take it upstairs

over the past couple of years, the wife has been brushing shoulders with some broadway folks.  i think she is quasi-reliving the musical theater dreams of her youth, and we are the beneficiaries.  her flutey talents have enhanced multiple broadway tours that swing through our area, and we have luckily snagged cheap/free tickets to these shows.

sonja, jennifer, the richard and i all attended our first viewing of jersey boys.  sonja knows nicholas, the guy on the far right, from his dick van dyke reincarnation in mary poppins.  they played flute duets everyday during that run in dsm.  the jersey boys show was fun.  i actually knew a bunch of the songs made famous by the four seasons, humming along while chuckling at the gratuitous vivaldi one-liners.

here's the jist of it: one guy is the even-tempered bass man, one guy is the songwriter, one guy (our friend nicholas) is the muscle and hustle, and the gem of the foursome has the dreamy falsetto.  frankie valli swooned all of the girls, despite his height disadvantage.  they all hail from new jersey, minus the hot tub hijinks and spray tans.  they play their own instruments and handsomely lock into fancy moves and tight harmonies.  but the money is in frankie's descant.

i love singing in my head voice. as a kid, it meant i could sing right along with michael jackson and whitney houston (but not quite able to squeeze off those mariah licks).  my saxophone students are often drawn to the same flame, wanting to play in the altissimo.  some times it's necessary, some times it's a parlor trick.  i am slow to guide them through this because a) once they figure it out, it's all that they want to do, and b) the learning curve punishes my ears.

the best top tone saxophonists do it with ease, never hurling themselves at the upper register.  miguel zenon, chris potter, and tim berne simply extend the range of their horns.  dave binney, joe lovano, chris speed and john zorn rub some type of primal grunt/scream on stuff beyond the palm keys.  for me, the champion of altissimo is tenor saxophonist mark turner. his refined sound is hauntingly comfortable and, through the development of his altissimo range, has extended his saxophone vocabulary to further his musical language.  phenomenal stuff.

some artists rarely played up there - desmond, getz, bird. for some reason, it has become unnecessarily vogue these days to flex your upper register.  the old schoolers stuck with their defined limits, finding that freedom within structure.  i say - play high notes because you need to, not to impress somebody.  who cares how to finger a high E above the palm keys anyway?  it sounds rough.  some composers sit down with extended techniques bibles and try to include all sorts of stuff, seemingly in an effort to create a ridiculously challenging piece that is thirstily waiting for it's world premiere.  i get rascher wanting to push the altissimo stuff, but that was 80+ years ago.  move it along, folks.

as far as r&b guys soaring into the stratosphere, some of my favorites include songwriter extraordinaire babyface, shalamar's own howard hewitt, the incomparable prince, the debonaire el debarge, and balladeer al b. sure.  the latter two are both on permanent falsetto, and join forces with tour-de-force james ingram and face-for-radio barry white on the quincy jones classic "secret garden".  sho ya right.


lordy lordy

today marks a landmark checkpoint in my life.  i turned the big 4-0.  when i hit thirty, i stayed up all night with our cat through a thunderstorm, watching the yankees beat the mets (and then the entire replay on espn).  i struggled then with turning over a new decade, but today am a bit more subdued about it all.  the back end of my thirties has revealed a noncooperative metabolism, a thinning scalp, a mind that is tempted to dvr my daily life as it slips through my memory banks, and ear hair that is running buckwild.

musically speaking, i feel a lot better about some things.  i expanded my palette with collaborations, read some thought-provoking bios and methods, and tightened up my teaching approach. i am learning way more about what i don't know but, at the same time, am becoming better equipped with the tools to diagnose and remedy most of those issues.

i can't tell if my musical tastes are changing, but i can definitely sense that i'm way more stubborn to embrace stuff that is new to my ears.  do i have an issue with this old dog learning new tricks?  i guess that, philosophically speaking, i'm always cool with digging into "the latest" stuff.  keeping an ear to the street has always been appealing.  checking out reissues of older recordings, or just plum getting interested in music that is still stewing from 50+ years ago is far less appealing.  i am filled with guilt about this, while trying to understand why i just don't give a rip about it.  

i was at a jazz festival this past season, and two fellow adjudicators where having a lovefest about how great some art blakey record is.  i seriously had zero interest in listening to it in any way whatsoever.  maybe i equate it with being part of my job as a jazz teacher?  maybe i feel pressure to like it and appreciate it?  maybe i'm getting too stodgy in my advancing years?  i tote around old recordings on my iPhone with the intent of blasting them through my headphones, but have never ever been inspired to fire them up.  

on the road trip out to wyoming last sunday, i cranked out all of the halloween alaska albums.  i bumped some sugar hill gang, old kenny wheeler albums, some paolo fresu (who autocorrects to paolo fresh), the new christian scott, and flying lotus.  these are both old & new: wheeler '84, sugar hill '79, paolo '08, lotus '10, christian '12, halloween '05.  

these records are all great, and have meaning for me.  wheeler from real records back in undergrad, sugar hill from a breakdancing lp i bought as a kid, paolo from my friend russ, lotus from my friend bart, christian from his appearance on jimmy fallon, and ha because of king.  i wonder if my head needs to be at a certain spot when i hear music, and if some things from the past have simply missed their chronological window with me.  maybe i'm programed to like sonny rollins back in '99 when i first learned about him, but not now.  i try, man, and sometimes it works.  i appreciate bird now more than ever, but don't find the allure of satchmo and the buddy rich band.  i dig older operas and the bee gees, but still can't get into steely dan or mahavishnu.  

i have a new mantra for the next forty years of my life, one that will help me grow and mature artistically by being aware and staying out of my own way.  bo & luke duke used to tell uncle jesse to "keep your ears open and your eyes peeled". them duke boys were wise beyond their years...