the butcher, the baker

candlestick park, the legendary sports venue of northern california, hosted its final event tonight.  i saw a baseball game there about twenty years ago.  rocking my black cross colour jeans and matching tshirt, i felt like a million bucks but nearly froze to death that evening. barry bonds, pre-roids, went deep and helped the giants beat the expos.  and this reminds me of two stories:

i played in a jazz trio back in college.  saxophone, bass, drums - and i was totally outclassed.  i was definitely the weak link in that group, and that was the first time i experienced becoming motivated by that inferiority. playing with the mustafas marked the first time that i ever really cared about learning tunes, thought much about improvising, and practiced my saxophone to actually get better.  we played standard rep and a few originals.  we were doing a casual somewhere and the bass player called out a blues.  i couldn't remember how the melody went and was starting different tunes.  he kept looking at me, shaking his head, barking out "wrong head, man", and turning around the opening to offer me another crack at it.  i really wanted to punch that guy in the face, but learned two valuable lessons - you owe it to your bandmates to be prepared, and you can't bullshit your friends.

i played in an electro-acoustic quartet while i lived in minneapolis.  about ouch! was a really fun band, doing all original music and plenty of free jazz.  i ran my horn through a bunch of effects alongside a great guitarist, a talented drummer, and a remarkably creative electronics guy.  we played a bunch around the twin cities and cut a record up in ann arbor.  we toured the album a little bit, and played a hit at the candlestick maker in chicago.  we crashed at the drummer's grandma's house, and she hooked us up with cozy crocheted blankets and yummy polish food. only four people came out to our show, but it ended up being one of our best ever.  the final tune was a free thing, and the other three guys were killing it.  man, i wanted to play so badly, but i just couldn't find the right spot to jump in and not screw up what they were doing.  i sat out.

i think about these two moments often.  i have to remind myself to work work work, study study study, prepare prepare prepare, and then make sure that what i'm doing actually serves the music properly.

t-i-o-n shun shunshun shun

i can't be the only person shuffling around the earth's surface who thinks about that schoolhouse rock bit every time i write out a word with that suffix.  i hum it whenever i type or write out that four-letter cocktail. that's either some type of ocd tick or my own personal tradition. this holiday season brings traditional routines to life, often met with wide smiles and warm hearts. prince once sang that there is joy in repetition, although i'm pretty sure he wasn't referring to christmas customs.

some family rituals are etched into my mind from childhood. my mom would teach me & my sister how to make christmas candy, something he has shared with my own children.  we used to go to the 11:00 candlelight christmas eve service, and often help set up the homemade luminaries that lined the sidewalks of our church.  i remember slipping under the covers of my parents' bed on christmas morning, giggling with my younger sister while my dad arranged flood lights and our super8 movie camera.  every year we would alternate who opened the first package, wrapped in a big black garbage bag (which, cleverly, was used to gather up all of the trash before it piled high in the living room). the entire family would walk our dog "popcorn", go have lunch at the farm with my grandparents and extended family, and return home to mess around with our newfound loot.

my mom always played music while we opened presents.  our dilapidated record player would keep spinning two albums in particular:  kenny rogers & dolly parton once upon a christmas and the oak ridge boys christmas (pretty creative title, guys).  these albums became iconic in our family.

i usually do musical things during the holidays.  i have regularly played the ellington/strayhorn nutcracker suite, showed up at the elementary schools and played sing-a-longs for the kiddos while talking about life as a musician, and annually drug my saxophone studio out into the community to play jazzy quartets while wearing santa hats. i used to play piano for my church, including a service where i put all of the christmas hymns in the key of D.  last year i recorded a tune for the isu president's e-card, and last week soloed with a handbell choir for their vespers show.

the wife and i have developed our own family traditions. we pin our family ornaments from the ceiling, pose for makeshift cmas photos, hang lights all over the place, write and edit and laugh at our family cmas letter, put up the nativity, and drive around the town in search of neighborhood light spectacles.  we still wad up the wrapping paper and chuck it at each other, make christmas candy together, start with the stockings and keep the christmas tunes cranked throughout the days on either side of the 25th.  our favorites include james brown funky christmas, johnny barstow a bowtie christmas, and we always kick it off with this tune by mr. sinatra.

playing those old bird licks or treating melodies like miles tips your hat to their legacies.  mixing up the hot fives with kurt rosenwinkel honors both time periods. understanding and acknowledging how the great ones did it is important, but creating your own practices and holding fast to them is truly seeking what the masters sought.


double d

being artistically landlocked in central iowa can be a tough road to travel for the creative few.  not only does the gigging scene continue to shrink, but many musical acts still believe that iowa is simply a state between here and the next hit.  we do have our share of cool annual events, but summer doesn't run year round.  my good friend abe is working hard to singlehandedly change the scene.  he curates his own jazz series, and somehow managed to finagle dave douglas as his big finale for the calendar year.

i have been a fan of dave for about 15 years, ranging back to when i first saw him play with his string band at the sanctuary in iowa city.  i shared the same stage with his quartet, flew 1800+ miles to hear him with masada, and sat front row for back-to-back sets at the walker.  i own a ton of his recordings too.  i dig him as a sideman with steve berseford, fred hersch, & uri caine, and moreso as a leader on stargazer, charms of the night sky, songs for wandering souls, and sanctuary.  he plays the trumpet the way i want to hear it, and makes me believe that chasing the ideas that are dancing inside my head is not only a worthy but realistic pursuit.  his unique approach has had a sizable impact on my own concept of sound and ideas.

dave played from the heart, as always, but turning 50 seems to have made him more outwardly appreciative and self-aware.  he spoke quite a bit, candidly sharing his gratitude for most everything that he is experiencing. writing, good musicians, the opportunity to tour, being able to make music, health.  it felt like a good vibes session, and the music was great.  he had matt mitchell on piano, whom i only know from his duets with ches smith; saxophonist jon irabagon, whom i have heard with mostly other people do the killing; young drummer anwar marshall, whose shenanigans reminded me of that one snl guy; and the gorgeous linda oh on bass, whose recent album is so great.

as expected, they played tunes from the new record.  they snuck in one of linda's tunes, and did a peerless version of "east of the sun, west of the moon", a required request from abe for each band.  lots of groups kinda mail that one in, but dave's quintet launched it to the moon.  they also did a handful of old hymns, and pumped new life into that often stodgy music.  i remember giving wild treatments to "what a friend we have in jesus" in my twin city days, playing with guys who now anchor arp of the covenant, pert near sandstone, sara bareilles, and trampled by turtles.

i rented an isu sled and hauled a handful of my students to the show.  i believe in dave's thing so much, and wanted my kids to know that there are more jazz acts out in our world aside from what they see on campus.  alex bought the last vinyl copy of dave's record, others snapped photos of the group, several talked to the performers afterwards, and all seemed excited to have gotten out of town with a concert road trip.  hearing them talk about the music afterwards was very intriguing, and made me wonder what i actually thought of some stuff back in my early twenties.  did i really get what joe henderson was up to?  could i even appreciate sun ra's arkestra?  what did i miss in joe williams's phrasing?  ah, life's cruel irony...

in a whirlwind week of rubbing shoulders with people who are dealing with divorce, sexual assault, depression, alcoholism, cyber bullying, major vehicle accidents, heart problems, and the loss of a family pet - life has been put in perspective for me.  every moment we are blessed to have is worth cherishing.  i am fortunate to be able to do what i do, and am thankful for it from the souls of my shoes.  i second dave's gracious sentiment, and appreciate him refilling my tank for the next stretch of this road.


too scared to sit down

i never do those surveys on facebook.  i can't tell if they are legit or shiny shells that house some kind of computer virus that blasts crass stuff all over my page.  plus, does anyone really care about how i fit into these social rubrics?  i'll break it down for you - my favorite color is blue, i've been to 47 states, i am a liberal, i like the abstract tree image, i am an introvert through and through, i haven't read enough books to register on the grid, and i stink at playing video games.

the movie list i saw (one of many, i understand) had me perplexed. most of the blockbusters are too much for my peabrain to manage.  i bet they're fun movies, but i can't get into them.  i like quirky films, films shot with high quality images at odd angles, films without too much dialogue or music, films that include me in the thinking process.  blues brothers, spinal tap, scarface, gone with the wind, pulp fiction, sound of music, it's a wonderful life - a big fat no to all of those.  many of my friends are aghast upon learning that i have never seen some seminal film from their list of favorites.

wanna know the ones i actually have seen? shawshank (it's always on tv), godfather (thanks jacob & kathy), the dark knight (imax, baby), the empire strikes back (at the strand with my dad), return of the jedi (still have a leia keyring), both lord of the rings movies (way too long), usual suspects (benicio!), raiders of the lost ark (if that's the one with the melting faces), forrest (and that ping pong scene), american history x (biting the curb), silence of the lambs (too spooky for me), and saving private ryan (after visiting the normandy coast).

i decided that this week away from the school grind was primed for me to get back on the movie train.  i curled up with some headphones, an ipad, and dialed up netflix.  i actually went to the theatre.  i watched some things from our free week of hbo.  i threw back ten movies, which is most certainly a career high for me.  i get nervous when i see how long a film is supposed to last, unexplainably scared to make a two hour commitment to anything.

i watched a good documentary on hip hop music with ice-t, featuring several of my old school heroes, and another one about the punch brothers.  i laughed with mike birbiglia, lost interest in bernie, and wasted my time on identity thief (but give it up for t.i.).  i was fascinated with the director's cut of ferris bueller, took the in-laws to we're the millers, and couldn't get fred armisen out of my head while watching behind the candelabra.

i loved the original concept in the movie safety not guaranteed.  the intoxicating april (from parks and rec) is the main character here, an intern out on a research assignment for a seattle magazine.  she & her cronies follow up on a classified ad, in search of a companion for time travel.  this offbeat puzzle is right up my alley. april is great, and the flow is digestible.

my favorite of the bunch, hands down, goes to the giant mechanical man.  it is slow going from the beginning, but real peculiar and captivating.  a street performer with hard opinions on our universe ultimately crosses paths with a lost soul.  they both get gigs working at the zoo, and their personal lives (away from the animals) shape them into polar opposites.  it's about believing in your art and finding a reason to live your life, which is an eternal struggle for me.  tell me i'm not walking alone...

tim berne has said that he watches movies for inspiration. i know, i know - none of these films are on that list, but the last two really resonate within me.  they have fed my soul, and will hopefully counter all of that pie i ate.