Sunday, March 30, 2014

How long does it take me to learn a song? (Part one)

So, I decided to expose myself. Not that way. I'm going to record myself learning to play a song. It won't be easy, but it might just be some motivation for me to not take forever and a day to learn a simple tune. Today, March 30, is day one. Here's a video of me having a look at The Jitterbug Waltz, by Thomas "Fats" Waller. Turn up your sound, because my video shooting is even worse than my piano playing.

Like I said, we've got a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Francoise Sagan, Frank Zappa, Bart Simpson, and other great philosophers' quotes on jazz

Here's a rehash of my October 28, 2009 blog entry. It's worth putting up again, I think.

It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling. ~Bill Evans

…cartoons [are] America's only native art form. I don't count jazz because it sucks. ~Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson
No America, no jazz. I've seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn't have a damn thing to do with Africa. ~Art Blakey

One thing I like about jazz, kid, is you don't know what's going to happen next. Do you? ~Bix Beiderbecke

For me, music and life are all about style. ~Miles Davis

If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know. ~Louis Armstrong

If you can't play the blues, you might as well hang it up. ~Dexter Gordon

Jazz is not dead – it just smells funny. ~Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa
I think I was supposed to play jazz. ~Herbie Hancock

The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. ~Louis Armstrong

Life is a lot like jazz – it's best when you improvise. ~George Gershwin

Those jazz guys are just makin' that stuff up! ~Homer Simpson

Jazz and love are the hardest things to describe from rationale. ~Mel Torme

Jazz is an intensified feeling of nonchalance. ~Francoise Sagan
Francoise Sagan
There is no such thing as a wrong note. ~Art Tatum

If you find a note tonight that sounds good, play the same damn note every night. ~Count Basie

Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's what's so simple about it. ~Yogi Berra

Men have died for this music. You can't get more serious than that. ~Dizzy Gillespie

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kyle Eastwood's First Trip to Alabama

Serious fans of Clint Eastwood, and probably a good many not so serious fans of Clint, know what a jazz fanatic he is. They know he frequents jazz clubs, has an extensive rare jazz record collection, has directed movies about jazz, and just generally has been a supporter of America’s music. Less well known is that he has a son, Kyle Eastwood, who is an accomplished jazz bassist, composer, and performer in his own right. With the benefit of Sirius XM radio, I have known about Mr. Kyle Eastwood for some time, and though I've always enjoyed his music, I wouldn't say I was a fan or follower of his. Nonetheless, when I found out the famous movie star’s son who calls Paris home would be in Alabama to give a concert, and there was an opportunity for a meet and greet for VIP ticket holders, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to take in the concert. Unfortunately, I had an off-shift 4:30 AM meeting scheduled for the morning after the concert, so I was not sure expending the energy and effort was a worthwhile pursuit, but after Mrs. S saw a couple promotional picks of the good looking Kyle, she started pushing. I decided to at least call around and find out what I could about getting tickets.

Having a nice chat while I make Mr. Eastwood do some work.
So first, I called local chamber of commerce sponsoring the event. They had no idea about the VIP package and thought the tickets were $175 each. They directed me to the tourism board who also had no clue about the VIP package. They did, however, know the promoter (lady) who set up the concert. Turns out she knew Morgan Freeman, Morgan Freeman knew Clint Eastwood, and Clint knew his son (obviously). Anyway, she was able to give me the lowdown on the tickets, and through a stroke of good fortune, she was eating at a restaurant only ten minutes from my house the following night, saving me a two hour round trip drive just to go and buy the tickets. We were set for our next star musician meet and greet.

Eric, Kyle, and Mrs. S. Why they made him stand in front of a garage door for the photo op is completely beyond me. For the retouched version with a nice background, visit Mrs. S's Facebook page.
Juggling my schedule, we were able to make the one-hour drive late on Wednesday afternoon and enjoyed a sushi dinner near where the concert was being held, on the campus of the University of North Alabama. We arrived at the auditorium early enough to be ninth and tenth in the line, but still had to wait around for 30 minutes while everything got organized. Kyle is a very cool guy. I was the only one who brought CD’s (3) to have signed, and he was quite surprised. (“Wow. You've got a lot.”) We chatted about how his blue shirt matched my tie, and I thanked him profusely for making the trip to Alabama. He was very personable and pleasant.

Kyle Eastwood in concert. (Photo © Mrs. S)
The concert had one very good country western opening act (duo), then a blues trio that was excellent. They played way too long, though, as no one was really there to hear blues and a little blues guitar (E-A-E-B-A-E, etc. etc. etc.) goes a long way. Then came a four man jazz trio, and they played a great version of “Blue Bossa” and the piano player, Harvey Thomspon, satisfied the crowd with a nice rendition of “Last Date”, among their four tunes. Then came Kyle.

One of the worst and one of the best piano players in north Alabama, me and Harvey Thompson.
He has a great band, with two horn players, piano, drums, and him on bass. He also played all his good songs, mostly the opening tracks from his last three albums. He was extremely talented and capable. He didn't show up at the after party and nothing at the after party was included with the ticket, so that was a bust. We drove the hour and ten minute drive home and got to bed by 1AM, and two hours and forty minutes later, I woke up to go to work. Was it worth it? Sure it was, but I’m getting too old for this. Making arrangements for and getting to and from these spur of the moment concerts will be much easier when I’m retired. I look forward to my next career as a jazz musician and music writer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some encouragement from a famous concert pianist and international recording star

Last week, Mrs. S suggested I accompany her to the Huntsville Chamber Music Guild’s penultimate concert of the year, featuring pianist Emanuel Ax. Interestingly enough, I had never heard of the guy until a few weeks before, when Mrs. S was telling me about Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music having over 200 Steinway grand pianos. I didn't think that was possible, so I did what any normal person would do. I Googled it. It turned out to be true, but then I thought, well, if Jacobs has that many, I wonder how many Juilliard has. Turns out they have over 250 Steinway grands (and 6 full time piano technicians). While “researching” that, I happened to glance at the Juilliard piano faculty listing, and that’s where I saw Emanuel Ax’s name. So, when the missus invited me to his concert, I was in.

The concert was quite good. As you would expect of an old Polish guy, he played a lot of old Euopean (German) music:  Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, but also some modern pieces, including a suite of pieces written to be played in between some Brahms pieces. He was signing CD’s after the concert, and Mrs. S, who is usually replete with the concert star’s CD’s in the event there is an autograph session was fresh out of Emanuel Ax CD’s. (Most of the ones she had were concertos with Yo Yo Ma, anyway, so he might not have been so thrilled to sign those in the first place.) 
Grammy winner Emanuel Ax signs a pair of CDs for me.
So we bought two CD’s to have signed. Mr. Ax was very pleasant and cordial. When I asked for a photo because I am a budding pianist, he said, “Oh, sure! Of course. That’s great. That’s great.” We took the photo and I shook his hand, and even with a line of people still behind me and my shared moment with him over, he took the time to add, “You should continue to pursue the piano by all means and I wish you well!” 

Would you take advice from this man? Of course you would! 
I’m pretty sure I've never heard any such words of encouragement that were more sincere. The look in his eyes was unwavering and clear: Playing the piano is a thing worth doing. You may think you are old and you may have a long way to go, but you should do it, … by all means.

Thank you very much Mr. Ax. I think I will.