cooling out vol. 3

the third installment of keeping calm is a scattershot snap of what ripples through my mind, in addition to trying to remember which kid i'm taking where while batting away the collection agencies until the next paycheck.

when i first started my gig at isu, i wanted to connect with the students.  i found myself in a tricky spot - the guy who used to teach saxophone was really popular, lead the top sit-down band, and had actually just become department chair. (as it turns out, he still is our chair and is one of the best people i know.)  a lot of the kids loved him, and would rather have him for their applied teacher instead of the newbie.  i began taping a new vignette about chuck norris folklore to my front door every day.  "chuck norris doesn't call the wrong number - you answer the wrong phone", "chuck norris can run you over with a parked car", "chuck norris doesn't wear a watch - HE decides what time it is".  it was an odd way to make a first impression, but it helped break the ice.

i remember playing in a masterclass for evan ziporyn, clarinet powerhouse and co-founder of bang on a can.  he genuinely suggested that each of us consider getting into a yoga routine.  learning to hold balance postures would heighten our body awareness, and the breathing regimen that becomes the focal point in yoga would facilitate our growth as wind players.  i thought he was off his rocker.  i'm not gonna hold chataranga while i clear my mind.  i'd rather swim through the testosterone and put up stacks at the gym. boy was i wrong. yoga is often the only thing that gets me through the day. whether i'm doing basic sun salutations in my office or an extended routine in my home gym, yoga helps me keep calm.

i really dig the p90x dvd workout series.  the good news - i have completed three rounds.  the bad news - that was 18 months ago.  i always knew i could get better at scales, finish writing an arrangement, book and play gigs, but never thought i could get into a high level of fitness.  i'm not really the jock type, but do have some natural athletic inclinations, which i was more than happy to ride into the ground.  tackling and completing and seeing results in the p90x program helped my confidence, which i carried over into my art.  i really can do whatever i set my mind to.  if you haven't already, i would recommend the p90x series to anyone looking to resuscitate their physical well being.  but beware the pithy jokes and one-liners get old after a while...

it's true.  i have three cats.  what were we thinking?  they are actually the best thing to happen to our family.  sure, they poop all the time and jump on your chest when they want you to wake up.  but these guys are always so comforting when i come home from a long day, or humbling when i come home with a big ego.  their demeanor quickly evens out the wife and i, and our kids are lovey dovey pet junkies.  our three cats are brothers.  we named them kareem, abdul, and jabbar.

early snoop dogg tracks are off the chain.  late cameos sound like nonsense.  i think he ran out of motivation and began playing down to his collaborators.  the tracks with dre and from his debut album stand as some of his best work, but you can keep all of the snoop lion garbage.  this cut from 2009 pairs him up with hip hop genius pharrell williams, who broke snoop into his universe with the neptunes album from a decade ago.  the snap crackle pop beatbox, smoke sounds, and timely synth voicings helped put snoop back at the top of the heap.  

it took me a long time to get into tom waits.  i made the grave error of judging a book by its cover.  this guy looked weird, sounded bizarre, and was a cult favorite of many interesting college people.  i slowly dipped my toe into the waters of rain dogs, and was stunned by its strength and beauty.  he reminds me of jazz guitarist pat metheny.  they are both leaders in their respective domains, record a bunch of albums, and cover the gamut (meaning, you won't like everything).  one thing is for sure - you can't question his passion.  he is the definition of iconoclast.  some of my favorite albums are bone machine, blue valentines, mule variations, and dig his spot on helium by the tin hat trio.


cooling out vol. 2

i guess this post could be subtitled "the big peach", referencing the des moines register sunday sports section that only folks alive in the '80s would get.  many mild spats with my dad arose over who gets to read it first, and  me & my friends survived countless sunday school classes by swapping this rag amongst ourselves.  long live the newspaper.

my brother-in-law was a compliance guy for the university of alabama sports program.  we visited his digs over christmas break.  i swear that their facilities were a direct rip from the jetsons.  daniel needed a thumbprint identification (complete the "swoop" sound) in order to allow us access to their swanky recruiting area, national championship trophy displays, and the largest weight room i have ever seen. sports vs. the arts is a long-standing feud, in terms of financial backing.  the exchange of philosophical ideals stops abruptly when you start talking about the generating of revenue. people will often pay whatever so they can attend the big rivalry sporting event, yet will double check the tv guide and the local weather before committing to attending a concert.  the arts need a rabid fan base, with co-eds painting their torsos with letters that spell "fortissimo" who then go on to found fortune 500 companies. now - in the meantime - let's go put a hurting on that johnny football kid.

people say that jazz is dying.  people also say that all star wrestling is fake.  what!?!?!?  it is one of my guilty pleasures.  i'm not necessarily nuts about huge dudes rubbed down in glistening baby oil, but the macho soap opera is intoxicating.  there is a real focus on storyline that is woven into the underrated athleticism of these wrestlers. don't believe me?  read this candid interview with the game on grantland.  triple h (and the rest of the crew) steer their entertainment juggernaut towards drama and creativity, attempting to keep their audience's collective eye on their prize.  jazz music could take a cue from wwe.  stay relevant, pay attention to what your fans want, lead them to what you want for them, and look good all the while.

i attended college at the university of iowa and currently work for iowa state university.  people ask me who i cheer for, and i remind them that i pay my mortgage out of my isu paycheck.  when i was in college, our jazz band would play a split concert with the top ensemble from neighboring jazz powerhouse uni.  we would alternate venues, host each other, and feed off of the split show concept.  our band was much different than theirs, in terms of players and repertoire.  it was great.  i learned a lot from watching their stuff, and dug getting our act together for the annual show.  one year, we fortuitously advertised the concert as a big band collision. our director, full of liquid courage, backed his car into the front end of their school van at the end of the gig.  

money, it's gotta be the shoes.  no mars, it's a desire to stay relevant by perching yourself in the heart of the action. not only did mike get it DONE in the nba, he also managed to parlay his talents and charisma into an unstoppable marketing allegiance with nike and gatorade.  mike just turned fifty, and is still at the top of the heap in terms of notoriety and cash money.  i like it when musicians perform, write, give guest lectures, produce other people's stuff, and collaborate. staying active in a variety of fronts provides obvious sustainability while improving viability amongst multiple generations. how many kids out there have ever seen mj play? how many kids out there have actually heard duke play? manifesting what you do onto many platforms could be a hidden path to deleon's fountain, or at least a couple more gigs.

sometimes i forget that there are other things going on in the world, and not everything is generated from within driving distance.  as much as we hear about rg3, lebron, & a-rod, they pale in world-wide popularity to cristiano ronaldo.  the gist of it is that folks are getting it done beyond this particular continent.  it's often argued that the audiences in europe are better educated in our art form and, therefor, enthusiastically appreciative and willing to financially back live improvised music.  you know - they actually turn out for the live shows.  some of my favorite european jazz acts include enrico rava, paolo fresu, han bennink, and hakon kornstad - but none of them can freestyle like CR7.

my cardinals are in a tight playoff race, and it has the makings of being too close for comfort all the way to the end. when i first started teaching at isu, i found out that one of my colleagues hails from east st. louis and is also a big redbirds fan.  another fella up north, an outstanding pianist and composer, follows the cardinals.  they both chuckled upon learning that my mother named me after her favorite baseball player.  when i became immersed in pursuing a career in the arts, i myopically assumed that everyone in that field only cared about one thing - art.  what a refreshing epiphany for me to know that people are people, complete with hobbies and secrets and childhood allegiances. some are chicago cub fans. may god have mercy on their souls.


cooling out vol. 1

i don't understand where this rage of "keep calm and carry on" posters originated, but i like the sentiment.  as someone who struggles with high anxiety and panic attacks, keeping calm is easier said than done.  check out the assortment of mock-ups floating around in society, decked out with the identical font and format yet with a different suffix.

when my students roll into the building, they can tell if i'm already at school.  i spark up the smell-good sticks and try to get the ambience right in my office.  some of my colleagues, with a wry smile, ask me how i'm doing today.  one of my colleagues bursted into my office, fearful that the building was on fire.  nope - i'm just getting ready to hear some students painfully reach for those altissimo notes.

i know it's a cardinal sin, especially if i have any hope of eating clean and getting this forty-year-old rig back in fighting shape, but kraft blue box is my comfort food. we always keep some in the pantry, especially for those nights when i come in late from a rehearsal and have forgotten to eat (which actually happens all of the time).  i am a tuna guy, dumping in a whole can of the albacore.  my wife and oldest kid like to add cheese, but my youngest and i would rather eat it with the only soupy milk & powder concoction.  and i cook it in the same pot i used when i was a teenager.  my mom kept it all of these years, and gave it to me several months ago. the water line is scorched into the inside of the pot.

i've learned to unplug in the evenings.  i figured out how to unsubscribe.  i have unfriended people whom i either don't know or just get on my nerves.  using fb to network is fine, but i'm not into reading about everybody's gigs or looking at their meals or hearing about how they hate going to work.  is fb a necessary evil?  i don't know, but it's good for posting blogs and checking in on my kids' social life.

my youngest son is currently ranked 36th in the world on black ops II.  i don't know if i should be proud or pull the remaining hair out of my head.  praise the lord that he has found minecraft.  he plays it all day and builds some pretty cool stuff.  the music is certainly more soothing than the call of duty cacophony.  this young german guy wrote the soundtracks. he calls them ambient electronica.  

'tis the season.  all state music is out, and band directors are already whipping kids into shape so they can bring home the non-existant trophy to the band room.  competitive atmospheres in the performing arts always become a sticky topic.  you should play music so you learn how to express yourself in an abstract way.  you should enter this annual contest against many of your peers and learn these two etudes and all 12 scales with this fixed articulation.  no matter how you slice it, life as an artist is full of failures.  but the beauty we experience along the way keeps our fire lit.

my oldest son is a huge kobe fan, and owns about 22 black mamba nike t-shirts.  it's silly.  i'm ok with kobe bean serving as a role model for my kid (minus the whole colorado incident).  kobe works hard at his craft.  he's in the shed every day, putting up shots and training.  he watches film incessantly, either of his next opponent or himself or old-school ballers.  heck - maybe kobe should be a role model for me?  i want to get in the practice room more, get my face in shape.  i need to listen to more music (as i write this, trio m is working through my speakers) and study myself, my peers, and old-school players.  ok - kobe's my guy.  now if i can just get this reverse double clutch dunk to go...



remember all of the details of the occasion when you heard or saw something for the first time?  i can recall where, what i was doing, and with whom i was doing it when i first heard certain artists.  i was downstairs in our rental on 'old western' (a name that my youngest kept using for our place on the corner of 13th and northwestern) when i heard first heard radiohead, blasting from the upstairs bedroom.  i was sitting on the plastic-wrapped couch at safal's house when i first heard rakim, back in high school.  i was in my parent's garage when the neighborhood troublemaker brought over a cassette tape of purple rain, introducing me to prince.

my three friends/bandmates all lived in the same house in college, a dumpy mustard stucco crib on the corner lot of a couple roads in iowa city.  they called it the yellow ghetto. johnathan (drums) told me about this cd he had just picked up. anton (bass) chimed in on our conversation, telling us he just bought the latest masada album for $21.  i told him that i thought that was a big chunk of change to spend on a cd, but he assured me that, for masada, it was totally worth it.  he put on the music, and the three of us sat and listened to dave douglas, joey baron, greg cohen, and john zorn get down.  zorn was insane.  he has a pyrotechnic language on the saxophone, and i have been smitten ever since.  

zorn is a leader, a composer, an improviser, a saxophonist, a pioneer, a genius (literally), an entrepreneur, and a force of nature.  his body of work is unparalleled, his sound immmediately identifiable, his energy seemingly boundless, his passion tireless, his mystique unfathomable.  listen to him shred with electric masada, bounce with big john patton, combust with painkiller.  watch him incite riots with naked city, call the shots in cobra, beam while chamber groups play his commissioned works.  read about his tributes to ornette & hard bop heroes, his approach in the volumes of arcana, his life's mission in various biographies. go see him in person, like i did when i booked a flight from denver to mpls (and back) friday night -to- sunday morning, just so i could catch masada live in the u.s.  good decision by me.

don't know where to start?  some of my favorites are..  

masada chamber ensemble - bar kokhba
my friend john ritz turned me on to this side, and i stole it from this girl who was moving out of my girlfriend's apartment (sorry about that, mom).  this mid-90s double disc features a large group of improvisers expounding upon contemporary classical compositions.  it's gorgeous.

john zorn & bobby previte - euclid's nightmare
i picked up this record in the used bin at some shop in madison, while i was there visiting my saxophone teacher. this album has 25 clips of duets with zorn and percussionist previte.  talk about textures & timbres!  most tracks are under two minutes, fitting nicely into my attention span.

masada - live in middleheim
i bought this album up at cheapo records in uptown.  the interplay is outstanding, the recording quality superb for a live record, and the introduction of the guys is priceless. this band may hold the most influence on my playing.  

john zorn, ikue morie, mike patton - hemophiliac
the free improvising that takes place on this record, in my opinion, ties that album by evan/paul/barre for the best i've ever.  ikue is ridiculous with her laptop work, zorn peaks with ferocity, and somehow mike patton's vocals fill in the gaps.  the creativity is reckless and absurdly aware.  

take the plunge, folks.  zorn is amazing.  just ask colbert.

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