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.