For someone who has spent a lifetime in music, there’s not much here. I got off to a good start a few years ago, but haven’t updated this page in a while. (For example, I note that Sviataslov Richter is my favorite living pianist. He is no longer living.) Scroll down for some more-recent blog posts.
When I was younger (in the Seventies) and before CDs existed, I had a fairly respectable vinyl habit. It was common to head out on a Saturday night and drop a hundred dollars on albums. I was also into high end audio and though my wishes far outstripped my income, I had a modest respectable stereo system (what do they call them now, I wonder?) the centerpiece of which was a Mark Levinson ML-1 preamplifier. Not much has changed in the last twenty years. I still have exactly the same stereo and my hearing has deteriorated to the point that I would be satisfied with practically any stereo equipment. The other big change was the emergence of the CD format. Right from the start CDs were more expensive than vinyl LP albums and so I accumulated CDs at a snail's pace. I don't even buy one a month. Needless to say this won't be one web site where you see my CD collection meticulously catalogued for all the world to see.
I'm not much of a collector, but in my vinyl days, I did try to find every album made by favorite drummer, Steve Gadd. I don't follow events in the drum world at all any more, so I don't know who's hot and who's not. It used to be that Steve would win the Modern Drummer poll every year so that it was monotonous. I'm sure things have changed.
I like the same drummers every one else does I suppose, so there's not much point in mentioning my favorites. I would like to draw attention to two fine musicians who I consider (perhaps unfairly) "obscure." One is Bill Stewart for his sparkling work with John Scofield, and the other is Tom Rainey for his creative and tasteful collaboration with Fred Hersch (I'm thinking especially of the CD "Passion Flower").
Fear of Commitment?
For years I deluded myself into thinking that I had an open mind about music. I liked all kinds of music from medieval madrigals to Led Zeppelin. (OK. I think Telemann is pretty boring.) There were very few bands I really didn't like and conversely, I couldn't name any bands as my "favorite" not since my early teenaged years when I was infatuated with Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. Let's not talk about that, shall we?
Nevertheless I find myself returning again and again to certain artists and just as definitively avoiding others. I really do play favorites after all. So, just like Rob (in Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity), I've compiled my list of top musical artists. The problem with such a list is that the artists in second through tenth place I also enjoy immensely. But let's just start with first place only.
"Rock" Band: Steely Dan
"Jazz" Band: Miles Davis Quintet As much as I love "Kind of Blue," (some of the most sublime music ever recorded) my favorite Miles Davis group was the later quintet with Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock.
I first worked with Andy Pratt back in October when we played together at Roller’s at Flying Fish. I was added to the band at the last moment and had to learn 15 or so songs fast. The first night went well enough, but by the second night, we sounded like a band. It was inspiring (not to mention fun) to work with such a creative and imaginative singer-songwriter.
Andy is coming back to Philly, and we’ll be rehearsing this week for his return shows at Roller’s on January 20th and 21st at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $20. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
For a time in the 1970s, it seemed that Andy Pratt was rock’s next big thing, with his one hit, “Avenging Annie” (a conflation of Woody Guthrie's “Pretty Boy Floyd,” prog-rock, and hippie culture sung in a great falsetto over dynamite piano playing), but he ended up a near-miss as a pop star. It was a shame, since the eponymous album that contained the hit also had some perfectly gorgeous, musically adventurous songs that were easily the equal of the era's more famed songwriters. If, like us, you find yourself listening to the vinyl original now and then and wondering what happened to the erstwhile pop genius, here's welcome news. He's been writing and recording for years... [Andy is working on his 29th CD; most of his catalog is still in print. —Tony]
Besides Andy Pratt on piano, guitar, and vocals, the band includes Jim Dragoni on guitar and Fred Weiss on bass.
Bassist Alan Segal’s “Jazz & Joe” concerts bring the message of jazz to the community, and he and his groups are now appearing at eight houses of worship in the Philly area. I’ve played a few Jazz & Joe concerts myself at churches in the Philadelphia suburbs.
This Sunday will be my first concert at a church in downtown Philadelphia, Trinity Memorial Church at 2212 Spruce Street. The trio includes Barry Sames, a distinguished pianist with a long history of playing jazz in church, Randy Sutin on vibes, and Jazz & Joe founder Alan Segal on bass. We start at 8:00 following the service.
UPDATE: We are playing the service as well, starting at 7:00.
Sambagrilo is back at Le Cochon Noir for our third appearance on Friday, January 13. We had a very appreciative audience last time; I am really looking forward to it! Sambagrilo plays classic Brazilian sambas and bossa novas, sung in Portuguese.
Le Cochon Noir serves upscale barbecue and more (I can vouch for the food—it’s excellent). 5070 Parkside Avenue, Suite 5100E, Philadelphia. We hit at 8:00 p.m.
I first worked with Rosemary Benson (vocals) and Ward Marston (piano) at the Salt Creek Grille near Princeton back in September. It was a fun night all around, and they have asked us back this Saturday, November 26.
We’ll be playing danceable selections from the Great American Songbook. There’s no real dance floor, but a few people tried to dance anyway last time, and there’s a whole mess of comfy chairs near the bandstand for listening. We play from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m.
I’ve been rehearsing with a new band (“Sambagrilo”) for a few months, and we had our first gig at Le Cochon Noir a couple weeks ago. That night went very well, so we are back there this Friday, November 18th. We play classic Brazilian sambas and bossa novas, sung in Portuguese; it’s some of my favorite music in the world.
Le Cochon Noir serves upscale barbecue and more (I can vouch for the food—it’s excellent). 5070 Parkside Avenue, Suite 5100E, Philadelphia. We hit at 8:00 p.m.
I've always enjoyed working with singer Katie Eagleson, but this is the first time we’ve worked at an event open to the public. Psyched!
The concert is this Sunday, June 26th at Jacobs Music Recital Hall (at Jacobs Music, 1135 North Easton Road, Willow Grove, PA) starting at 2:00 pm. Since Jacobs Music is a piano store, I'm betting there will be a niiice piano there! Tickets are $12 at the door. Light refreshments (including Katie's homemade chocolate-chip cookies) will be served at intermission.
The program includes fresh arrangements of some classics from the Great American Songbook (aka "standards") and some jazzy instrumentals as well; late-night, smoky jazz on a Sunday afternoon. Katie will be joined by Lenny Pierro on sax, Tom Lawton on piano, and Madison Rast on bass. (For drummers only: I'm also excited to be using my new-to-me classic Sonorlite snare from 1985.)
Appearing again with the Jazz Doctors (Joe Camardo, piano and Justin Fink, bass) this Saturday, April 30 from 8:00 pm to midnight. Special guests include Richard Orr (sax, flute, and clarinet) and vocalist Michael Andrews.
Roller’s is at 8142 Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. $10 cover, please call 215-247-0707 for reservations.
I had been planning to go to the Battle of the Brewery Bands at Stoudt's in Adamstown Saturday (6:00-10:00), but obviously now I can't. I have two tickets available if anyone wants to go. $60 face value; $50 OBO. My email is in the footer. Thanks!
Last-minute gig with the Jazz Doctors (Joe Camardo, piano and Justin Fink, bass). It’s a jazz brunch at Roller’s at Flying Fish, Sunday, March 27th from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Roller’s is at 8142 Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. $10 cover, please call 215-247-0707 for reservations.
If it looks like I lost my blogging mojo (and I obviously did), I can tell you that most of the juice is in drumming now. In early 2009, I started practicing again for the first time in decades (long story) and by 2010 was again a devoted student of the instrument. I even started taking lessons. This here site could evolve into a drum blog, who knows?
Anyway, I hope to be playing more in public in the future and have a gig coming up on Tuesday, January 18 at Chris's. I’m privileged to be working with Ward Marston, a charismatic and dazzling pianist, and vocalist Rosemary Benson. Also in the band are Jack Hegyi on bass and Jim Levendis on trumpet. I'm also looking forward to playing Chris' house set, a sweet custom kit made by Philadelphian Matt Gaither.
Chris’ Jazz Cafe is at 1421 Samson Street. We are on from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Cover is $10.
This Saturday, I am very excited to be playing a part in “Art All Night-Trenton,” an arts extravaganza that includes visual arts, demonstrations (glass-blowing, graffiti demo, iron pour and more), and music. Last year, 650 artists participated and 8,000 people attended. The festival begins at 3:00 PM Saturday, June 19 and runs straight through the night until Sunday at 3:00 PM.
There are two stages, one indoor and one outdoor, with bands changing every hour. Check out this lineup. I am playing with the Rhythm Kings, a classic-swing/Dixieland jazz band from 7:00 to 8:00 on the indoor stage. Location is the former Roebling Wire Works building (675 South Clinton Avenue) in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. Linky for full info. Free!
My friends Katie Eagleson and Lenny Pierro have another gig at Chris’s Jazz Cafe this Wednesday, April 29. Their regular drummer can’t get there until later, so they asked me to play the first set. Sweet!
Chris’ Jazz Cafe is at 1421 Samson Street. Two sets, 8:00 PM and 9:45 PM. Cover is $10.
Harrison Ridley, Jr., jazz historian and scholar who hosted “The Historical Approach to the Positive Music” on WTRI for over 30 years, died Thursday a week ago. I can’t say I listened to his show every week, but I have listened to hundreds of his shows over the years. His knowledge was immediately obvious from listening to him, but until I read his obituary, I didn’t realize the scope of his accomplishments and accolades, including an honorary doctorate from Villanova.
As for the title of this post, Harrison would invariably exclaim “Yes Indeedy!” after playing a particularly exciting track. It was his trademark.
Although I never met Harrison Ridley, he was an inspiration, and I admired him very much. I am planning to go to a memorial service celebrating his life tomorrow (Saturday, February 28th) at 10:00 am at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2110 Chestnut Street.
After the gig Saturday, I was playing the Jaco Pastorius Big Band: Word of Mouth Revisited CD for our bass player, Rick. (The CD, released in 2003, features a whole mess of world-class bass players covering Jaco Pastorius’ signature tunes.) When we got to “Punk Jazz” with Richard Bona, all of us in the car admired his singing tone and sensitive touch, more in touch with Jaco’s spirit than any of the other (uniformly awesome) bass players. Rick admitted he had never heard of him, and it made me wonder that if a bass player hadn’t heard of him, maybe he’s not as well-known as I thought.
A great introduction would be his appearance on NPR’s Jazz Set recently (the November 27, 2008 show documents Bona’s appearance at the Basel Jazz Festival).
I came to Richard Bona by accident while trawling YouTube for versions of my favorite Jaco tune, “Liberty City.” This version, with Bona as a leader of his own band, was recorded in 2003 at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival in Spain. A slower, clunkier version features Bona as guest soloist at the North Sea Jazz Festival. (The other bassist is Jeff Carswell.) For comparison, here’s the definitive original version with Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth band.
I almost forgot. I am participating in a Jazz Vespers performance this afternoon (5:00 pm) at the First Presbyterian Church of Pitman with the wonderful singer Rosemary Benson. I feel obligated to mention this because when people find out I play drums, they usually ask where they can come hear me, etc. Note, however, that I will be playing a barely-audible supporting role, so don’t come for me, come to hear Rosemary’s masterful interpretations of some selections from the Great American Songbook.
Although approximately 20% of Americans still smoke cigarettes, smoking is not the ubiquitous activity it was when I was growing up. Not only did more people smoke back then, but clearly people smoked whenever and wherever they pleased. Smokers were everywhere—it was a fact of life. So much so that you didn't even notice it (at least I didn’t). It is only by contrast with today when the decimated ranks of smokers are segregated in huddled clumps outside buildings that I became conscious of how pervasive smoking used to be. Not being a smoker myself, I don’t think about the change that much, but some videos I saw recently reminded me dramatically of that bygone era.
A vintage video from “The Sound of Jazz,” a TV special that aired in 1959, shows Miles Davis playing “So What” (from the “Kind of Blue” album recorded that year—probably the best-selling jazz album of all time) with his sextet and the Gil Evans orchestra. At about 1:47, the trombonist in the background takes a drag on a cigarette:
A number of things struck me. For one thing, he’s a brass player who shouldn't be smoking in the first place. And couldn’t he wait until the show was over? No, that’s the point. You could light up anytime anywhere. By the way, there are other cigarettes visible in the video; Miles himself is rocking one at 4:40.
In another example, here’s Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina, who recorded an album with Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1974 (“Elis and Tom”); YouTube has a video of them lip-synching to “Aguas de Março.” For most of the track Elis fidgets with the headphone cord, but for the last two minutes she is waving a cigarette around.
At least it’s not lit. Here’s another shocker to me—a singer smoking like it was nothing. And in those days it was. I’m sure if I had seen these videos when they were made, I never would have noticed all the smoking.
I was tagged for the “historical figure” meme by Antonella Pavese. Choose an historical figure and list five random/weird things about said figure. I’m interpreting “historical” loosely as anyone who has died, but not necessarily someone who is well-known.
I can’t say I have a favorite historical figure, but I have long been interested in art, so I first thought of picking a nineteenth-century European painter. For a time, I settled on Turner whom I have always admired, but I don't know much about him, other than what I remember from reading Ruskin’s Modern Painters.
Then, inspiration struck (ow!!). I chose Josef Hofmann, the pianist (1876–1957), someone who is not only an artist of the first rank, but who I knew had other accomplishments outside of music (although I had to do some research to find out the details). Of the pianists who were the first to be recorded at the beginning of the 20th century (at first using the acoustic and then later, electrical, processes), Hofmann is my favorite since being introduced to his playing about twenty years ago. Here, then, are five random things (and one weird one) about Hofmann:
Hofmann was a child prodigy, but was so overworked (5 concerts a week during ten weeks of touring in America) that the tour was cancelled at the request of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The great pianist Anton Rubinstein had only one private student—Hofmann.
Hofmann was instrumental in founding the Curtis Institute of Music here in Philadelphia and taught there when it was formed in 1924 and later was the Institute’s director for ten years.
Hofmann had a phenomenal memory and musical ear and was able to learn pieces just from hearing them played once.
Hofmann was a mechanical genius and had over 70 patents for various inventions, only one of which had anything to do with music. His most successful invention was a pneumatic shock absorber for vehicles.
Reportedly, Hofmann preferred Geno’s cheesesteaks to Pat’s. Not sure where I read that.
There is some video on YouTube from a Bell Telephone Hour performance in the Forties, but Hofmann was at the end of his career, and he is not at his best.
We always teased Joe about his constant use of the phrase ‘it’s good to be...’ That was his way of being at peace with whatever the situation was. We’d be walking down the street in the pouring rain and he’d say, ‘You know, Gerald, it’s good to walk in the rain.’ Or you’d be complaining about riding all night from Venice to Copenhagen and he’d say, ‘It’s good to be tired.’ He had this strong-willed approach to life. Bring it on and he could not just deal with it, but embrace it.
I’ve got a long way to go before I can accept things that I can’t change with such equanimity. I’m better about coping with disappointment and frustration than I used to be, but can’t say I embrace them. I still prefer sunny days to rainy ones, but this glimpse into the mindset of an “it’s good to be alive” person is inspiring.
I almost posted this yesterday, but I’m glad I didn’t, because amazingly I saw Gerald Veasley last night at the Victor Wooten concert at the Keswick. Right near the end, he was spotted and brought up on stage to sit in with the band. That would have been the icing on the cake, but there was even more icing to come. Bernie Worrell was also in the audience, and he came up to do the Parliament classic “Give Up the Funk.” Derico Watson killed on drums, by the way. So much icing I was in sugar shock.
Q: Is it true that Led Zeppelin’s long-anticipated reunion was delayed until John Bonham’s son Jason was old enough to reach the pedals? A: False. Jason Bonham is 41 years old and has been able to reach the pedals since 1974.
For our fifth wedding anniversary back in September we pulled out all the stops and went out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants and saw a movie. The movie playing at our local uniplex was “Once,” which friends of Anne had highly recommended, although neither of us knew the slightest thing about it. It’s funny, because we had been thinking of going to Ireland for our anniversary, and we did, sort of. “Once” is the story of an Irish busker (Glen Hansard of The Frames) who meets an immigrant singer and pianist (Markéta Irglová), who inspires him to get a band together, and, with money borrowed from his surprisingly sympathetic father, record a demo CD of his songs. There was so much I liked about this movie: its unpretentious scope, its emotional honesty, and its authentic portrayal of musical collaboration and performance.
I wanted to share one of my favorite scenes at the time, but didn’t think I could do it justice without some audio/visual aids. Then Anne discovered some clips on YouTube and problem solved. My favorite moment occurs at the recording studio during the first take of “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” Glen calls for silence, and the take begins. With the music underway, the jaded recording engineer turns away from the mixing board, sighs, and unfolds his newspaper, thinking these were just another lot of talentless dreamers wasting their money. Another boring day at the office. The track slowly gathers momentum, however, and then at 1:17 (-2:34), the drums enter and suddenly lock the song into a deep groove as unstoppable as a freight train.1 Those drums are what make the engineer put down his paper and pay attention. Just sayin’. By the end of the track, I've forgotten all about the drums because my hair is standing on end and I have a lump in my throat, but still that drum entrance marked the turning point.
I just found out about the Rock-Bottom Remainders yesterday (a band made up of such notable authors as Dave Barry, Stephen King, Matt Groening, Amy Tan, and more—an amazing list). I always thought it would be fun to play in a band just for fun with co-workers at an office party or colleagues at a conference, but this is a whole nuther level.
That would be a lot of fun. The only problem is that I am not a best-selling writer (plucky as it is, this little bloggy just isn’t in the same literary league). That may not be an issue, however. In an interview with Craig Ferguson, Dave Barry confirmed that most positions in the band are reserved for published authors, “except for the skill positions, the drummer and the sax player.” (Nice to hear the drums referred to as a “skill position.”)
Maybe there’s a chance, especially when they notice that hyphen in the compound modifier “rock-bottom,” not to mention the serial comma. Those kind of touches are, ahem, just like my playing—subtle and correct. I’m sure their people will be in touch. :-)
I am participating in a Jazz Vespers performance this Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Pitman with the wonderful singer Rosemary Benson. Details here. I feel obligated to mention this because when people find out I play drums, they usually ask where they can come hear me, and since I play in public so seldom, this gig calls for some hoopla (cue, um, the drum roll). Not to mention that the proceeds benefit the Pitman Food Pantry. Note, however, that I will be playing a barely-audible supporting role, so don’t come for me, come to hear Rosemary’s masterful interpretations of some selections from the Great American Songbook.
I heard on American Routes that jazz legend David Amram grew up on a farm. Not so unusual, except that the farm was in Feasterville, Pennsylvania where I lived for 16 years. That was a surprise. It’s hard to believe that Feasterville was once farmland, although of course it once was. There is still a lot of green space there as well as the remains of a farm, but it was rapidly developed after World War II. A kid in grade school lived on a farm, and we visited his home as a class once. I didn’t appreciate farms much in those days.
I finally got around to ordering some CDs I have had on my "buy" list for some time. (I'm not as impulsive a purchaser of music as I once was, and something has to live on this list for a while before I actually buy it.) One of the CDs was only available on CD Baby, so that's where the shopping started. Then I discovered that all three were available there. Somehow I felt better giving my money to them instead of Amazon. Then I got this email from Derek Sivers, president of CD Baby...
Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Monday, May 21st.
I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!
I knew I had done the right thing by ordering from CD Baby. While hardly a carbon-neutral shopping experience, what with the gold-lined box and private jet, I was charmed. I do appreciate the personal attention to my order, and the CDs have already arrived and are indeed polished to perfection.
I recently finished watching Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, a documentary by Robert Levi about the composer’s life that a friend recorded for me (thanks Peter!). “Lush Life” was not only the name of one of his most enduring masterpieces, but it also alluded to his one weakness. He really enjoyed his cocktails—perhaps a little too much.
I learned that “Lush Life” was composed when Strayhorn was only 16. The lyric certainly belies his age, as it is written from the perspective of a much older person and is imbued more with despair than youthful hopefulness. It’s very sophisticated musically as well, and is one of the few tunes from the standards repertoire where the verse is always played.
I admired “Lush Life” for many years and was well aware of Strayhorn’s long collaboration with Duke Ellington and his enormous contribution to Duke’s fame. Two of Ellington’s most famous tunes, “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” were written by Strayhorn. It was another song, however, that really elevated Billy Strayhorn into one of my favorite composers. The tune is “Lotus Blossom.” I first heard it about 10 years ago on a trip to San Francisco to visit a friend. My friend had a new CD by the pianist Fred Hersch called “Passion Flower,” which was a tribute to Strayhorn. It included “Lotus Blossom,” which was new to me. It’s not an obscure song at all (there are at least 50 versions of it on iTunes), but I had never heard it before. The feelings it evokes are complex, an introspective sophistication tinged with sadness. It was a perfect soundtrack for gazing down on San Francisco bay from his condo in the hills.
Levi must have been impressed by “Lotus Blossom,” too, because he saved it for the end of the film summing up Strayhorn’s career. Composer Don Shirley said, “Of all the things that Billy wrote, ‘Lotus Blossom’ was such an enigma for Duke. Duke died never being able to figure out how Billy wrote ‘Lotus Blossom.’ It got to a point that I began to realize that it bothered him—in the good sense—trying to figure How did he do that? It's that kind of thing. But Billy had that kind of genius.” It is a remarkable song.
When Anne heard this, her eyes rolled back so far I thought she was having a seizure. I have so many Scofield CDs (but nowhere near all of them) that she moved them away from the rest of our little collection to their own “shrine” so I can touch them up with the chamois from time to time. Just goes to show how long I’ve been a fan of John’s work.
I can’t honestly remember the first thing I ever ordered online, but I found an email dated January 29, 1996 confirming shipment of Netscape 1.1. If I ordered this online, I wonder how I did it. Maybe I had Mosaic... I don’t remember. The email was to my first ISP post-AOL at PSI.
Back to Amazon. I was amazed that they keep all that online, and if so, why do they so often recommend items I’ve already ordered from them?
Suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine it’s the week before Christmas, when this post was started...
While we were decorating the tree, Anne mentioned finding my high school band’s Christmas concert album. (She was digging through my LP collection for candidates to fill some 12 x 12 frames she picked up.) The stock-art cover didn’t make the cut as art, but she was curious about it. The album features my favorite piece for band, Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger. It’s very challenging to play, and I remember how hard we worked to perfect it. I didn’t have the heart to listen to it, but I took off the Singers Unlimited Christmas album (my only Christmas album) to play the definitive version by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Maybe it’s not very Christmasy, but I never get tired of hearing it.
Speaking of favorites, last year around this time I wrote about “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” being my favorite Christmas song. On a recentFresh Air, singer Rebecca Kilgore led off her performance with the song and later in the show, Terry Gross interviewed the song’s composer, Hugh Martin, who is 92.
That’s what I scored on this test for tone deafness by musician Jake Mandell. It was hard! I may not be tone deaf, but I am just a little, um, plain old deaf. If you were intrigued by the sounds of the test (as I was), check out some of the compositions on his site. Very Star’s End if I may say so.
A couple of weeks ago, I worked a party at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. We were in the small upstairs ballroom (the Chase Room). When we arrived, I was stunned to find out that in the Center’s main theater, Modern Drummer magazine was hosting their annual mega concert, featuring some of the world’s greatest drummers. I clutched my chest and popped a couple of nitros. Stewart Copeland is here in this building?! Fan me, somebody.
I pulled myself together and got to work. Somebody had to joke that all those drummers were in the house just to hear me. Ha-ha. Very funny. Of course, then I half-expected to see Stewart Copeland poke his head in the door to, you know, check me out.
Ever since then, I’ve been living in a highly agitated state. I needed to find a release to satisfy the nearly unbearable tension. Last night, I got it. While Anne was at a beekeeping meeting, I slaked my unquenchable thirst and indulged in that perversion so vile that none dare speak its name. In the quiet of the empty house, I plugged in the speakers, cranked up the volume, and surfed the internet looking for... drum solos!
Here’s something to do today if you like jazz and beer: the Jenkintown Jazz and Brewfest. The jazz is free; click the link to see the lineup of outstanding musicians. $20 buys you a cup that will runneth over with all the beer samples you can handle. Here’s the list:
Appalachian Brewing Co.
Crabby Larry’s Brewpub
Cricket Hill Brewery
Hacker Pschorr Weiss
John Harvard’s Brew House
Lancaster Brewing Company
Penn Brewing Company
Rock Bottom Brewery
Troegs Brewing Company
Victory Brewing Company
Yards Brewing Company
I hope to attend at least the first hour and possibly return for the last hour, sampling cup in hand. Look for a tipsy guy with a Leica.
Yesterday on “Morning Edition” there was a story about how napping is becoming more acceptable in the workplace. After the piece, they played a version of “Sleepwalk.” I felt a warm glow of smug pride at recognizing the tune and the connection. Yeah, I'm pretty hip. The glow faded quickly when I realized how rarely I “get” the connection. I mean, NPR plays a snippet after almost every piece, and when I recognize the tune it makes perfect sense. I have to assume that all the segue music is as carefully chosen, but the vast majority... ::makes sweeping motion over head::
Another thing is New Yorker covers. They're typically seasonal or topical, but they always have relevance. These aren’t as subtle or obscure as the segue music, so I do much better with them, but sometimes I draw a complete blank. I know there's something there—it’s right in front of me—but I don’t see the connection. I should post the next cover I have trouble with.
It would be great to get more of the references, but it’s enough fun when I do. As for NPR, I have some advice: “Mister Sandman” would have been a hipper choice for the napping story, both more appropriate and possibly more obscure. So there.
Well. Here it is the Fifth already, and it’s back to work for us. We had an alternately relaxing and productive weekend and a very quiet Fourth, starting with the local parade, which while tiny, included both fire trucks and a Scottish pipe band, so I was happy.
Later in the day, I learned via email that a fine jazz singer and pianist I used to work with died Monday night. He had been in poor health for years and had ceased performing. The email came from his singing partner, and by the end of the day, I had heard the news from several other people. When they were still performing together, they called themselves “52nd Street” after the street in Manhattan that used to be lined with jazz clubs. For those of you who never had the chance to hear him sing, I can’t think of a better way of honoring his memory than letting his talent speak for itself. Here’s “Oh-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be” from an album we made in 1985. I’m sure he’s swingin’ still.
Yesterday I had no graves to visit, although we recently unearthed some family documents that indicate approximately where my uncle is buried in France. (He was killed in action near the end of World War II. Um, yes, that was before I was born. Thanks for asking.) I wish to visit his grave on some future Memorial Day.
Hawaiian shirt, steel guitar. Absolutely no connection, I swear.
We reconnected with some old friends last year who have hosted an annual Memorial Day party/jam session for literally decades. The last one I attended was almost twenty years ago, so I was looking forward to renewing a lot of acquaintances, hearing some good music, and, of course, consuming mass quantities. I wasn't there five minutes when the call went out from the “bandstand” (their patio) for a drummer. I slouched lower in my chair, but clearly there was no one else qualified in the house. I ended up playing most of the next three hours. Criminy. And I thought drummers were a dime a dozen. Turns out it’s singers who are a dime a dozen; I think there were seven.
Although I was having fun playing, the smell of the grill was driving me crazy, and I finally found a chance to grab a bite. There was an awesome variety of food—and lots of it. The invitation requested that all “bring a dish that will feed 10 people.” If you do the math, it’s clear that there would be quite a surplus. We took home not only about half of what we brought with us, but also a tray of marinated chicken. Here I thought I was working for peanuts, but I’ll take chicken anytime. All in all, it was a great day. I did see a lot of old friends... and their children... and their grandchildren. Yikes.
It was dark when we got home and I, in the warm peacefulness of the evening, shared a contemplative moment with the stars as I furled the flag.
I’ve never owned any Wilson Pickett recordings nor saw him perform, but ever since seeing The Commitments (one of my favorite movies), Wilson Pickett has loomed a little larger in my pantheon of soul singers (even though only his limo made an appearance in the film).
Now he’s gone. I recommend this reflection, written by Michael Bierut on Design Observer, featuring some eloquent insights by the man himself on preserving individuality in the creative process. Bierut asks, “Where does style come from? What was Pickett’s secret?” Pickett provides the answer: “You harmonize; then you customize.”
I see that Albert is making good use of his new ultra-wide lens, a Tokina 12-24mm f/4 DX (see Bumrunner live at the North Star Bar). So I’m admiring the photos and reading about Bumrunner, listening to the latest cuts (“Surgeon” and “Hot”) on their site, and notice the name Lydia Giordano. OK, that rings a little bell. I’ve known a jazz guitarist named Steve Giordano for a long time. We even worked together at a Sunday brunch at the Striped Bass a few years ago. Turns out Steve is Lydia’s father. I’m stunned. What are the chances of me having any connection whatsoever with any of the bands in this city? Close to zero, I would think. But I shouldn’t be surprised at all. All the musicians in my generation have kids who are now old enough to have their own bands... That adds up to a lot of connections—even if it makes me feel old. Let’s see, two of these guys I already knew about. I remember when they were eensy weensy widdle babies. And one of these guys as well. Who else, I wonder?
About a month ago, the Music Publishing Association threatened to shut down pearLyrics, a P2P app which hooks you up with lyrics for songs in your iTunes library. Pear pulled the plug after receiving a cease-and-desist letter. The somewhat happy ending is that the stink this incident raised ultimately caused the MPA to apologize to pearLyrics’ Walter Ritter (pearLyrics has nevertheless not returned to availability). Basically the MPA targeted the wrong guy, and they are regrouping to target larger web sites that derive revenue from hosting lyrics illegally. (Article at Billboard.) I wouldn’t miss these sites if they disappeared, because they aren’t hosting the real lyrics anyway. The real lyrics can only be found at sites that mistakenly call them “misheard,” such as Am I Right. I can’t tell what people are singing half the time (make that 31/32 of the time—I was never good at fractions), so as far as I’m concerned, the misheard lyrics are the real ones. Many of them are improvements over the allegedly original ones, that’s for sure. OK, OK, I am easily amused. I’m just hoping the MPA leaves the misheard lyrics sites alone. Now, excuse me while I kiss this guy.
Here it is the third day of January, and I am just beginning to recover from New Year’s Eve. Yes, it was quite a night of drunkenness, debauchery, and revelry—except for the drunkenness and debauchery part.
My sister-in-law Carol and her husband John visited us to help us ring in the New Year and to meet the newest mere cat, Samson. After the four of us had a fine dinner out at a local restaurant, we played a game of Scrabble. I must have played Scrabble at some point in my life, but it had been decades. By the end of the game, I was in a class by myself, soundly thrashed by everyone, achieving a score less than half of anyone else’s. Despite the drubbing, I would play again in a second, though. It was a good mental workout and fun to boot.
In preparation for the evening, we dusted off the TV and plugged it in so we could watch the ball drop. Carol used to live a few blocks from Times Square, and she remarked that she only walked there to watch the ball once when she was showing a visitor the sights. As much as I enjoy the energy of crowds, I can’t imagine standing in the cold all day just to watch a ball drop. After the Scrabble game, we poured a fine California champagne they brought, Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, and refreshed the cheese plate in anticipation of the countdown. The TV coverage on NBC-10 (I think) was good. After midnight passed, they cut away from New York to show the Philadelphia fireworks without any gratuitous color commentary. That was nice, and a refreshing change from “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” I am proud to say I used the last leap second of 2005 wisely by spending it deliberating thoughtfully over my list of resolutions. The next morning we tucked into waffles and watched some of the Mummers. Thus ended 2005. It was a great year.
For Christmas, John bought me a vinyl LP of John Scofield’s 1981 release, “Bar Talk.” (That’s not all I got. I also received Scofield’s newest CD, “That’s What I Say: A Tribute to Ray Charles,” and the concert DVD “Live 3 Ways,” so it was quite the Scofield Christmas.) I didn’t “discover” Scofield until the late Eighties, so it was interesting to hear this proto-Sco. It’s a fine record, but I can honestly say I would never have identified the playing as his. I recorded the Scofield LP onto my laptop using my newest software find, the open-source program Audacity, so I could listen to it on the train. So here I am back on the train with my snazzy new earbuds, head bobbing, heading back to the grind.
Now that the results of that great marketing experiment known as “The 885 All Time Greatest Albums” are in, it’s clear that XPN has a mandate to please boomers. (Hey, that’s me!) In that spirit, Jerry Blavat has been tapped to host a nostalgia show called “The Geator’s Rock and Roll Rhythm & Blues Express.” I have nothing against rock and roll history, and I’m as nostalgic as the next person, but when I was a “yon teen” in the Sixties, I thought Jerry Blavat was pretty creepy and anything but cool. I’ll try to keep an open mind and check this show out. In my old age, I’ve become more of a history buff.
I have managed to avoid most of the onslaught of Christmas music this holiday season except at work where a colleague a few cubes away burning with Christmas zeal plays music all day long. Fortunately, I can barely hear it, and the only ill effects are a vague malaise that accretes to full-blown queasiness by the end of the day. Come to think of it, I don’t think that feeling comes from the music.
Anyway... time to pop The Question.
Question: What’s your favorite and least-favorite Christmas song?
My Answer: Favorite is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin, composer; Ralph Blaine, lyrics). Call me sentimental. No favorite version, although it should be noted that I’ve never heard the most famous one by Judy Garland. Least favorite: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Johnny Marks, composer and lyricist).
You are encouraged to answer the Question of the Day for yourself in the comments or on your blog. Whoops! I don’t have comments, do I? Well, I’m working on that. A grateful tip of the propeller beanie to Erik Barzeski for the QotD meme.
This just in: Anne would like to add two more least-favorite songs to the trash heap: “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Santa Baby.” More fuel for the bonfire.
I’ve never been into heavy-metal music (with the exception of a brief dalliance with Black Sabbath eons ago). Driving late at night far from home, however, I often scan the unfamiliar FM band for tunes. Recently I encountered some metal where the vocalist clearly sounded as if he had gargled with razor blades as the saying goes. Actually his singing wasn’t “clear” at all; it was more a tortured hoarse screaming than singing. Frankly it was a dark and frightening sound. I wondered how any human being could produce such a sound without destroying their voice. It turns out many can’t, and some singers have severely damaged their voices from night after night of screaming on stage.
Yesterday on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Melissa Cross, a vocal coach who teaches heavy-metal singers how to sound as if they’re destroying their vocal chords without doing any real damage. (She was plugging her instructional DVD called The Zen of Screaming. Now you, too, can sing death metal!) She provided a fascinating look at vocal techniques I never knew about; she was even able to demonstrate the demonic sounds I heard that night. A quick search at Wikipedia turned up two death-metal bands, Cryptopsy and Kataklysm, and I checked out some samples at the ITMS. Yep, that’s the sound. My throat started to hurt just listening to it.
It was amusing that Terry Gross introduced the interview with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as an example of heavy-metal singing. I guess early Led Zeppelin can be considered proto-metal, but Robert Plant sounds more like an angelic choir boy by comparison.
In other music-related news, XPN played Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace” from Hearts and Bones on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. That album isn’t one of Simon’s most famous, but I always liked it just the same—especially that song.
Only two more days until National Novel Writing Month is over. I gently kidded the program recently, quite frankly out of envy. I can barely keep this little blog going let alone write a novel.
So a novel is out, but still I crave stardom. What are my options? Perhaps my calling isn’t as novelist, but as musician. It just so happens there’s a program just for me! It’s called National Solo Album Month. Not coincidentally, Solo Album Month is also November, so I missed my chance this year. I wonder... Did anyone do both an album and a novel? Wow. On second thought, making an album in a month would probably provide enough material for a novel, so I guess that’s doable—by an unemployed hyperkinetic genius.
NaSoAlMo is a thousand times less popular than NaNoWriMo (65 versus 60,000 commitments). Sure, recording an album presents a much higher barrier to entry, or maybe it just hasn’t caught on yet. But, yeah, a solo album, that’s the ticket. That’s got to be easier than a novel. For one thing, it only has to be 29 minutes and 9 seconds long. If I had talent, I could do the whole album in one sitting as Van Morrison did in 1967, but I don’t. You’re allowed one cover, so if I did “Alice’s Restaurant,” well, um, that wouldn’t be very sporting of me. How about “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”? That would leave me with only 12 minutes to fill. I could probably get away with at least one silent track, inspired by these examples. At some point, though, I would need to actually write some music.
I live in the past, music-wise. The distant past. Almost before I was born. After years of claiming that I “liked all kinds of music,” I came to admit to myself that what I really prefer is jazz made before 1969 (the year Miles Davis seminal Bitches Brew was recorded). I haven’t really kept up with popular music for the last, oh, twenty years. I kind of glaze over reading people’s Random Ten posts; I’ve heard of so few of the bands. I depend on friends to expose me to new music. For example, my brother-in-law John just burnt me some compilation CDs (shades of High Fidelity) that I am enjoying immensely. These kids today with their rock and roll are pretty creative, I must say.
One track that leaped up and bit me was “Hardware Store” by Al Yankovic. It’s not a parody (as far as I know), but a paean to the joys of the new hardware store in town. It unfolds at breakneck speed in the tradition of word-packed songs such as “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (R.E.M.) or “One Week” (Barenaked Ladies), although it’s even faster. (The really fast parts aren’t included in the sample.) I ran out of breath just listening to it. How does he do it?
I discovered YouTube, a Flickr-esque site that lets you upload videos, when a friend sent me a link to a vintage concert video in the “drums” section. That led to exploring some of the other drum solos that weren't quite so professional. I kept clicking uncontrollably, watching one lame solo after another, helpless to turn away. I have to admire the candor of someone uploading a video called “Me Soloing Badly.” To paraphrase Mark Twain: “Better to not solo and be thought a fool than to solo and remove all doubt.” Yes sirree, my motto exactly.
I began to wonder what mad impulse makes people want to share their creative output—no matter how mediocre—with the world. Then I had an embarrassing realization: I might ask myself this very question. After all, I'm no Mark Twain. So many questions, so few answers. There's a lot to ponder here, but that's enough introspection for one day. Some aimless banging on the drums ought to clear my head. Now where did I put that video recorder?
Reading Literal Barrage just now took me back to Sunday evening. We were tucking in to our Provençal stew, and our dinner music happened to be WHYY’s Sunday Showcase. I was only half paying attention; it sounded just like any other world-class orchestra you hear on the radio. After the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto ended, I practically lost my stew when I heard it was the Pottstown Symphony. Wha? Pottstown? Naw! I knew Reading had a symphony, but had never heard that Pottstown did. I mean, they were really good! I missed the Scheherazade; I’ll bet it was something. Here ye, you fine citizens of Pottstown, you do yourself proud.
For those unfamiliar with his work, it would be an understatement to say he is “versatile.” I think if Scofield were a major-league pitcher, he’d lead the league in strikeouts, because every pitch is a changeup. About every other album Scofield switches gears from straight-ahead jazz to, well, something else. Of course, versatility alone has nothing to do with quality, but I will say that no matter whom he surrounds himself with, he never loses his unique style.
His last album was recorded live with a jazz trio. This time, it’s a tribute album to Ray Charles with singers—a first! “ScoFeaAlb” is my lame attempt at a tribute to his album from two years ago, “Oh!” under the name ScoLoHoFo (for band members Scofield, Lovano, Holland, and Foster). Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Oh. Well.
A nice profile of jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins in the current New Yorker reminded me of a parlor game my friend Ward and I play on long trips in the car. We often listen to jazz radio on these trips (WRTI in Philadelphia, or WBGO in Newark), and to pass the time, we try to guess who’s playing.
You might think that’s difficult, but it’s not that hard. Imagine you’re hearing a new release by your favorite band on the radio. I’m confident you would recognize the work as theirs immediately. With jazz it’s slightly more difficult, but only slightly. Most jazz musicians have a distinctive set of qualities (such as tone, phrasing, and note choice) that makes up their “style.” Singers, of course, are easy to recognize. Instrumentalists are more difficult (with bassists and drummers being the toughest), but hardly impossible.
I have a special heuristic for saxophonists I don’t recognize. If it’s a tenor saxophone, I usually guess Stanley Turrentine. That’s not to say that Stanley doesn’t have a recognizable style, but I’ve never been able to discern any distinctive “hooks” in his playing that are memorable to me. His playing isn’t quirky in any way, it’s just good. And since he made tons of records, it’s always a safe guess. Sometimes I’m even right.
Sonny Rollins is certainly one of the greatest players ever on the instrument. If I hear a tenor player with a huge tone just pouring out strong, original ideas, then I automatically guess Sonny Rollins. Again, sometimes I’m even right. When I’m wrong, who do you think it is? It’s usually Dexter Gordon. I should never mix those two up, but I do. Hmm.