the ebb and flow of this life

i believed an assortment of untruths when i was young (oh my god, is this me confessing in cyberpublic that i am old?), and they have now since been blown out of the water. examples?  you got 'em:  eating out for every meal is a great idea. coffee is for sissies.  my metabolism will keep on boiling like this throughout my days.  there will never be overturned calls in major league baseball.  white socks with black dress pants is ballin'.  cars are cheap. stargazing is boring.  chicks dig guys who curse.  music is about having super chops.  my heroes will live forever.

i can't believe that the great kenny wheeler has passed. he is one of the first people i ever heard that helped me recognize that developing my own voice needed to be my top priority.  his sound maintained a fragile confidence.  i felt like he was willing to die on the sword for his ideas, for every last night.  and the way he would puncture the stratosphere with squeezes that often seemed like they might not (but always did) make it.  pure magic.

his voice wasn't only in his tonal concept, but also in the way he navigated harmonic structures and rhythmic puzzles. he was deceptive, calculating, always in control, mystical. i want to lean on notes like kenny, open notes like kenny, omit notes like kenny, shine on notes like kenny.  

i had the opportunity to enjoy three views of the secret that is gentle piece.  it was one of the first tunes i played with my college jazz band.  i had the lee konitz solo in the band and fell head-over-heels for the changes. such a beautiful work, and it deserved me pouring my sweat & tears into it.  much later, i had the absolute pleasure of seeing kenny when my friends bob & chris brought him to their school and recreated the entire collection from music for large and small ensembles, complete with norma winstone's gorgeous countermelodies and whisps of light from john abercrombie.  kenny sat throughout the show and was unbelievable.  un-be-LIEVABLE.  i was so moved that i brought the tune again to my band and did it on a concert a couple years ago.  my kids were smitten by the music, and most probably couldn't tell you a thing about kenny wheeler if you slapped twenty bucks on the table. 

angel song came out at the right time for me, a time when i needed real stuff to light my path.  frisell is perfect for this record, dave holland fits nicely with the tunes, and lee is god's foil for kenny.  onmo and nicolette are perfection.  this album singlehandedly directed the next ten years of my life, and still rides shotgun today.

may your soul rest peacefully, mr. wheeler.  many thanks.


number 19

i used to collect baseball cards all of the time.  all of my allowance, paper route earnings, and money i had pledged to give to the church fed this teenage addiction.  i didn't discriminate either; donruss, fleer, upper deck, and topps (with that awful gum).  i even had a brief love affair with baseball stickers.  i would rifle through them all day, reviewing the stats and ordering them by team (and alphabetically within that system).  i would entertain the occasional trade, but felt so connected to every last card i released from its waxy imprisonment that i could rarely come to grips with releasing them.

my guy was tony gwynn, the lefty technician who spent his entire career manning right field for the san diego padres. i loved the way he swung the bat. i loved the way he led off from first.  i loved his voice.

i watched countless interviews of him, intoxicated by what he was saying and how he was saying it.  he spoke about his love for playing jazz drums, flipping the switch for me and enabling me to think that jazz was actually cool.  he was one of the first guys to study his stroke with videotape. this brutally honest tactic is something that i try to do regularly with my sound - studying what's really happening instead of what i think is going on.

i have never had much of an affinity for one particular musician.  i like a bunch of them, but haven't been drawn to anybody who stands out from the pack.  tony gwynn - the 18 time all star, owner of 8 batting titles, member of the 3000 hit club, and recipient of 5 golden gloves - was my guy.  he lost his battle with salivary gland cancer today, at the age of 54.  i salute you, mr. gwynn.


rhonda sue fry giles

i love my mom.  she has done so many wonderful things for me.  she has endured my angst-riddled teens (and twenties) (and thirties), teaching me countless life lessons as i go. my musical memories with her are limited yet exceptional. she threw a big family reception at our house, allowing me to sit at the head of the table after having fronted my 5th grade band with a saxophone rendition of "hello, dolly!"  i also accompanied her on my casio keyboard while she sang the oak ridge boys classic "thank god for kids" during a children's time session during church.  pretty sure that we are both glad that there is no video footage of that.

that's my mom on the cover of one of my records, holding a cake that she baked & decorated specifically for the photo shoot.  she is always in the kitchen, creating culinary concoctions after having internalized recipes.  i'm not quite there yet as an amateur chef, but my approach to musical improvisation is often similar in that regard.  i find myself kinda eyeballing the forms and my contributions instead of sticking to what it says on the back of the box.

my mom roused me out of bed only twice in my life (not counting the numerous times she pounded a hole through my door with her fist, trying to get me to wake up in the morning).  being a lifelong st. louis cardinals fan, we began to go to games every summer during my 9th spin around the sun.  she wanted my sister and i to watch bruce sutter slam the door on the lowly brewers in the '82 world series. he hurled his untouchable splitter for the final strikeout, and the three of us jumped into each others' arms.

the other time she allowed me to stay up was to watch george benson perform on the johnny carson show.  i don't remember what george played, but he killed.  he did that sing-along scatting thing with his guitar.  i was blown away, both at what he was doing and because my mom was letting me watch tv this late on a school night.  i've always held a soft spot for george since then, despite his fruitful forays into smooth jazz and the pencil stache. the wife and i played his version of here, there and everywhere off his 1989 album as one of our wedding songs.

you know that joyfully cautious feeling you get when you discover that two artists you dig have collaborated on a project, and that relieving happiness you revel in once you hear it and have your unfair expectations met?  yeah, well that happened to me when i first heard kneebody & theo bleckmann join forces to reimagine tunes by charles ives for winter & winter.  my favorite cut is songs my mother taught me.  i'm not so sure that my mom taught me any per se, but she was a wonderful storyteller to us kids.  she would take common vignettes and twist them around, personalizing them for me & my sister while gobbling up the entire block of time that the story often served to stopgap.  ask her to give you the cliffsnotes version of "rapunzel".  her creativity with childhood stories has had a long-lasting effect on me as an artist.

thanks mom, and happy mother's day


yeah, what that pretty russian girl said

i have two terrible habits (well, two that i'll mention):

i get hooked on one particular song on an album.  i can't let it go, and yeah - that's a good thing, right?  i mean, i really like it or i'm perplexed by something about it or i want to soak it in more or i am curious as to how it will change in my head if i hear it a whole bunch of times in a row.  that's all well and fine, but my unstable attention span (call it what you will) doesn't encourage me to give the rest of the album a shot.  my dear friend joel hipped me to magic numbers by quinsin nachoff, and i never got past the third track.  it took me over ten years to listen to the rest of kenny wheeler's angel song, because i was afraid that the rest of it wouldn't measure up to nicolette

i rarely understand song lyrics, something i've known for quite a while.  i can understand them if i sit down and read the liner notes, but have zero success gathering their meaning midstream.  i used to memorize books of rap lyrics from d-nice, slick rick the ruler, kool moe dee, rakim, mc lyte, third bass - and spit them back flawlessly with the street knowledge only a white kid growing up in a small farming community could grasp.   i like songs that have lyrics just fine.  i just can't seem to remember them, and any heavy meaning attached is often lost on me.

i've been crushed by the flu bug recently, missing a couple of days at school and logging 22 hours of pert-near straight shuteye.  other family casualties included my youngest son and the wife, who is currently reeling from her battle with the winter foe.  lots of horizontal time + lots of drugs + absence of routine + regular daily shit that i sometimes struggle to handle = swoons into the darkness, the depths from which neither steve harvey's big ol' lips nor new laughs my favorite rerun can snatch me.

i made the 15 minute cruise in my car tonight to go watch my oldest son ball with his freshman squad, and popped in the headphones en route.  i dialed up regina spektor's far album, scrolled to the only track i've checked out, hit repeat and play.  one of my students, the type of girl i could only hope my kids will date in the future, hipped me to this record.  this is her favorite tune too.  i let it overflow into my ears, and kept it running as i meandered through crowded high school hallway maze to the gymnasium. and then it hit me ...

"you're using your headphones to drown out your mind"

i stopped dead in my tracks, in front of the tacky glass cases which house all of those trophies that seemed to mean the world at the time and now have cruelly met their fate as mere decor, and thought about that lyric.  do i do this? how i often do i do this?  i know its okay to find refuge in music, but am i clutching to it like linus to his blanket?  and is that so bad?  somebody tell me it's not.

i've read some interpretations of the vague prose, and have settled into a couple of possibilities.  "eet" is the backspace on an old school typewriter, allowing you to type over a letter; not as a correction, but instead as a redo. this song is about sadness, depression, a lost faith and sense of self.  suddenly the world has changed, but really you are the one that has changed - and you can't remember who you are, how it happened, or how to get back.

now, chalk it up to copious doses of nyquil or nearly a day's worth of dreaming, but the personal timing is eerie as hell.  either way, it's a beautiful tune.

hey claire - thanks for turning me on to it.


last year in the rear view mirror

after watching this video, i quickly realized that objects that loom in my future may be closer than they appear.

for this next trip around the globe, i pledge to be more careful with what i consume.  flipping over the big four-o has made this essential.  here's my plan of attack:

*my mouth* lots of friends i know are scraping together a career while eating smart and living clean.  many of these same friends know what's up with organic groceries and clever prep concepts.  i love cooking and experimenting with veggies, fruit smoothies, and healthy snacks for my two kids; one a budding athlete and the other an underweight gamer.  baller kevin love, the best 4 in the association, has completely overhauled his diet by being accountable for everything that hits his digestive system.

*my muscles* i've always thought of my body being my vehicle with which i will cruise around our universe.  i need to keep that engine humming by doing more yoga, working through p90x2, and getting into running.  i hate doing it but am always so glad afterwards that i did.  my metabolism has definitely downshifted, so i want to resume exercising and stretching and balancing, all in an effort to uncover shreds of physical self worth.

*my ears* one of the perils of my gig is working with students on music.  they might not always be happening, but i gotta keep looking at their progress and replenish my mind with good music.  i sometimes loose sight of what i like to hear, which could have a dangerously close correlation to my performance.  i gotta be sure that i'm listening to good music from all pockets of the world and stay in front of it all.  recent feel-good tastes include the goat rodeo sessions and some luda/usher collabs.

*my eyeballs* i've got books i want to read.  i snagged one by phil jackson, another by stephen hawking, a reader of sorts about tom waits, and have an infatuation with oliver sacks. i've got movies i want to watch, including the new joaquin phoenix spike jonze masterpiece.  i just saw nebraska last night with simon, and it was great.  and i've got our world that i want to take in, with walks in my neighborhood, looking at the trees, the birds, the clouds.

*my psyche* i want to be around people who are good for my head, not those that make me feel inferior or dump their burdens on me.  i want to be around people who inspire me, not continually frustrate me by clutching to archaic and seemingly unproven dogmas.  i plan to continue being a good listener and a supportive guide to my students, but need to heed my own advice - at the end of the day, you are the only person that you could expect is actually thinking about all of the shit going on in your world.  grip it, own it, solve it, and then move it out of the way.

some of my friends are saying good riddance to 2013.  it seems like yesterday that i was dancing and singing in my room to my cassette of prince's 1999 album, wondering what that mystical year would be like.  and then i think, that's fifteen years ago, homeboy.  hey 2014 - let's do this.