Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Studying Up

It’s hard – no, make that impossible – to work on much of anything whenever you get called in to work on the weekend. This happened to me two Sundays ago and last Saturday, so progress on my piano has more or less ground to a halt. Because of my ruined Saturday, Sunday was overly hectic, but I did find time to leaf through and read my piano repair manual and try to figure out what to do with the wippens that are killing about fifteen of the keys in my piano (if in fact it is the wippens – there may be some fit issues with the hammers as well). In short, at this critical and hyper-detailed juncture, I’m not finding much help for my square grand in a manual that focuses almost exclusively on grands and uprights, not to mention the frequent detailed passages about Steinways. I was able to glean a few ideas from the book, but I’m still not really sure what is going to be the best way to repair the keys that keep dying. I expect it will require some experimenting.

So, this coming weekend, I think I’m going to move to some cosmetic work. Probably work on the mother-of-pearl inlay some and maybe even go back to the stool again (I’ve got the brushes for it).

I need to be pushing a little harder on this.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Night with a True Jazz Legend

Wednesday June 1 found me and Mrs. S once again in Birmingham AL, to attend a jazz concert at the Alys Stephens Center for the Arts. We sure spend a lot of time there for it being over a one and a half hour drive from our house. But when a guy like Herbie Hancock is performing in your neck of the woods, 90 minutes seems a pretty reasonable drive. As part-time patrons with dedicated front row seats, it’s hard to pass on an opportunity like this, so naturally, we also signed up for the VIP “Meet & Greet” package for our chance to meet the legend and possibly have a few photos taken and get a few CD’s signed. Imagine our surprise then when one of the event coordinators told us that his contract did not allow for either. (Turns out he did both.)

So come time for the concert and it’s mostly empty seats, but they filled up pretty quickly and the show started maybe only ten minutes late. Herbie’s drummer comes out and he starts right into a funky syncopated riff that I couldn’t see how he could keep going but that he did and never missed on. The bass player wandered on stage and it took him about thirty seconds to get to his five string axe, attach the strap, and get it settled before laying a line down on top of the drums. So, they’re on the right hand side of the stage, wailing, and I’m all caught up in the beat when out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of glittering orange, and there’s this tiny old guy moon walking toward the keyboard pit. (Yes, moon walking!)

And the crowd goes wild!

And those turned out to be the two main themes of the night: a little old dude who should be laid out on a recliner or playing bingo somewhere, funkin’ it up on a piano, computerized synth, and a keytar, and a bunch of people screaming at him as he does so. Which is also what got me: Here’s a guy who released an album in every one of the last six decades, has more than fifty albums of material to choose from, is over seventy years old, can do anything he wants musically and professionally, and if he was taking it easy and swinging through a quiet version of “Watermelon Man” or letting some singer take the lead on one of his compositions while he sleepwalks (instead of moon walks) through the comps and a canned solo, everyone would still be appreciative and crazy, but instead, he’s out there with a freaking keytar, jumping around like a four-year old with a squirt gun on the first day of summer as he bangs away on “Actual Proof” or “Chameleon”. What’s going on?

I’ll tell you what: Herbie Hancock is going on. And on, and on, and on. No wonder his latest album involves musicians of eleven different nationalities singing in seven different countries recorded in four different studios. When you’ve done as much music as Herbie, that’s the only way you can get to something new and fresh. Stunning.

Honestly, the concert made me dizzy and I don’t think it was from the drive and the stifling 95-degree heat. Herbie did mostly new stuff from his Imagine Project recording, which I have a hard time classifying as jazz but which I enjoy immensely. I was especially psyched when he and his two man band and one woman singer did my favorite track from the work, Tamatant Tilay/Exodus. Everything else he played, he played as funky as possible, spending probably 40% of his stage time on his Roland keytar. His piano, a Fazioli concert grand, didn’t sound real. His playing sounded fresh, whimsical, and inspirational. Somehow. The supporting band members were solid musically and just, everything was great. Words escape me.

Our signed copy of "The Imagine Project"
The meet and greet session started  frightfully stiff. Only one guy seemed truly comfortable talking with Herbie, and they started talking about, like, Herbie’s third album, released the year after I was born. It was sort of electric just hearing Herbie say the name, "Miles Davis".  Anyway, to get things moving,  the coordinator jumped in and made everyone get their pictures out of the way so Herbie wouldn’t spend the whole night standing around with our lot. When I went up to meet him, I had him sign our copy of his latest, The Imagine Project, and we took two photos before Mrs. S joined in. Then he spent the rest of the time chatting her up. Later, when Herbie was done with the photos, he wandered over to the fruit tray, where Mrs. S and I were, so we talked a little bit more and Mrs. S had him sign our copy of “Maiden Voyage”. (I like his signature. He writes so you can actually read his name. See above and below.) I literally had a whole stack to be signed, but we were being reserved since we were told right out of the gate that he wouldn’t be doing that.

Our signed copy of "Maiden Voyage"
After he’d had a few pieces of fruit, he looked around for something to say and do, but the coordinators gave him the go ahead, so he waved, and was gone. He’s a very nice, personable, agreeable gentleman. He’s small, but his hands are firm and supple. His smile is bright and his eyes even brighter. He doesn’t move fast and his hair is thinning, but he’s genuine, real, meticulous, and true to his songs when it comes to his music. I think top to bottom, meeting Herbie Hancock was one of the most satisfying and valuable experiences I’ve had in my short four year jazz career. I may have been late to jazz, but I’m catching up fast.