Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cardinal rule of piano shopping (with photos of a cardinal’s nest and eggs)

I've started looking in earnest and for real for a piano. My Yamaha P-70, which I purchased in 2007, is dying. The keys grow less and less responsive. The sounds generate more and more buzz and occasional weird harmonics that are glaring and disturbing to my ears. After all, I bought the piano because of its true-feeling Yamaha action and clarity of the grand piano sound, spending “only” around $700 because I was afraid I wouldn't stick to playing the piano. Now that I have stuck, it’s time to get a serious piano.

Looking into our flower bed, due east from our back porch...
I've been telling Mrs. S that I need my next piano to be my last. I just can’t see spending a couple grand on a nice upright, only to have to move that out and spend a couple more grand on a grand (sorry) at some later date. I might as well spend the big money now and just get the piano that I plan to own and play into old age (since I’m pretty much there already).

Little closer to the bush in the middle of the first picture...
There are plenty of cheap grands on the internet. Ebay is covered in them. But seriously, am I going to spend $10K (or more) on a piano without touching it, without listening to it, without seeing if it does what I expect and sounds how I expect? No way. The cardinal rule of buying a piano is: buy a piano that’s right for you. That means, playing it and listening to it. So I narrowed my search to places I can get to in a few hours. So far I’ve found one I might be interested in. I asked some questions about it, but the seller hasn’t responded.

West edge of the bush...see it?
So I took advantage of me going to a seminar in Nashville last week to stop off at the Steinway Gallery. Nice place. Loads of pianos. I looked at a couple that were completely out of my price range, then played, and kind of liked one, a Samick, that was well within my budget. The sales guy knocked it down from $17K and change to $11K. Of course, I’m not impulsive about this purchase at all, so I came home without a piano. Then I started doing some research.
Future cardinals, maybe, hopefully... (Yes, the parents have been back since this photo was taken.)
I went straight to Piano Buyer, which is one helluva site. I found out the Samick I was interested in is made in Indonesia and called “consumer grade”, hardly what I would consider a “last” piano. I’ve made up my mind that I have to read everything there is to read about pianos before I buy one, or to at least read the entire manual available on Piano Buyer.  I also need to try again to unload my partially restored square grand, or else our house is going to be overrun by pianos.

I've been playing “Little Sunflower” everyday since I heard it twice while driving back and forth to Nashville last week. I’ve also changed up my learning routine (again), which I will write about before long, no doubt.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Someone should bop me on the head

You know, although lately I’ve been all about serendipity and spontaneity, my decision to work on my piano playing by focusing exclusively on one book, one that caught my eye for a completely illogical reason, turned out to be, although inspired, entirely misdirected. I did start my post-bop piano project.

I did begin to read and play from the book. It wasn’t bad. Here’s the problem:

I reached chapter four and still hadn’t had to play a single exercise. One of the chapters was a complete rehashing of stuff I learned in college. And without any structure, or anything constructive to play, or any “newness”, I began to realize I was wasting my time. So, of course, I skipped to the Bill Evans chapter, and of course, that was too hard for me. So I went back to try to find something to build on to make it easier, but I couldn’t find much. So, I stopped playing from that book, worked on tunes, and pretty soon was right back where I started: unmotivated, not playing, not improving, nothing.

Here's a spring robin on our crepe myrtle. Nothing jazzy, just thought you might enjoy it.
Fortunately, I continued to plonk about most days, working kind of hard on chord progressions from “standard” jazz standards (you know, songs with LOTS of typical jazz sounds and motifs). Eventually, I took one more stab at the Post-Bop book, but again, I was wandering in the wilderness. I really just wanted some stuff to play. Mechanical stuff. Stuff I didn’t need my brain for and could just do a limited amount of brain work which would allow my fingers and muscles to work. Somehow (no particular serendipity here), I remembered my Solo Jazz Piano book, the one that’s three times the thickness of the post-bop book. 

I opened it, and the first playing exercise is on page 7, and the exercises leading up to that one, are manageable. In fact, I played through them last night in about forty minutes.

Sure nothing’s perfect yet, and I have a long (long) way to go, but at least I have direction again.

And for those of you who’ve checked out my amazon reviews and lists and noticed the post-bop book on my recommended piano books list, that still holds true. It’s a great book. It’s just not for me at this stage, you know, right now.

Today’s project: Complete the piano project, by putting it all back together and putting my booze on top of it. Got to recover the dining room, even if we’re not going to use it.

Oh, and I’m going to open a jazz bar, so start sending me money. (No, really. Lots and lots of money. For my jazz bar. Seriously.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

The way things turn out

Thanks (?) to March Madness, our latest trip to New Orleans turned out a bit different than most. First of all, we couldn’t get a hotel room at a reasonable price, so we ended up at a B&B called Lanaux Mansion. Turned out some scenes of the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” were shot there, and this would not be our first encounter curiously tied to that movie. We got to stay in the enchanted cottage, which was originally the laundry room for the main house, but now is converted into a comfy suite. We also had our own private entrance through the back gate and garden. The place is run by a nice southern gentlewoman named Ruth. We got along with her great, as her son lives in Japan and is also married to a Japanese woman.

A random shot of the outside of Snug Harbor. Yeah, man! Frenchmen  Street!
We ate at Stella the first night. I ate so much I got sick. We still went to Snug Harbor after dinner, mainly to make reservations to see Ellis Marsalis on Friday night, but we ended up staying for that night’s show and saw The Peter Harris Quartet, which was fronted by an exciting young saxophonist, Derek Douget. It was all I could do, however, to not pass out and throw up. I didn't look in such bad shape before the concert:
Not feeling the Mac effects...yet.
As the night wore on, I was not in good shape, and I think it was the Big Mac and fries at lunch time that gummed up the works (I eat McDonald’s about twice a year). A good night’s rest turned out to be all I needed, and all was well from then on.

The next day looked like rain, so we basically just wandered around the city, spending money with all the basketball fans in town. I got my usual voodoo accoutrements, hematite rings, Old New Orleans Rum, and Mrs. S got her shrimp spice and a couple of knick-knacks and doo-dads. We ate at Acme, where we actually had to line up at two in the afternoon.

That night we saw Joshua Bell at the First Baptist Church. The parking lot attendant told us that if we took our car out of the lot, we were pretty much giving up all hope of parking in the French Quarter again for the day, so we took a cab instead. That turned out to lead to another interesting encounter (next paragraph). The concert was not very exciting. It was an average concert. JB was great, as usual.

We didn’t hurry to leave the concert after it was over, because Mrs. S wanted to take as many pictures of JB as possible. This turned out to work in our favor, as she took a picture of a nice woman and her husband hounded Mrs. S to be sure and send the photo to him. When he learned that we didn’t have a ride back to town, he generously offered to drive us. We accepted, and so me and Mrs. S ended up in Robert and Nell’s Buick (I think) heading back to the French Quarter. Well, when we mentioned the Benjamin Button connection with our B&B, Nell told us about how her mother’s house was used for about half the movie. The studio appropriated their house for 50% of the time over two years of filming. They met Brad Pitt and a bunch of other famous people. It was quite a story. Our ride was too short, and we bid them adieux.

From there we made our way back to Snug Harbor and were able to catch the last half of Ellis Marsalis’s show, again with Derek up front. They played a really cool version of a song I like, and I managed to keep it in my head for a day, but it got shoved out after we listened to music during dinner on Saturday after we got home. Anyway, I bought Mr. Marsalis’s latest CD and he signed it for me. Unfortunately, Mrs. S had her phone off and I’d forgotten mine, so we didn’t get a picture of that, but here’s the signature on the CD booklet:
Why do these older gentlemen always write so neatly?!?!
 The next morning, we nearly got run off the road twice before we finally got on the highway and headed home, uneventfully.

The trip turned out okay. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The End of March, The End of Madness: My latest trip to New Orleans

This week I’ll be writing about my latest trip to New Orleans, which had me in the Crescent City for the front end of March Madness, making a lot of things difficult, but in the end turning out well. Mrs. S and I met virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (again!) and we got lucky and met Ellis Marsalis, too. I even got an autograph.

Speaking of which, one month less one day to the date, here’s the photo of me and Mrs. S meeting Wynton Marsalis early last month:
Two jazz musicians and a fan
You can see he’s an impeccable dresser and he’s friendly. I actually had the opportunity to listen to his program on Sirius XM radio on the drive home from New Orleans yesterday. Very informed and very informative, it was one of the most educational radio programs I’d ever heard. I’ll probably have to go sit out in my car on Saturday morning from now on, unless I spring an extra $3 a month for computer access to the radio channels.

Finally, I’m starting my Post-Bop piano book experiment today. Wish me luck.