knife or banana

people often ask me how long i've been playing saxophone. my usual answer, offered up in an effort to dodge the guilt i have about it, is that i should be way better than i actually am.  truth be told - i've been playing since fifth grade. so, that makes it almost thirty years oh my god. the first half was spent trying to not practice at all, attempting to snow the professors with doctored-up time sheets while hiding behind a fear of actually working on something.  the second half has been about trying to find an original sound, my personal voice on the alto.  i have rifled through reeds, ligatures, and mouthpieces in an effort to unlock the path to my holy grail.

but tenor?  i have no clue what i want to do with that. there are lower notes.  the sound booms from a different spot on my body.  my arms hang differently.  i'm not sure i really hear on tenor, and get nauseous at the thought of most tenor players on the scene.  however - i've stumbled on to a chunk of change which, timed with this midlife crisis, means that i'm ready for a new musical mistress. this new set of gams will go well with my life partner (the alto saxophone) and my muse (the fender rhodes).

tenor players i love include ben webster, hank mobley, mark turner, rick margitza, rich perry, tony malaby, charles lloyd, and chris speed.  other guys are good too, of course, but eight is all i can think of at the moment.

i made the trek to waterloo last friday with a brand new credit card and a stomach full of butterflies.  i wasn't sure i actually knew what i wanted to sound like.  i didn't really have a reeds ready because i hadn't played tenor in a while.  i've been playing on a selmer usa, a school horn, and put all of my hope into a refaced link i picked up from doc tenney back in the year 2000. i had heard that the guys over at tenor madness were really gonna work me out on some horns, and boy was that the truth.

randy jones is a wiz, pure and simple.  he and his guys have designed a new line of saxophone that rivals the great Mark VI horns.  he was so patient with me, kicking back on a folding chair with a small glass of either iced tea or scotch, listening to me play a whole bunch of musical nonsense on a variety of horns.  he would ask me what i thought of the neck/body combo i was using, and could somehow decipher my abstract descriptions.  i spent five hours playing soft, loud, palm keys, middle action, bottom end, altissimo, into the room, up against the glass door. randy stuck it out throughout the day, helping me choose my next horn.  definitely must have been scotch.

i finally settled on something beautiful.  for all of you sax nerds out there - i got an unlacquered tm custom with rolled tone holes, high f# key, walnut thumb rest, tino schucht thumb hook, copper 550 neck, and am shoving all of that into an (unfortunately named) hiscox flight case.  

mucho thanks to randy, jim, drew, and the rest of the clan over at the shop for being on top of your game and cutting me a sweet deal.  and double thanks to the wife for not killing me after i come home with a new love interest.


i've got big calves

it seems that all of the cool designer jeans are slim fit, boot cut, skinny, or straight leg.  i can't wear them, and believe me - i've tried.  bigger waist, different brand, different shoes, belt/no belt, stuff in the pockets, nothing in the pockets.  regardless of how badly i want them to fit or how cool i predict i'll feel by rocking them with a t-shirt and this beard, i can't get them wriggled up my legs.  i strike out every time, but that momentary feeling of defeat goes away as i slip back into my nike thermafits and bust out of the dressing room.

i remember attending a kenny werner masterclass, where somebody in the crowd asked him about his influences on the piano.  he mentioned an assortment of guys - bill evans, chick, tatum, monk.  after hearing that answer, the same guy quipped "hey - you didn't say bud powell."  kenny snapped back "you asked me for my influences, and i told you who they were."  nearly everyone was astonished at that exchange, but i was relieved.

my life's path can be carved out however i want!  i can like who i want to like!  i can put it on a chain and wear it around my neck.  i can listen to whomever i wish.  for me, i've got dolly parton > the beatles, mary halvorson > ellington, tribe > bach, bjork > bird, zorn > wynton.

i see, hear, and read about other people doing important things that will garner them academic notoriety or street cred.  facebook is a fertile ground for those seeds of self-doubt.  i often struggle to remember that i am doing good things, and measure my work against my own standards and desires.  i trust that others do the same, and never the two shall meet.  but i'll hand it to you - that grass sure does look a little greener than mine.

early in my time here at isu, i was asked to re-submit my bio.  it was pretty bare bones initially, so this guy asked me to fluff it up a bit.  color in the gaps with names of famous people with whom i've performed.  i didn't want to include that crap, because really - who cares?  he told me about how he once played with rosemary clooney as a last minute sub for the music director.  they pulled off a great gig in front of a packed house, and he always puts that in his bio.  i was happy for him, but began to feel insecure and sheepish about my own history.  i gave my bio the once-over, and handed a new copy into him.  the only adjustment i made was to include a sentence about his experience with ms. clooney.  he left me alone after that.

i talk with my students about being their music guide; riding shotgun with them as they grow personally and artistically, exposing them to new and different ideas while helping them codify their own, encouraging their development and risk-taking, role modeling for them as best i can.  i remind them of the famous quote from oscar wilde "be yourself. everyone else is already taken."

i want to play outside of the changes and stick in some old school ballad froof froof lines.  i don't want to play "i'll remember april" ever again.  i practice improvising with line design and intervalic bounces as my focus, but don't want to shackle myself with patterns and licks (plus, i can never remember them when it's time to blaze).

i taught one of my combos how they could mashup "fly me to the moon" with "come fly with me" and "i believe i can fly", flittering between the different chord changes on cue between solos.  i taught another combo how to do my favorite things with the mccoy intro in 7/4 while sticking this andre 3000 groove beneath it.  i told one of my students to phrase the glazounov concerto with beauty and precision throughout, just like this allen stone tune.  we found check points throughout the solo where we could reference this idea.  i have recently arranged tunes by snarky puppy and adam sandler for my jazz band, and have no interest in doing any of that gordon goodwin schlock.  

do these things make me great?  pathetic?  nope ... they make me ME - the guy who is still playing on the horn he got in high school, is bringing back the diamond stud earring, puts pictures of casey kasem on his jazz combo posters, and sprays down his office with an aveda body mist.  i'm not living for the instant gratification found in immediate acceptance or a pumped up curriculum vitae. i'm simply a soul in this universe, a soul who still has a terrible time finding jeans that fit.