james ingram and that f****ing tornado

i teach kids how to build careers in music.  performance, education, musicology, therapy, and other assorted paths.  the big kicker is that doing music professionally is sometimes (and maybe more frequently than 'sometimes') a drag.  if music is your trade, it is your job.  your livelihood depends upon working professionally towards the thing you love doing, which is the perfect storm if you can balance it all.

i often forget how much i like music.  hearing something can have an incredible effect on my mood.  i'm careful about what i listen to at certain points in the day.  my alarm is variations d'apollon.  i blast don't lose my number when driving home late from a gig.  i usually warm up on the space in a song to think.  sonja's ring tone is this prince jam.

yesterday, i had a hankering for some james ingram.  this guy is the real deal - holy smokes!!!  we were listening to his cd this morning while stumbling in our mid-coffee stupor, singing along with that tune from the movie about fievel the mouse. i love how he tilts the melody at 0:51.  sonja was about to blend her smoothie, but i waved her off long enough for me to hear the guitar solo.  she laughed (sort of) and told me she couldn't believe i actually owned this album.

my hometown got blasted by a big time tornado this weekend. we were all over the national news circuit, begrudgingly garnering our 15 minutes of fame.  miraculously there were no fatalities, but lots of damage was done to the hospital, college, schools, and assorted homes & apartments.  many of the strong-backed and spirited crestonians rallied together to get the town back up on it's feet again.  my mom says that she has never seen so many bobcats in one place, and my dad remarked that every other person was wielding a chainsaw.

what kind of music are these folks listening to?  are they seeking comfort, inspiration, understanding, or just want something to get their mind off of the tragedy?  when they hit the cd deck in their truck as they drive to the next work site, when they push play on their ipod and stick headphones over their ears, when they hum tunes while picking up debris, what are they listening to?  everyone is entitled to their own taste in music, and knowing (and respecting) this blows my mind when i consider what type of music could provide solace or pump up these folks.  charlie parker?  toby keith? rihanna? miranda lambert? linkin park?  that rotation sounds absurd, but it could very well be the soundtrack to my town's recovery (seriously though... nobody's probably listening to bird).

i am a good brute laborer, but am certainly not skilled.  i can't do any low-end plumbing, am a nightmare with electrical stuff, and have no business being around power tools.  i'm not really flush with money but will definitely donate to the red cross.  but what i CAN do is help lift the spirits of the community of my youth with the love of music.  get in where you fit in, right?  james ingram was dead-on with that album title. many of my colleagues have asked about my family's welfare, and several have actually offered their talents to me if i were to perform as part of a fundraising concert somewhere down the line.  sounds like a call-to-arms...


ok, i take that back

here's my big secret.  i hate musicals.  i used to perform in them in a past life, but now - since i've become a snooty improvising musician - can't fathom getting involved with one. sounds ridiculous i know, but until about three weeks ago that's kinda how i felt - before we started rehearsing rent.

i acted in a few roles back in the day.  i've been the store manager guy from little shop of horrors, the dad in the sound of music, the kid waiting on the wellth fargo wagon from the music man, and alfalfa in some christmas pageant deal back in the '80s.  our production of rent is the cornerstone of the isu annual veishea celebration.  my good friend don is running the music & singers.  he asked me back when we were both in europe if i'd be interested in helping out.  i agreed, but really only to help out a friend.  these things are a big time suck and are often way too cheesy for my taste.

this show, dating back to 1994, won a pulitzer prize, a slew of tonys, stayed on broadway for 12+ years, and later became a movie.  who knew?  all i had heard about rent was that it was a pop/rock musical riddled with adult themes, and that my man ed green from law & order was in the original company.

i'm running my midi keystation through mainstage on my macbook pro, and i feel like a boss.  a couple of my students (lee, rachel, and kyle) are playing in the band too, so i figured we would slug our way through the first rehearsal and hope for the best. as it turned out, the band was totally into it.  lee has an electric kit augmenting his acoustic drums, rachel is working out her new 5 string bass, and kyle is playing guitar better than i have ever heard.  a few other folks flushed out the ensemble, and then we started to crank out these tunes. a week later, we had a sit down session with the actors. they sang, we played, the vibe was good, and i was hooked.

brad is directing this production, and it's gonna turn out top notch.  he made an ingenious and non-traditional move:  keep the entire cast on stage throughout the production.  they stay in character the entire time and are all completely invested in the group effort.  brilliant.  the band is on stage too, conveniently located next to the stripper pole, which reminds me of this family guy episode.

the students are fantastic.  the singing, the dancing, the costuming, the acting!!!  colin (that guy on the left), in particular, is proving himself to be headed for greatness.  he plays angel, the drag queen street musician who holds this community of troubled dreamers together.  each performer handles their business with integrity and genuine enthusiasm, raising the bar for each other.  that's a vital attribute that i seek when working alongside fellow artists and musicians, the willingness to go the extra mile every single time.  i want to be a part of more projects like this, especially if they can rehearse way less and pay way more.

you should totally go.  buy your tickets here.  it's a production with which i am proud to be associated.  my wife and kids are going next saturday and i bet they'll love it. here's hoping they catch me with my eyes on the music.


sticking with the slap

i have a terrible habit of not sticking with things.  call it what you will - all i know is that it is very frustrating yet incredible comfortable.  i lose interest pretty quickly in books, movies, sporting events, and certainly video games. anything that requires my focus for a decent length of time is in jeopardy of being axed by my attention span.

this transfers to music listening.  i often know all about the first couple tracks on an album, but don't have the mental stamina to park it in front of my speakers and hear the entire side - albeit 70 minutes of inspirational and quality material.  i don't think that it's a social reflection either. i'm not a big instant satisfaction guy.  i know that the good stuff is worth waiting for.  no fast food, commercials, twitter, quick bursts of life.  i'm cool with being in it for the long haul; buying groceries and cooking my food, engaging in lengthy (and important), conversations, and looking across the forest while dealing with the trees. but regrettably, i struggle to keep my focus in line with these understandings.

the last book i read from cover to cover was where the red fern grows by wilson "lou" rawls.  the last album i listened to from start to finish was overseas II by eivind opsvik.  the last movie i sat through (granted, it was in the theatre) was the iron lady (yay for meryl streep).  and the last tv series that i stuck with was the slap, gloriously aired on directv.

man, it's an intoxicatingly provocative tv program, based on the book (which i of course haven't read) by christos tsiolkas.  set in melbourne, australia, the story centers around a family bbq where a guy slaps an out-of-control kid wielding a cricket bat.  each primary character has an extensive amount of immediate tribulation, and each is more complex than the next. the intertwining relationships are jagged and intricate, culminating in an outrageous (and poignantly disappointing) finale.  is blood thicker than water?  is somebody lying?  how will this all shake out?  is that kid still breastfeeding?  what in the world are they saying with their weird greek/british accent?  i was hooked.

the show is so cool.  each episode zeroes in on one character at a time.  see that smiling guy up there?  that's hector, the primary focus of episode 1.  his wife, an african-american veterinarian, is a cool lady named aisha.  they have a couple of kids together.  his cousin is the guy that blasted that kid in the face.  connie, their babysitter, is sitting next to hector.  they've got a thing going on, hence the grins.  so basically, the episode peels back the layers of hector while the entire cast moves forward with this hand-to-face incident.

shows that i start watching, only to bail out after a bit, all seem to follow the same formula: slowly develop the characters, load up the commercials, eventually feature one or two characters, don't offend anyone with the subject matter, fade into the background.  not this show.  it is littered with intense familial exchanges, alcoholism, roaming eyes, nudity (hooray!!!) and cursing.  how was this ever on abc?

my favorite episode featured manolis, the father of hector. i stayed locked in for 60 minutes, solid.  i had seen his character throughout the other shows, but was ready to learn all about him during his moment in the sun.  fascinating.

i like to write arrangements (or wing them spontaneously) that feature certain players.  i just treated "fall" by wayne shorter so that the only solo belongs to the bassist.  part of the idea is that the audience will follow that low end voice throughout other charts, especially after having it featured earlier in the set.  i also think that we, as musical artists, should consider the length of our performances.  can i keep the listener interested if tunes go longer than 7 minutes? maybe those old record players and their built-in 3:30 time caps had it right, even if by default.  

a sizable component of my compositional output deals with keeping all players engaged.  i want each improviser that i am working with to be invested in the moment.  it's easy for me to forget about the perspective from the other side of the fence.  if i were a listener, would i be into this?  how much is self serving and how much is welcoming to the audience?would i myself stick it out with this music?  i'm playing in a new band (for me) called workshop, and i think we are making a concerted effort to view our sound in a 360°  format. 

so, here's to me cooling my jets, unwinding my head, and sitting back to soak in artistic endeavors in their entirety. time stop being scared of netflix.  time to stop rambling on in my own head while shuffling through my iPod.  and time to start reading books that don't date back to 6th grade.  

phew 2

  • i'm letting my life get too busy, and the stuff that ends up on the chopping block is the same stuff that i really want to rework.  although washing dishes and doing loads of laundry is therapeutic to me (and it is) (weird, i know), that can't be what defines me.  
  • my eating has been pretty solid.  breakfast, bigger lunch, sensible dinner.  i screwed up once by forgetting to eat anything throughout the day and then devouring an entire jack's "the works" pizza at 10:30 p.m.  slept like a baby, but felt like i had gained 20 lbs. overnight.  hopefully i didn't.
  • practicing piano, mainstage midi stuff, some saxophone, but not journaling about much of it.
  • still reluctant to dive face-first into a workout routine. nervous to find out what 90 days off really feels like, scavenging for reasons to not yet commit.
  • i guess i should have seen a dip in my "new me" crusade coming, but i'm gonna fight through it.  


the apq mixtape

i went to a concert last night.  my friends have a chamber group called the ames piano quartet (and no, that's not four pianos.  a logistical nightmare and probably way too many requests for a "heart and soul" orgy.)  the group has been on the scene since 1976, with mahlon and bill as co-founders. george joined in '81, and jonathan signed on in '98. they have played all over the world, recorded a bunch of music, and have managed to nearly exhaust the repertoire in their niche market.  they are widely considered to be the foremost authorities on piano quartet artistry.

george, bill, mahlon, jonathan
these guys are all very interesting chaps; with varied wardrobes, vehicles, hobbies, and musical interests.  they are the best kind of people to know and have been supportive of my pursuits.  i'm the token jazz guy in our faculty and these guys could have easily dismissed me, but instead they treat me with respect and are very collegial.  i've got a bit in common with these guys.  i too like coffee, photography, dirty jokes, and also have a secret crush on astrud gilberto.

crazy.  mahlon & bill are both retiring at the end of this school year.  in this, their final concert, jonathan and george allowed the two fogies (ha!) to pick out the rep for their swan song.  it was pretty interesting.  they came up with a list of all their favorite movements (initially 25+), whittled it down to 9, and packaged them together as two multi-movement works.  the "quartets" used favorite selections from the likes of beethoven, walton, martinu, strauss, brahms, etc.  i was fascinated with this concept while i listened intently.   why did they pick these particular excerpts?  how long have they known these pieces?  do they like playing it personally, think the group plays it best, or have sentimental memories associated with these particular pieces?

that's the charm in it, right?  i will never know the full story, and they might not know it entirely either.  it's probably hard to convey exactly why you want to play something in particular.  on top of that, how heavy is it to pick out your final tunes to play?  the packed house was on emotional overload, full of wonder and joy and gratitude and sorrow and happy-for-you but sucks-for-me and sorry-i'm-being-selfish.

which tunes would i do for my last show?  could i even pick? can i play all night? these guys went for two hours, so i suppose i could pack it in.  some that come to mind: "alone together" with john & karl, because i love how i feel when i hear lee konitz open up on that record with charlie & brad. "mo' better blues" with crawford/nate/anton, because that tune was our anthem and it feels so damn good to play. "body & soul" with phil, because i truly identify with the lyric and phil is a magician.  "harold & the purple crayon" with my 3x5 guys, because i dig the book and the way seth plays and how joel leads the phrasing in the out (plus i love those guys).

i'm so happy for apq.  there was a huge turnout.  people were actually seated on stage, and an overflow room accommodated others who watched the live webcast.  gotta love technology. we gave enthusiastic applause after each movement, standing ovations without hesitation, and about seven curtain calls. they deserved every one of them.  they earned it.

mo better makes it mo better


i figured brief updates about my progress are sufficient for casual readers and enough for those going at it in tandem.


  • after two weeks, i have come to realize that this is not an immediate process.  turning a cruise liner around requires a wider turning axis.  i'm digging into this, but it's gonna take a while.
  • mere journaling is holding my accountable for my every move.  i'm practicing more because a) i want to, b) i sound better when i do, and c) i feel like shit when i log zero minutes.  noting my meals, workouts, and listening adventures follow suit.
  • i'm eating breakfast, which is a rarity.  me and cap'n crunch are becoming fast friends.  i'm waking up my vehicle by stretching and challenging it with cardio.  i've fallen for my iPod all over again, listening to angelica sanchez, aloe blacc, joni mitchell, neon trees, love-cars, john hollenbeck, and recordings i cited for a low brass jazz lecture.
  • really really glad i'm doing this.  it's working!!!