my abbreviated rap career

i have just endured a jekyll & hyde weekend - sitting through teenage boys basketball tournaments during the day, playing fun gigs with workshop at night.  the hoops tourney was out of town, which means we all coop up in a mid-level hotel (waffle maker, smallish hot tub, pretty clean environment), buy overpriced gatorade at the concession stand, and scream at the top of our lungs at middle school boys who are mortified by their folks' enthusiasm. the b-ball games and after parties (if you will) foster camaraderie between the boys while providing a social opportunity for the parents.

one of the dads asked me if i play wedding receptions.  that's an honest question, and worth an honest response.  i told him that us jazz guys don't really like playing those types of gigs because it's always the same batch of tunes for a group of people who are more excited to see you than actually hear you.  however, we sure do like the money.  he was surprised that i was more enthused about the paycheck than the playing. dare i tell him about the free food kicker?

the sad truth is that the original music gigs don't pay a ton and the standards shows help cover your bills.  it makes sense, i suppose.  people are hip to the old chestnuts and want to reminisce over their youth.  i once caught run dmc in concert back in college.  i had no interest in hearing reverend run proselytize with his new material, and i impatiently waited all the way to the curtain call to hear walk this way. other jazz fans have familiarized themselves with the some standard tunes and are ready to compare your navigation through those tunes with the historical benchmark versions they know. the folks with the deep pockets don't know our new stuff, so it's natural that they are less interested, but should money dictate our professional pursuits?

one of the workshop gigs i played was for the des moines metro arts jazz in july series.  nearly every day of the month is booked with some type of jazz entertainment from a surprisingly deep local pool; smooth jazz stuff, classic big band, blues-based groups, talented swinging crooners, danceable latin ensembles, and straight ahead combos.  i'd stop short of saying that it is a flawless system, but am certainly happy that our community is willing to get behind a true american art form instead of giving it empty lip service.

nobody i know gets duped into thinking they'll show up on an episode of cribs ("this is where the magic happens") while writing new material and reinventing song forms.  we have all come to grips with the idea that our reward is $75, a couple of drinks, and a priceless internal satisfaction that is unquenchable.  we keep hammering away at our thing, knowing that the dogmatic obstacles will eventually fall, and we continue posting our newest creations on sound cloud and various social networks, graciously revealing our visions to interested souls with that twinkle in their eye.

i ran into my friend brad rees at the gig friday, a college buddy of mine from way back in the day. he has founded and is now further developing a crafty music program at tiffin university up in ohio, zeroing in on music business and a cross-pollination of current pop material with longstanding jazz tools.  he's fighting the good fight.

money is sticky business and a necessary evil.  this tune pretty much sums it up, and that tattoo is ridiculous. devoting oneself to pursuing new art while consciously marketing it to the general public is the philosophy to which i subscribe.  it's often a long and lonesome road, but one i will tread fearlessly.  by no means do i neglect the music of the past: strayhorn, ives, miles, and debussy for starters.

the piano wizard bill evans once noted that those who look the furthest into the future reach back into the past.  i believe that the space between the two is our creative playground.


everybody loves a parade

looking for some good music to ring through your headphones while watching teenage kids bowl over toddlers for that tootsie roll the county supervisor threw from his car in the fourth of july parade?  well, you're in luck. note that lee greenwood, toby keith, and kid rock are conspicuously absent.

* lincoln portrait - aaron copland.  there are many renditions of this lengthy classic from copland's library.  my more recent infatuation has been with this collaboration between the seattle symphony and james earl jones.

* living in america - james brown.  the hardest working man in show business sets it off in rocky iv.  i love it when apollo creed grooms his head with his boxing glove just before he gets clobbered by that huge russian with the butch haircut.

* skies of america - ornette coleman.  even i will admit that this album as a whole is tough to swallow, but the image of ornette and don cherry sitting indian-stlye on organic rugs in the middle of the london symphony orchestra certainly helps. good call on keeping this track under three minutes.

* liberty city - jaco pastorius.  i love this live version from his birthday concert.  brecker brothers, herbie, othello, etc. "i want to say hello to my mother."

* freedom - dr. john.  i always forget about this guy.  i think i inadvertently categorize him as a novelty act, but am intrigued every time i hear him.  i got this from a hal willner mingus project album.  other players include chuck d, don byron, and henry rollins.

* declare independence - bjork.  is this a shameless attempt at including my dream girl in a post?  guilty as charged, but don't sleep on this cut.  primal meets feedback.

* star spangled banner - bruce hornsby and branford marsalis. i smuggled this tune from someone back in my napster days. the soprano is on point, the piano clear and spacious.  runner-up nods go to marvin gaye and whitney houston.

* american baby - dave matthews band.  it seems like everybody i know had seen dave before he got big, and it took me forever to figure out that the weird asexual dancer person stuck to the back glass of every midsize suv in my college town was in support of the dmb.  beyond the fashionable acceptance of this band on fraternity row, this tune sounds pretty good.

* firework - katy perry.  this is the jam.  yeah, i said it.

* america the beautiful - charlie haden quartet.  some of my personal favorites on today's jazz scene show up here - brad mehldau, brian blade, and the late michael brecker.  sublime.

* born in the u.s.a. - bruce springsteen.  no summer is complete without stuffing a red cap in your back pocket and belting out the chorus with rocks in your throat.  my mom scored cool points by bringing home this album on cassette.

* americans, universal phenomenon - scott johnson.  somehow, somebody super intelligent bought this for the isu music library.  anything on tzadik gets top priority for my ears.

and, the coup de gras...