff that hugs the edge.  i joined him today for his radio show, streaming on 99.1 kfmg, and we talked shop.  he proposed the topics of "the best saxophonists of today" "or, just your favorites".  i threw together a cdr of my preferred wielders of this weapon.  this is certainly not an exhaustive list of performers, nor the definitive law of the saxophone land.  these guys fit my criteria of beautiful tone, interesting ideas, and really good music.

my team captain is:

ornette coleman.  yes, his body of work is fascinating and prolific.  yes, he's often slugging his way through some intonation inconsistencies.  but YES, the voice he has developed on the alto saxophone is unparalleled.  he speaks to me, wrenches my heart, fills me with promise.  i chose this track from "sound grammar".

my starting five are:

mark turner.  sweet lord this guy sounds good.  he has mastered the art (and it is an art unto itself) of creating a unified (and gorgeous) sound throughout the instrument.  his vertical approach to playing really opens up the playing field.  i chose this track from "in this world".

charles lloyd.  i'm a bit late to the party with mr. lloyd, but better late than never.  i prefer his alto sound over the other woodwinds he picks up.  his sound is sincere to my ears, and the tunes he does melt my heart.  i chose this track from "the water is wide", with the great billy higgins.

chris potter.  what this guy does is unfair.  i swear to you that, every time i have caught him live, i was ready to leave after the first tune.  i was convinced that he had refilled my soul in just one tune.  he is a master technician and seems to execute even the most complicated ideas with ease.  i was sad to learn that he was ditching the alto and zeroing in on the tenor, but have appreciated the concise focus.  i chose this track from "wistful".

tim berne.  he is probably the only person i have heard whose sound is one i try to imitate.  the tunes are wonderful, his entrepeneurship is admirable, and the way he runs various collections of players with his head on a swivel would turn magic johnson green with envy.  i chose this track from "the shell game" with craig taborn and tom rainey.

tony malaby.  he seems to be on every record that interests me.  the dichotomy between his heartbreaking upper register grasps and his swashbuckling outbursts gives me permagrin.  i chose this track from "overseas II" by eivind opsvik.

the first guy off the bench is:

dave binney.  i buy many of his albums, and bought into his thing with "south".  i like his electronics work, his melodic and feverish lines, and always expect him to be taller.  i chose this track from "balance".

the role players include rudresh mahanthappa, hakon kornstad, donny mccaslin, bill mchenry, and steve lehman.  each of these guys brings a unique thing to the table; rudresh's fiery middle eastern work, hakon's intimately looped lines that leave me smitten, donny's unrelenting energy, bill's proud and quirky angles, and steve's intensity that is sure to please his mentor anthony braxton.

i'm not much of a saxophone nerd.  i'm not even sure that i like it all that much, but making this list sure was fun.


living under a rock

living in iowa has its perks.  we are a swing state, so we are inundated with an unfathomable onslaught of political ads from presidential campaigns.  tv programs are bookended with relentless attack ads, mailboxes are stuffed with propaganda, neighborhood yards wage war on one another, and phone calls pepper our caller id boxes.  those aren't the perks.  a cool byproduct from weathering those storms is frequent celebrity appearances in our community.  for example - last night, seth macfarlane (stewie, brian, peter, quagmire) showed up in town and stumped for president obama.  fo free.

i am a proud poppa.  one of the isu jazz combos had a pretty unique experience a few days ago.  they opened for bruce springsteen.  they had 24 hours notice of the event, countless hoops to jump through, and 4000+ people tuned into their every move on the hilton coliseum floor.  they delivered a professional set of music under the cloak of an ever-changing time frame, saw their mugs blown up all over the jumbotron, and sported ear-to-ear grins when the raucous applause after each tune gave them a sniff of rock star status.

the guys retreated to their v.i.p. front row seating, sat through some lukewarm political grandstanding, texted their friends, and patiently awaited the boss.  mr. springsteen, who had made an earlier appearance with president clinton in ohio, would make a quick rally cry in our town before flying out to a show in ottawa that night.  when the weather finally cooperated, the american icon made his way to campustown and began to spread the gospel.  the stadium seating dumped out onto the main floor, and gobs of people rushed the front of the stage to get as close as possible and snap off a few grainy pics of the boss on their smart phones.

i have never been a springsteen fan.  it's not that i don't like his stuff or respect him - i just don't listen to that kind of music very often.  boy did he make a believer out of me that afternoon.  he has such poise, such sincerity in his sound.  i didn't know any of the tunes, but kept close track of the titles that others around me blurted out and sang along with so i could youtube them when i got home.  he played pretty good harmonica, really good guitar, and sang with pitch control and color that knocked my socks off.  i left the rally wondering where in the hell have i been all these years?

i loved the poignant the river from the 1980 album the river

everyone knew thunder road from the 1983 album born to run.

thankfully, this world is full of second chances and multiple opportunities to learn the same lesson.  the older i get, the more i realize what life has to offer.  it's a cruel game, but one i assume we are all playing.  i'm glad i had the chance to hear one of america's treasures.  what else am i missing outside of my teeny tiny bubble?  i'm embarrassed to admit what i don't know, but am continually grateful for people continuing to put their art out there for all to see.


the giddy - vol. 9

matt wilson july hymn - as wave follows wave
matt wilson is a national treasurer.  he is such a generous and playful guy, an imaginative drummer, and i think one of the better bandleaders out there today.  i have seen matt in many many different settings, but man - i wish i had seen this band.  dewey!!!  god he sounds so good and full-bodied.  the great cecil mcbee is exactly what this trio needs.  larry goldings shows up throughout other tunes.  this gorgeous tune appears on matt's first record as a leader.  the melody that matt wrote is so great.  the rhythm figure that doubles up at 1:43 is my favorite part.  my heart reaches out to grasp the remnants of the track as it fades out.

dave douglas on the milky way express - stargazer
being a saxophonist is sometimes a drag.  i know i'm supposed to listen to a bunch of saxophonists, find one whose sound and concept i most want to emulate, then get to work.  true confession: i don't know that i necessarily like saxophone.  i like good music and creative thought before i can discriminate based upon instrumentation or style.  sure, there are a bunch of good saxophonists out there, but one of the first guys i heard and thought alright, NOW we're talking was trumpeter dave douglas.  his playing is so genuine and witty, and he is a bandleader with remarkable rapport amongst his hand-picked ensembles.  the sextet (with chris speed, josh roseman, uri caine, james genus, and joey baron) has done several cool albums, doffing his cap to mary lou williamsbooker little, and wayne shorter.  my favorite cut on the album features this cool line from the clarinet that rises from underneath and overtakes the sound field, first heard at 1:23.  it's almost enough to inspire me to get out my clarinet again.  almost.

james carter la derniere bergere - chasin' the gypsy
i've been slow to embrace james carter's body of work.  i guess i usually think it ends up so self-ingratiating.  now i don't know the man, but the music ends up cresting at some wild zenith that challenges me to trace back its origin from the start of the tune.  it's pretty easy to run into his bountiful discography, and i found this django reinhardt record at cheapo records in the twin cities.  it was released simultaneously with layin' in the cut, whose only saving grace is putting guitarist marc ribot in the starting lineup.  i'm not sure what possessed me to pick up this particular album, but this track was worth the investment.  i love the way that carter, who usually bludgeons the listener with his extended technique prowess, glides through subtones and double tongue ideas when the melody starts at 1:45.

joel frahm & brad mehldau oleo - don't explain
i first knew of joel frahm from his work with the matt wilson quartet (with yosuke inoue on bass and the irrepressible andrew d'angelo on alto saxophone & bass clarinet), and have kept one eye on him ever since.  my friend joop still proudly tells me the story of how frahm, chris potter's old roommate, served joshua redman in a jam session at small's.   frahm is certainly underrated, but cutting records like this with brad mehldau takes him down the right path to notoriety and appreciation.  brad's playing here is phenomenal, per usual, and frahm meets him every step of the way.  i feel silly telling you that my favorite part is the first 4 bars of the chart, especially the change at 0:03.

kurt rosenwinkel fall - reflections
hear ye, hear ye.  kurt rosenwinkel is the real deal holyfield.  he is such a great guitar player, maybe my favorite out there (especially since c.c. deville has become a lexicographer).  i first knew of his playing in human feel with his northwest cronies.  kurt's work with mark turner is some of my favorite, and hearing him kill on rhodes with rebecca martin makes me want to hang it up for good.  this track comes off the standards trio album with fellow iowan joe martin on bass and marcus gilmore behind the drums.  the treatment of this often nebulous tune is smart and feels good. kurt fascinates me with both his single line ideas and how he hears (and provides) soloistic supplementary comping in his own solo. this knack is on display in my favorite part at 1:42 with his countrified comp in the middle of the form . 

it took me awhile to discover sting's music, but there's no turning back now.  he can really write, sing, is a passable bassist, is allegedly way into that tantric business, and has collaborated with everyone from zappa to gil evans to pavarotti.  i like the records he toured with branford marsalis, omar hakim, kenny kirkland, and daryl jones.  there is a super cool documentary of this group taking this music out on the road.  one of the better tunes from his album dream of the blue turtles is the gem children's crusade.  i like its melodic line and harmonic movement.  i used to play this tune a bunch in my undergrad years, and my favorite spot from the studio version shows up at 4:24, when the bassist plays a wonderful fill for two beats.  makes my day.


the metal frisbee, the metal softball

i drove over to my alma mater a couple of weeks back, in search of a ticket to hear our president speak. you know, the one from chicago with big ears and a nice lefty jumper.  i rolled into iowa city at 12:30, eventually located the obama headquarters, and parked like them duke boys in front of a law firm.  the democratic reps were putting away all of their regalia and, when i sheepishly approached them, offered me the final ticket.  i snagged it, walked to eble and bought up a bunch of sheet music, and eventually made my way to the pentacrest.  i successfully passed security and meandered into the cluster of college kids.  the rain was drizzling, so I threw my hood up and listened to the live music.

kevin “b.f.” burt was doing a solo set, playing a bunch of blues stuff.  he has a great voice, gets around on the guitar nicely, and can handle the harmonica that’s strapped to his face.  old al green and bill withers charts stood amongst classic blues tunes, and the soggy crowd ate it up.  He was really putting on a clinic with these tunes.  I am not a blues fan, meaning that I don’t go to blues gigs or buy blues records.  I must admit, “b.f.” was getting it done and I was digging it.  the congregation of curious and zealous hawkeyes were showing him love too.   how can the blues, a equally niched art form, appeal to so many casual listeners while jazz music often turns people away?

my friend james biehn invited me out to a blues jam session several years ago.  not really my hang, but i respect jb and wanted to go hear him in his environment.  woah - that guy killed it, marking the first time i had ever heard someone play the blues and had it really connect with me.  i sat in with he & his friends later that night, and proceeded to take a big deuce on a blues jam.  i couldn't stop playing bebop lines and free jazz angles, even though i was floundering mightily while attempting to get inside of the simple groove the band was putting down.  the blues - it sounds so easy, but is so hard for me to play.

the trick, i have since decided, is to water it all down and deal with the necessary components of good music.  generate ideas that you can repeat, ideas that you can sing, develop those ideas, ride the dynamics of the solo like a surfer, and occasionally rip off a handful of fiery licks that augment what you're doing.  the difference between jazz blues and blues blues, in my opinion, is the intent.  blues guys are holding their heart out in front of you and wringing it for all it's worth.  jazz guys stick their axe out in front of you and try to jam all sorts of wild shit into a simple form with hopes that it all looks good on paper.  

i attended a performance masterclass thingy at the university of northern iowa a few years back.  the guests were the dave binney quartet; craig taborn, thomas morgan, dan weiss, and binney himself.  they are incredible musicians and have been a part of many many wonderful recordings.  during the q&a, one of the students asked the players to do a blues.  the idea would be to provide a universal song form that everyone could follow (instead of their intricate originals) and gain a deeper appreciation for their collective artistry.  they refused.  seriously.  were they backing away from that challenge or just so stubbornly driven by their own pursuits? however they sliced it, it sure was a buzzkill.

i totally get it, both sides now.  i feel like i'm kicking a bad habit.  sticking to my guns and following my newfound criteria keeps my ideas more genuine and accountable, and certainly at the risk of sounding like i can't get around the horn.  i often think of that scene in "the jerk" when steve martin is leaving the house and says all he needs is that lamp.  playing blues, for me, needs to be about resistance and efficiency.  i mean, really - do i need the paddle game too?

fighting the urge to dump the contents from my limited bag of tricks all over the stage floor will certainly require more artistic maturity out of me.  i am constantly reminded of joke/story about the young bull, the old bull, and the pasture of cows.  that's sort of a crass synopsis of being thoughtful and patient.  daniel tosh's summarization of the summer olympics gets my point across, and is definitely funnier.


i still have a crush on paula abdul

people will occasionally ask me how old i am or, in an effort to be mathematically sleuthy, in which year i was born.  i try to hide my age from all inquiring minds, but i fear that my salt & pepper beard and receding hairline (both qualities that my wife, who rarely reads this, just loves) are giving me away.  and my pop culture references that get blank responses from my students.  and probably a bit of my fashion sense, but at least folks are nice enough to let that slide.

i am a product of the 80s.  i grew up on long distance dedications, super fudge, the millennium falcon, tab, moonlighting, donruss, charles in charge, and the lost art of the mixtape.  in an effort to resist the local country radio station, i pledged my allegiance to Q102.5.  they played "all of today's best music".  without knowing any better, i cut my teeth on steve winwood, simply red, duran duran, etc. my first real solo (you know, out in public) was the opening six bars of "greatest american hero" in some lukewarm medley of pop tunes for middle school band.  i followed up my debut with a solo version of the willie nelson/julio iglesias sensation "to all the girls i've loved before" that following summer at the union county fair, backed by a choir of bleating sheep.

i would never practice out of my lesson book.  i would try to just sightread the songs in my weekly band lesson, mistakenly thinking i had mr. rissler fooled.  instead, i would spend many saturday afternoons playing along with the radio (in some pretty lousy keys) while my mom was perched behind her sewing machine, one eye on the seam and the other on the clock.  the jams on the fm dial often had nice saxophone solos tucked into them.  even some tv shows featured the king of instruments.

i'll confess that i have a penchant for and respect the pop saxophone guys.  i dig lenny pickett's snl stratospheric lines, gerald albright's cutting tone, kirk whalum's robust sound, branford's work with sting, and brecker's laundry list of pop appearances.  participation ribbons go out to marc russo, clarence clemons, ernie watts, and charlie dechant.

my guy for the longest time was eric leeds.  he played with prince on a bunch of my favorite albums, including "parade" and "sign o' the times".  what a great gig!!!  he played so great in a supportive capacity, never calling for the ball but was always in the right place at the right time.

a couple weeks back, the wife and i had a quick dinner at chili's after getting t.j. maxxed out.  i made a pit stop at the bathroom before we hit the road.  as i cozied up to the urinal, i heard a great '80s song through the speakers.  i was all alone, so the lip syncing ensued.  i finished my business, zipped up, and stood still in front of the urinal with the motion sensor.  i didn't want it to flush during the saxophone solo, which i was fingering on my hips.  an old farmer guy, who had obviously just come back from the fair, walked in and gave me the weirdest look.  i waited until the solo was over, then stepped away and let modern technology to do its thing.

that got me thinking ... why has the saxophone fallen out of popularity?  katy perry, lady gaga, and ke$ha have managed to implement saxophone solos into their repertoire.  bon iver and laurie anderson both use bass saxophonist colin stetson, and jeff coffin picked up the sax chair with dave matthews.  jimmy kimmel's bandleader is a tenor player, and jimmy fallon has the occasional saxophonist sitting in with the roots.  but is that it?  tell me we aren't diminished to a caricature of ourselves, with big thanks going to sergio.

some of the best saxophone solos i know appear in pop tunes. below is a snapshot of my favorites, not to be confused with a comprehensive list.  want one?  follow this link to a guy who gives out grades.  and now, in no particular order...

* hands to heaven - breathe
* careless whisper - wham
* you belong to the city - glenn frey
* take me home tonight - eddie money
* maneater - hall & oates
* caribbean queen - billy ocean
* sade - smooth operator
* mediate - inxs
* heart of rock & roll - huey lewis and the news

and this one...


cuddling up with the real book

composer libby larsen did a residency at our school about eight years ago.  she workshopped pieces for various ensemble types, discussed her approach to composing, and pressed the flesh with aspiring musicians and casual community snoops alike.  i got two good things out of her visit:  #1 she told me that she stuffs her pockets with mini candy bars and pops one in her mouth about five minutes before she goes and speaks/teaches/appears in front of people.  many of my students' lives have been saved because of this little trick.

#2 is a lecture masterclass she gave about being a composer in the world.  she referenced a series of lps that accompanied turntables on the retail market in the 1930s.  people that bought record players were immediately exposed to a select collection of classical music.  i remember that when i bought my blu-ray player from best buy, it came with a couple free blu-ray discs.  i never would have seen invincible otherwise. she talked about the struggle that she, and others who champion new music, face in society's climate of artistic expectations.  i'm proud of my latest tune mr. falcon, but i bet most folks at the club would rather hear stella.

i think the gist of what libby preached was that folks may in fact be predisposed to like certain types of music within a genre.  my parents probably figure hearing mozart and beethoven on a classical set is a full meal, and my neighbors will likely go home happy if they hear some louis armstrong and duke ellington at a jazz gig.  ticket sales at major venues definitely support this idea of older means better (i'm looking at you, blue note records).  original tunes or crafty arrangements are nice and all, but the pedestrian listener isn't sure what to make of all the intricacies in your artwork.  i ate a bunch of fancy food on an alaskan cruise this summer and, yeah - it looked pretty cool, but i enjoyed it more if it tasted good.  and it did.  i've got the extra pudge to prove it.  nobody tell tony horton.

i played a jazz casual (do they still call it that) (did they ever call it that) this past saturday with some good friends. the gig boasted fine players and cool guys, but not an ensemble that has rehearsed or put together tunes.  we were assembling set lists for the evening in an attempt to be organized and, i must admit, i kinda got my butt handed to me with the song selection.  boy was i glad that i brought my real book along.  i either am out of touch with what the assumed jazz standards are or need to start learning a bunch of tunes.  a bit of both, i imagine.

among the thorns were invitation - which i really only know from the weird organ aebersold accompaniment that never endeared itself to me, nica's dream - a horace silver tune that i rarely check out, along came betty - a benny golson chart that i last played 10+ years ago with my friend tom sandahl, a tune with cool changes and a forgettable melody, and caravan - an old ellington thing that a bunch of folks like doing, yet i last looked at michael abene's arrangement of it for the jazz corridor project a while ago.

how many jazz standards should i keep in rotation?  i know a bass player who alleges to know over 300 tunes and another saxophonist who says he can keep up to 25 tunes in his head.  i suppose the next question is defining my definition of "knowing" a tune.  with my experiences as a horn player & rhythm section guy, my criteria has changed with time.  know the melody, know the changes, know how to voice the chords, know the lyric, know at least one great recording of this tune, know it in more than just the book key, and know it well enough that i can singlehandedly save the tune from itself.

with that said, i know i am nowhere close to 300 and doubt if i am in 25's ballpark.  geesh - it's kinda embarrassing.  have i spent too much time teaching other tunes in a short time frame and writing/arranging songs that i like (and aren't necessarily from the vaults of jazz hits)?  who decides which tunes are the ones i should be memorizing?  should i quit doing my thing and instead start relearning a bunch of tunes, get my swcc vocal jazz days up and running again?  i don't really want to shed the personal identity i've struggled to discover, but i also should save some face and not need to read angel eyes.  is it time for me to put down the flag of my musical crusade and get back in the shed?

as a side man, which was the case this past weekend, i need to have a handle on a bunch of these tunes. as a leader, the burden and luxury of programming the evening's tunes falls upon my shoulders.  herbie came out with a record many years back called the new standard, and it basically helped remind us that the jams from gershwin, duke, hoagy, and cole porter aren't necessarily a representation of today's music.

i don't plan to stop writing my own tunes and coming up with creative twists to old standards, but i certainly need to get my butt in gear and learn some more tunes.  with my wife's recent n.d.e. and my sister weathering the firestorm that threatened to take her home, i've realized that this life is a short one.  and with that, i think i'll split the difference.