take the plunge

happy quadrennial bonus day.  we usually celebrate daylight savings time when we fall back, grimace when we spring ahead. but here's your chance - what to do with an extra day?

me personally?  thanks for asking.  watch the morning news, chug some coffee, study spelling in the car before dropping the kids off at school, eat some cereal, hoof it to school, coach aeolian song, lead two combo rehearsals, teach woodwind methods, respond to a bajillion emails, run a jazz band rehearsal, eat indian food, change into my dress clothes, repark my car, put on a jazz combo concert, thank everyone for coming, put away the gear, go home, change into my sweatpants, do a load of laundry, start reading hunger games.

i am a big fan trying new things.  i am fascinated with how the mind works and am always down for a personal adventure. people say you should break up your routine to keep your thoughts fresh.  i really do try brushing my teeth with the other hand, slipping my jeans on starting with the right leg, threading my belt the other way, eating my captain crunch with a fork, and even driving without texting.

a gift from Alexa.  i keep candy in it so i can function.
i like to challenge myself with new ideas, new ways of thinking.  start writing a tune with the bass line first. solo with just my left hand.  play every third bar, whether i want to or not.  no roots.  practicing arbitrary concepts puts your head in a different space that you might not have been privy to before.  i have discovered that trying new things regularly helps me further confirm my musical concepts.  beware of erring to the extreme; never committing to a path and, subsequently, never learning its nooks & crannies.

calculated risks are worth taking, be it jimmy snuka going superfly or the triple lindy to win the championship.  i encourage my students to follow my lead on this stuff, reminding them that when they try something new and it fails -nobody comes up from the audience and socks you in the face for taking a chance in your solo.  not yet anyway.

i listened to this album today.  wonderful interplay and clever writing from one of the most forward thinking musicians of today.  thanks dave - i see your bet and i'll raise you.


put your hands together for LENT!!!

i always bust up when i hear people discuss how they plan to stop eating fast food, cursing, giving wedgies to their co-workers, etc, proclaiming that they will be "giving it up for lent."  i immediately imagine arsenio hall and his oversized index finger firing up the dog pound for his next guest, forty days of repentance.  michael cain, take me home!!!

we went through the whole lent thing this morning in the car ride to school.  i explained to my boys, who were bubbling with enthusiasm over yet another important talk with dad, that jesus of nazareth (long time listener, first time caller) made the ultimate sacrifice so we could all be eligible for forgiveness.  after rattling off my cliff notes version of the cornerstone of christianity, i asked the obligatory question of them:  what do you want to give up for lent?

this has received lukewarm results in the past.  kale once decided he would give up flipping out over the smallest inconvenience, and has managed to keep up with this personal crusade.  simon quipped that, for lent, he had decided to give up giving up stuff.  should i be proud or chagrined?

i know all too well that breaking a bad habit is one of the most difficult things out there, right behind being a cubs fan.  in my teaching, i encourage students to establish a new habit instead of breaking the old one.  creating a new way of doing something can put the rear naked choke on that vicious cycle of stagnancy.  b.j. penn would approve.

i can't stand an improvised phrase that ends on the root, but i couldn't quit doing it.  i began practicing ending every line on the 3rd, the 5th, (etc), and then began alternating between various scale degrees. i smothered my old way of finishing by working on a new plan.  tony horton's muscle confusion is largely built upon that concept.  growth happens when a) bad habits are eliminated, b) good habits are introduced, and c) the mind & body are constantly challenged.

what am i forfeiting for lent?  i am giving up complaining about everything.  i'm sure this will be my vietnam, but i'm up for the challenge.  not to worry - i'll still be clutching sarcasm like it is manna from heaven.



what a great story in the world of sports.  jeremy lin is on fire for the new york knicks.  insert clever use of his surname with a punny adjective.  letterman put it best.

the gist of it is - he blew up in high school, was barely recruited, had dyn-o-mite grades, got into harvard and played well for their squad, received praise from media pundits, wasn't drafted, signed a free agent deal with the warriors, hardly played, got cut, was picked up by the rockets, played even less with them, released, picked up by the knicks, parked at the end of the bench, slept on his brother's couch, and waited for his opportunity.

when he finally got some court time, lin went bananas.  mid-range jumpers, crossover dribbles, bounce passes, driving layups with contact, and a stone cold three in the face of the toronto raptors.  spike lee is pumped, floyd mayweather is pissed, and phil collins is warming up in the distance.

my boss tells me that we prepare for opportunity.  all of our practice and time devoted to our art is simply in preparation for the chance to shine when it counts.  these moments are few and far between, and we rarely see them coming.

i needed somebody to be patient with me.  i didn't take private lessons until college, and didn't really get serious about it until graduate school.  i started out in vocal jazz groups, unwilling to make the commitment to my horn but certain that i couldn't see myself with a mic in my face for eternity.  i moved, tried school, dropped out, moved, tried school again, moved again, moved again and knocked out my undergrad.  i made the jazz band, made the top concert band, was cut from jazz band, got stuck in the bottom concert band, and finally made both in my last year.  i was losing patience but not sight of the bigger prizes that loomed on the horizon.

i don't have a decorated pedigree either.  my graduating class was a whopping 107 kids.  i have two-year degrees from a community college and a vocational school.  i got both my undergrad and grad degrees from the same school.  i took out student loans.  i threw away scholarship money.  i have my two favorite albums framed and hanging in my office instead of the gratuitous wall of diplomas.

but you know what?  i bust my ass for my students.  i work tirelessly to develop my own personal sound.  i listen to current music and stuff from the past.  i go to shows.  i try not to size myself up against others.  i tightened up my piano chops.  i write.  i make records.  i found an ideology that i'm down with, and will live-and-die by that sword.  my teacher believed in me.  my folks believe in me.  so does the wife.  my kids think i'm embarrassing.

my first boss took a chance on me.  she told me "hey - somebody's gonna have to give you an opportunity.  i want to be that person."  how amazing is that!?!?  i'm forever indebted to dr. combs, toughed out a year in wyoming, and thankfully never had to wear this costume...

big ups to jeremy lin.  here's to persistence and preparation. too bad you don't play for my timberwolves.


somebody get the lights

hello young lovers.  looking for a soundtrack to get the mood right?  this might be a stretch for the conservative love machines, but dig what's bumping on valentine's day.

* let's fall in love - diana krall.  i learned this tune when i first moved to wyoming.  she can play, sing, and certainly looks the part.
* i've got a crush on you - steve tyrell.  my boss hipped me to this guy.  he was right - i swear i hear this fella when the credits roll at the end of every romantic comedy.
* if i was your girlfriend - prince.  i went through two cassette recordings of "sign o' the times", and count prince as my number one early influence.

* our love is here to stay - ella fitzgerald & louis armstrong.  the quintessential jazz duo.  her innocence and his grit, perfect foils to each other.
* ascension (don't ever wonder) - maxwell.  falsetto, an afro, and a nice slow jam vibe.
* my funny valentine - miles davis quintet.  you had me at red garland's intro.  the harmon is a nice touch too.

* happy valentine's day - andre 3000.  anything that he touches gets drenched in his swagger.  cool groove, songwriting that might miss the mark but still punches, and peculiar enough to stay catchy.
* embraceable you - hakon kornstad & havard wiik.  this guys sounds awesome.  i found him while following the branches out of bassist eivind opsvik.  hakon does an incredible looping bass saxophone & tenor lines tune oslo.  
* moody's mood for love - brian mcknight & take 6.  fun eddie jefferson take with peerless vocal backs from the top shelf.

* blue valentines - tom waits.  what a wonderful artist!  he has so much character in everything that he does.  johnathan crawford turned me on to this iconoclast.  i am reading his collection of essays, profiles, and interviews.  super cool guy.  an acquired taste.
ladies love chest rockwell - lovage.  actually, you could pick anything off this record.  mike patton, dan the automator (from handsome boy modeling school), kid koala on the wheels of steel.  quirky and raunchy.
* just kiss me - harry connick jr.  smoking final track off the album "blue light red light".  my friends were into this record back in my vocal jazz days.  my dear friend erin and i used to do he is they are.  "aw, say it man!"

your love is my drug - ke$ha.  you caught me.  she is my guilty pleasure these days.  wonderful tunes, weird album covers, and clever use of the shift key.
like someone in love - django bates.  from the incredible album "quiet nights" on screwgun.  a super original take on a standard gem, and a vocalist to die for.
* i love every little thing about you - stevie wonder.  wait for it... big ole' piece of cake.

doubting the success rate of this playlist?  just remember - the man who delivered me when i was born is named dr. cool (spelled differently, but that would kill the message here).


cut to the chase

last night i baked some cookies, made a yummy dinner for two, rubbed icy hot on my back, turned over some laundry, and kept an eye on the super bowl.  the wife joined me for the sporting spectacle, occasionally looking up from her book to tell me that the blue team has some guys who are pretty out of shape and that she can't believe tony dungy is african-american.

neither of us were particularly interested in the game.  my vikings have been out of the hunt since mid-october and sonja would rather watch paint dry, but time stood still in our home when there was a stop in the action.  the commercials dominant most of society's highlight reel for the big game. i wrote a blog about last year's onslaught of clever advertising campaigns, and was underwhelmed by this year's batch.  can't they all be as clever as this bud light spot?

the old recording studio addage "time is money" directly applies.  the 30-second ads were going for $3.5 million each, leaving no time to slowly unfold your product detail.  catch phrases, like good melodies, need to be clearly presented in a memorable and concise fashion.  the goal is to get people humming your hook, posting youtube clips of your tv ad, rewinding the dvr to watch it again.  i watched the entire game and can't remember any of the commercials.

saxophonist branford marsalis toured with sting back in 1985, promoting the album dream of the blue turtles.  mr. sting (per his stolen moments with frank zappa) rounded out his band with drummer omar hakim, bassist daryl jones, and the late kenny kirkland on keyboards. they made bring on the night, a great documentary chock full of the behind-the-scenes rehearsal stuff, interviews, and live footage.  somewhere in the middle of the flick, branford talks about the trick to soloing on sting's tunes.  he mentioned that, when blowing on pop songs, you need to hit the ground running.

jazz solos are notorious for starting simple, slow burning to a climax that trudie could appreciate .  a bass player back in undergrad told me that i needed to quit rolling the energy back to square one every time i took a solo on a tune.  i thought he was a jerk, but now i know he was right.  i think about branford's commentary often, and am always on the lookout for an opportunity to come out swinging (like sugar ray leonard, not like jimmie lunceford).  i want to be aware of what the situation calls for and then contribute appropriately, even if it isn't always in my wheelhouse.

sure was a weird scene at the end of the super bowl when raymond berry, who played a great football game about 50+ years ago, walked the lombardi trophy through a makeshift aisle flanked with members of the new york giants family. players were touching it, random people wearing giants gear were grabbing at it, more players were kissing it, and miscellaneous people with no home training were clutching the trophy and taking pictures of themselves with their phone.  is this where technology has taken us?  i think i'll pull this stunt at my next show.  after the gig, i'll push the barstools aside and get the lubed up listeners to allow me to waltz between them with my horn.  touch it all you want, but don't you dare put your lips on it.  god knows where they have been.


miracle ear

today is my dad's birthday.  i would post it on his facebook page, but a) he doesn't have one, and b) probably wouldn't be checking it daily like the rest of us do, although c) it sure does warm the heart to see that a gazillion of your friends (in a variety of circles) all jump on and send their best wishes in your direction.  i certainly appreciated it this summer when i spent my birthday checking out of a scuzzy hotel, driving a u-haul across wyoming for six hours, starting up a vocal jazz ensemble, and then finding out later that my grandma died.  day one of my new year sucked.

people often ask me where i got my musical talent.  i have no idea.  my dad is definitely not a music guy.  he is a retired feeder driver for ups, ruling the roads in his brown uniform for 36 years.  that's a long time to do anything.  so far, all i've done for 36 years is breathe.  dad played the tuba back in high school, but he tells me it's because he was the only kid in his class strong enough to carry it around.

this jimmie giles is not my dad. 
my dad is tone deaf.  he arbitrarily moves his voice up and down when singing a church hymn.  i stand next to him and try to match up with his crooning.  we bust up laughing every time, but tone it down when my mom shoots the daggers at us. he doesn't really listen to music either.  on summer vacations, the soundtrack to our road trips was a mix of bill cosby comedy albums and bruce williams financial advice talk shows that my dad taped from the radio.  my sister and i sat in the back seat, our eyes glazed over, our brains chewing on a mixture of interest rates and chocolate cake.

my dad came to as many of my activities as he could.  he worked nights, so he would need to leave in the bottom of the 5th, between the 3rd & 4th tunes, before act III.  he is not artistically inclined, but is definitely a dedicated supporter of me and the rest of our family.  he came to a jazz band concert in the summer of 2000, and we (along with my girlfriend sonja) later went out for dinner at the ground round.  i asked him if he liked the show, and he told me "no" without hesitation. eek.  i asked him why, and he told me that he didn't enjoy it because it looked like i wasn't enjoying it.  what a great lesson for me to learn - know your audience. folks who come to shows listen with both their ears and eyes. i preach this to my students, and cite that experience with my father. don't be phony about your actions, but expect that those in attendance are watching your every move.

simon, dad, and me - after we chopped down a tree with an axe
i've got pretty decent ears and an active imagination, neither of which i can credit directly to my pops (ok nature vs. nurture argument.  ready, set, go!!!)  however, my dad passed along these life lessons; love your family, figure out that the amount of work you put into something is what you can expect to get in return, pinch pennies, hold the door, take pride in what you have, and care about other people.

keep singing these virtues to me, dad.  they might be a bit out-of-tune, but i promise i hear every word.